Friday, March 27, 2015

Heading To Holy Week

As we head to Holy Week, how can we hear the familiar stories with fresh ears?  How can we move closer to this story that's so distant from us in time and place?

Do the palms obscure the real Jesus?

What feet are waiting to be washed?

What table waits to be set for a meal made new with meaning?

The soldier looks impassively at the Passion.  How are we colluding with our empire?

So many wounds to bind.

How can we celebrate Easter with the taste of ashes still in our mouths?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 29, 2012:

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm: Psalm 31:9-16

Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

Gospel: Mark 14:1--15:47

Gospel (Alt.): Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]

Palm Sunday has become a busy Sunday. Somewhere in the past twenty years, we've gone from hearing just the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem to hearing the whole Passion story--on Palm Sunday many Christians leave the church with Jesus dead and buried. It's downright disconcerting to those of us who return to church for the rest of Holy Week--we hear the same stories on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It makes for a long, Sunday Gospel reading--and reinforces one of the paradoxes of the Passion story: how can people shout acclaim for Jesus in one day, and within the week demand his Crucifixion? Maybe it's good to hear the whole sad story in one long sitting, good to be reminded of the fickleness of the crowd.

It's one of the central questions of Christian life: how can we celebrate Palm Sunday, knowing the goriness of Good Friday to come? How can we celebrate Easter with the taste of ashes still in our mouth?

I find myself still in an Ash Wednesday frame of mind. Perhaps you do too. It's been a tough year for many of us. We’ve suffered job loss or house loss. If we’ve kept our jobs, we’ve said goodbye to colleagues. In any year, some of us lose loved ones in any number of ways. Because we are mammals that think and know, we are always aware that there will be horrors yet to come. We live in a culture that seems to prefer crucifixion to redemption.

Palm Sunday offers us some serious reminders. If we put our faith in the world, we're doomed. If we get our glory from the acclaim of the secular world, we'll find ourselves rejected sooner, rather than later.

Palm Sunday also reminds us of the cyclical nature of the world we live in. The palms we wave this morning traditionally would be burned to make the ashes that will be smudged on our foreheads in 10 months for Ash Wednesday. The baby that brings joy at Christmas will suffer the most horrible death--and then rise from the dead. The sadnesses we suffer will be mitigated by tomorrow's joy. Tomorrow's joy will lead to future sadness. That's the truth of the broken world we live in. Depending on where we are in the cycle, we may find that knowledge either a comfort or fear inducing.

It's at times like these where the scriptures offer comforts that the world cannot. Look at the message from Isaiah: "The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. . . . For the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near" (Isaiah 50, first part of verse 4, verse 7, and first part of verse 8).

God promises resurrection. We don't just hope for resurrection. God promises resurrection.

God calls us to live like the redeemed people that we are. Turn your face to the light. Turn away from the dark. Commit to redemption. Commit to new life. With a peaceful mind, wait for the resurrection that God has promised to you.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Feast Day of the Annunciation

Today we celebrate the Annunciation, the feast day that celebrates the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary, who would become famous as the mother of Jesus.  He gives her the vision that God has for her; she agrees.

I have a blog post about this feast day up over at the Living Lutheran site.  Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"I find Mary an interesting model for modern spirituality. Notice what is required of Mary. She must wait."

"She must be present to God and be willing to have a daily relationship, an intimacy that most of us would never make time for. She doesn't have to travel or make a pilgrimage to a different land. She doesn't have to go to school to work on a graduate degree in theology. She isn't even required to go to the temple any extra amount. She must simply slow down and be present."

"We might think about how we can listen for God's call. Most of us live noisy lives. We're always on our cell phones and computers. We've often got several televisions blaring in the house at once. We're surrounded by traffic and the loud beats booming from cars. We've got people who want to talk, talk, talk. Maybe today would be a good day to take a vow of silence, inasmuch as we can, to listen for God."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Saint Romero

Thirty-five years ago today, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated; no one has ever been brought to trial for this crime.

Until recently, I assumed that we would never see Romero beatified.  But this new Pope has begun to speed up the process.

Saint Romero--how I like the sound of that. 

A few years ago, I created this card to commemorate his life:

I find his life inspiring for all the reasons you might expect:  the standing up to oppression, the speaking truth to power, the martyrdom.

