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

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Oh, sigh. Pride. On that list, that is the #1 of them that trips me up. I'm too self-critical to get too far with vainglory, hypocrisy is too nauseating to me to do more than the occasional foray, envy, hatred and malice don't stick on me for too long (but I do admit to these three when I have the occasional volcanic eruption), and want of charity is, for me, at best, sporadic. Blindness of heart? Ehhhh...that would be #2 on my list. More there in a minute.

But back to pride. The problem with pride is that there is a thin line between "the good kind of pride" and the "bad kind of pride." There's actually some use for the good kind of pride. The pride I have in my job makes me do my best work. The pride I have in my friends, especially ones who have weathered storms in their lives, makes me love them even more. But cross the line, and my pride turns into irrational stubbornness. It comes into the "I'd die before I'd (fill in the blank) realm. In my connections with God, it plays into the times I hide in his presence, or can't sit still with him to be loved. It is the debris in my infected, open, wounded soul. It is what causes the "acute" part of the pain when I struggle in my life, and in my time with God.

Although I ranked "blindness of heart" as #2, sometimes it goes hand in hand with pride, because I become more oblivious, more unwilling to be aware. But I can also do "blindness of heart" simply because I have a tendency that when a task is in front of me, I strap on blinders and push forward, not looking left or right, but only at my "goal", no matter how inconsequential my goal is. Again, this creates a lack of awareness in me, an obliviousness...and if called out for it, my reaction is often, "Whud'IDo?"

One of the things, I think, that makes dealing with one's faults, with one's sins, so difficult is they are shadows of the same things that are the things that contribute to our goodness. So, like a wad of cancer cells that have failed to be detected by our own immune system, we recognize the cancers of our faults as "self" and allow them to grow. We exist in the illusion that it's all okay. We delude ourselves.

I would argue, though, that the "cure" lies within the disease. Avoiding these sins involves awareness of their antitheses in our own hearts. We need to be open to our own heart. We need true humility, the kind with awe mixed in it, to see them, and move forward with a cleaner heart. We need to accept God's "charity" in the form of grace--sometimes very unpalatable in the face of pride and obliviousness!

From all evil and wickedness; from sin; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Well...this is certainly a cheery one. NOT.

This being ancient language, from 1544, the devil as “dude with pitchfork and horns” doesn’t connect very well to me.

Really, in my mind, the devil lives between my two ears. Not that there isn’t evil in the world. Not that we shouldn’t be aware of evil, and its power to devour us. Since I’m not a Biblical literalist, the whole “Lucifer/Satan” stuff really doesn’t connect to me. I can’t deal with the fundamentalist notion that the devil is out there hiding behind every lamppost, waiting to ensnare me.

I am more in the mind of the ancient Jews, who believed in the “yetser ha’tov” (the incarnation of good in people) and the “yetser ha’ra” (the incarnation of evil in people), both living right inside ourselves. If you get right down to it, evil people are what proliferate evil in the world. Or good people who do nothing. Or apathetic or fearful people who don’t have the ability to fight evil. The “yetser ha’ra” has plenty of room to work in each of us.

I tend to have a “physicist’s notion” of God and what we call “the devil.” I view God as a unifying field of energy. I view “the devil” as a fractionating field of energy, a destructive one. We are part of both fields, and what we do in this world can connect to one or the other. We are probably mostly blissfully unaware of our connections to the fractionating one. We desire a connection with God. We don’t desire one with this evil force. But it probably hooks us in unawares or only partially aware of it.

Ascribing things to “the work of the devil”, the work of this unseen evil being, takes the monkey off our back to accept our own blame in evil...”the devil made me do it.” The converse of “corporate atonement” is to accept our individual roles as perpetrators, even unwitting or unwilling ones, in the exploitation and wrongdoing that exists in the world. we go! Let’s start from the top!

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, nor the offenses
of our forefathers; neither reward us according to our sins.
Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast
redeemed with thy most precious blood, and by thy mercy
preserve us, for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

My ears definitely pricked up when I heard, “Huh? The sins of our forefathers?”

Although it took me a while, I did finally come around to the idea of “corporate atonement.” It took me a lot of years to accept that part of my sins were secondary to “the human condition.” But hmmm....sins of our forefathers? I thought we got rid of that “sins of the father” stuff.

Then I got to thinking...

I live in a country that gained much of the land mass of the 48 contiguous states by exploiting the indigenous peoples who lived in it, who swindled their way into Manhattan Island with $24 worth of trinkets.

I live in a country where we still struggle with race-related issues, poverty more prevalent in some race-based groups, and a whole host of socioeconomic differences by race, because we kept human beings as slaves for much of the early days of our nation.

My great-grandmother was not allowed to vote when she became an adult.

I enjoy practicing in a profession because I stand on the backs of women who had to move heaven and earth to break the establishment. They were the victims of oppression.

So yes. I have gained in this life because others in my past had sinned.

In other words, much of the life I enjoy, a life so rich compared to many nations in this world, because other people were exploited. So yes, in that sense, I am guilty.

I had not thought much about “sin crossing temporal boundaries.” but it does. These are sins in which no one can make amends, because the window to that was lost by the passage of time. I am the recipient of a debt that cannot be repaid. I can only strive to go forward and avoid oppressing others. It’s a heavy thought indeed.

