Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!




(Twelfth century baptismal font, St. George's Church, Orleton, Herfordshire, England, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.) 

(Originally written for Daily Episcopalian, June 28, 2012) 


"Scripture itself provides no unambiguous or explicit guidelines on the question of communion of the unbaptized. It could be argued that the question never arose. However, baptism clearly plays an important and foundational role in the community that gathered around John the Baptist and later Jesus."
--Tobias Haller, BSG, from the book, Water, Bread and Wine: Should we offer communion to people before they are baptized?

Hopefully, the statute of limitations has run out on what I'm about to confess. Many of my best friends growing up were Roman Catholic, and when I would go to Mass with them, I went through a period where I became more and more curious about "just what was in that Sacrament from which I was excluded"--and more in more intent on getting it in my mouth to see just what the fuss was all about. So, I enlisted the help of one of my friends, whom I was pretty sure he would not worry much about being consigned to Hell for being the accomplice in my scheme. It was a subterfuge that only a pair of adolescents would think was plausible (or even desirable,) and we pulled it off with all the finesse of the theft of the Crown Jewels. He was to go up for Communion like always. When the bread was popped into his mouth, he was not to swallow it, but bring it back in his mouth and deposit it in my hand while he was kneeling in post-Communion prayer, and I could see for myself. (I always knelt with him during his post-Communion prayer, even though I wasn't post-anything.) The fact that it was slightly tinged with the sip of wine he consumed, and a little soggy from his slobber didn't seem to matter. I had eaten from the table from which I was excluded.

I doubt the church in Rome would have been too happy about me, but I'm pretty sure Jesus chuckled.

Now, my story isn't really an exact parallel to the question raised in the book from which I quoted above (I was baptized, but in another faith tradition,) but it does illustrate the level of desire the Sacraments induce in people, and the more I read the various opinions "for" and "against" Communion Before Baptism, the more I'm convinced this is not a question that needs to be answered this week. If I have one criticism of this book (and it's worth a read, if you haven't read it) it is that the premise of the title itself frames for debate rather than discussion. The title asks the reader to say "yes" or "no" to the question, but after reading this book, I think I can say "yes" to every single person's essay in this book, no matter which "side" they were asked to champion. There's another parallel in real life. Most of us would say baptism and catechesis is important--very important--in framing our understanding of our rich Anglican traditions. Yet most of us also know that this issue is the equivalent of "don't ask, don't tell" in the Episcopal Church. Everyone in the process for ordination knows what the "right answer" is in front of the diocesan Commission on Ministry, but we also know this canon is broken all the time, and for many plausible reasons. Sara Miles' book Take this Bread is a perfect example of how the Sacraments have power within themselves to change people in a way we can only hope formal catechesis changes them.

In short, it's a balancing act between identity and inclusion.

Perhaps the real task before us in the Episcopal Church is to meet the challenge of how to change the canon to hold it all--to make it clear that baptism is the fundamental statement of community in the Christian faith, yet at the same time leaving room to let priests be priests, rather than bouncers, and to free them from the fear of canonical and ecclesiastical persecution by a hypothetically capricious bishop. It should not--and does not--have to be a situation where priests are held in tension between two aspects of their vows--to "conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church" while they simultaneously endeavor to "minister the Word of God and the sacraments of the New Covenant," and to "be a faithful pastor to all whom they are called to serve." After all, being a faithful pastor has elements of all three.

Our canons are not set in stone--we have changed them many times in the life of this church. Nor is the path to the Eucharistic table. It was only until the 1979 Prayer book came along that we fully changed from being a confirmation-minded community to a baptismal-minded one in terms of how we saw access to the Eucharistic table. We've paid a lot of attention to the Eucharistic table in our Anglican tradition, and rightly so. In the secular world, whether it's on vacation, or during a hospital stay, or during our years in school, the one thing we react to most viscerally and sticks with us the longest are our feelings about the food. Our holy food and drink deserves no less attention.

 


(Waldo Canyon fire, Colorado, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I wrote this for a friend, who is a Colorado native, and has been fretting greatly about the destruction of her home state to wildfires.  I pray that it is a blessing to her and to others affected by the fires.


