Monday, February 27, 2017

Ash Wednesday Collection

A collection of poems and other bits for Ash Wednesday:

Adrienne Trevathan - the Director of Christian Education at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston, IL. Native American (Port Gamble S'Klallam) and United Methodist

Changer: A Prayer Poem for Ash Wednesday
A 21st Century Worship Resource
Cover me with ashes,
the thick-smoke soot of the earth.
Make my breathing like the journey
from death into life — second by second,
prayer by prayer.
Cover me with a cloak — bring me low to the earth,
your justice whispering to me like the gleam of red rocks,
the colors dancing in the darkness.
Let me know the power of sage and cedar in my bones,
not that I may trap them there,
but bring them forth in words.
Cover me with darkness —
with the presence of my elders, their tears falling around me,
reminding me of why we are here —
sighing, groaning with our singing, longing to hear us into being,
stretching us beyond breathing and praying and weeping.
Cover me with mercy —
let the bones you have crushed rejoice,
like the woman who channeled every ounce of courage and dignity
to touch your cloak and find new life.
Breathe unto me life anew,
of possibility,
of beauty,
of balance,
of grace.
Cover me with mud —
bring me to my lowest state, so that in my weaknesses
I see your strength —
the reflection of your eyes in the brokenness around me,
the fullness of your love in the depths of our hearts.
Cover me with ashes —
the ashes of my grandmother,
who in living her days knew no strangers,
worked tirelessly with worn hands
and lifted grandchildren high into the air.
Cover me with mercy —
let my cheek come to rest on the cold earth,
its faithful presence a call to walk humbly
beyond myself
beyond my fears
and ever on to the red road that leads to your love.
x̣áýəs — Changer
 Cover me.
Cover me with ashes.
Change me.

Walter Brueggemann 
Marked by Ashes
Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
     halfway back to committees and memos,
     halfway back to calls and appointments,
     halfway on to next Sunday,
     halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
     half turned toward you, half rather not.
This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
   but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
     we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
       of failed hope and broken promises,
       of forgotten children and frightened women,
     we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
     we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with
   some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
   anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.
On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
   you Easter parade of newness.
   Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
     Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
     Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
   Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
     mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

T.S. Eliot -- whole poem here  or of T.S. Eliot reading the poem here

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

And a video

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Power of Naming

There has been an ongoing discussion on Facebook about the Prayers of the People and whether or not to pray for the President-elect by name. The Book of Common Prayer does not require names in any rubrics though many churches do use the name of the President and other leaders. Our church prays by name for "Our President, Barack, our Governor, Kate and all local officials." Since the election, we have added President-elect Donald. For at least the last 4 presidents we have called them by name.

The reasons for dropping this practice seems mostly related to the pain the name of the President-elect causes to those who are terrified of his statements and his abusive actions towards women especially. It is argued that church must be a safe space for those who are victims of abuse and those who may be affected by his proposed policies. Those w
ho advocate for no naming say it is an ethical issue and that these are times that demand a different response.

My response to this is that the Bible is very clear that we are to pray for those in authority and for our enemies and those who persecute us. Jesus, Paul, Peter all speak of this. It is hard for me to do but it is the practice I want to foster in myself. Naming is a part of that for me. The power of naming is noted through out the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. By saying the name I take my power back.

My non-churchgoing brother noted that in the Harry Potter novels "most characters in the novels refer to Voldemort as "You-Know-Who" or "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" rather than say his name aloud." ( Only a few actually say the name but Dumbledore says that the name has no power and it is only their own fears.  However, we find out in the last book that Voldemort can track mentions of his names and uses that to target his enemies, so saying his name basically sends up a signal flare once he has returned to power.  Which might be a part of the pain and fear that saying the President-elect’s name evokes.

My spiritual director modeled praying for her abuser - and I saw that it changed her. Her prayers did not change the other person and did not say what happened was in any way anything but evil. I decided to try it and I found a different sort of peace. Do I still have anger about what happened? Yes, but I am not holding the poison of that anger and bitterness inside. I wrestled with saying Donald in the prayers of the people when it was my turn to pray (I am not priest in charge) - could I do it without being sick? I do it because it is my practice and it is a decision that our church made after the election.

Also there are people in our congregation who choked on praying for "Barack" by name and who voted for the president-elect. They would find it more than odd if we stopped our practice of naming now. They already feel in the minority in the Episcopal Church but soldier on in the community.

I wonder about the idea of church as safe space and think that sets us up for failure. I have not found it to be safe all the time. Many Bible passages are terrifying: Lot offering his daughters to the crowd to be raped. Eli's sons use their position to take advantage of womenJephthah'daughter is sacrificed because of a rash promise. The crucifixion.