Ok, I think for day 1, I will start with the history of The Great Litany.

As is, it is as old as Anglicanism itself. It first appears in 1544, and the one in our present prayer book is essentially the same as the one Thomas Cranmer wrote in 1544 in response to Henry VIII’s request. It is based on the litany in the Sarum Missal, which was a variant of the Roman Rite, one of the earlier forms of the Divine Liturgy. It also borrows heavily from Martin Luther’s litany. The Roman Rite is similar to many rites in the Eastern church, such as the Byzantine Rite. So, parts of this litany are as old as 3rd century Christianity. If we want to go even further, there are bits of the prayers in it that are similar to Solomon’s prayer in I Kings, 22-53. It is truly a connection to not just the ancient Church, but to the Judaic roots of the Church.

The Sarum Missal was the main missal used in the British Isles. So, there was obviously an intent on Cranmer’s part for the people to have something “familiar” in the Great Litany.

Here is the 1544 version.

In 1672, Anthony Sparrow wrote this about the Great Litany:

In the beginning it directs our prayers to the right object, the Glorious TRINITY. For necessary it is, that we should know whom we worship. Then it proceeds to Deprecations, or prayers against evil; lastly, to Petitions for good. In the Deprecations, as right method requires, we first pray against sin, then against punishment; because sin is the greatest evil. From all which we pray to be delivered by the holy actions and passions of CHRIST, the only merits of all our good. The like good order is observed in our Petitions for good. First, we pray for the Church Catholick, the common mother of all Christians; then for our own Church, to which, next the Church Catholick, we owe the greatest observance and duty. And therein, in the first place for the principal members of it, in whose welfare the Churches peace chiefly consists. After this we pray particularly for those sorts of men that most especially need our prayers, such amongst others, as those whom the Law calls miserable Persons.

The Litany is not one long continued prayer, but broken into many short and pithy Ejaculations: that the intention and devotion which is most necessary in prayer, may not be dull'd and vanish, as in a long prayer it is apt to do; but be quickned and intended, by so many new and quick petitions; and the nearer to the end, the shorter and livelier it is, strengthening our devotions by raising in us an apprehension of our misery and distress, ready, as it were to sink and perish; and therefore crying out as the Disciples did, Master, save us, we perish: O Lamb of God hear us, O Christ hear us, Lord have mercy upon us. Such as these are the active, lively spirited prayers, energoumenai, which S. James mentions and tells us, avail much. S. Iames 5. 16.

There was an obvious intent for this to be a participatory act of the people, not just a big long prayer by the priest. It is also interactive in that, according to Sparrow, the priest is supposed to be praying “Secrete (secret) Prayers” during the people’s participation in the Great Litany that these prayers be accepted by God.

So....this is an interesting introduction to my 40 days with this part of the BCP.

As some of you know, and many of you may not, for years I have given up hot sauce for Lent. This year has been the first year I have been seriously out of the closet about it. My close friends knew it, my clergy connections knew it, but I didn't really advertise it. What is odd is that as much as I ate it, it seemed no one noticed I WASN'T eating it, which was handy. It wasn't like noticing an alcoholic that wasn't drinking. It kept it between me and God. But this year I came out of the closet about it, and I think it was because it took me years to answer the question, "Why hot sauce?"

This morning, non-coincidentally, over on Facebook, I was asked the question, "Why do you give up hot sauce? Is it a wall between you and God?" That's a good question, and I guess since I'm out of the closet on it this year, I might as well give it the answer it deserves.

I always give something up, and add something for Lent. This year, the "adding" is that I am going to examine The Great Litany (p. 148 in the BCP) and reflect and blog on it. There is a lot in those few pages upon which to chew. One of the interesting things, though, about giving up the same thing year after year, is that I have to grow yearly in the "why" of it.

In the beginning...(big Cecil B. DeMille widescreen shot here...)

I first started giving up hot sauce for Lent b/c at that time, I was a "Lone Wolf Christian." I had been long estranged from the denomination of my childhood. My first decision was to give up ANYTHING. Since I was being one of the great unchurched, I was under no authoritarian pressure to do it. It would be totally of my own accord, between me and God. It was a statement. "I've given up on THESE people, God, but I have not given up on YOU. I have not given up on your power to help me see."

So I rattled through the standard "give 'em ups" for Lent....

Cigarettes: I didn't smoke anymore. Could not afford both beer and cigarettes in school; one had to go.
Liquor: Already did that for six months when I got exposed to TB and my skin test turned positive and I had to take Isoniazid for six months. While on Isoniazid, beer made me sick to my stomach and elevated my liver enzymes on the blood tests they were doing as followup. I did not miss it. I can take or leave liquor for the most part. It wasn't that much of a sacrifice.
Chocolate: Don't like it that much.
Chewing gum: I get on runs of chewing gum, but am not habitual about it.
Cussing: Not gonna happen. Would bust that one in a fit of pique within 24 hours. It would be a lofty goal, but a very impractical one!