A Litany of Hope in a time of destruction by wildfires
By Maria L. Evans

Creator God, Author of the Universe;
as the deer long for cooling streams,
as weary people long for shelter in skeletal, burned places,
gather your creatures and your children safely into your loving arms.
(silence)
In your mercy, Lord,
Hear our prayer.

Ever-present God of the wind and sky,
God who holds the oceans in the palm of Your holy hand,
God who has dominion of thunder and rain,
Assuage the thirst of a scorched land and a parched people.
(silence)
In your mercy, Lord,
Hear our prayer.

Sheltering God of maternal eagle’s wings and home-seeking sparrows,
Comfort your people.
Brace the aching legs of weary firefighters and volunteers
and ease the pain of the hearts of those displaced.
(silence)
In your mercy, Lord,
Hear our prayer.

Resurrecting God of of the Valley of Dry Bones and the Easter miracle,
Forgive, restore, and renew your people.
Remind us that, just as the lodgepole pine requires fire and death for rebirth,
that your people can also find hope in the acrid smoke of tragedy.
Call to the hearts of those unaffected by wildfires
to put their hands toward the cloud of smoke and pillars of fire
and grasp the hands of those who flee in fear.
We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ,
who conquered the burnt wasteland of sin and death,
refreshing us with the living waters of the peace that passes all understanding.   
Amen




(Early nineteenth century British political cartoon showing the angel Gabriel blowing a message "A bad news for you" at James Madison.  Madison is standing between Napoleon and the devil. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday June 24, 2012)

Daily Office Readings for June 24, 2012:

Psalms 66, 67 (Morning)
Psalms 19, 46 (Evening)
Numbers 14:26-45
Acts 15:1-12
Luke 12:49-56


And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they complain against me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the Lord, “I will do to you the very things I heard you say: your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me, not one of you shall come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become booty, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have despised. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness for forty years, and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” I the Lord have spoken; surely I will do thus to all this wicked congregation gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.


And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation complain against him by bringing a bad report about the land— the men who brought an unfavorable report about the land died by a plague before the Lord. But Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh alone remained alive, of those men who went to spy out the land. When Moses told these words to all the Israelites, the people mourned greatly. They rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, “Here we are. We will go up to the place that the Lord has promised, for we have sinned.” But Moses said, “Why do you continue to transgress the command of the Lord? That will not succeed. Do not go up, for the Lord is not with you; do not let yourselves be struck down before your enemies. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will confront you there, and you shall fall by the sword; because you have turned back from following the Lord, the Lord will not be with you.” But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, even though the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, had not left the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them, pursuing them as far as Hormah.

 
--Numbers 14:26-45 (NRSV)

"I have bad news."

One of the things we now teach medical students that was not taught when I was in training was "the art of telling patients bad news."  In my day, it was usually dumped on the lowest member of the totem pole (usually the intern) and often done with very little forethought.  One of the things we teach them is to start the conversation with the short blunt truth--"The pathologist's biopsy report is back, and you have a cancer."  "The cardiologist says that your heart is only pumping with a fraction of what's normally expected."  "I spoke with the neurologists and they don't think he'll ever regain consciousness."  Another thing we teach them is to then say nothing and give people time to let it sink in and react--and to expect things like denial, or anger, or raw emotion, and to accept that some degree of "acting out" is normal.

As Linda pointed out in yesterday's reflection, it's human nature to couch things in the way that best meets our expectations and feelings at the time. 

It's appropriate that the word "mourned" was used in our passage today, because the truth is, we all have to deal with some degree of grief with bad news.  It takes a while to visualize our roadway through bad news, and, frankly, sometimes we simply don't do that.  Hearing the word "cancer" takes our brains straight to "Stage IV, multiple metastases, only a short while to live, painful agonizing death," and we are not yet ready to hear "curable," or "treatable," or "palliative care."  To be treated means work.  It means suffering the chronic conditions of chemotherapy or radiation.  It means changing our life schedules and our work life.  Even if the diagnosis IS an incurable one, it means the work of being ready and reconciliation.

