Tuesday, December 27, 2005

HOLY NAME- today is the Feast of the Holy Name, the remembrance of the day when Jesus was given his name and circumcised, recognition of him as a member of the tribe and his identity. In his day, and in our day in some places one has no identity outside of one's tribe. A person without a clan was a non person. Many kinship groups have rituals of inclusion and naming. Christians have baptism - which is available to all persons regardless of gender, family of origin, or tribe. It is a sign of inclusion into the family of God, which of course, already exists with our birth. The ritual makes that fact visible to the community and the community commits itself to recognizing and supporting the person being baptized as sister and brother.
Naming is an act of power. God does not easily give God's name to us - because it was believed that having that name would give humans power over God. We see in the story of Moses - that God gives a name which is really a verb - I AM, or I am who I am, or I am whom I am becoming - all possibilities in the original language. It is the essential of God's being but not a name which can be "fixed" and used for power over God. When we name children we often give names that contain our hopes for them or that connect them to their heritage and family. I think of the parent's who gave the name to Zaccheus - what were their dreams for the son whom they named "innocent" and who grew up to be a hated tax collector for the Roman occupation. Could Jesus see through the layers of life to the child who began as Zaccheus-innocent? Was the name reclaimed in the breaking of bread in Zaccheus home that day?
Often people write my name and spell it Anne - when it is really Ann. It makes me think that they do not really know me or that I am not really important enough for them to care. Probably they just don't know or are more used to the other spelling. My husband gave me a gift of my name by telling me if we had a boat he would call it annnoe- Ann-no-e. I loved it because I felt known and affirmed. Kind of nutty, I admit - but nevertheless important to me.
In the Bible words have power - Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is the ultimate word beyond our written and spoken words. It is in relationship to him that we learn Truth. The words of the Bible and their stories point to the Holy One. Often the stories are hard to comprehend as we move from a culture of centuries ago to our day. For me, they all need to be held and examined in the Light of the Christ to gain clarity. There is a rabbinic tradition of binding and loosing when interpreting scripture and the laws of the Bible. When Jesus says he gives us power to bind and loose - this is what he is saying. Binding is like a strict interpretation. Loosing is saying that the law does not apply in these new circumstances. For more on this subject Click Here.
In my book of daily meditations, Streams of Mercy I wrote:

"You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life;..."
--John 5:39 (NRSV)

Sitting at the desk of my days
Pages pile up
Paper and ink
Yellowed and curling
Dry dusty
Searching texts
While the Word knocks on the door of my room
A friend with a cup of tea.

This is the heart of faith for me - the relationship with the Holy who is so familiar and yet unknowable. When Jesus is taken to the Temple to be circumcised and named - God is brought near to us in this life. The blood and the joy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

CHRISTMAS EVE - this is the night when God was born into our joy and suffering. A most amazing event - Emmanuel - God with us.
Luke 2
"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them."

There is something about the language of the King James Version for this reading. Maybe it is because it is the most familiar language from my earliest hearing of this story. I hear "And it came to pass...." and I am hooked. This year the line that jumped out for me is the angels saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (of course this is from the days when men was an inclusive word meaning all humankind) "Will" is not used in all the translations - often it reads "peace among those on whom God's favor rests." The Greek word "eudokia" has a range of meaning - delight, satisfaction, good pleasure, kindness, wish, purpose. That God has Good Will toward us is at the heart of the Christmas story. God cares and delights in us to such a degree that God comes among us helpless and naked, trusting us with Godself. Who among us does not delight in babies. Well, maybe not at 3 a.m. when we cannot satisfy and calm them and we have been up for a week of nights - but still we intend good will toward them. God is teaching us in Jesus how we are to be towards one another. Think about the person with whom you are having the most difficulty, think about them as a helpless baby - smiling and gurgling at you. It is hard to continue to have ill will in such a moment. Good will is easy when we are in that frame of mind. I am not saying that we should be silly and let a person continue to abuse us or put ourselves in danger, but I am saying we can let go of the feelings that harm us and act from wisdom instead of revenge.
If we are able to do this with those we know - can we do it towards those we do not know - on a global scale? Good will is not a feeling - it is a decision, a choice. I choose to have your best interest at heart. I act out of what will be best for all of us. I let go of my scarcity thinking and act out of abundance - abundance of love, abundance of all that is really needed for life. I don't pour my kerosene into the water system, I take care of the earth - the only place we have. I act with good intention toward all - not out of hatred, or reaction to my prejudice. What would the world be like if we all could act with good will?
We might just have peace on earth. The angels have it right but it won't happen just because they say it. It will happen because we take up the message and make it happen. Tonight and this week practice Good Will towards all whom you meet. When you read about some terrible thing - pray for the people involved. When you hear some bit of gossip - think tenderly of those involved. There are many ways to practice Good Will - you will think of many more as it becomes a habit. Make this your resolution for an hour, a day, a year. Follow the newborn Christ, come and see.

O God,
Open our eyes that we may see the needs of others;
Open our ears that we may hear their cries;
Open our hearts that we may feel their anguish and their joy.
Let us not be afraid to defend the oppressed, the poor, the powerless,
because of the anger and might of the powerful.
Show us where love and hope and faith are needed, and use us to bring them to those places.
Open our ears and eyes, our hearts and lives, that we may in these coming
days be able to do some work of justice and peace for you. Amen.

From The Episcopal Peace Fellowship

Friday, December 16, 2005

ADVENT 4 In the Episcopal Church and many other churches, the weeks leading up to Christmas are called Advent. It is a time of turning inward and preparing a place in our hearts for God to be born once again in our hearts just as Jesus was born over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. This week we celebrate Mary and Elizabeth. Mary - a young woman chosen to be the God-bearer and her cousin Elizabeth pregnant in old age who will give birth to John - the one who points the way to Christ in the Gospels. Click here for the reading. I ran across a wonderful painting depicting the meeting of these two women. The joy of the Spirit filling both women, strengthening them for the days to come. This is the amazing thing about Christianity - it does not promise every thing in life will be wonderful but it does promise that God is with us. That is the meaning of Incarnation - God in Flesh - in the "meat" of life, the fat and the lean, the juicy and the stringy.

On another topic - today my husband and I went on our annual "tree hunt." It is our tradition to cut our own tree in the nearby forest. He used to take the children and they would help him (depending on their ages). Some years it was slogging through chest deep drifts of snow, coming home triumphant and exhausted. Now they have moved away from rural Lander to the big cities. In the meantime, the Forest Service has opened up cutting in a place that is only a short walk from end of the road - so we were able to get our tree in about an hour - including buying the permit. Christmas is not my favorite season of the year - see my breaking of the ornaments blog for more on that. I put off getting ready until the last minute - good thing it lasts through January 6 - Epiphany - so I can get everything done. My Christmas letters are likely to be Valentine's Day letters at the rate I am going. Tomorrow we will decorate the tree. The best thing for me are the church services. This year we will do an Instant Christmas Pageant at Eden, Wyoming, then off to Rock Springs and a Midnight Mass. On Sunday we will have a 9 a.m. Christmas Day service. My Christmas began this year with a Service of Lessons and Carols where a young boy soprano began the service singing Once in Royal David's City. The BBC will have Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for those who have not heard it this year.
Another fun thing to do is Advent Calendars - found online in several places. Here are some that I like (click on them to link):

Tate the Cat

Washington National Cathedral

BBC Bach Advent Calendar

So Blessings of the Season be with you whatever spiritual path you have chosen. May the love that is at the heart of the universe fill your life and the life of the world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