But then, as I was eating my breakfast oatmeal and putting my usual salt, garlic and Cholula hot sauce on it (YES, that is what I put on my oatmeal, AND my hash browns, AND my eggs...) it hit sauce. I put hot sauce on most everything. I would miss it. It would be hard to do without, but not a necessity, and I would miss it, and that "missing" would remind me to be grateful of the things I take for granted in life.

So that was how it started.

Then a few years rolled by, and as a result of this discipline, I noticed another sidelight of it. I had started to get creative about substitution. Eggs are the hardest for me without hot sauce. Eggs are so "blah" to me. I started playing with different combinations of spices...basil...oriental five spice blend...different cheeses...pesto...

I tried hard not to "compare" them (If I took that route, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of hot sauce") but to appreciate them for what they were. This was a huge realization, this "appreciating them for what they are" business, instead of thinking in terms of "as good as" or "not as good as". Where else in my life did I need to do that?

In the last couple of years, I have pondered the "non-coincidence" of having chosen hot sauce. At this point, I think I have at least a small understanding of it.

I am a person who truly loves the "zest" of life, even though in some ways, I am very private and introverted, beneath the gregarious whirlwind of my outer personality. Some years back, when I was a recipient of a resolution from the Truman State University Board of Governors, they had mentioned "my exuberant zest for life and tremendous wit." So it is no secret that I love the spice of life, even though sometimes I hide in my den to recharge.

Hot sauce is a sensory reminder of that zest. Passionate heat, enhancement of the plainest of foods, and unexpected tears. It's zeal and zip. It's warmth that stays after the meal is over. It's even a reminder that moderation is good, as anyone who has ever experienced "the day after" overindulging it can attest!

What would my life be, without that zest? What would our world be, without the zeal of the life, passion and death of Christ? Oh, the world would probably keep on turning, but it would sure be a lot blander and less flavorful.

We miss the most that which we have at our constant disposal. Death and loss teach us that in a big way. But hot sauce is a gentler and, in some ways, more constant reminder for me in some ways, because "little things mean a lot" in my world. We are supposed to learn from the big things. The little things so frequently go unnoticed. That's a lot of awareness in a five ounce bottle!

Got home this evening and started "Thinking about Lent."

Here is my prayer for the season this year...

Almighty God, remind us daily in this Lenten season that to turn is to uncover. In the center of the dry pile of fallen leaves, lying fallow in our long winter of brokenness, is warm, rich humus crying for new green shoots of the renewed life of spring.

Uncover our fears; within them is the ability to hope.

Uncover our anger; within it is intense caring which we fear to articulate.

Uncover our shame over sins long past; sins long forgiven by God but not by us; within it lies the power to change the future.

Uncover our covetousness; within it is true awareness of our real and most basic needs.

Uncover our contentiousness; within it is reconciliation.

Uncover our sense of blame; within it lies recognition of our own faults.

Uncover our withdrawal and avoidance; within it hides our truest desires.

Uncover our most acute pain; within it awaits long-buried, long-neglected delight.

Uncover our dismissiveness; within it rests new discoveries, new levels of mindfulness.

Uncover us, Lord. Strip our thorny bark, peel back the masking tape that covers our cracks, dig the tar and debris from the potholes of our souls. Abrade us down to the rough metal, so that your gift of a renewed spirit bonds us to our true selves and to each other.

Almighty God, Lamb of God, Wind of God…uncover us.


Okay, I am going to ask my friends in the blogosphere to put on their thinking caps in the "gag gift" mode. I have over a month to do this, but the way my time crunches have been, I need to start on this one well in advance. If you were going to create (a la Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote style) an "Acme Sermon-writing Kit"...what should go in it?

I already have two ideas:

1. Do a little Photoshop work on a certain over the counter product and call it "Homilax" (For those weeks when one's sermon-writing seems very constipated
2. Fix up a bottle of "Sermonagra" (For longer, stronger sermons with more staying power...)

I await your suggestions!

I got a call from Bo's "hoomans" this morning before I was getting ready to take a shower before church. He has taken a turn for the worst and they took him to Columbia to the MU Veterinary School emergency room. He has been throwing up more lately. Two weeks ago, his folks agreed to put him in a study for the type of tumor he has, and part of the study is he gets four free doses of a certain kind of chemotherapy.

This morning, he awakened them with intractable vomiting and diarrhea. So they skipped church to drive the 90 miles to Columbia. I just got off the phone with Bo's folks. He was severely dehydrated, and admitted him at the veterinary school to re-hydrate him. The veterinary oncologist will see him tomorrow, and they will decide whether he should continue in the study or not.

I have been worried that Bo's episodes of vomiting have been because the tumor is now pressing against his digestive tract. Some of the food he has been throwing up has been totally undigested.

In my moments of praying for Bo and his human parents, I realize how hard these decisions are. Bo represents a time in his human dad's life when he was alone. It is hard to deal with letting him go. Correcting the dehydration is the "easy" part of this. It is where to go AFTER the dehydration is corrected that is the problem. Is there any benefit for him to remain in the study or not? Everyone agrees he is terminal...but HOW terminal? These are very hard decisions for dog owners, and they don't entirely parallel humans in the same boat, because dog owners have the option of euthanasia. No two people will react the same in this setting.

But meanwhile, I am praying that God stick with Bo and both his humans, as they all go through this difficult time.