Today's reading picks up at the moment Moses is told the bad news that is to be delivered--that the people will have forty pretty rough years.  As Linda pointed out yesterday, retreating into the past is sometimes the response.  "But you said the hill country was ours.  I want my hill country, I'm going to my hill country, and you're not going to stop me!"  The people were not ready to hear that they were not given a total "Stage IV incurable cancer diagnosis."  The diagnosis was only for 40 years.  Yes, it did mean for most of those present, it would be a terminal condition.  But it was also a condition that, when treated, offered hope to succeeding generations.

The story is a reminder of those times in our life when we were not ready to accept that something would get better, but we'd have to walk through a period that it would get worse before it got better.  Instead of simply putting on our grown-up undies and wading into it, we chose to be needy.  If the bad news was financial, our response might have been to run out and buy something (or worse, charge it), or spend a weekend at the gambling boat.  If the bad news was personal, perhaps we retreated into the emotional unavailability that drugs or alcohol temporarily provide.  If the bad news involved intimacy or intimate personal relationships, we chose to immerse ourselves in one or more meaningless relationships and squander our intimacy.  We bristle, flare up, clam up, and act up to hide behind a false sense of distance those actions seem to provide.

It's also a reminder that sometimes we really won't live long enough to see the place where reconciliation happens.  It's just a fact.  Generation after generation of African-Americans went to their graves not yet seeing even a glimmer of civil rights.  Native Americans are still waiting for that glimmer of reconciliation in many ways.  Having hope when the situation will probably be hopeless in our lifetimes isn't easy.

Of course, we have the advantage of knowing how this story turns out.  The Promised Land will be reached.  Moses will get to see it but not actually get to be in it--but it's okay by Moses.  We are the ones who feel sad about that, not Moses.  That's the stuff that is the center of holy hope.  We are where we are in society this day, wrangling over the things in society we're wrangling over, because others went to their graves with hope despite a sense they'd never see the day of its coming.

How will each of us choose to live in hope today, in the turmoil of bad news?
 




(Slave bill of sale courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, June 17, 2012)

Daily Office readings for Sunday, June 17, 2012:

Psalms 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
Numbers 6:22-27
Acts 13:1-12
Luke 12:41-48

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.  (Luke 12:41-48, NRSV)

Our Gospel reading today is one of those times I'm grateful for the Daily Office, because the Revised Common Lectionary pretty much hides from this snippet of Luke, preferring the more "generic" version of watchfulness in Mark 13, and totally avoiding the even more gruesome version at the tail end of Matthew 24, complete with weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

The Parable of the Faithful or Unfaithful Slave is a parable that doesn't register well with modern sensibilities.  Transposing "servant" where we see "slave" doesn't always fully make the cut, and most of us find "a light beating" an unacceptable outcome for that poor third slave, who didn't know any better but did the wrong thing in ignorance.  It might be a doubly uncomfortable parable on Father's Day, if one grew up with the capricious whims of alcoholic or addict fathers and endured the beatings (light or otherwise) that also resulted seemingly from nowhere.  We all have a twinge of righteous indignation for that poor third slave, who's standing there going, "But what'd I do?"

Let's look at this, though, through the opening words of Peter in this passage.  Peter basically asks Jesus, who has just delivered the Parable of the Watchful Slave (Luke 12:35-40,) "Are you tellin' this to us, or to them?"  Notice Jesus doesn't really answer the question, but Peter's question is covered in Jesus' answer--he answers in a way that fails to make a distinction between "us" and "them," in a way that no one gets off being righteous.  It's a reminder that the Gospel of Christ is not The Gospel of It's All About You--that sin is probably far more corporate than it is individual, and in reality we probably add more trouble to this broken world unknowingly more than we do knowingly.  Only time has the power to sort that out.