BIRTHDAY PRESENTS -- today is my birthday and I received 2 great presents (more to come, no doubt!)
One is a down filled robe from my husband, which will surround me with warmth through the long Wyoming winter. And the other is "MY BOOK:" Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.. Click here to see all about it. It is the culmination of several years of reflections on the Daily Office readings found in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and a year of editing. Thanks to the encouragement of friends and our daughter's work of editing plus many others looking at it and offering corrections and ideas. Although I wrote the original reflections, it came from all the people who have influenced my spiritual journey and it is now a product of a whole community of people. Thanks to everyone who made it happen.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

THANKSGIVING: off to the Oregon Coast to eat, nap, walk on the beach and reconnect with the Pacific Ocean. I grew up by the ocean, spending summers with my grandparents and brothers while our parents worked in the city. The ocean most represents the Holy to me - the beauty, the danger, the peace, the storms, giving and taking. When I set out for a walk on the beach I never know what will find. Sometimes it is hard to know what one sees, sometimes it is a banal piece of material culture and sometimes a massive tree that has been ripped loose from a distant forest. The best thing to find is glass Japanese fishing float. I don't think they are still used. When I was a child we would always find them after storms - blue green globes traveling from across the sea. Now they are rarely found. A common thing to find are sand dollars. They come in many sizes but most are about 3-4 inches in diameter. Gifts to be found and carried home to remember sandy, sunny, stormy days and nights near the great sea. Most sea life needs to be protected and admired without touching so that it will live on. So off we go to get sand in our shoes and find the rhythm of waves and tides, nights and days, wind and sun.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

ALL THAT JAZZ - this Sunday in Rock Springs we will worship with a Jazz group - Ronnie Kole.
Click here for the readings for Sunday.
This week we have the famous story of the landowner who entrusts his property to his slaves. Thanks to William Loader's thoughts at Textweek instead of seeing this as one more stewardship, how to get money out of people so we can pay the bills sermon - I am challenged to see the giving away of property as the giving away of Godself. The gospels tell us that in Jesus, God came among us and gave away all. The talents were an amount of money -we have taken the word into English to mean our gifts, our abilities. Looking at these talents as pieces of the Holy given out freely - the question becomes more than just about our money or even our personal abilities. The parable becomes a challenge to clinging tightly to our little bit of understanding of the immensity of the Holy - try to protect it from others and their understandings. Hiding our bit of God under the mattress. Trying to contain the uncontainable.
I am not a musician nor do I play in a jazz band so I should probably call for a testimony from someone who does but here is my impression. Trying to keep the Holy buried and contained is sort of like not being willing to risk the interplay of music that makes up jazz. A player who holds too tightly to his or her tune cannot reap the benefits of what happens when one lets go and lets the music take over the life of the group. Of course there is study and practice with one's particular instrument. There is learning the music so well that it creates a freedom to take off and know we will return. But when it all works - the wild applause tells us - Well done - good and faithful servant.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

ALL SAINTS: This is the week we celebrate All Saints and All Souls. I like to think of them as capital "S" and small "s" saints and souls. Those whose names we know and about whom stories have accumulated (more and less legendary) and those who have changed the world but whose name we will never know or who are known only to us personally. Famous Saints: like St. Francis - who by his actions called the church back to holiness of life, Martin Luther King, Jr who had a dream and died for that dream, Mary Magdalene who became the first witness to the Resurrection and Apostle to the Apostles, (as she is called in the Orthodox tradition), St Patrick, who learned the love of God while enslaved and came back to his captors to witness to that love. The less well known saints like the teacher who said the word that encouraged us when we thought we couldn't learn something. A neighbor who took us in when we came home from school and no one was at our house. The coach who taught us the "trick" that helped us understand how to catch or hit. The Sunday School teacher or church camp leader who showed us the wonder of God, not just the rules. Many of the more well known saints changed the course of history by being willing to stand up or in the case of Rosa Parks - sitting down. She was tired - not from a hard days work but tired of being told she had to give up her place because of the color of her skin. Her action came at a time when others had been arrested and humiliated before her - but suddenly every one was tired and joined the bus boycott. It was that critical moment in time when she made her choice.

Our readings, click here include a picture from Revelation of all the saints gathered around God, sheltered and cared for by the Holy One, with all their tears wiped away by God. It is an image to sustain those who work for justice and resist oppression, like the images that can be heard in the song Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

The first letter of John speaks of being children of God in the here and now as well as the future. Our lives show whether or not this is true. It is the actions not the words that are the proof. St. Francis says our lives may be the only Bible someone ever sees. Gandhi said he believed in Jesus -it was Christians that disproved Christianity.
And our Gospel is the well known beatitudes or Sermon on the Mount. It reveals our true state - blessed. Created in the image of God and with the potential to reveal God. The brokenness of our true state - poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness (right relationships), comes in the first 4 lines, yet we are still blessed and will receive a way to return to the fullness of our creation. Shocking when you think our usual use of the word "blessed" - as in, God blessed me when I was saved from the wreck, or when we are rich and happy -we are blessed. Here it is in our brokenness we learn that we are also blessed.
Sainthood - to which we are all called - the early church called all Christians - saints, is our created being - mercy, pureness of heart, peacemaking, are signs of this whenever we act from our image of God self.
Living out our call is not without a price - as most saints discover, put downs, social ostracism, and even death have awaited those who follow the crucified one. Does not really sound like Good News - but our end is not in death - social death or real death. We are promised life and that promise carries us through to stand or sit to make this world all that God desires. AMEN

Friday, November 04, 2005


The invocation offered at the Pasadena NAACP Annual Dinner on October 26th

O God of love and justice, we remember this night the life and witness of our sister, your servant, Rosa Parks. We remember that by her act of courage on a bus that afternoon 50 years ago, she injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization. We remember this night that she sat down in order that others might stand up We remember this night that she refused to cooperate any longer with unjust laws. We remember this night that she said, "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

As we eat this meal tonight, O Lord, and enjoy the fellowship at our tables, we pray that you will bless this food and this fellowship, God, by making us, like our sister Rosa Parks, tired of giving in.

Make us tired of giving in, Lord, to the classism and racism in our country exposed by the winds of hurricane Katrina.

Make us tired of giving in, Lord, to this unjust war that has now taken the lives of over 2,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis, and which rewards corrupt corporations, takes away civil liberties, and sets Christian against Muslim.

Make us tired of giving in, Lord, to tax cuts for the super wealthy that steal food from the poor and steal schools and health-care from everyone else.

Make us tired of giving in, Lord, to a life of timidity and insensitivity that does not live for liberty and justice for all.

Make us tired of giving in, Lord, to leadership that does not ask us to sacrifice so that the human race can become the human family.

For in living for others and in prayerful awareness of our dependence upon You and of our interdependence on one another will we truly be blessed.

All these things we pray in your holy name. Amen.

--The Reverend J. Edwin Bacon, All Saints Church, Pasadena

Friday, October 14, 2005

SUNDAY October 16. We are celebrating St. Francis Day a bit late this year. For the readings click here.
I read an article in The Living Church, by The Rev. Larry Harrelson of Sisters, OR, about Francis that gave me some ideas about how Francis, before his conversion, symbolizes our lives in this day and time. Weighed down with burdens of maintaining our place in the world, our status, we live our lives out of relationship with our true selves, our neighbors and God. We put up masks of "making it." We spend our days busy with activities that in the long run will not matter to us. We don't leave time for that which produce joy. We live in fear that there will not be "enough."
Francis was a wealthy young man, full of himself, his power, his abilities. He rode into battle looking for glory but ended up in prison, abandoned in a crowded cell, in the dark. We cruise along thinking our might as a nation, or our individual abilities will carry us through. It seems only when we find ourselves in disaster do we have to face our true selves - our ultimate powerlessness and hunger, our emptiness of life. Francis heard a call from God "As you go, proclaim the good news, 'the kingdom has come near.' Cure the sick raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics. or sandals or staff, for laborers deserve their food." Matt 10:7-10. He gave up everything and found everything.
Once Francis came upon the wolf, Gubbio, who was terrorizing a village - he spoke to Gubbio about how he could feed his hunger without endangering the villagers. How often our hungers turn us into people that terrify others. Will we find food for our spiritual hungers?
He would carry worms across the road so they would not be injured by the wheels of the vehicles or careless feet. Can we find that kind of tenderness toward the creation and our planet that sustains us?
His father wanted him to return to the family business and said he would cut him off from his inheritance if he did not. Francis stripped off all the clothes that had been purchased by his family's wealth and stood naked rather than give up his sense of what God wanted of him. Can we strip off all that does not make this world a better place? Stand open to God and God's call on our lives? Share rather than hoard? Give up power to empower others?
Today we bless our animal friends, those who are with us and those who are absent. It is a symbol of our care for creation and the gifts that the creation gives us. St. Francis is honored all over the world with ceremonies such as this one. But St. Francis is also more - a person who challenges us to live in truth and witness to the power of God's love for us and for all creation.
Something for fun:
You are Julian of Norwich! It's all about God, to
you. You're convinced that the world has a
happy ending. Everyone else is convinced that
you're a closet hippie, but you love them