I got to thinking of a comment I left on another blog today in relation to something that was rooted in pain and loss, and it got me to thinking about the process of healing when it comes to our woundedness, and decided to elaborate a little more.

Honestly, I don't know much about the process of how we heal after we suffer loss. But I do know a fair bit about the pathophysiology of physical wound healing. My world calls the two ways we heal from wounds either "healing by first intention" and "healing by second intention."

Healing by first intention mostly refers to wounds that are incised wounds that have been sutured. The perfect example would be when you go to your doctor to have a skin lesion excised. After the excision, the edges are sutured together. The wound heals faster because the edges have been approximated by sutures. When enough collagen comes in to hold the two edges of the area together, the stitches are removed, and a scar forms. Scars in this manner tend to be neater, lighter, and not contracted, compared to the scars of an open wound.

Healing by second intention is a much slower process. This refers to an open, gaping wound that is not sutured. It takes a lot longer for the wound to "granulate in", and the scar is more irregular, sometimes "puckered", messier. It scabs over, and the larger the wound, the more likely the scab will be damaged. The tensile strength of this wound is not as good as one healed by first intention. It is at more risk of dehiscence (coming apart) than a sutured wound is. But it still becomes at least a "serviceable" repair.

I am realizing that most of the things that lead to our own woundedness are injuries in which we are stuck letting it heal by "second intention." These are the things that happen to us without warning and leave big, gaping holes. They tend to be soft and messy for some time. The scabs are more fragile; in fact, we may well pick at the scab ourselves. They are more likely to become infected. When they scar, they pucker and leave more visible marks. When they do heal, they are more likely to break apart or become infected. But eventually, over time, they do fill in and become at least "serviceable." The scars may be ugly, or at the very least we think they are ugly and at that point, they might as well be, simply because if we see ourselves that way, "they are what we see."

How, then, do we even begin to strive for a life that "heals by first intention" instead, whenever possible?

I am going through a process in my life right now that will probably result in me "having to excise some lesions." I am not looking forward to it, just in the same way no one looks forward to surgery except "to get it over and be done with it." I realize it's either that, or let the chips fall where they may, and risk having an open, gaping wound that is not amenable to being sutured. But I know this is my best chance for having a solid, trustworthy that will lighten and fade and not need revision.

I like to think that the disciplines of my faith are the "ability to throw sutures" in this process. I think by engaging in regular and disciplined prayer and study, we up our chances of being able to stitch our wounds at a time it matters in the healing process--early on. Sometimes, the only thing that hold our wounds together and keeps them from bursting apart ARE the sutures.

But the day always comes we need to remove the sutures. Even with the sutures gone, though, their effect lasts.

But that still does not guarantee "the perfect scar." Sometimes we remove the sutures a little early, and there are gaps. Sometimes you get part of a suture buried in there and it has to fester out. Sometimes a perfectly healed wound, in certain conditions (like too much pressure) rips back open anway. This is not a perfect process.

Also, this doesn't address those open granulating wounds that heal by second intention. It is too late to suture those wounds. Sometimes those scars need to be revised, because they are unsightly, or because they do not have sufficient tensile strength. Sometimes we never let wounds heal properly because we keep picking at the scabs of them. Where are the disciplines of our faith in this?

I like to believe in this case, it has more to do with creating a favorable environment for time to heal these wounds, as does the covenant of community with which we share a common life. I will be totally honest here. I have never been a huge fan of "intercessory prayer" per se. Yet I mostly accept it because of its covenantal nature...that somehow this environment of prayer is a favorable environment that can maximize the healing powers of time and our healing potential within us.

That doesn't mean that prayer can stop a gaping wound from becoming infected. It doesn't magically protect the tissue from becoming necrotic and dead. But I think what it does do is create the best environment possible for whatever will happen, to happen.

I can't begin to understand the first thing about what "healing" is in a totally spiritual sense. But I do believe that the natural world is my window to all things beyond the natural world...and the natural world tells me that I carry scars that I scarcely notice anymore. Somewhere along the line they were healed, but I could not tell you an exact moment in time when that happened. I carry other scars that I know will always be more noticeable. But there are days I don't notice them.

I have been blessed in that my "obvious" scars are not disfiguring. Would I feel this way if I had awful, disfiguring scars? I don't know; I can't even begin to say. But I do know I trust the natural process that I see, and I know I have some disfiguring scars in my soul, even if I don't have any on my skin. I know that some of those scars have softened over time, even if they have not totally healed, and I have the ability to hope for more healing, coupled with the natural process of wound healing that I understand.

Many of you remember posting about our canine friend Bo. Here is a short update:

After several tests and a biopsy, Bo was diagnosed with a spindle cell sarcoma. The tumor is fairly extensive and the one major worry is one of the masses is near the spine. He is terminal, but no one has a good time frame on that.

Bo's mom and dad decided to agree to a study at the University of Missouri veterinary school where he can get four free doses of chemo, and after the treatment, re-assess and go from there. The chemo will not be curative, but the hope is it will shrink some of the tumor and at least temporarily give him some relief.

He is doing, well...fair. At least prior to the first dose of chemo, he was starting to have trouble keeping his food down. More than likely, one of the masses is pressing against his stomach. There is no doubt he is slowing down. But he may get a little relief there if the chemo shrinks the tumors.