Take something as innocuous as hopping in the car and taking a joy ride around the countryside simply to improve our mood or because we're bored.  Although infinitesimally small, that single little joyride did change in a tiny way the milieu of the system of supply and demand for oil, and, if we buy the chaos theory, could well be something that affects the fact the Chinese keep bidding more and more for barrels of oil in their quest to become a more fully industrialized nation against the continually increasing demand in the U.S. for oil.  This could prompt more exploration of oil, more trashing of the environment, more greenhouse gases, and more woe to the planet.  That's just how it is.  I don't say that to make anyone feel guilty--guilt is really not a feeling, it's an outcome of judgment.  The fact is, there are an infinite number of things every day that every action we take, makes us guilty of something.  Period.

On the other hand, that little joy ride might have also done something to the positive.  Perhaps it improved our mood to the point we went out and did something that honored The Good News in Christ, and brought the Realm of God a little closer to Earth.  Perhaps it gave us impetus to call on someone who was homebound, or volunteer at the soup kitchen, or simply be present for someone who needed us.  We are never shown the ultimate end of any of the good deeds we do on this planet, either--maybe because, ultimately, there is no end to that chain of events.  What happens when we believe in the possibility that evil becomes an end to itself, but God's grace provides a never-ending source of good?

It's so easy to get enamored with our righteousness every time we recycle, or buy organic over commercial, or choose a vegetable over a hunk of meat, and put ourselves on this little pedestal touting the glory of "us" vs. the great unwashed-ness of "them," isn't it?  It's a reminder that, in the end, we've all done something wrong and no one has a corner on owning neither a special guilt, nor a special righteousness.  The best case scenario is we muddle through life, making the best choices we can, trying our darndest to hear what God is telling us, hoping we are ultimately doing right.  When it's all said and done, we'll probably discover we were fairly right about some things and pretty wrong about some others.  I suspect that, at our deaths, the judgment we wished upon the bad "others" of the world will be reflected back on us when we discover some of our choices in ignorance created equal harm to the world.  Yet I am equally hopeful that we will see pleasant surprises in the good choices we made with equal unknowing.  Can we accept the possibility of a "light beating" at the risk of amazing joy?

What transformations await us when we begin to give up the "us" vs. "them" mentality?




(Enmegahbowh, Isaac Manitowab, and James Lloyd Breck, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, June 12, 2012) 


Readings for the feast day of Enmegahbowh, June 12:

Psalm 129
Isaiah 52:7-10
1 Peter 5:1-4
Luke 6:17-23

Almighty God, you led your pilgrim people of old with fire and cloud: Grant that the ministers of your Church, following the example of blessed Enmegahbowh, may stand before your holy people, leading them with fiery zeal and gentle humility. This we ask through Jesus, the Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy  Spirit, one God now and for ever.  Amen.
--Collect for the feast day of Enmegahbowh

Our readings today center on the act of being a messenger of God's peace, even when everything about human nature tells us we have every right to be righteously angry.  The life of Enmegahbowh serves as a reminder of that virtue.

John Johnson Enmegahbowh was set aside at an early age to be a healer in the traditional Midewewin fashion (the secret society of healers among the First Peoples of the Great Lakes and Maritimes,) yet he embraced Christianity, ordained in the Episcopal Church as a deacon by Bishop Kemper in 1859, and a priest by Bishop Whipple in 1867.  His last name literally means, "The one who stands before his people," (In some translations, literally, "The one who stands and prays before his people,") and as serendipity would have it, did that in amazing ways.

Enmegahbowh was a deacon in Crow Wing, Minnesota at the time the American Civil War commenced.  In those days, it was common practice for young men of means who had been conscripted, to pay someone as a proxy to be enlisted into the Army.  Some of the whites in the area took a "Why buy it when you can get it for free?" attitude and started tricking young Ojibway men to accompany them to St. Paul, whereupon they would get them drunk and sell them to other white men looking to avoid conscription.  Some parents of the Ojibway youth came to Enmegahbowh from Leech Lake and told him of their plans to kill a Mr. Horn, the whiskey trader behind all this.  His response to them was, "I am glad to hear you think me worthy to make known to me your object in visiting Crow Wing. My friends, I presume you all understand what it will bring about. If you kill the white man, you will cause a general warfare and the whites will drive us away from our country and perhaps will eventually sweep us away from the face of the earth."  He begged them to give him seven days to reach General Sibley to obtain the support and paperwork to end the practice.   Enmegahbowh made good on his promise, traveling by foot to St. Paul in three days.