Which Saint Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

This week I am actually watching the tide and seeing what it brings - we are at Cannon Beach. Took a long walk around the "bird rocks" - usually surrounded by water - tonight while the tide was out. Stopped by the local grill for salmon, lovely. Not thinking things theological this week - just enjoying the grandchildren. Tomorrow I meet by phone with the publisher of my book. It is a compilation of my "poems" on the Daily Office. What a lot of work goes into the final editing of a book - I have more admiration for published writers now. More when we surface from the coast.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Thinking about next Sunday's readings for September 18.
It is sort of a complaining Sunday. The Israelites are complaining about being bored with manna and the workers are complaining about the landowner's unfairness. Even Paul is of two minds about living or dying. He seems kind of tired of being an itinerant preacher, suffering, and trying to build up the faith.
For those who have escaped with their lives from the disaster of Hurricane Katrina or any other disaster, war, or famine - manna, or any sustenance seems like a bounty. Once the immediacy of the tragedy gives way to the day to day awareness of loss of home, identity, photos, not to mention all the other possessions and items that make a place one's own, then complaining about something that is handy, like the food, follows as an outlet for all that grief.
The parable of the landowner had puzzled me for many years until I was confronted by a classmate in seminary with the question "look at it from the point of view of the day laborer." Thinking back over my days as a teen picking beans and strawberries in the Portland, Oregon area - I began to see it in a new way. The strong are chosen to work early - the field owners buses would come by the corner where we stood hoping for work. Later as it became clear they needed more pickers - others would be chosen slowly gathering at last the weakest of us. For me it did not really matter because I would have a home and dinner to go to at the end of the day but for those dependent on these jobs - each day would begin in hope that they would be able to provide for their families, have food for another day, see their children sleep in a bed. As the day wore on - hope would die and families would not be fed more than meager rations. What a parable of the kingdom - the last, the weak, the hopeless, all receive a day's wage - all are given hope.
I was both sad and hopeful when I read this eyewitness account of the days after the hurricane. Sad at the terrible response of those who were supposed to be trained to help and hopeful at the community that formed and how ordinary people reached out to each other to care.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sunday thoughts. Click here for the Readings
The readings this week seem difficult in light of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and on this anniversary of September 11 destruction of the Trade Towers and the Pentagon. The reading from the Hebrew scriptures is the drowning of the Egyptians so that the Israelite people can be free. The Epistle is on judgment and religious laws and the Gospel is on forgiveness.
There are several ways to approach the Exodus story. One is that we are both the Egyptians and the Israelites. Our care for the poor as a country, in health care, education, and steady employment has been shown in this tragedy to be far short of the standard of the prophets and Jesus. They have been trapped in this event by the lack of choices available. Without funds, transportation, a place to go, and/or a plan for keeping up the levees or for disaster, people were doomed. A 2004 article in National Geographic sketches a scenario of a hurricane hitting New Orleans that is eerily similar to what happened. Like the Israelites asked to make bricks without straw - the Gulf Coast was asked to protect itself without funds.
Another idea that comes to mind is that all journeys begin with birth. The crossing of water is symbolic of new life. We have to leave the womb that protects and feeds us to enter into the wilderness that is our life. With family and community gathered around us - we can launch into life and make the journey. Death of the old and birth of the new are a part of each other. If we can take the disaster that has occurred and turn it to a new life and a new spirit for our country we can in some small way redeem a terrible event.
When Jesus talks about forgiving he shares a story of the one who owes so much and is forgiven but when it comes to others he is hard hearted. This not a story of letting people off from abusing others or forgiving and forgetting. It is one that calls for accountability.
This is the point Paul is making in his letter to the Romans. He is discussing religious laws on diet and worship and our judgments about who is acceptable in the community and who is not. Paul says that we are all brothers and sisters and need to work for one another instead of against each other. Accountability but also compassion for our human failures and our human abilities.
I have heard that "we should just stop talking about who is at fault and get on with the work" after Hurricane Katrina. But it is in the learning and accountability that true forgiveness can happen. Mistakes in judgment, greed, things done and not done are all apart of what happened and we need to bring these things into the light. It is only then that true repentance can occur. This does not mean we get so bogged down that we don't act. Mother Jones said "Pray for the dead and work like hell for the living." I hope for us there is a quality of "working like heaven" - working as Jesus would have us care for our neighbor as we would care for ourselves.
The Psalmist sings of earthquakes and floods - natural disasters. They are the reality of our life on earth. There are many things that can be done to mitigate the effect on life but they will occur. We are God's hands and heart here in this time and this place, we are called to share our gifts and talents in whatever way we can. Some are working on the front lines, some are offering homes to those displaced, some are sending money through relief agencies. Episcopalians are giving through Episcopal Relief and Development where you can be assured that most of your gift goes to help and not for overhead. We have the structures in place to make it happen.
At the end of the day, though, it is only in God that we really "move and live and have our being," who will be with us through fire and flood, bearing us up on eagle's wings when the journey is too difficult. We need only ask for that strength and peace that passes understanding.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Mary Thomas Watts
September 6, 2005

It’s time to pull over and let some people out.
We’ll need a disembarkation manifest, so here’s mine.