Lately I've been thinking about the fact that he came into greatness late in his life; he was born in 1917, and I don't think he did his best work until the 1970's,, in his late 50's/early 60's.  Looking at the trajectory of his life from the middle years of the century, one would not have predicted that he would speak so eloquently about injustice and the need to fight against it.

In fact, many scholars believe that he was chosen to be Archbishop precisely because he was expected not to make trouble.  All that changed when one of his good friends, an activist Jesuit priest, was assassinated by one of the death squads roaming the country. Romero became increasingly political, increasingly concerned about the poor who were being oppressed by the tiny minority of rich people in the country. He called for reform. He called on the police and the soldiers to stop killing their brethren. And for his vision, he was killed as he consecrated the bread for Mass.

Romero knew that he was in danger from various political forces in the country, but he refused to cower in fear and back down. Likewise, Jesus must have known what wrath he was bringing down upon himself, but he did not back down. Until the end of his life, he called upon us to reform our earthly systems, systems that enrich a few on the backs of the many. Romero and Christ both show us that the forces of empire do not take kindly to being criticized.

In the years since Romero was assassinated, we have seen the kind of economic injustice that infected El Salvador, where a very small proportion of the population controlled much of the money, take over much of the world.  What would Romero call on us to do?  How can we change the very economic structure that oppresses so many?

It's likely not enough for us who have much to give away our wealth, although it's important to share.  But that action won't change the larger system.

I wish I could end with a reassurance that the system will be changed if we just take action--but this time leading us to Holy Week makes me want to go a different direction.

Romero's life story shows that the system will resist change violently.  But the Passion story shows us that even the violence wrought by unjust earthly systems can be changed into a force for redemption and resurrection.  Humans may not be able to force that change--but God can.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hospitality and the Renewal of Camp

One of the highlights of last week came on Thursday.  A local pastor contacted my spouse as someone who could help him figure out people in Broward county who have a connection to church camps in general and Luther Springs in particular. 

Instead of a meeting over coffee or in someone's office, my spouse suggested that the pastor come over for dinner.  My spouse knows how to do hospitality!  I tried not to worry too much about all the ways our house might not be good enough.  I've written about this idea of scruffy hospitality, most notably in this blog post.  I say, "Come on over!  My kitchen floor isn't clean enough to eat off of, but that's why we have plates."   But secretly, some part of me believes that my floor should be clean enough to eat off of, and that I will be judged harshly when it is not.

My spouse made a wonderful meal on the grill.  We let our guest decide whether to eat in the dining room or on the front porch.  The pastor, who has a degree in urban planning, chose the porch.

Our porch table is big enough for three plates and not much else, so we made our plates inside and took them to the porch.  And then, we had a delightful time.

We talked about camp and Luther Springs, of course.  But we also talked about the issue of the local church.  He's pastor of a church that doesn't have its own building, and given the costs of acquiring a building and land--and then insuring that building--the church likely never will have its own space.  We're part of a church that has a building and 4 acres, most of them sitting vacant.  Occasionally we think of doing something else with the land, but it never works out.  Currently, we have a multitude of other groups and churches also using our building.  Most days, that sharing situation is a gift to us all.

We talked a bit about larger church stuff and theology.  What a treat!  Most of our dinner guests are not inclined to talk about theology.

Will it lead to more involvement in camp?  There's no getting around the fact that it takes 5-6 hours, or longer, for most of us to get to Luther Springs.  If we're in the western part of the panhandle, it's even further.  That makes a week-end trip almost impossible.

I know that most people think that camp means summer camps with kids spending nights away.  But I think camp can be just as vital for grown ups.  We could have lots of renewal in a week-end--however, it might not be as possible when that week-end is book-ended by a car trip of that size.

It was a weeknight, and so we called it a night at 10:00--a late night for me.  But it was worth the slight weariness that I felt on Friday. 

When just talking about camp leads to feelings of renewal, just think about what a time away at camp could do!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Poetry Friday: "Cassandra Considers the Dust"

I'm happy to announce my latest poem publication:  here's a link to the current issue of Southern Women's Review, where my poem "Cassandra Considers the Dust" appears on page 43.  I've loved this poem since I composed it, and I've sent it a variety of places to be considered for publication. 