Enmegahbowh's life as a missionary deacon and priest was far from peaceful.  He was frequently involved in peacekeeping when the First Nations people had every right in the world to be angry and retaliatory.  Two of his children died of exposure.  He fled for his life more than once.  Despite his efforts, the natives of Gull Lake were removed from the area, first to the Leech Lake reservation and later the White Earth one.  Constant tension was the norm--not only tension between the Sioux and Ojibway, but religious tension between the mixed race French-Native Americans (who were mostly Roman Catholic) and the Native Episcopalians, as well as tension between natives who converted to Christianity and natives who, sick of political abuse, returned to native religions and warrior societies.  He suffered from depression, and his memoirs reveal great angst and sorrow--rightly so, I believe, given what we now know through the lens of history and the treatment of Native Americans, the residue of which persists, yet today.

Yet wherever Enmegahbowh was stationed, his churches, by accounts, brimmed to overflowing, and he forged the beginnings of what we now consider "a given" in indigenous ministries--the ability to incorporate and nurture native values within the scope of the Christian experience.  It's a reminder that the seeds of hope can still flourish amidst the storms of despair and angst.

None of us, as individuals, can ever fully make reparations for the cultural "sins of our fathers" that dog the American story nor the story of the church.  Yet God always calls to us in hope, and time and time again, we are given do-over after do-over to get it a little more right than we did before.  Where is God calling each of us to put our own righteous indignation aside and hear the teachings of Jesus to spread the Gospel message, not just by words, but by a humble and contrite spirit?

 


O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and
light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all
our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou
wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save
us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see
light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

--Prayer for Guidance, Book of Common Prayer, p. 832

(Originally written for Daily Episcopalian, June 14, 2012)


Mules are nosy by nature, but I believe I have the nosiest mule in four states.

Since the day my mule Mel was born, there isn't a thing in creation that he doesn't think he shouldn't pick up and put in his mouth, nor any door or window-like shape that he shouldn't insert his head.  He was born curious, and on any given day he can be on that spectrum from "a little curious" to "downright nosy."  He loves items in boxes.  I've seen him remove items from cardboard boxes in the pasture, and take all the files out of my farrier's tool box.  He stole a screwdriver out of my own toolbox once and engaged me in a game of keep-away that lasted 45 minutes, and ended with him dropping it in the grass, kicking up his heels, and running off, flinging his head in victory.

So I was not surprised when I awoke one morning to the concerned whinnying of his horse compatriot Windy.  For all of Mel's curiosity and bravado, Windy is the equine equivalent of the prissy old lady clutching her pearls, about to succumb to an attack of the vapors.  It was clear why she was upset.  Mel had somehow ripped the plastic trough from his upright aluminum free-standing feed bunker and was standing in the feedlot with the frame of it on his back and his back legs entangled in the frame.  For some reason unbeknownst to me, he had stuck his head through the opening made by the missing trough, then lifted up and was wearing it more or less like a harness...but with his legs straddling one of the legs of the frame.  It had him entangled in such a way that he could only move his back legs a few inches at a time.

He was in over his head--literally--and he knew it.  So much so, that he knew all he could do is stand still and wait silently.

Mules are clever.  Unlike horses, when they find themselves entangled, they won't thrash and make it worse.  They go into standstill mode, or sit down mode.  The problem is, they often also go silent.  Something in the donkey half of their DNA says "Don't make noise, or you will attract predators."  Truthfully, he could have been that way all day--I could have left for work and never seen him there.  Horses, however, for all their skittishness, have no problem making noise when concerned--hence his equine girlfriend's frantic pleas.

