Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Pause Found

Have you ever been reading a book, and then come across something that deeply moves you? Something, where you might say, actually out loud, "Gosh, I want to remember that forever." The something provides a certain resonance that gives a pause, an awakening to something deep in your soul. I had that experience this morning while reading a book I started last week, Open Secrets by Richard Lischer. Open Secrets is a book about a young pastor in the late 1960s who full of ideals and thoughts of living out God's calling with a zest for change and compassion, is faced with the reality of being placed in an impoverished farm area in Southern Illinois amongst people who are used to things as they are in their community, and understanding the world in a certain way. Where his ideals and this community's reality meet are the crux of the grace and beauty of this book. This is the quote that stirred me and provide me with a sense of pause,

"The Protestant church was already in the process of discarding the named Sundays of Lent and Easter even as we blessed and planted the seeds. Now they bear the evocative names, 'The First Sunday in Lent', 'The Second Sunday of Lent', and so on. The Fourth Sunday in Lent was once named Laetare, which means rejoice. It was known in the church as refreshment Sunday. On this Sunday rose paraments [vestments, etc.] replaced the traditional purple of Lent, and psychologically and spiritually, we breathed a little easier. The color rose seemed to say, There's light at the end of the tunnel. Even at the dead center of Lent, Christ is risen.
The protestant church got rid of Laetare as well as Rogate [the Latin word for pray] and many of the other days for reasons I have never fully understood. It created a bland church calendar and liturgies du jour in the image of people who have been abstracted from place and history, who have no feel for the symbols and no memory of the stories. They live, work and worship in climate-controlled buildings. They have largely adopted a digitalized language. Their daily routines override the natural rhythms and longings of life.

I can only say that the Latin words were not too much for my high school dropouts. The simple outline of church history didn't overtax their imaginations. The liturgy and church year made sense to the farmers in New Cana, for who better than a farmer understands the circularities of life? The church year had a rhythm, and so did their lives.

Some would argue that the observance of Rogate arose in an agricultural world and is, therefore, irrelevant to all but the 1.7 percent of Americans [probably alot less today] who live on farms. But my congregation understood the metaphor that underlay Rogate, which is this: When we do any kind of useful work, we join the act of creation in progress and help God keep the universe humming."

Thank you God for helping me find the pause.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sermon on Galatians 5:1; 13-25

This is my sermon from yesterday, 6/27; delivered at Salado Presbyterian Church... Oh yeah, the title is Freedom is found in Communion.

When I was 19 years ago and the first time being independently on my own, I lived on the central coast of California in a town called Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo county. Maybe some of you have heard of it. (I think the name of the town might have been referenced in a Beach Boys song.) My friend Paula and I made up this poem one day as we were sitting in my living room with its rugged cabinesque feel by virtue of its open wood beam ceiling and wood paneled walls. Heard in the background of our girlish giggles and the noise of the pencil as we scribbled down our enthusiastic rhymes were the sound of seagulls and sea lions. In this time of iconic communion, we wrote a poem on freedom. The first line of the poem started with the words, “Freedom rides on the wings of doves.” And the closing line, “Freedom beacons between you and me.”

The New Testament reading today comes from a letter Paul wrote to the church in Galatia. It can be divided into three parts: Christian Freedom; Things to Watch out for that can get in the way of Christian freedom; and, the Lovely things, the byproducts, Christian freedom provides. So to begin, what is the definition of freedom? In my research on this topic, I found that freedom can mean many things. Freedom is found in the ability to choose from many options. I am free to choose what I want to eat for dinner. Do I want to make home made tacos from scratch, which includes frying the corn tortillas in oil until it makes a perfect shell. Or do I want to go out to a restaurant. I have the freedom to choose between the hamburger and beer joint, or splurge on a restaurant that sells upscale Italian cuisine. Of course being a student, the latter is not always an affordable option.

Freedom can be the absence of social, economic or political oppression. Or, it can be in a psychological sense, the freedom found in the absence or removal of emotional barriers or stress. For example, when the woman in an abusive relationship is removed from that situation, and then placed in a safe environment, she experiences freedom. She is now free to spend time in healthier situations with spiritual and emotional direction to help overcome her former abuse.