I will keep everyone posted as things shake out.

Yesterday, our choir treated us to Bach's BWV1 Cantata: The "How brightly shines the morning star" one. (Hey, I'm a classical music zero, I'm doing good to know this much.) It was also a week I was acolyte, so I was struggling between my need to be "perfectly precise" in the presence of total strangers, who came to church just to hear the cantata, and to be able to sit in my little spot on the chancel and become lost within the music.

You have to realize that, as an expatriate Lutheran, Bach is considered "the greatest Lutheran hymnwriter"...and my only begrudging thing about becoming Episcopalian is missing an abundance of "Lutheran hymns." I think Germans do "passionate angst" better than the English, I'm afraid.

So I am always thrilled when we do anything with German hymn music. I was not disappointed. The choir was marvelous, as were the horns and strings that accompanied them. But as I sat there for twenty minutes, half-hiding in the recess of the wall where the acolyte sits, I think I spent half of it looking at the ceiling, hyperventilating, tears streaming down my eyes, and totally puzzled as to why this was happening.

This morning, as I do my present "planned study" of the last third of the book of Isaiah, I hit upon it in Isaiah 60:5...“Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.”

Last night, I was still not hitting quite on what “it” was that made yesterday a first time experience. I think I’ve gotten a little closer to it this morning after reading this verse. It’s part of a feeling of being temporarily in the company of someone you have always, innately known you have loved (God) and the brief realization that this someone (God) loves you back...maybe more than you realized...and that although this love is eternal, this moment I was experiencing "right then" is temporary.

That is a feeling I am not used to these days. I think maybe that is part of what hit me so hard. I sat up there and realized that the place the music was taking me to was a place where I am loved in a way I’m not accustomed to...and at the same time realizing it would last only as long as the music lasted. I think it was the delight of being in the presence of something way further in my relationship with God than I usually get to be, and the sadness of the full knowledge this was temporary.

It’s because in this world, the “abundance of the sea, the wealth of the nations,” only comes to us for a short stretch at a time. It’s always edged with the knowledge that separation will occur. That’s just how it is in this world. We’re not allowed to stay there for any serious length of time, because we ARE temporal. “Beyond temporal” really doesn’t register with us. We are beings with a finite lifespan who contain a spark of the infinite, but how can we even begin to understand the infinite part of us when we are trapped in a temporal body, in a temporal existence? So when these moments of being totally connected with God occur, we can’t help but simultaneously feel the co-existence of our own temporal state. It creates a moment of unfathomable delight, coupled with the searing pain of longing.

I barely remember how to “long.” Years of waiting for things that I knew would never come, wishing for things I knew would never happen, beat it out of me decades ago. There is a place where you realize the cares of the world, the disappointments you experience through the flaws of others, the shame of your own inabilities and flaws, have scarred your heart to the place “longing” doesn’t happen anymore. Oh, maybe sometimes when people are caught in the throes of romantic love, they rediscover “longing”, but even that, over time, transforms into the day to day of “maintaining.” “Longing” changes to different forms of love...or pain, depending on the situation. Sometimes, I think, the problem of infidelity comes from just the simple desire of wanting to see what "longing" feels like again. I have a feeling that we commit a lot of sins just to "experience longing" for something or someone again, the simple desire to re-visit it.

But I sat there and realize I was doing something I had never done before. I was longing for God. I’ve certainly HIDDEN from God. I’ve LOOKED for him. I’ve been satisfied to just SIT with him. But up until yesterday, I had never LONGED for him.

I’m not ashamed to admit I am fairly afraid of that.

“Longing” has always ended up badly for me. It always results in exquisite pain. I’ve never had a single longing experience that ever ended up in a payoff. My track record is really bad on “longing.” So there is a part of me that says, “Don’t long for this. It will break your heart. Anything or anyone you ever longed for ended up being a shattered dream, broken glass on the pavement, with sharp shards that will cut your heart to ribbons when you fall upon it.”

I cannot even begin to imagine a longing that results in something good. My gut reaction is to “not long”; to resist.

But in this verse, it does not sound like I have a choice. It will be brought to me regardless of how I feel about it. I am not sure what to think of that. “Long, and it will be brought to you.” “Don’t long, and it will be brought to you anyway.” As the Borg say, “Resistance is futile.” So I have to think a little on what that means.

I just know this: I was exposed to a moment of “longing for God,” and I’m totally clueless as to what to do or think about it.

Yeah, I know, it sounds like the start of a golf joke, doesn't it?

But it's true. My priest and I sometimes chat about "the process" of his sermon-writing. Sometimes it is because he has writer's block, and he just wants to bounce a concept off of me. Sometimes it is in the context of just teaching each other about "our jobs." We sometimes like to talk about the little details of what each of our jobs entails...for him it is about "process" and for me it is a series of steps about how a particular surgical specimen turns into a set of microscope slides. Sometimes, I think it is just b/c we both like our jobs and it just comes out.

Well, I got to kidding around and started making "medical terms" for some of the different parts of the process just to give him a laugh, and here is what I came up with:

The process:

1. Sermonating—you’re ruminating about it.
2. Sermonizing—you’re writing about it.
3. Sermonoplasty--after you've written it, you're trimming and cutting and lifting it here and there to "make it pretty."