Earning the top spot on the list of chuckleheads we gotta lose is Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, swiftly followed out the tailgate by FEMA Director Michael Brown.
The magnitude of Katrina’s destruction was surpassed only by the blundering incompetence of these two Bush-crony bureaucrats who were supposed to know how to respond to a national disaster.
Maureen Dowd, of the New York Times, understated the case when she called Brown, of FEMA, “a blithering idiot,” and Chertoff deserves to go down in historic infamy alongside Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, and President George W. Bush, who was photographed gaily strumming a guitar on Tuesday, August 30, while the deadly waters rose in New Orleans.
Attention! Will the following high-profile persons please step up and take your exit pass as your name is called:
Vice-president Dick Cheney, who, as of Labor Day, hadn’t uttered the first peep about the cataclysm in the Coastal Southeast.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who took in a Broadway musical comedy and shopped for designer shoes, in Manhattan, while thousands perished.
Rush Limbaugh, who is running lower on the milk of human kindness than the Hattiesburg BP is on regular unleaded.
Karl Rove, who stayed behind in Crawford so he could party with the anti-Cindy Sheehan people.
Next off, any-dadgum-body who ducks, dodges and makes lame excuses for the shameless performance of Homeland Security, FEMA and the White House. We all saw what happened that shouldn’t have and what didn’t happen that should have, and we’re not about to forget it.
The duck, dodge, lame excuse rule goes double for Bush 41 and Bill Clinton, who need to stick to fundraising for the relief effort and leave defending the administration to Karl Rove, who hasn’t met a human tragedy he couldn’t exploit to boost his president’s approval ratings.
I’m also particularly anxious to deposit on the roadside members of the press--print and electronic--who commit the following offenses against our collective sensibilities:
1. Professing shock at the poverty they see in New Orleans and on the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts. Matt Lauer, et al., are way too sheltered for their--and our--own good.
2. Telling us how great President Bush is one-on-one. The president hugging hurricane victims is to this unfathomable disaster what his turning up in Baghdad with a plastic Thanksgiving turkey was to the War in Iraq. Save your film.
3. Anointing a super hero prematurely. As inspiring as it is to hear Lt. Gen. Russell Honore cuss in a Cajun accent, barking at the National Guard to put down their blankety-blank weapons, “You’re not in Baghdad,” we’ve just begun to see the faces of true courage, and heroes will be legion.
You gotta hand it to Lt. Gen. Honore, though, he’s already given us some great sound bites, like, “We’re not stuck on stupid,” which somebody ought to put on a bumper sticker. (Or maybe they already have, and that’s where he got it.)
We’ve made a pretty thorough sweep here, so re-assigning the vacated seats is the next order of business.
Everybody responding to the immediate crisis with sacrifices of time, talent and money, come aboard.
Politicians and disaster management experts with the will and expertise to fix what’s so obviously broken at FEMA and Homeland Security, hop on.
It’ll be a squeeze, given how many countries have offered help (Canada, Cuba, Iran, Germany, Kuwait, Great Britain and Afghanistan, to name just some), but nations traveling together is the world’s best hope.
Journalist and author William Greider said, “Everyone’s values are defined by what they will tolerate when it is done to others.”
I don’t know about you, but my hair is still on fire over what my fellow Americans suffered in their darkest hour.
Enough, already, from the White House about “an army of comfort” and “the armies of compassion.”
As Wilmington High School Hurricane Editor Michael DiBiasio asked, “Why does everything always have to be an ARMY with him?” Why, indeed.
We’re way short on competent leadership in this country, and it’s our own fault. It’s also up to us to change the situation.
I guess you might say we’ve got openings for drivers.
How about we give the wheel to somebody with the spirit of that 14-year-old boy, in New Orleans, who sized up the situation, found himself a school bus and drove people to Houston?

Mary Thomas Watts lives in Wilmington and writes for “The Gary Burbank Show,” 700 WLW-AM, Cincinnati.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

September 4 Proper 18 Click here for readings.

For years there have been warnings of how global warming will affect the weather and pleas for lowering the use of gasoline through higher mpg cars and alternative fuels. Now the impact of not paying attention to the sentinels of our time is coming home to us. Hurricanes and rising gas prices may force us to hear what has been ignored so far. It is not just the wicked who are suffering and dying - it is our planet and all of us with it. The words of Ezekiel ring true in our day.
Paul's letter to the Romans gives hope in the midst of despair. "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers." Only when we see that we are one on this "fragile earth our island home" (BCP p. 370) and that each of our actions contributes to either building up or tearing down the community of creation will things change.
Martin Bell says that "messiah" builds community and gives life to individuals (both - not one or the other), the "demonic" tears down community and takes away life. Whose forces will we join?

To donate money to assist those who are suffering Click here for Episcopal Relief and Development. Your dollars can be in the places of need within hours.

Here is the latest news report from ERD:
ERD Responds to Hurricane Katrina

[Episcopal Relief and Development]
As Hurricane Katrina leaves behind devastation in Florida and Louisiana, and closes in on Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, Episcopal Relief and Development has mobilized in support of communities affected by this disaster.

After tearing through Florida on Friday, the Category 4 hurricane regained force over the Gulf of Mexico, with winds topping 145 mph.

This morning, Katrina touched down again, just east of New Orleans, Louisiana. Hurricane–force winds caused a path of destruction 250 miles across. A million New Orleans residents avoided harm by obeying a mandatory citywide evacuation.

Seventy percent of the coastal city is below sea level, and is protected from flooding by levees and pumps. After pumps failed in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, filling the streets with six feet of water, dozens of people had to be rescued from the roofs of their houses.

Katrina is over Mississippi this afternoon. Storm surges in Gulfport, Mississippi have already plunged the city under ten feet of water. Winds tore the roofs off buildings in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Disaster officials will begin assessing the damage to Louisiana and Mississippi today.

Hurricane Katrina is one of the most destructive hurricanes ever to hit the US. Experts estimate that it could cause between $10 and $25 billion worth of damage. If the higher assessments are confirmed, Katrina will be the most expensive hurricane in US history.

On behalf of Episcopalians, ERD has sent emergency funds immediately to the Diocese of Mississippi. This emergency assistance will help vulnerable people whose homes are destroyed or severely damaged. ERD support will help the diocese provide aid to community members through two mobile response trailers, which are equipped with supplies like chainsaws and generators to assist in the recovery.

We are waiting to hear what kind of aid is most needed in Louisiana. We have also offered emergency assistance to dioceses likely to be affected as the storm moves inland, including Alabama and Tennessee. Forecasters also warn of the risk of high winds, flooding, and scattered tornadoes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

We offer our prayers for the people affected by this disaster – those whose homes are under 10 feet of water, those who have lost family members, and those whose businesses have been blown down and swept away. Please join us in praying for people affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Episcopal Relief and Development, an independent 501(c) 3 organization, saves lives and builds hope in communities around the world. We provide emergency assistance in times of crisis and rebuild after disasters. We enable people to climb out of poverty by offering long-term solutions in the areas of food security and health care, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.


Saturday, August 27, 2005

August 28 Sunday thoughts - I am not preaching this week but have been thinking about the readings. Click Here to read them.
Moses and the burning bush intrigues me. So much of nature seems to be holy ground. The long sandy beaches with basalt headlands found on the Oregon coast, our church camp near Esterbrook, Wyoming, and many other places evoke a sense of union with the Divine.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes:
"Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes and the rest sit around it and pick blackberries.”
Arthur Ocean Waskow and Phyllis Ocean Berman write: "Moses chased after the dancing lamb just as it disappeared around the mountainside; tripped, cut his knee, lost one sandal in a bramble patch. He rose hobbling, saw another patch of brambles — burning.
Yelling "Oh my God!" he dashed to clear a firebreak lest flames spread to the other dry thorn bushes on the mountain. His other sandal clattered unheeded off the path. He tripped, fell into this blazing bush, moaning, "Oh my God, my God." Click Here for the rest of this meditation.
The burning bush can be seen as Moses' shame of being raised a son of privilege while his sisters and brothers live as slaves. This shame rises up as he tends his sheep in the wilderness. God calls him to use his gifts and life experience to free the people. In this moment of awareness, when shame of life circumstances and choices are turned to gift and opportunity, the ground becomes holy. How can we open ourselves, allowing the Holy One to transform our lives into Holy Ground?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Very Well-Rounded

You have:
The graph on the right represents your place in Intuition 2-Space. As you can see, you scored above average on emotional intuition and above average on scientific intuition. (Weirdly, your emotional and scientific intuitions are equally strong.)

Your Emotional Intuition score is a measure of how well you understand people, especially their unspoken needs and sympathies. A high score score usually indicates social grace and persuasiveness. A low score usually means you're good at Quake.