And freedom, can be found through the ability to define a quality of controlling one's existence by a certain type of self mastery. Like recently, young Abby Sunderland who attempted to sail around the world. This same type of freedom might also include learning to master playing classical guitar, becoming an expert at growing vegetables, playing a round of golf, or teaching yourself to crochet. From the poem, Invictus by the English poet William Ernest Henley, “It matters not how strait the gate; How charged with punishments the scroll; I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Next week, next Sunday, one week from today, will mark the 234th time as a nation, we've honored Freedom. We've celebrated our Freedom as a nation that identifies freedom as the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. But, what does freedom mean for Paul, for the Christian church of Galatia, and for us today as Christians. What is Christian freedom? Paul writes to the Galatians, who are beset with bickering and inner fighting amongst themselves. He is trying to help them truly become free and not yoked, so to speak, with the harmfulness vicious bickering can bring. Paul writes in the first sentence of his letter that for freedom, Christ has set us free. We can now stand firm and do not need to submit to the yoke, the tight hold, of slavery found in self-centered behaviors that view others as rivals, instead of equally beloved children of God.

This first sentence of our New Testament reading today does two things. It sets up a precedent to serve God by trusting God; and by loving God. Hence, loving one another. Two things to remember: Trust and Love. When you accept the liberating work of Christ Jesus, you become a person who begins to trust the faithfulness of God. Once you learn to trust God 's faithfulness, then you learn to trust and take risks to serve your neighbor. The responsorial reading today was from Psalm 16. Psalm 16 starts with asking God for protection but then rests in a prayerful state of relying on that trust. Psalm 16 sets up the relationship of serving one another in the freedom of love, as it provides first and foremost our relationship with God.

Love. Love is to serve one another. Christian freedom through love is to be servants to one another. The writer of the gospel of Mark states in Mark 10:43-45, “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you, must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you, must be slave of all. For the Son of Man (Jesus) came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Now the ability to serve does not mean to be a doormat. It's the ability to trust God's lead and be available for God to move you, to compel you in an instant to serve in love. One source I found put it this way, “To serve through love means that serving is done not to meet the demands of the law or even to feel good about ourselves.” Moreover, “Christ frees us not only from the law, but from the sinful self. Freed from the self, we're free to serve the neighbor in love.”

It becomes all about Leviticus 19:18, which even if you do not recognize the scripture reference, you will recognize the phrase. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” One of the professors on my campus says in her recent book that “ fact, our service [to others] is the concrete manifestation of our love, and our participation in the love of God.” Freedom is found in communion with one another. My professor further writes on the subject, “God's promise, God's grace and God's love are the basis; justice, mercy and humility are operative; bread, forgiveness and freedom are the evidence.”

This past spring term I took Christian ethics and learned about some of the theories of 20th century philosopher Emmauel Levinas, who said that he liked to explore the wisdom of love instead of how the Greeks refer to it, as exploring the love of wisdom. Levinas talked about the face-face encounter with the Other (Other is what we might refer to as Neighbor). He said, in this encounter with the Other, we see the Face of the Other and we're moved to act in love for the Other. Let me say this again by substituting Other with Neighbor. In this encounter with our Neighbor, we see the Face of our Neighbor, and we're moved to act in love for our Neighbor. Reason does not enter into the equation. We are gripped, or seized, by love to act on behalf of the Other, our Neighbor. When the earthquake in Haiti hit this past January, our reaction to pray or to give monetarily came naturally. We were seized by love, uncontrollably. Now, one small clarification. What is the Face? The Face is an old, ancient term to depict the way of acknowledging God's presence in the other person. Simply put, we are all God's creation, so the image of God, the Imago Dei, resides in all of us. We can go astray in different degrees, and we often do, but first and foremost we're beloved creations of God. God's children, and we honor that aspect in others. Levinas' theory, what he called the Ethics of Ethics, is also based upon the Hebrew concept of Hesed. Hesed is what Jesus Christ came to fulfill. The definition of Hesed is two fold. It means love. But, it's more than just love, it means steadfast love, loving kindness, a love that endures. The second prong to the concept of Hesed: God's promises. Through Christ, God keeps the promises set of compassion and mercy, thus loyalty to be in loving relationship with us. God's love endures.