From Annie Dillard:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” 

Also I wonder about only praying by name for those who we think are "good people" which seems to come out in these discussions. That seems to set up a dynamic where we use prayer as a form of approval or disapproval. 

The discussion has made me think about what I believe about prayer and what I think we are doing when we pray. But in the end for me it comes down to following Jesus in his way and prayer is something he talks about more than anything else. A few passages that I take seriously:

Matthew 5:43-45 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Luke 6:27-28 "But I tell you who hear Me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." 

Romans 12:19-20 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. 

Then of course there is this from Fiddler on the Roof on blessing the Tsar.


This essay first appeared at Episcopal Café

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Take Joy!

Christmas Day
Readings are here.
Notes toward a sermon

Have you seen the photographs of the beauty of space taken by the Hubble telescope? Wondrous and fabulous images brought to us from places beyond our sight. As I read the Gospel of John for Christmas Day -- I was thinking this is what John is trying to describe. We are so used to hearing this passage in English we lose the full dimension of of the words. Richard Swanson in his blog Provoking the Word fills out the meanings for us.

All the beauty and wonder of creation comes to us in a fragile limited life - 33 years we think Jesus lived among us. Think of an hour glass-- all that has been comes down to one specific life - and then goes out to change the whole world. The moment of the Eucharist mirrors this action. All is present in the bread and the wine and then we take it and carry it out to the world again.

Messiah does not come with armies of angels - much as I would like that some days. "Come Michael and all angels with your fiery swords and set thing right. Take away the wounding and the killing and all those terrible things in the world." But it does not work like that - Messiah comes in a vulnerable infant, who needs are tender care.

In Jesus day, the Roman Empire was ascendant -- doing whatever was needed to keep their power in place.

In 1513 Fra Giovanni wrote:

I salute you.  I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.There is nothing I can give you which you have not.  But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.  No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.  
Take heaven! 
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. 
Take peace! 
The gloom of the world is but a shadow.  Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see.And to see, we have only to look.  I beseech you to look! 
Take joy! 
Life is so generous a giver.   
But we, judging its gifts by their covering,
cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard.  Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power.Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel's hand that brings it to you.Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel's hand is there.The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence.  Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys.  They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath itscovering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.  

Courage then to claim it; that is all!But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together,wending through unknown country home.
And so, at this time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greetings,but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now andforever, the day breaks and shadows flee away. 

~ Fra Giovanni ~
In our day we see similar powers at work. But we too can reach out and touch the angel's hand and know that all of creation has come to our particular life. Everything that has been comes to be in you and I. The Navajo say to walk in beauty - to be in harmony and bring harmony. We can choose how to be in our place and our time - no matter how much life we have to live. Each of can be the messengers that Isaiah reveals - how beautiful are those who bring good news. It is our choice -  now and always. Share the good news.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Light and Shadow

Thoughts for Advent 1 sermon

Readings are here

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of  our shadow side, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; May we recognize his presence in our midst and follow the Way of life. Amen.  (collect paraphrased).

Some lives of friends:
A man I know was a policeman in Mexico - the drug cartel came to him and said "work for us or we will kill your family." He had been a successful family man, living a good life, loved by his friends and family with no plans to leave home. Now he and his family were in a nightmare with no time to wait for proper papers and visas. They packed and left and entered the US without documents. Now he works for a farmer - shoveling out barns where the cows are kept and other menial tasks. 

A man married a US citizen, he went home to Mexico and waited for the proper documents to be issued. A long separation from his family. He is now a US citizen. Their son was born in the US and attends grade school where last week one of his schoolmates said - "the ICE police are going to come get your father now that Trump has been elected and they will send him to prison and then back to Mexico where he belongs" These are young elementary school children.

And from a principal in a small district in WA.  After the election they had an evening meeting with their Hispanic families to discuss the situation and offer support.  The kids played in the gym while the parents met, and when the meeting was over they found the kids huddled together crying.  The kids thought the meeting was to round up their parents and take them away .

Other friends are worried about the marriages being invalidated, conversion therapy (electroshock and other means of trying to change someone's sexual orientation) being the law of the land, and people of color being targeted and not given the same rights as other citizens, people shooting each other out of anger. Permission given to our worst selves by example of our leaders.

In our gospel today we hear of another time of terror. When the gospels were written the Temple had just been destroyed. The center of life for the Jewish people (of which Jesus and his followers were at this time in their history). I have been reading James Carroll's book, Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age which tells of those times. Our gospel reading reflects what it was like in those days. Hundreds of thousands (600,000 to 1 million estimated) of Jews were killed in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The city was ringed with the crucified - 40 years after Jesus' crucifixion. And in the midst of that the factions within Judaism were splintering - some seeking safety at any price, some resisting, some killing other Jews for not resisting (the Zealots and sicarii), many emigrating to wherever they could find shelter from the Roman Empire brutal tactics.