Your Scientific Intuition score tells you how in tune you are with the world around you; how well you understand your physical and intellectual environment. People with high scores here are apt to succeed in business and, of course, the sciences.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 66% on Scientific
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 44% on Interpersonal
Link: The 2-Variable Intuition Test written by jason_bateman on Ok Cupid

Saturday, August 20, 2005

August 21, thoughts for Sunday. Click here for Readings
Jesus says in today's Gospel " I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." I have often wondered what he meant by this until I read an article on the use of binding and loosing regarding the Torah and the Laws contained in it. Instead of the usual interpretation as forgiving of sins or being the gatekeeper of Heaven, the article says Jesus is referring to whether laws apply or not in new situations. His charge to the community of his followers is that they have the responsibility of deciding how to apply the laws of old to a changing world. The metaphor of keys tells of a call to unlock the scriptures in our time. The charge is not to use the the scriptures to lock people in but to open the doors to the liberating power of God.
The midwives of the time of Moses' birth had to choose obedience to pharaoh or their faith in God. Paul in Romans puts it this way - be a living sacrifice - do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. There will always be choices - some have life threatening and life giving possibilities - often the same choice contains both.
A statement I heard this week encapsulates what I think the readings are saying to us as a people of God.

"I tell you with my life that God is good."

Can we witness to this goodness as we live our lives this week?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Thoughts on the Fourth of July for Sunday July 10
Isaiah 55:10-13
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Today is the Fourth of July - a big day in the life of this small Western town. We have a parade, a buffalo barbecue, and rodeo. Fireworks of all sorts up to almost "dynamite" size are available - so it sounds like a war zone all weekend. On Saturday evening the local orthodontist put on a fireworks display to rival many towns. We can sit on our deck and watch it across the valley. Tonight the town will have another display. We can watch it from our back deck. We are surrounded by festivities celebrating our country's birthday. This year, however, I don't feel like celebrating - I just feel sad. To me the country seems to have gotten off track. We are mired down in a war that was started on false pretenses but cannot really abandon now. We can't leave the people whose lives we have changed until there is more stability and infrastructure in place. We seem to be sliding backwards in the founding ideals of the Declaration of Independence - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some seem to feel that safety comes from restricting rights of individuals and their ability to make personal choices. The current taxation policy is growing the gap between rich and poor, and financing our lavish spending by selling our selves to the Chinese and others willing to lend us money. Health care is a scandal. Basic preventative care is unavailable so people wait until they are desperate to go to the doctor. Children are growing up - sick, uneducated and hungry. What kind of future does all of this portend? Is there Good News anywhere? Does the hope foretold in the passage from Isaiah exist or is it just wishful thinking?
Jesus tells a parable in the lesson from Matthew for Sunday

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
"Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"
"Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

I have always believed that the "soil" of this country was good - with abundance for all. It seems this year that the soil has become hard and rocky. I think it is going to take some tilling and fertilizing - the difficult work of gardening to get the soil back in shape. The promise of the Statue of liberty burned brightly for my maternal grandmother's family form Scotland and my father's family from Norway as they stepped off the boat just a generation ago. I hope we can continue that legacy for those who have always been here, for those who came unwillingly and for those yet to come.

Monday, June 20, 2005

A week ago I awoke to find that my voice had gone, totally, even whispering would only start a coughing fit. A marathon week of a meeting, visit with our grandson, a quick trip to Jackson Hole for a funeral service, and services on Sunday in Rock Springs and Eden together with a cold left me voiceless. First thing I learned was - I talk more than I listen (big surprise to my friends LOL). It has been a good time - listening and knowing that I cannot respond. This caused me to listen more fully without preparing my response as the person is talking.
Now I am recovered - will I continue to live the learnings?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

TRINITY SUNDAY Click here for Readings
The concept of the Trinity was developed by the early church to clarify the boundaries of acceptable belief in Christianity. Although many of the same questions remain about the nature of God, and different religions and denominations give various answers, the concept of the Trinity has captured an idea of God that is really breathtaking. It is not an answer that limits but one that invites. In the Rublev icon there is space at the table for the viewer - as if to say join us in our contemplation. There are many depictions in art of the Trinity. Using the image search function on Google will bring up a variety. The Celtic designs feature abstract interweaving often forming a heart in the center. Another that reveals the passion of God is by Pieter Coecke Van Aelst. Art and dance seem to be able to express this idea better than words. As a revelation of God words fail to catch all the nuances of the Divine - the dance of relationship between the Creator, the Christ, and the Spirit - all participating in one another and yet separate manifestations of the Holy One.
I think it expresses a balance of life in this time and space and all that belongs to life beyond. The Navajo concept of Ho'zho' - Walk in Beauty - captures this balance, as do other religious traditions. The Trinity reveals perfect balance that we are called to find in our own lives.
The creation story from our readings today speak of God creating through the breath/Spirit to incarnate life as we know it. At each stage of creation the writer of Genesis says "and God saw that it was good." Good or Tov (in Hebrew) is more than our concept of good vs. bad - it has the sense of "order" or being in right relationship. All things in creation are good - they are in balance and in right relationship to the divine. Part of the story of the fall is that humans get out of this balance - they forget their relationship to the Holy. Nevertheless, humans cannot destroy the essential goodness of creation and our essential goodness as created in the image of God, all of us, unique, yet bearing the image of God.
The Trinity calls us back to our essential being - calls us to join the dance of creation, learn the steps of the dance, bringing our selves into the sphere of the divine. No wall flowers at this dance - all are invited.
The Shaker hymn Simple Gifts embodies this sense of finding our delight in the steps of the dance of the Holy in the Trinity.

Some poetry by John Donne
Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Father, part of his double interest
Unto thy kingdom, thy Son gives to me,
His jointure in the knotty Trinity
He keeps, and gives to me his death's conquest.
This Lamb, whose death with life the world hath blest,
Was from the world's beginning slain, and he
Hath made two Wills which with the Legacy
Of his and thy kingdom do thy Sons invest.
Yet such are thy laws that men argue yet
Whether a man those statutes can fulfil;
None doth; but all-healing grace and spirit
Revive again what law and letter kill.
Thy law's abridgement, and thy last command
Is all but love; Oh let this last Will stand!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

EASTER 7 and ASCENSION Click Here for Readings.
Ascension is one of those church holy days that is a mystery to me. The whole idea of Jesus ascending through the air into heaven is hard for someone who has seen the pictures of earth from space taken by the Astronauts. Instead I think of Glinda in the movieThe Wizard of Oz rising up into the air in her bubble with all the Munchkins waving and shouting "Goodbye, Goodbye" in their little squeaky voices. There are many artistic depictions of the Ascension. Salvador Dali shows Jesus from the disciples point of view and some androgynous heavenly being receiving him. There is an icon showing just Jesus feet as he goes into the clouds and leaving footprints on the rock below. If you use the image search on google you will find all sorts of conceptions of this event. The gospels also have varying accounts. At some time Jesus parted from his followers - there was a sense that they would not see him again in quite the same way. But as he left them it was as though the heavens opened again. As when Jesus was baptized, at the crucifixion when the veil of the temple was torn in two, so at this event the doorway to the full reality of God was wide open - it would never been seen as closed again. I love the response of the angel in Acts - "why are you standing around looking up into heaven?" In another place they are told go to the city and wait for power from on high. The time between Jesus' Ascension and Pentecost is called a time of impotence or a time of waiting by John Westerhoff. Between his apparent disappearance and the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is a time when we need to wait - not an easy thing for modern day life. We want to learn patience and we want that now as the old joke goes. The disciples gathered to pray, study and worship as they waited. It was a time of preparation for the ministry that would soon envelop them. Perhaps that is something for us too.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