Then, of course, I could not have this conversation without some "pathologic sermon-writing conditions":

A. Sermonoconstipation....when you can’t think of a sermon.
B. Sermonorrhea—when you can write several.
C. Sermonoeructation—when you can burp one right up.
D. Dyssermonorrhea—when you have a great sermon in mind, but it’s the wrong text.
E. Dyssermonunea—when you write a sermon and it’s painful as hell and it’s supposed to be pleasurable.
F. Sermonograft—When you take an old sermon and take part of it and put some new stuff with it.
G. Sermonanastomosis--when you piece together two or more of your old sermons to make a new one.
H. Sermonoflatulence—When your sermon is just smelly air.

(Yeah, I had him laughing!)

Lent is coming. Get ready to be penitent. Even if no one cares.

If you ever follow, you know what a FOAF is, a "friend of a friend."

Well, this came from Robert, who got it from the Rev. Bruce Knofel who got it from the Rev. Bill Voris, who is a Lutheran pastor who served as chaplain at Western State Hospital for many years. Bill was Bruce's C.P.E. director and his spiritual director for many years.

So I guess this is from a "Friend of a friend of a friend"...a FOAFOAFOAF....

Let us begin this season of Lent with the promise of Easter reminding us of new life, renewal and hope. Lent provides us the opportunity to renew our connectedness with one another, our community and the world. Lent is a time of process, change and conversion. So let this be our prayer for one another:

To fast from unrealistic expectations of others, and ourselves -- and to embrace reality.

To fast from words and behaviors that pierce one's spirit, -- and instead affirm someone each day.

To fast from windy, empty words regarding others and issues, -- and to act on what we say.

To fast from raining on the parade of another's enthusiasm, dreams, visions, -- and instead nurture and cultivate the dreams.

To fast from a lifestyle that doesn't allow us to stop and enjoy the moments, -- and to do some small thing for one's self each day in gratitude to the One who created us.

To fast from holding on to old ways, systems -- and to discern what it is we need to say good-bye to.

To fast from criticizing the organization, managers, colleagues, -- and to celebrate God's fidelity to use within this healing ministry.

To fast from bitterness and resentment -- and to give thanks for each person who has touched our lives.

And finally, let us fast from impatience, -- and to wait with compassion and understanding.

May this be our prayer, we ask through God who is the source of our being.

...and since in a couple of weeks I can't say the "A" word for 40 days, let me add...Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen...

One of the things I like about going to Morning Prayer on Wednesday mornings is I get a sneak preview of having Sunday's Gospel text read aloud to me. Now I'm pretty good about reading ahead on next week's texts, but there is just something that kicks my brain in gear to actually think about the texts when they are read aloud to me. The text coming up for Sunday is Mark 1:40-45:

40A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

That whole discussion about "choosing" stuck in my mind today.

Jesus ALWAYS chooses for us to be clean. WE’RE the one that seems to be the one with issues.

The leper comes to Jesus and asks HIM to make the choice. Well, that’s because not only IS he a leper, he FEELS like a leper. He’s had years of being shunned, avoided, taunted, told he’s that way b/c of his sin. So he’s been so humiliated he can’t even ask Jesus to heal him flat-out. It’s more like, “If it’s okay with you….well…I’d kind of like to be healed…if it’s not to much bother…don’t want to put you out or anything…”

I am always struck with how the "leper" stories always cause me to first identify with the leper. How many times, when we have been the "outcast" in a situation, we find ourselves unable to ask for something in a direct fashion? We pussyfoot around the request, we hem and haw, and maybe even ask it in such a roundabout fashion that the person we're asking it OF doesn't have a clue what we are actually asking?

We can become painfully, incredibly shy when it comes to speaking the deepest of our heart's desires.

But even then, this poor leper causes an accidental ruckus. Jesus says, "Don't tell anyone, but go show yourself to the priest and have him declare you clean." But of course, the leper is so thrilled about his leprosy being healed, he basically runs down the street and tells EVERYONE. (He kind of reminds me of one of my friends, "don't tell anyone" always results in half the town knowing.) Thinking back to that business of Jesus feeling a little overwhelmed after healing Peter's mother-in-law, and half the town showing up wanting to be healed, I can see why he told the leper, "don't tell anyone, but show your sores to the priest." He wanted the priest's declaration to be the focal point of the thing, not "this guy Jesus healed me."

Of course, the leper telling half the town had the expected response. Once again, people started crawling out of the woodwork to be healed, and once again, Jesus is thinking, "Man, I can't even show my face in towns anymore. I kind of enjoy this healing stuff one-on-one, but healing these big crowds every day all day is NOT what I'm about."

Now there's a lesson. I channel surf all the time past the "televangelist channels" because they happen to be between two sets of movie channels I like. Now those folks, they definitely groove on those crowds of people wanting to be healed. Maybe right there is the difference between altruism and egoism. These TV preachers are more than happy to get the credit. Yeah, yeah, they stand there and tell people it is Jesus healing them, but when they are sermonating, you can tell there is a big dose of "me" in there, as in their "Jesus works in ME" sort of lines.