At the beginning, I said that this passage in Galatians can be sub-divided into three parts. The first being Christian Freedom, which we've discussed. The two other parts I want to briefly address. The second part are those things that prevent us from loving (how I like to think about it, honoring ) our neighbor as ourselves; and end up destroying our communities. Paul writes about reacting out of jealousy or anger. Additionally, he brings up the dire effects of purposely bringing about dissension. That's a hard one I know because I'm one person that just needs to pull aside a friend to “vent”. But that “venting” can bring about dissension when we end up separating one person from others. Sometimes even unknowingly. But the other side of the coin, the third part of this message from Paul, provides us with the lovely things God's freedom brings. The things that guide us to lovingly serve others. Such things become the attributes of joy, peace, patience, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the byproducts that come from acting lovingly to others.

As you already know, I am a divinity student. I am approaching my last full semester in seminary. Needless to say, I am excited at seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I equate seminary with law school in terms of its emotional and intellectual intensity. A year passes and it feels like you’ve been laid out flat by twenty trucks in a row. Yeah, God’s workings is just slightly tiring, as I jokingly say with a smile and an exhausted shrug of my shoulders. This past Friday, I worked in my school library until noon, came home and ate lunch, cleaned my home and then continued my preparations to come to worship with all of you. In the midst of the day, I realized something. I hadn’t talked to anyone all day. I mean yes I greeted people coming into the library and so forth, but I didn’t have a true sharing of my heart and soul with anyone all day. It wasn’t until that evening when I called a dear friend from my church to wish her a Happy 70th Birthday, and tell her that she was loved and special to me that I felt the yoke of my self-involvement lift. In thinking about today’s message after I got off the phone, I suddenly came to the conclusion that freedom was found through love.

Freedom is found in loving communion with one another. We become available for God to seize us, to compel us to act in lovingly service with one another. Our faith must carry imagination for loving service to take wing. How have you served in love recently? For that is where freedom lies.


Cyber-Bullying and School Responsibility

I came across this quote this morning out of the Times, "I have parents who thank me for getting involved, and parents who say, ‘It didn’t happen on school property, stay out of my life.’"
MIKE RAFFERTY, a middle school principal in Connecticut, on cases of online bullying.

As a former public educator this gives me great concern. What is a school's responsibility? What about technology. Has technology gone amok? Do we blindly accept it as a communication tool without truly understanding its limitations, harms, excesses, etc? I would love to know your thoughts. Here is the original article from the Style section of the New York Times. Clink here for the article.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Clean-up this blog...

I've really had the best intentions in writing consistently. I'm working on discipline, my greatest foe, so as us all in our imperfection, I'm still trying with a clean slate in my hopeful reach.

I left some things untied in my last blog entry. One of it was the church advertisement that was printed in Newsweek. (The original blog entry that shows the picture is here). So, last week was my home church's VBS. The theme was pirates and Treasure Island, building upon the scriptural verse that says, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," Matthew 6:21. In light of what we teach children and remind each other, the advertisement has a couple of troubling depictions along with the connotations it evokes. Like for example, the palatial home. Home and the warmth associated with a home is wonderful. It can be a beacon for healing, nourishment, rest and hospitality. But, if the home denotes outside aesthetics associated with success in terms of a sign of wealth, then it's entirely a different matter. So this depiction maybe needs to be rethought out. What about a picture showing a family or groups people breaking bread in candle light as an alternative? Another photo...the family. Family should be treasured,of course, but the depiction shows a family, white, attractive and blond. Is this an indicator of a typical Christian family, or what used to be referred to as a WASP family? This family also looks affluent. What is this depiction truly saying? If you find some of these pictures troubling, how can some of the negatives turn into positives?