EASTER 5 Click HERE for Readings.
Often when we read this gospel we only think of afterlife. Perhaps this is because it is read at funerals and preached as an afterlife passage. Rarely does Jesus intend his messages to apply to "heaven" as in after we are dead. His concern is with life here and now. The kingdom of God is in your midst is how Luke reports it. Heaven (afterlife) is interesting but as the father, in a Woody Allen movie, answering the main character's question about whether he worries about what happens, you know, after? says "after? after? who cares - I will be dead."
Only God knows what happens after and God in Christ challenges us to make this world a place where all can experience the realm of God. In the Lord's Prayer we say each Sunday "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earthas in heaven." When we begin to read this Gospel through that lens we hear Jesus assuring us that no matter where we go we will find a home. He will prepare that place for us and be there wherever life takes us. buckaroo Banzaiin the 80s cult film says "wherever you go there you are." We learn as we grow up that the grass in not always greener somewhere else, we will not be a different person, we still take ourselves and our gifts and challenges with us. Without help we cycle around the same old stuff. The promise Jesus makes is that he will prepare a place for us by being the way, the truth, and the life. This is not a message of exclusion and damnation for those who are someplace else in their walk - it is a message of hope for us.
It is like going camping with an expert guide who knows the challenges and rewards of the wilderness. One who is with us showing us the path, who can read the signs of the wilderness, and who is ahead of us at the campsite with the tent set up and the dinner on the fire at the end of a long trek. It is a relationship with the One who can be trusted to lead us and who as the Psalmist says "holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip." and "who brings us to a place of refreshment."
Last night (Saturday, April 23) Passover began for our Jewish sisters and brothers. Our reading from Deuteronomy contains the question of why Passover is celebrated. "we were slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out with a mighty hand" With out liberation we are all slaves to things that do not matter ultimately. We get caught in the struggles of position, power, honor, shame, addiction, abuse --- God wants something else for us. God wants us to live with justice and peace, and in community with one another and the creation. When we become children of God we are expected to assist with the bringing of this "heaven" to the world. As the letter of Peter says "Once you were no people, but now you are God's people:" "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the might acts of the One who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
The many mansions tells us that there are many places where we may find ourselves, there are many ways that God has of calling to people to join in bring heaven to earth, but we are assured that no matter where life takes us - Christ will be there preparing a home for us. We will never be strangers again - not to one another, not to the world, not to God.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Inspired by Jon Carroll's article in SFGate:

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Sibling Jackhammer of Sweet Reason.

Get yours.

From a breakaway group

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Sister Immaculate Sword of Grace. What's yours?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Easter 3 Click Here for Readings
Early thoughts for Sunday's sermon.
In our EFM online group on Monday evening we did Theological Reflection on a painting of Jesus at Emmaus. The angles and planes of the painting both separate and join the figures and objects. In the painting the wine in the chalice is split and the bread is still unbroken. It seems to be the moment before recognition of Jesus in their midst. It reminds me of all those moments just before the world can never been seen in the same way again. For the people of Israel the Red Sea split before their eyes and they can continue their journey to liberation from slavery. For the husband and wife at Emmaus all their preconceived ideas of life and death are about to be shattered. They could not see that it was the Risen Christ accompanying them on the road home because they could not see beyond their ideas about what happens when someone dies. All of us have opinions and positions about "how things just are" - and yet the Spirit comes and breaks through those ideas in the lives of our ancestors in faith. Journeying with Christ we will have these life changing, mind altering experiences. A wild ride with a wild God.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

DYING, DEATH, and other thoughts
The media feeding frenzy surrounding the Schiavo and Schindler families has evoked all sorts of reactions. Politicians have tried to make political capital out of the case. Various groups have tried to convince the courts and the public of their closeness to God and what God would want. Others align themselves with the husband or with the wife or with the parents. The only thing I can discover in all this is a deep unknowing of motives, reactions, reports and the whole process of dying. We do not really know what Terri Schiavo wanted, what her husband is thinking in his heart of hearts, what the parents really want, or even if anyone is right about anything. Our thoughts are primarily a projection of our own hopes and fears.
Those who have disabilities are alarmed that the case is a sign of what might happen to them if this is just one step on a slippery slope to no medical intervention when people have conditions that are deemed inconvenient. There is good reason to be alarmed given our history as humankind on this earth. Those who have had to face death in their loved ones and the prolonging of life when there is no hope of recovery and nature would take over if it weren't for our medical techniques - fear the consequences of a wrong choice. Who ultimately gets to decide? The spouse, the parents, the courts, the legislature, religious institutions?

Out of all this I have had these thoughts but no conclusions:

1) Get a living will and end of life directives written up NOW!!! Spare your loved ones the agony of not knowing your wishes. There are lots of place to obtain a form - on the web, from hospitals and doctors, from attorneys - many are free.

2) Dying with dignity: guess what - death is not dignified, it is messy and terrible. Sometimes there is pain which one hopes medical care personnel can alleviate - but not always. One's body is taken over by others who must care for one's every need. This is not all bad. In my short time as a priest - I have witnessed amazing times in the process of death. Families are open to healing of relationships that seemed impossible. The power of the Spirit can strengthen the bonds of love and compassion. Not always, but as many times as I have seen it I come to expect it.

3) Judge not lest you be judged - the journey to death for the dying and those surrounding him or her is not an easy path. For those of us outside of the immediate circle - love and support is the best thing that can be offered. For those of us caught up in the whirlwind of last days, however long they last, give each other slack. Many things are said in grief that can cause further pain to one another. Remember the stages of grief are not linear or accomplished once and for all. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance are like the ball in a pinball machine - rocketing back and forth between the posts, getting stuck for a time, sometimes lighting up the whole body and sometimes causing everything to stop with a big TILT! Everyone make his own Tear Soup with her own ingredients and its own cooking time.

4) Live today. Be present with one another. Tell people you love them, you appreciate them. Don't wait. Death can come this moment as well as sometime off in the future. We will die - it is the only way to continue. For me it is a mystery and an adventure. I have written about it before and will probably write about it again.

5) And as Mary Oliver says in The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand …
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,  
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done? …
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

6) Alcoholics Anonymou puts it this way - when will you start showing up for your life?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Last Sunday ended with these words:
"Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.' Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone."

The stone blocking the tomb was sealed. It was sealed against any deception that might be perpetrated on the people. Like a letter with a big blob of wax imprinted with the seal of the sender, like a triple locked door of an apartment in the inner city, the stone covering of the door of the tomb received a seal of the Roman Empire. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary saw it and the guards saw it. It was over - death was final - no going back. It was the end.
How often in our lives do we have times when we are as stuck as that tomb? Hearts sealed tight - holding ourselves in so we won't be hurt any more than we already are.
As a Larry Warren of Knoxville, TN says:
"A time of when all you could do was weep ... triggered perhaps by
Words from a doctor "I'm sorry the tests confirmed that it is malignant."
A phone call in the night "There's been an accident, come to the emergency room right away."
Words from your employer "We are going to have to let you go."
Words from a parent to a young child "You know honey that Mommy and Daddy have not been getting along lately. We have decided to get a divorce."
These are times we pull the cave around us and seal the doors against everything. Words intended for hope and comfort seem empty and meaningless. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to the this place on that Easter Sunday 2000 years ago. They come with hearts sealed against hope, hearts heavy with grief and hands heavy with the things of death.
In the creative chaos of the moment they discover that it is not the tomb of rock that contains death and despair - that thief of hearts - Jesus - has slipped out into life and is now knocking on the sealed tombs of their hearts. Knocking, asking, seeking to be allowed into our places of despair and death and hopelessness. Calling us out like so many Lazurus' - be unbound, come follow me. Death is conquered. Christ is Risen.
It does not always happen in an instant - often it takes the word of someone who has been in this place before us. Christ speaks through those who have taken this journey and come through to a new place - a place of life and hope. Sometimes it is the healing of nature - Don Clendenin puts it like this:
"Despite the shadows of death that darken our world, if you look carefully you see Easter resurrection breaking out everywhere. In the boisterous laughter of a child rollicking with the family dog. In the bright orange poppies, red azaleas, yellow daffodils, pink dogwoods, and white apple blossoms that paint the neighborhood in an extravaganza of spring-time color. In a leisurely dinner with neighbors. In the human creativity of art and architecture, film and music, painting and photography. In the self-sacrificial goodness of so many people the world over. Magic is in the air."