Until I read the details of the Roman invasion and destruction - I could not make sense of today's gospel. But suddenly today's events and knowledge of the reality of those days came to me in bold images. The Gospel was written to give hope to people who were hopeless. The sects of Judaism divided in various ways - the main continuing groups are Christians and Jews of today. Without the Temple - the center of religious belief - all were adrift. Rabbinic Judaism (ancestors of today's Jews) began to center life on Torah and Torah study - the living God was to be found there. Those who are now called Christians - centered on Jesus as the new Temple. His life and teachings were the place where they found the living God.

It is both a terrible and hopeful story. One that seems to repeat over and over, the brutality in the name of empire -- the killing between religious groups throughout history - protestant and catholic for instance - to the Holocaust in Germany of the of recent memory --power plays out on the bodies of all.

So what is hopeful? Jeremiah and his vision of swords turned into plows and peace among all peoples. I see the holy mountain as a place with many paths to its summit. The desire for peace is nurtured in many faith traditions - may we all seek the holy mountain.

And the help offered the neighbor in the midst of the terror. Giving bread so the children will be fed.

Paul in his letter to the Romans offers practical advice. 

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 
To me Paul's words about the works of darkness are about our shadow sides - the parts of ourselves that stuffed down become evident in our actions: revenge, violence, manipulation, using our power for our selfish needs.

The armor of light is not about external armor that will keep us safe like a knight going into battle but an internal state of being that as Gandhi says “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Be at peace in yourself, seek wholeness not division, stand up for those who need allies, be the hands and feet of Christ for the world. It is not a protective guarded stance - but an open welcoming listening state of being.

Terrible times may come upon us as they always have in history - but we are not alone. If we are not living in fear, we are living in privilege. Recognize that it is only temporary in this life and use your status to see what you can do. I once thought we were done with many struggles - now I know I may not see the fruition of my hopes. But that is nothing new and does not excuse me from being a point of God's presence in our time. How are we to be the ones who "feed" the children - make it a safe place for them to grow up into the fullness of who they are created to be? St Catherine's has chosen to be that sort of place, welcoming all, partnering with the elementary school to make sure the children are fed in body as well as spirit, joining with other groups in the community to make this a real community of care for all. 

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of  our shadow side, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; May we recognize his presence in our midst and follow the Way of Life. Amen.  (collect paraphrased).

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Martha and Mary - thoughts from the week.

I have been wrestling with these few lines from Luke all week. I have never been satisfied with any of the expositions on the relationships and how the words of Jesus have been used in sermons. In my restless wrestling I put a question on my Facebook page. It was great to hear from so many points of view. Yes, some were the same ones I reject but some were gems for me.

Things I have heard before.

1. Jesus scolding Martha for doing housework and complaining while Mary is the good one sitting at his feet. This sets up a dismissal of "women's work" and approval of men's (a support given is that Mary is breaking tradition by doing what men would do). This does not hold water for me as I know that women in Luke's day were heads of synagogues before this text was written. Also lack of hospitality was a the top of the list of big "sins" -- Sodom and Gommorah were destroyed because they did not welcome the strangers. (not a story of sexual activities).

2. Triangulation - a modern psychological construct where people use others to get their message across. This assumes equal power among the parties and a Western thought process. That if  you have something to say you say it directly to the other person. In most cultures of that day and even today - it is an acceptable method of communication between those of unequal power. (See the Wedding at Cana for another example).

3. A affirmation of the contemplative life versus the active. But there are plenty of places in the New Testament where action is what is called for. The Letter of James is the harshest on this - all very well to pray and think about something but if you don't do anything - you are just blowing smoke.

4. A story about the need for balance. There is no balance in this exchange. There is no word from Jesus about Martha's work.

5. A story that reveals more about Luke and the early church's agenda to silence women. Martha (the name means "boss woman") was serving at table - "deaconing." Mary (which means rebel) was in silence and praised. Mary's rebelliousness tamed. The words of Jesus are used to support the returning women to traditional roles of listening and not leading.

6. Or it is a story freeing women to follow and not feel like they always have to do the scut work.

7. Looking at the Greek: On Martha being edgy:  When they wrote that story in Greek they used the word periespato in Greek. It has the sense of being "dragged along" by the things that need doing.

And so it went with me - around and around - not really finding Good News in any of it.

The news of the week brought yet another attack on a large group of people -gathered and enjoying each other and the celebration. A man with a history of violence acts out his most terrible thoughts and 84 are dead and many wounded. In the midst of this a hash tag on Twitter appeared #ouvrelaporte. It means that people were opening their homes to any trapped in this terror. It happened in the Paris bombings and once again in Nice. You could reply and find refuge. It was an offer to all  - friend or stranger. I find this astonishing as my first reaction is not to open my door but to lock it up tight and hide out.