Now on to Abby. I admire this young girl and do not hold judgment against her parents. This young girl has character and grit. She is self-possessed and smart. For those who criticize, are they really saying a teen-age young girl could never accomplish something of this magnitude. Would this fervor be the same if a boy Abby's age, which there has been recently, tried to accomplish the same thing? Just a few things to think about.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In Defense of Abby and other good postings

I noticed two recent blog posts (listed on my blog scroll to the right)that were highly poignant to me, and ones that made me want to write about them. The first one I just noticed today, and the second has troubled me for the last few days. The first one is from a minister out of the Washington D.C. area, who writes under the blog title, A Church for Starving Artists. She writes on June 16 about what Christians value, that which plays out in the what they worship. The picture she uses is from a church advertisement shown in the June 21 issue of Newsweek. It shows a "perfect" affluent white family, a large suburban home, a nest egg piggy bank, stained glass depicting the two saints (I'm thinking Paul and Peter), a classic white church with pillars, and a leather bound bible. I'm thinking, does this portrayal really depict the gospel? The author of this blog writes,
"I've been thinking, too, about idolatry and the things we worship that are not God. Many of us worship the Bible. We worship our families (hence The Family Life Center.) We worship our churches. (Lots of people who self-identify as devout Christians worship the Bible and their churches.)....We also worship other stuff. At least I do. Idolatry is maybe the toughest commandment, even though we act like it's adultery." This makes me ponder what I do in terms of idolatry, what I worship that is not of God. Let's start with pride....Sidebar along these lines...I saw a display banner on the road for a church. The banner had a huge apple on it with one word in all caps, DECEIVED. Hmmm! That's a whole another topic for later, and I'm guessing the woman is blamed for the root of this deception. I found this funny at the time I saw it with the judgmental notion that crossed my mind, "oh how, theologically immature." Later, I wondered the value of my judgment.

Now to Abby...
I've been following this girl's story since her boat became severally damaged because of bad storms, leaving her boat, Wild Eyes, unsailable and her stranded at sea. I deeply admire this young girl. I remember how intrigued I was as a kid, when I saw the National Geographic story (and later reading the book)of Robin Graham and his boat, The Dove. Graham sailed around the world at age 16 too. What I wonder about is the huge backlash of criticism about this girl, and about her parents. One of the criticisms was about the cost of her rescue and who was to pay? What? Okay this makes me insane? Does saving someone's life cost too much? And the alternative would be to let her perish in the waters of the Indian Ocean! Well, some argue, she should not be out there in the first place. I'll continue this part of the discussion for another day. Look at the sidebar that links to Abby's blog for her answer to the critics. Tomorrow, I'll continue this discussion...

Monday, June 14, 2010

And One more

Another I found by Yeats. (My favorite Yeats poem is the Second Coming in all it's rich darkness, light and deep authenticity.)

The Indian Upon God

I passed along the water's edge below the humid trees,
My spirit rocked in evening light, the rushes round my knees,
My spirit rocked in sleep and sighs; and saw the moor-fowl pace
All dripping on a grassy slope, and saw them cease to chase
Each other round in circles, and heard the eldest speak:
Who holds the world between His bill and made us strong or weak
Is an undying moorfowl, and He lives beyond the sky.
The rains are from His dripping wing, the moonbeams from
His eye.
I passed a little further on and heard a lotus talk:
Who made the world and ruleth it, He hangeth on a stalk,
For I am in His image made, and all this tinkling tide
Is but a sliding drop of rain between His petals wide.
A little way within the gloom a roebuck raised his eyes
Brimful of starlight, and he said: The Stamper of the
He is a gentle roebuck; for how else, I pray, could He
Conceive a thing so sad and soft, a gentle thing like me?
I passed a little further on and heard a peacock say:
Who made the grass and made the worms and made my feathers gay,
He is a monstrous peacock, and He waveth all the night
His languid tail above us, lit with myriad spots of light.

In Honor of William Butler Yeats

This is the birthday of William Butler Yeats. Yeats was born on June 14 of 1865. He died in 1939. Here's a short poem in his honor,
Gratitude To The Unknown Instructors
WHAT they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass

Happy Birthday William!

Update: I spied this birthdate from the New York Times. I must have been looking at Sunday's on-line Times instead of todays. William's birthday is actually June 13, born in 1865. Thank you to Mike C.'s little sister, Julie for the catch. So...Happy Belated Birthday William Butler Yeats !