I approached calmly and cautiously, speaking in steadying tones of voice to both Mel and Windy.  I considered the possibility that Windy might hinder my approaching Mel.  Even though we are on very good terms, she might be protective of her friend.  Mel simply nuzzled my hair and continued to stand still as I gently slid the metal frame over his rump and he calmly stepped out, acting like he knew how to extricate himself all along.  Once free, he followed me back to the gate like a lost puppy.  ("Mama!  You SAVED ME!  I love you!") When Windy excitedly came up to him, he whirled and bit her on the rump.

Well, that's gratitude for you.

As I finished my coffee and got ready for work, I wondered how many times God discovers us hopelessly entangled in the things we stuck our own noses in and found ourselves over our head.  Like Mel, how often do we go in standstill or sit down mode, never uttering a peep, unable to bring ourselves to ask for help? I'm sure that like Windy's nickers, grunts, and whinnies, it's the prayers of others that catch God's attention when we are too fearful, too prideful, or too whipped to pray.  We may well be thinking, "Don't be praying for me--it's not THAT bad--others need it worse," but we have no control over the prayers of others.

For that matter, when we find ourselves finally extricated from our predicaments, it's a natural reaction for us to praise God and/or Jesus from the rooftops.  We tag along just as closely as Mel tagged behind me.  "Thank you Jesus!  I'll follow you anywhere!"--but sadly, we also sometimes turn around and bite the people who had been loyal to us in the name of God, rather than embrace them, because we didn't like the way they did it.  We didn't like being powerless.  We nipped at them for being "the other" and that they couldn't possibly understand our situation.  We become embarrassed by their show of love and push them away.

The Parable of the Equine Misadventure in the Feed Lot, perhaps, is just another reminder that we all need each other in this quirky family of humankind, despite our differences.  Where do we feel called to reach out to "the other" today?





(A rather lazy Shih Tzu, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, June 10, 2012)


Daily Office readings for Sunday, June 10, 2012:

Psalms 24, 29 (Morning)
Psalms 8, 84 (Evening)
Ecclesiastes 6:1-12
Acts 10:9-23
Luke 12:32-40

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy upon humankind: those to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that they lack nothing of all that they desire, yet God does not enable them to enjoy these things, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous ill. A man may beget a hundred children, and live many years; but however many are the days of his years, if he does not enjoy life’s good things, or has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes into vanity and goes into darkness, and in darkness its name is covered; moreover it has not seen the sun or known anything; yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to one place?

All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage have the wise over fools? And what do the poor have who know how to conduct themselves before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire; this also is vanity and a chasing after wind. Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what human beings are, and that they are not able to dispute with those who are stronger.

The more words, the more vanity, so how is one the better? For who knows what is good for mortals while they live the few days of their vain life, which they pass like a shadow? For who can tell them what will be after them under the sun?

--Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 (NRSV)

"Why are we doing this?"  It's a question many of us ask in the most productive, wage-earning years of our lives.

So many of us carry in the back of our minds what I call "The pipe dream of the American Dream."  It's that notion that we will work hard to achieve and reach a certain level of wealth and comfort and then one day, we'll say "that's enough," and then we'll kick back and enjoy the fruits of our labors.

But the problem is, well...it's never enough.  So many of us live our lives just a little harder at the workplace, put in a few more hours or take on another job, so we will have "enough" and get that one more thing--another car, the last kid through college, the last mortgage payment on the house...then we turn right around and want a different car, or want to save for the grandchildren's education, or want a bigger house.  Meanwhile all the things we wanted from that pipe dream--mostly related to time--slip through our fingers and disintegrate.  "I'll spend more time with the kids."  But the kids grow up.  "I'll spend more time with my parents."  The parents up and die before that happens.  "I'll spend more time with my spouse."  The spouse leaves.  "I'll spend more time doing volunteer work."  But that never seems to materialize.  "I'll write, or do more art, or knit/sew/do carpentry."  But the half finished projects clutter the house.