But together with the story of Martha and Mary - I ask WWJD - the old question of what would Jesus do? I think we know.  But perhaps for the French comes from a history of living in danger and knowing the need in scary and hard times. Perhaps reflecting about these times when times are good -helps inform the action.

Or maybe it is not so much the doing or not doing - but the centering -mindfulness about either our time in contemplation and our time of action.

Still wrestling!

Image: Found on Pinterest - no attribution

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Third Rail: III Pentecost

Notes towards a sermon.

Readings are here

"Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still"

As I was reading the lessons for this Sunday I felt a sense of dread come over me. Children dying before their parents are the "third rail" for me. I don't even want this in my mind - it is too hard. And this Sunday we have 2 stories of widows whose only sons die. I thought about those of you in the congregation whose children have died and yet you are here. How can I just do some cavalier "God makes it okay" sermon? When I know it is not okay -- probably never. Worse - these 2 get their sons back from the dead when we know that never or rarely happens.

I think about all those children who have been murdered in gun violence the past few years - leaving home full of hope and promise - at school, in the park, walking down the street, even in their own homes. Plus those who die around the world of preventable causes. Actually I don't want to think about it - I want to isolate myself from all the grief.

Thursday was Gun Violence Prevention Day and many Episcopal Clergy are wearing orange stoles in solidarity with that movement. The day is the birthday of Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed January 31, 2003, while talking to friends in a park on her way home from school. She had marched with her school band at President Obama's inauguration. Full of life and hope and now gone. Her friends decided to remember Hadiya on her birthday by wearing orange - for the safety vests hunters wear so they won't get shot. Since then every year more people wear orange to show that they want something done and will not give up in the face of those who say nothing can be done. They are not asking for guns to be banned but just to bring some sense to the issue, to allow the CDC to study and collect statistics about gun violence (currently forbidden) as they can for any other public health issue. Perhaps they can find out some steps that can be taken to prevent the carnage. The lessons for today were not chose with this in mind - it is just the cycle of our normal readings. But I wonder - could the widows be a mother we know or Tamir Rice's mother or Hadiya's mother?

Widows in Jesus' day were very vulnerable -- women needed to have a male relative - husband, father, son, etc to speak for them in any business transaction. The Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament call for protection of widows as a sign of God's care for the world. The people of God are supposed to stand up for widows.

So we come to Nain -- it is about 30 miles from where Jesus was last week. Many have been attracted to him and his message of hope and wholeness so there is a crowd with him as they approach the city gates from the outside. Coming through the city was the procession of the widow and the dead son. Since people needed to be buried soon after death and outside the city - the procession would have started at her house and gained friends and neighbors as they walked along wailing and weeping to honor the loss this woman has suffered. Fear of becoming isolated as she was becoming, grief at the loss of a young man  too soon, perhaps anger at God who they believed was in total control, perhaps thinking what has been done to deserve this - they processed through the city to the gate.

Here is the moment - -Jesus bringing life and hope, the widow bearing grief and loss. What caught my attention in this moment is "the bearers stood still." I feel the stillness - a moment hanging in time. What will happen? So much life outside the gate - so much death inside. All hold their breath.

Then Jesus feels deep compassion (in the Greek - "gut wrenching") and reaches out through the chasm between life and death to take the young man's hand and give the man back to his mother - whole and alive.

I wish we could do that for all the suffering mothers and fathers. But somehow I think the story is for us more about the "standing still" in the midst of suffering and death and reaching out with compassion. Being present to those who feel so alone and hopeless. Bringing hope and compassion (standing with) and life as we can. Listening - not offering advice or our story but listening to the grieving for as long as it takes. The story asks us to be agents of Jesus' life-giving presence in the midst of what ever is happening.

In the moment with deep grief we are still but that does not mean giving up or giving in to doing nothing. Where can we bring life? Where do we bring life? Episcopal Relief and Development is our world wide agency for bringing life and hope. We have a project to provide mosquito nets so that infection by malaria bearing mosquitos can be reduced. We bring clean water to villages, health care, micro-loans for small business and farm animals and equipment - so people can support their lives, get education for their children. St Catherine's is beginning to get involved in the Backpack project with Nehalem Elementary School. The backpacks are filled with food for the weekends for kids who are going hungry when not fed at school. Having food helps them be better students and have better health. We go to school events and graduations for our church kids - to show them that we support them and their desire to learn and become hope-filled adults. We send our kids to church camp to learn more about how God is alive in the world and how they are each beloved of God. You are doing good work - what other opportunities are there?

And when each of us faces the hard times in our lives - we have a community who cares if we let them know and allow them in. There are friends who will stand with you and be there through those times. Let them know, maybe not as strongly and publicly as the widow of Nain but somehow - they are not mind readers!