Jesus' desire to be humble in the face of all this is the lesson. Things in us that are "healed" in some way, shape, or form don't always have to be a public service announcement. We could choose to keep quiet and show our love and gratitude by going forth and serving others--a much more useful message in this broken world rather than to fawn over one person and shout his praises from the rooftops.

Isaiah 40:21-31:

21Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; 23who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 24Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 25To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. 26Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

27Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Mark 1:29-39:

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Ok, let me get the annoying part of the Gospel reading for this week out of the way. Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever. Jesus heals her and what’s the first friggin’ thing she does? She gets up and plays house for all the boys. How lame is that? I have this feeling that all over America, in churches who use the RCL, every XX chromosomed person in the sanctuary was either rolling her eyes, grunting, snorting, or giggling.

That’s kind of schmucky on Peter’s part. He ought to be going, “Here, let me fix YOU dinner.” Shades of when my dad used to sit on his butt in the recliner and yell, “Woman, fix me a sandwich!” Sigh. I suppose you could get away with that one better in the 1960's (Word to the wise, fellows: The command “Woman, fix me a sandwich!” these days, more than likely, will result in a sandwich suppository.)

And really, when you think about it, I don’t see where Peter’s mother-in-law would be all that thrilled about her son-in-law gallivanting all over East Cupcake and leaving the family at home to fend for themselves. But the Gospels don’t seem to address THAT one! I can see it now: “Simon Peter, you worthless sonofabitch! When are you going to stop farting around and come home and take care of things! I don’t care if he IS the Messiah, I should have never let my daughter marry you, you vagabond piece of shit no good fisherman who doesn’t even fish! Now, Moishe the butcher, if I had let my daughter marry HIM, HE would have taken care of us!”

Now that I’ve gotten my pet peeve out of the way for the readings....

Isaiah 40 is in my mind, the most powerful chapter in the OT. It’s one of the most beautiful and poetic, and I loved it dearly even in my “lone wolf Christian” days. I have read that one many times, from stem to stern, and I am still in love with that chapter. It speaks of the awesomeness of God, nature, and ourselves all in one swoop. It was a comfort to me in a time I could hardly be comforted. I discovered that chapter when I was a teenager, and it has served me well.

The problem is, of course, God’s ways are even more bumfuzzling at times.

But I’ll tell you about what stuck in my brain today:

“Everyone is searching for you.”

You know, you can't blame the disciples from going to find him. After all,there were all these people still wanting to be healed.

Kirkepiscatoid's opinion: I think when the disciples said, “Everyone was searching for you,” Jesus was thinking “everyone’s pokin’ at me.”

I know that feeling of "everyone's pokin' at me." All of a sudden this group of people has an expectation for you that you do not want to be doing forever, and you are sort of stuck because their expectations are pretty defined.

This story is from early in Jesus’ ministry. One-on-one healing with Peter’s mother-in-law, no problem. But then all these people show up and he heals a bunch of them...and they just keep coming.

If I were Jesus, I would think all these people showing up would feel a little overwhelming. Jesus is just coming into his own, he’s just coming to grips with all these things he is discovering about who he is and what he is meant to do. He’s thinking, “I know I have these talents...but this is not what I’m about. I can’t just stay here and keep healing people day after day, because yeah, I can do these things but THIS IS NOT WHO I AM. Hell, I’m still not totally sure who I am, really, but I know this ain’t it. I’m not some revival tent healer. I don’t want to do this all the time, in one place.”

So what does he do? He goes out “in the dark, in a deserted place.” (Hmmmmm. Kind of like how I go off and sit in the dark, or by my chiminea when I'm pent up or troubled.)

Jesus is probably thinking, “For cryin’ out loud. I’m a CARPENTER. I have no right to be a healer. Why do the rules have to be different for me? Everyone’s pokin’ at me, telling me all these things about me that I’m not entirely convinced that I am. But I know God wants something for me, and I sorta understand this, but not quite.”

But I honestly think part of this was that he felt pretty overwhelmed about it. He felt overwhelmed in a way all of us feel now and then. It can certainly drive any of us to despair.

I was thinking the other day about the explosion of stores closing in the area. A lot of these are in fairly new buildings. People don't have money to shop. I got to thinking, "Who holds the notes on these mortgages? Banks, obviously. All it would take in this country to spin us into a Depression that would be the equal and then some of the one my grandparents experienced, would be for a few more major banks to crump.

Then another sobering memory of when my lategrandparents used to talk about the Depression popped in my head. My grandparents remember when banks failed--one of the first things that happened when the banks failed was that "they started callin' in the notes." Maybe if you were fortunate, you would be able to have enough assets to at least agree on how many cents on the dollar you could get a break. Of course, most people didn't have the money to negotiate this. they just LOST their houses, their stores, their gas stations.

How can we see Isaiah-style beauty in all of this? Not easy. But I am wondering if we're going to have to live in Babylon for a while. Most people do not know how to live without credit. Spurring the economy by "buying stuff" with credit cards and buying things made elsewhere while jobs are scarce here is just a smoke screen. I about fell over when I saw a recent article that sort of chided people b/c they were SAVING money instead of spending it. I am convinced it will get worse instead of better. A lot of people will be living one paycheck from disaster.