Or in this poem by John Niehardt, 1908

Once more the northbound Wonder
Brings back the goose and crane,
Prophetic Sons of Thunder,
Apostles of the Rain.

In many a battling river
The broken gorges boom;
Behold, the Mighty Giver
Emerges from the tomb!
Now robins chant the story
Of how the wintry sward
Is litten with the glory
Of the Angel of the Lord.

His countenance is lightning
And still His robe is snow,
As when the dawn was brightening
Two thousand years ago.

O who can be a stranger
To what has come to pass?
The Pity of the Manger
Is mighty in the grass.
Undaunted by Decembers,
The sap is faithful yet.
The giving Earth remembers,
And only men forget.

We do forget - but today we are reminded - as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans - nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus goes ahead of us - he is the beginning, the path and the end of our journey.
The seal upon our hearts that he offers is reflected in this passage from Song of Solomon
"Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one's house, it would be utterly scorned. Song of Solomon 8: 6-7


Monday, March 21, 2005

More on donkeys
A friend sent this poem to add to my donkey data base.

 G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked 
And figs grew upon thorn, 
Some moment when the moon was blood 
Then surely I was born; 

With monstrous head and sickening cry 
And ears like errant wings, 
The devil's walking parody 
On all four-footed things. 

The tattered outlaw of the earth, 
Of ancient crooked will; 
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, 
I keep my secret still. 

Fools! For I also had my hour; 
One far fierce hour and sweet: 
There was a shout about my ears, 
And palms before my feet. 

Friday, March 18, 2005

The story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the beginning of Holy Week sets up a classic arc of hope expressed, hope dashed, hope re-imagined. The prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 is being fulfilled in Jesus' action on this day. People are visually reminded of their dreams of liberation from oppression. Each person has a dream of how this will be accomplished. As the week progresses all the dreams die, nailed to the cross with Jesus. The re-imagining of the dream comes but not this week.
Lane Denson in his daily (usually) meditation Out of Nowhere reflects on another telling of this event in Luke. Jesus says "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." That simple affirmation could be the most overlooked and unsung song of perceptive wisdom in all the events and words that surround us during our celebration of Passion Week.
Bennett Sims reminds us in his book on servant leadership that the quantum physics theorists are certain that there is a caring pulse of energy that animates and interconnects all the entities in the cosmos. Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit paleontologist, outraged his time when he said that the "molecules make love." This, of course, got his books banned as a consequence. In Jesus' time, it might have been -- indeed, was -- seen all along that the created order in all its facets always knew and recognized in their own way who and what was present in him among them. The daemons, the loaves and fishes, the storms, winds, and waves, the human maladies, the fig trees, Satan itself in the wilderness, all were on to what had happened and was going on to happen when the Word became flesh. No wonder Jesus could say that if the crowds were silent, the very stones, themselves, the seemingly most inert and mute of all creation (and, by the by, the epitome of efficiency), would burst forth in adulation. We call it atomic energy, but by whatever name, it remains, Benedicite, omnia opera Domini -- "O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord." If the events we celebrate during this Passion Week tell us nothing more, they remind us once again how inseparable are we one from the other and from the very stones along the way. They may be inert, they may seem to have no freedom at all, but when it comes to presence and endurance and dependability -- and even to praise -- we can learn from them a thing or two."

I often collect stones when I travel. Small reminders of my journeys. They speak to me of places that are important to me. I put them in the small fountain in our entry way. There is a Japanese tradition of meditation that involves listening to stones. Annie Dillard has a book called Teaching a Stone to Talk. There is something wise in stones. One has to sit very still to hear the wisdom. In our current environmental crisis, perhaps the stones are screaming at us to pay attention to the cries of the earth before it is too late.
Jesus enters Jerusalem riding the donkey of hope - a donkey is a determined animal, friendly and easy to ride, but also concerned with its own needs and self preservation, regardless of what humans think it should be doing. Maybe between stones and donkeys there is a lesson - a lesson about persistence, stillness, goals, and keeping the faith in the midst of confusing messages from others.
Take up a small stone today and hold it in your hand. As it warms to your body temperature, notice its shape and how it might have come to be in its current form. Listen to its story.

Monday, March 07, 2005

LENT Readings
On my way to Sewanee TN for Education for Ministry Training of Trainers. Hopefully there will be some signs of Spring. The readings for this Sunday have a theme of coming back to life from being dead. The "dry bones" of Ezekiel - are symbolic of a people who have had the life taken out of them by oppression and by conqurering powers. Lazarus has died to this life. In both cases the creative power of God and the love of the community bring them back to life. To me the key words are spoken by Jesus when as it says in the text - The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."
With what are people bound in our time? Around the world, poverty and disease bind people from living fully. In Wyoming, it is drugs, especially "meth" that binds people. Held in bondage by addiction, how can we be the agents of unbinding. What meaning in life can we offer that is more attractive than a short term "high?" All dream of having a meaningful life, of making a difference, and for love - how can the community provide a space to make these dreams come true or at least be possible?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

4 Lent Readings
Here is one of my favorite reflections on the Man Born Blind - the gospel for this week found in John 9.

It is from Stories of Faith by John Shea.
Another time
Jesus smeared God like mud
on the eyes of a man born blind
and pushed him toward the pool of Siloam.
The blind man splashed his eyes
and stared into the rippling reflection
of the face he had only felt.
First he did a handstand, then a cartwheel,
and rounded off his joy
with a series of summersaults.
He ran to his neighbors,
singing the news.
They said,
"You look like the blind beggar
but we cannot be sure."
The problem was never
that he was blind
and could not look out
but that they could see
and did not look in.
"I am the one, the seeing blind!"
They seized him in mid cartwheel
and dragged him to the authorities.
"What do you think of the man who made the mud?"
But the man born blind
was staring at a green vase.
His mouth was open slightly
as if he was being fed by its color.
"He is a sinner," said the priest.
who knew what pleased God's eyes.
"Can one who lights candles in the eyes of night not have the fire of God in his hands?" said the man fondling the green vase.
The priests murmurred
and sent for his parents
who looked their son
straight in his new eyes
and said,
"Looks like our son.
But he is old enough
to speak for himself."
Off the hook they hurried home.
"All I know," said the man
with the green vase tucked under his robe,
"is that I was blind
and now I see."
But with his new eyes
came a turbulence in his soul
as if the man who had calmed one sea
turned another to storm.
So before those who locked knowledge in a small room
and kept the key on a string around their neck
he launched into a theology of sin and salvation.
It was then
that the full horror of the miracle
visited the priests.
"You, steeped in sin, lecture us!"
They tore him from the podium
and threw him into the street
where a man was rubbing mud from his hands.
"How did it go?"
"I talked back."
The man with new eyes
took in every laughing line
on the face of the Son
who was as happy as a free man
dancing on the far side of the Red Sea.
I am not preaching this week but thought I would share this version of Psalm 23 from Nathan Nettleton of Laughing Bird

You, LORD, are my guide in the wilderness;
there is nothing more I could need.

You set up camp in places of beauty and shelter;
you lead the way on secluded tracks
beside creeks of cool clean water.
I feel my spirit breathing freely again;
your reputation puts me at ease;
I leave the navigating to you, and follow.

Even if we hike through a perilous valley,
where crows keep a menacing watch,
fear will still not get the better of me.
As long as I stick with you
I know I’ll make the distance;
with a knife and a bit of rope
you seem able to tackle any challenge.

You cook up a feast for me,
as those who wanted to feed on me watch, frustrated.
You pamper me like an honoured guest
and constantly top up my glass.

My life feels charmed, each and every day.
Love, mercy and all good things
keep falling into my lap.