I've read more than one person who says if your poem gets rejected x amount of times, you should revise it.  But given the vagaries of the publication process, I don't follow that advice. 

This poem was first headed on a different path.  I had been thinking about the kinds of people who keep watch during the night hours:   doctors on duty overnight, monks in the early morning, mothers with sick children, and the monitors in a hospital. 

I had planned to have three speakers in the poem, and I started composing in the voice of the doctor.  I wondered what it would be like to work long hours amongst the sick and dying.  The central image came to me: the doctor as the modern Cassandra, telling her patients the news they don't want.

I thought of the modern climate scientist as Cassandra:  how many Cassandras live in our modern lives!  I almost created a different poem.

On my way out of the door one morning, I noticed a thick coat of dust on a bookshelf.  I thought about dusting, and I thought of the climate maps I had played with:   how little sea level rise it takes to subsume a coastline!

I thought about the fluids flowing through our bodies, the fluids sloshing across the planet.

All these strands eventually came together in the poem that has now been published.  You will see that I abandoned my plan for three speakers; the doctor had enough to say for one poem.

Poets aren't often asked which one of their characters they like best--many of us don't create characters.  I write fiction too, so I consider this question periodically.  As I look back over the characters I've created, I have a fondness for this doctor. 

I have created many characters like her, it occurs to me, and they're often women.  They have lots and lots of duties and responsibilities.  Late at night, they return to a home that's more like a sanctuary than a home.

Home as hospice chaplain--perhaps I shall play with this idea. 

But early this morning, it's time to think about my own day of duties and responsibilities.  I will return to my sanctuary, but I'm luckier than many of my female characters.  I'll return home in the late afternoon, not the late night. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Feast Day of Saint Joseph

Today I've taken the liberty of reposting the essay that I wrote for the Living Lutheran site last year to celebrate the feast day of Saint Joseph:

March 19 is the feast day of St, Joseph, Mary's husband, the earthly father of Jesus. I have done some thinking about Joseph, as many of us do, in the Advent season, when occasionally we get to hear about Joseph. He thinks of quietly unweaving himself from Mary, who is pregnant. This behavior is our first indication of his character. Under ancient law, he could have had Mary stoned to death, but he takes a gentler path.

And then, his life takes an even more surprising turn. He follows the instructions of the angel who tells him of God's plan. He could have turned away. He could have said, "I did not sign up for this!" He could have said, "No, thanks. I want a normal wife and a regular life."

Instead, he turned toward Mary and accepted God's vision. He's there when the family needs to flee to Egypt. He's there when the older Jesus is lost and found in the temple. We assume that he has died by the time Christ is crucified, since he's not at the cross.

Some of us today will spend the day celebrating fathers, which is a great way to celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph. We might also celebrate stepfathers and all the other family members who step in to help with the raising of children.
Lately, I've been thinking about his feast day and what it means for administrators and others who are not the stars but who make it possible for stars to step into the spotlight.
Most students will remember their favorite teachers. They won’t remember the people who scheduled the classes, the ones who ordered the textbooks and supplies, the ones who kept the technology working, the people who kept track of the records, the ones who interfaced with loan officers and others to get the money necessary for school. But those people are important, too.

Let us today praise the people in the background, the people who step back to allow others to shine. Let us praise the people who do the drudgery work that makes it possible for others to succeed.

Many of us grow up internalizing the message that if we're not changing the world in some sort of spectacular way, we're failures. Those of us who are Christians may have those early disciples as our role models, those hard-core believers who brought the good news to the ancient world by going out in pairs.

But Joseph shows us a different reality. It's quite enough to be a good parent. It's quite enough to have an ordinary job. It's quite enough to show up, day after day, dealing with both the crises and the opportunities.

Joseph reminds us that even the ones born into the spotlight need people in the background who are tending to the details. When we think about those early disciples and apostles, we often forget that they stayed in people's houses, people who fed them and arranged speaking opportunities for them, people who gave them encouragement when their task seemed too huge.

I imagine Joseph doing much the same thing as he helped Jesus become a man. I imagine the life lessons that Joseph administered as he gave Jesus carpentry lessons. I imagine that he helped Jesus understand human nature, in all the ways that parents have helped their offspring understand human nature throughout history.

Let us not be so quick to discount this kind of work. Let us praise the support teams who make the way possible for the people who will change the world.