Will this be an opportunity to turn to God? It could be. I do not wish hard times on any one. But sometimes, (and this has been true of me at certain times of my life), we turn to God when "that's all we have left." Easier access to credit and an abundance of cheap stuff has deluded some people into thinking they still had something left. But if that is what happens, the Church has to stand ready to be a support system. When we argue about which way the hymn books should be in the pew, and whether we should keep the sacristy door open or closed when the church is idle, or who goes to the rail and who doesn't, or who is the "real" church and who is not, it sort of screams "not ready." Are we ready to be lifted up and healed ourselves in the tragedies of others if this financial crises worsens? It remains to be seen.

Ok, it all started when I saw what the new Wal-Mart logo looked like....

Which immediately took me back to the first Kurt Vonnegut novel I ever read in my teenaged years, "Breakfast of Champions,"....

I have never seen asterisks quite the same ever again.

Well, this week has been interesting following my favorite blogs. It kind of started over at +Clumber's place when one of the more famous names in the "orthodite right" had said a few things about his interpretation of Scripture as it pertains to certain forms of sexual behavior. This led to a four part essay over at Jawbones, and another well thought post on the topic over at In a Godward Direction. I found both of these very insightful.

But when I read about what is going on over at the Primate's meeting, and see other news articles and blog posts that some of the primates can't even all have their picture taken together nor share the Eucharist as a group, it troubles me greatly...and as a passionately opinionated person, I'm afraid my first thought has a lot to do with "Vonnegut asterisks." It irritates me to no end that here I am, having enough trouble of my own simply praying for certain segments of this group of Primates and their followers, and the Primates themselves can't even agree on worship and photographs! What's a person trying one's damndest at praying for "Vonnegut asterisks" to do?

There is no doubt, this frustration drives parts of my prayer life to distraction sometimes. Having lived vicariously through the "coming out" experiences of three people close to me, their lives changed my attitude about committed same-sex relationships forever. The catch-22 of "We disapprove of your promiscuous lifestyle and the deceit that may result, but we won't let you enjoy all the rights of an openly committed relationship in the eyes of God and the law," is an impossible dilemma. Society is taking at least baby steps in this regard. Yet Christianity seems, at times, to be backpedaling.

What puzzles me is much of this fight is not over "sin" per se, but interpretation of isolated passages of Scripture.

I always think of the inside joke between me and my priest over Leviticus 21:10:

“The priest who is exalted above his fellows on whose head the anointing oil as been consecrated to wear the vestments, shall not dishevel his hair, or tear his vestments.”

When I acolyte, first thing my priest does after the recessional is throw off his chasuble and hand it to me, then musses and "un-musses" his hair. Leviticus 21:10 is a running joke with us, and I feign fear and josh about the lightning bolt that is sure to zap him and possibly me as an innocent bystander!

Yet if we treat this passage in the same manner as some do the passages that have led to this rift, by that definition I should be making phone calls to the Bishop.

The conversation, in my mind, needs to shift from finger-pointing about sin to talking about the uniformity in which we interpret Scripture. Granted, I am absolutely convinced of my interpretation of these passages, as those who are my polar opposites on that are just as convinced of their interpretation. We simply will not agree. But we should at least be able to share at the Eucharistic table. My family has its share of Vonnegut asterisks. But at least we can seem to "make nice" at the important stuff. I remember my own graduation from medical school. We were two years post experiencing an acrimonious divorce between my parents. But on my desk is a picture of all of the relatives who could attend, in the same picture. "Who stood next to each other" was surprising in a positive way. They went back to fighting like cats and dogs after Graduation Day, but I saw a miracle for 24 hours. So I am not asking for anything from the body of Anglicanism that didn't happen in my own family.

Society evolves. A hundred and fifty years ago some were using Scripture to justify slavery. The Episcopal Church at that time found a way to at least "coexist, uneasily." We would consider Biblical justification of slavery unacceptable and out of date now. A hundred and fifty years from now, we will have debates over other passages as society changes. For all the animosity passed back and forth, I have this overall sense that we are arguing about a blip on the radar screen of the evolution of Christian thought. We are faced with trying to figure the meaning of events thousands of years ago, in a society mostly foreign to us, in a way that continues to have meaning. We are trying to interpret the pressures of an ancient society and their need to worship God in light of a society with totally different pressures. In my own personal faith, it has meant slowly learning to not need a scientific or historical answer for everything. Many of you have watched me struggle aloud on words like "resurrection," "transfiguration," and "ascension." I have had to learn it's not about the "how", it's about the "why."

It seems to me that in order to disagree in a productive fashion, we have to all at least agree to leave all of us to our own beliefs to a large degree. Honestly, that favors a more inclusive body. There's no disagreement when a group of people are excluded--only oppression.

If you've been following the news, you might have heard about the flap the "Atheist ads" a lot of the London buses are sporting. Well, a lot of my bloggy friends have been playing with the "Atheist bus sign generator" on Rule the Web. I finally got around to making my bus sign. Here 'tis!

(Oh, if your screen doesn't have great resolution, it says, "Live as if this is all there is. Chances are, it's the mindfulness God wants anyway.")



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
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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