I’m with you for life, LORD,
where you go, I’ll go;
where you live, I’ll live.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

3 LENT Readings
This "really" is one of my favorite readings! I know I often say this, but it is because so many stories in the Bible evoke a response in me. This is the Gospel that I picked for my ordination to the priesthood. It speaks of the call to all of us, regardless of our lives to date, to proclaim the boundary breaking news of Jesus. In this story Jesus breaks the boundaries of gender, sex, religion, social class, ethnicity, and many others. Slowly leading the woman to see herself in a new way - a way that makes it possible to go back to her town square and tell what she has heard. To get an idea of how breathtaking this is - check out Jerome Neyrey's Study of John 4. Another commentary on the Woman at the Well is at Out of Nowhere by Lane Denson. He writes of how:
"In a rapid succession of shocks, a stranger, a Jew, a man speaks to her, a woman, a Samaritan. He speaks not only across religious and ethnic and sexual boundaries, but with an alarming candor and penetrating insight. Then he brings her back to earth and does a "guy thing." He asks for a drink of water. But then he speaks to her of a living water that does away with thirst forever. Step by step, he lays bare her past and her present and sees right through her into her future. In one stroke, the rigid sanctions of the kind of worship and religion and custom that she and her people have embraced for centuries are abolished. Jesus proposes a revolutionary new liturgy based not on the usual male-dominated, retrogressive system of exclusion and judgment, but a worship grounded unpretentiously and candidly in spirit and in truth."
Currently the Episcopal/Anglican Church is passing through a time of deciding who is in and who is out. This reading might be worth meditating on. Contrary to CNN and AP the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have not been "kicked out." The Primates (leaders of each independent Anglican church or province) met in Ireland and sent out a message.
One of the better responses is by The Rt. Rev. Michael Ingham of New Westminster in Canada. New Westminster was the first to authorize same sex blessings which, with the Consecration of The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson in New Hampshire in the US, have the church in a swivet. To me the Woman at the Well shows what Jesus thinks of our artificial boundaries on who can proclaim the Good News.

Your link desc

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

2 LENT Readings
This weeks lessons revolve around journeying. In the case of Abraham it is an external journey and for Nicodemus it is an inward journey. Both are seeking blessing. I define the word blessing as a state of being where we feel at one (atone) with the holy. In our last week's lesson Jesus went into the wilderness to test himself (his being) against the temptations that we all experience. Now he can speak from experience to the issues of humankind. Abraham leaves home to seek this blessing in a strange and unknown land. Nicodemus is challenged by Jesus to be born "from above" - the word Jesus uses has multiply meanings - born again, born anew, born from above - all indicating an awakening into another way of looking at oneself and one's life. Jesus speaks of a wind that blows where it chooses, and we do not know where it comes from nor where it is going. The life of the Spirit calls us to that sort of awareness of the moment - a relationship with God who may call to us from all sorts of places and send us on unlikely journeys.
From my last post you can see that I am thinking about this theme. Partly from thinking about my own ancestors and their search for a "promised land," partly because Jim and I are on a trip to the Oregon coast and other points west, and partly because I have been thinking about my own life journey. Mostly I have questions and not too many answers. But I see parallels in all traveling - spiritual, physical, emotional. We depend upon angels and strangers as well as family and friends. WH Auden wrote a poem (it is a hymn in Hymnal 1982 also) that speaks to me of this type of journeying.

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I have not done much with the readings for 1 Lent as we are away from Wyoming and its old cold crusty snow and at Cannon Beach, Oregon with its soft warm springlike rain. It was below zero as we crossed South Pass in the Rocky Mountains. I always think of my great grandmother who crossed that pass in a covered wagon. She was a young girl at the time. Most all of my ancestors were recent immigrants. My mother's mother came from Scotland in her early teens. My mother's father's people were the covered wagon folks. My father was born in Norway. So thinking about them makes me wonder about the forces that made them pull up their roots, leave family (which they did not think they would see again) and country to plant themselves in Oregon. I don't know if they found it quite the wilderness that Jesus found following his baptism or who the angels were who ministered to them. I am sure there were many temptations and some followed those with all good intentions. I think that is the thing about the "devil" - what is offered is so attractive and normal. Why not try to feed everyone by using a little magic? Why not become the ruler of the world to make it a better place? Why not do something spectacular to get some attention? I don't really have any answers but it is my meditation for this first part of Lent. Click here for more on 1 Lent.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Ash Wednesday

These are notes for a sermon I preached on Ash Wednesday after 9/11

As I was looking at resources for Ash Wednesday I came upon the United Methodist Church
website and saw in bold letters:
WARNING - ashes and water do not mix - will cause burning!!

And so it does. It makes a mixture that will burn skin. But the image captured my imagination and I thought it is even truer than the physical effects of mixing ash and water. Water and ashes are two of our most powerful symbols.
Water, used for Baptism where we are first marked with the sign of the cross representing birth, new life, renewal, and liberation from slavery.
Today is Ash Wednesday, when we are once again marked with the sign of the cross, now representing our mortality, death, endings, and enslavement.
Burning, to me symbolizes the power of the Spirit coming alive in our lives, the awareness of our finite time on this earth and the power of the resurrection combine to light the fire of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Ashes bring home the reality of death -- we are mortal, we will die. This year we are even more aware of the meaning of ashes as we saw the terror of September 11. As we say in the imposition of ashes - "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." But that is not the end of the story. Easter tells us that there is not just death and endings. Easter comes to tell us that we are also to “remember that we are love and to love we will return.”
Let us consider Lent as journey from today - Ash Wednesday. Recognizing our finite time here on earth, journeying to Easter and coming back to the awareness of the fullness of life as granted in our creation in the image of God.
I have always thought the Ash Wednesay Gospel was odd for the imposition of Ashes. We hear that we should not practice our piety in public but perhaps we take this so seriously we become afraid of practicing any piety before others and yet...
The prophet, Joel, calls to us -- “Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the aged, gather the children, even infants at the breast and why -- so people will not ask “where is their God?” Let us show forth the holiness of our creator, so people will know that we are a holy people - commited to God and followers of Jesus Christ.
How might we do this? I suggest we move beyond chocolate to declare our own fast ---
Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love
What will be your fast? What will be your feast?

(Litany: h/t to PB Arthur Lichtenberger - expanded)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The subject of the readings this week are an encounter with the holiness of God and how it changes everything for those who see it. Twice per year we have this lesson in the church cycle of readings. It is hard for the preacher to think of anything new to say about it. I move around from church to church because I am an Interim Priest (being the priest for a church while they are searching for a Rector) or doing supply (Sunday services only). It means that most people have not heard what I have said before or the stories that go along with those sermons. But nevertheless I try to find some new life for myself if nothing else. I am interested in what Joan Chittister has to say on this text. Jesus leads Peter, James, and John to the mountaintop where they have a mystical experience and then struggle with whether to stay and build shrines or descend into the valleys of hard work and daily life. But God says This is my Beloved . . . Listen to him. Jesus leads them down the mountain into the work of healing the world. telling them not to discuss what they have seen. He does not want shrines or religious piety - he wants us to take the sense of mystery we have experienced and use it as fuel to energize our ministries.
Our online EFM group uses pictures and paintings to reflect on scripture. Often the artist evokes some deeper meaning than the words can convey. La Transfiguration is the one for this week. In this painting Elijah and Moses are holding Jesus in embraces. Usually I think of an image where Jesus is standing in the middle and Elijah and Moses are standing on either side representing the Prophets and the Law - all that has come before standing side by side with Jesus. But here they are so intertwined it is hard to separate the figures. Peter, James, and John stand off to one side - staring. To me it reflects that there is no separation in God. There is not an "old" testament (as in over and done with) and a "new" testament (the fresh and different). They are intertwined and speak the same mesage of justice and compassion.

Here is a transfiguration story from BBC. Young reporter keeps an online diary of his dying of cancer to keep the terror from overwhelming him. He died last week. His story tells of his personal transfiguration and how he lived his life to the full.