A recent article in the New York Times piqued my interest.  What if...(horror of horrors!)...instead of a 40 hour work week being standard, a 21 hour work week were the norm?  The theory is that there would be enough work for everyone to be satisfied and more mentally healthy.  The article describes an inverse relationship in the health care professions between productivity and empathy.  Believe me, I get that.  It is why I chose a less stressful (and less financially rewarding) practice environment over my previous one, which had the potential for high esteem, the comfort of being viewed as an "expert in the field," but also gave me very little time for myself.  I look back now, and I realize I am still paying for a few things that I sacrificed at the altar of productivity.  I see my young medical students incur mountains of debt, which definitely influences their specialty choice and their practice geographical choice.  I fear they are having to sacrifice much more than I ever did at the altar of productivity.

Could it be true?  Could we really be a rich enough nation in the U.S. that we could give up some things so everyone has more?  My educated guess is "yes," but I am pretty certain it would take some tremendous attitude adjusting--including my own.

Perhaps we see a blueprint for that in our other readings.

In Acts, Peter is instructed in his trance that to do the work of God, he might well have to kill and eat some things he's been told all his life are profane or unclean.  Our Gospel reading exhorts us that we ought to be "ready for anything"--not ready in that survivalist hoarder sort of way, but ready to serve God in any way we might be asked.  Our Psalms remind us that this notion of our possessions, our "stuff" being ours is...well...a delusion.  Really, it's all God's.  We only think it's ours.  Honestly, I think God humors us a lot with that delusion.

Dialing back our lives feels nonproductive.  It feels lazy.  It feels "wrong" in some ways.  Yet, if it were wrong, why do so many of us carry those pipe dreams in the back story of the American dream?

What happens when we acknowledge the places in our life where we actually do have "enough?"  How does "enough" change when the goal becomes relationships and stability for all, rather than only ourselves?

 


(Mourning Dove in flight, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, June 3, 2012)

 Readings for Trinity Sunday, June 3, 2012:

Psalms 146, 147 (Morning)
Psalms 111, 112, 113 (Evening)
Job 38:1-11, 42:1-5
Revelation 19:4-16
John 1:29-34

Today's readings, particularly in the interplay between our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Gospel, might best be classified as examples of what happens when God launches an "air assault."  God speaks to Job straight from the eye of a whirlwind, and through John the Baptist's testimony that the Spirit descended from Heaven upon Jesus like a dove.

Now, at first glance, one might think hearing God thundering from the whirlwind is a lot scarier than the spirit of God descending like a dove--but don't bet on it.

In northeast Missouri, the dove we're most acquainted with is the mourning dove, and they are some of the fanciest, most elusive fliers going.  Doves are seed eaters, and frankly, they look for easy pickings.  Their little legs are not all that efficient at scratching, so they tend to prefer eating in open fields, where they know they are an open target for predators.  They are incredibly patient when it comes to seeking a meal, often loafing and lounging in trees or on power lines until they are absolutely sure the coast is clear.  But when they think they can eat safely, watch out!  They will come in by the flockload, zipping through lanes of trees so narrow that one would think they'd be hitting branches on the way in.  They zip, zig-zag, and zoom in with unmatched skill and speed, and eat like there's no tomorrow as fast as they can, then zip out in the same crazy convoluted way they came.  They can dive bomb so fast and purposefully, that if you listen carefully, their wings make a whistling noise as they put on the brakes and hover in for the last few feet.

Likewise, if you've ever seen a pair of mourning doves defend their nest, you'll give up every notion you ever had that they are peaceful.  I've seen a mated pair of doves send more than one tom cat under the porch, whooshing and pecking, the poor cat's Cheshire grin replaces with a total look of "What just happened?"

Yep, given the choice, I'd take the whirlwind.  At least with the whirlwind, I know what I'm up against.  So did Job.  It's pretty easy to figure it's time to shut up and listen up when God thunders, "Excuuuuuse me!  Where were YOU when I was cobbling the universe together, Mr. Fault Finder?"

In contrast, one can almost hear behind the surety of John's testimony, a little twinge of "I'm telling you, it really happened like this," as if his audience was going to have a hard time buying it.  I wonder if he did not expect the fulfilling of the prophecy to be so swift and deliberate.  "I mean, I didn't even KNOW the guy from Adam's housecat, but I could tell who he was when I saw that!"

Our Gospel today is a reminder that no matter how confused or puzzling it seems when we are trying to discern God's call to us, to have the assurance and trust that when God has chosen us for a task, we'll know it when we see it--but don't be surprised if we don't feel a little like that old tom cat when it happens.

 

(Red Admiral butterfly courtesy of Wikipedia)

(Originally written for Daily Episcopalian, June 2, 2012)

Into your hands O Father
I give my spirit to you
Into your hands O Father
I give my spirit to you


--English Translation of the Taizé song,  "In manus tuas"

It has finally been warm enough in northeast Missouri to put the weekend laundry out on the line on a regular basis, and one of my favorite things to hang on the clothesline are my bed linens. There's just something wonderful about sleeping under a sheet that smells like a real breeze as opposed to a fabric softener that claims to smell like a breeze.  So you can imagine my surprise when two Red Admiral butterflies suddenly flitted out of the sheets I had just brought into the house.

Feeling sorry for their plight, I tried to free them...and spent the next thirty minutes chasing them all over the house, cursing and yelling at them for their apparent stupidity.  More than once I considered just smashing them with a fly swatter and putting them out of their misery...but I have a soft spot for butterflies.  I'll be honest, I generally have no sentimentality when it comes to flying insects.  But butterflies are different.  Butterflies, to me, represent the wonderful intersection of vivid and delicate--their colors are often loud, almost neon, yet they battle heavy breezes with onion-skin-thin wings.  Their flight seems erratic yet purposeful.  They are so constantly at risk of destruction, yet they boldly perch on humans if they happen to be wearing the right color of clothing that mimics food.  Red Admirals are especially one of my favorites, because of the striking color difference between their dorsal and ventral surfaces.


My first goal was to try to herd them into my bedroom with a broom and shut the door. (If you think herding cats is hard, try butterflies.)  Once I got them in the bedroom, I opened the windows and took a pillowcase, shaking it at them in an attempt to shoo them out.  "Surely they feel the outside air and will take the hint," I thought.  But no dice.  They kept flapping around my four-light fixture on my ceiling fan.  The fan wasn't running, so to rest they'd hide on the top side of the blades.  After catching their breath, they'd then flutter around the lights.  All my best efforts at snagging them in mid-air were failing miserably.


All of a sudden I got a goofy idea.  What if I stopped chasing after them and grabbing at them, and simply held up my cupped hands under the light fixture?


I stood there with my hands stretched aloft for a good minute or two, thinking what an idiot I must look like.  The butterflies continued to bang themselves against the fixture, obsessively trying to get inside it, but always coming back out because the light was too hot.  Then, without warning, one suddenly stopped--right in the middle of my cupped hands.  I quickly scurried to the open window and gently tossed it out.  It hastily few out of sight, to parts unknown.  

"It CAN'T be THAT easy," I thought to myself.  "That has to be a fluke."

I returned to the light fixture, repeated the process, and within another minute or two the other butterfly did the exact same thing.  If I would have been smart enough to do that in the beginning, it would have taken far less time, and with far less drama.


As I looked out my open bedroom window and smelled the breeze, I thought about how those butterflies illustrated some patterns in our relationship with God.  How many times do we find ourselves entangled in the fabric of the world?  When we are released from those entanglements, how many times do we discover we are in unfamiliar territory?  How many times is our response to that unfamiliar territory to fly around aimlessly?  When we finally catch a glimpse of the light of God, how often do we proceed to bang our heads against the light fixture and get so close to the light it singes us?  Most importantly, how many times have we discovered, heart pounding and breathless, as we fall wearily from over-exerting our stubborn, prideful selves, we land smack dab into God's outstretched, cupped hands, whisking us to safety?


Then I thought about it in reverse fashion and pondered those times we angrily chase after God, reaching, straining, and pawing at the tiniest recognition of the holy, and cursing when our hands come up empty.  Had we only stood still and reached for God, the delicate healing beauty we sought, would have flown right into our hungry hands.

Who are you today--the butterfly, or the butterfly chaser?







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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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