In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Friday, May 28, 2010

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday 2010

Reflections on the Trinity—personal and poetic by The Rev. Margaret Rose

Swirling in my head this week as I thought of Trinity Sunday were the many images of Trinity which have journeyed with me over the years. Did it matter, I wondered, that God, according to our tradition is one in three. Did matter that the three are portrayed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Are they one? Are they three? Must we call them Father and Son? Can we name them according to their being—Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer or Spirit? What is unity in the midst of these possibilities?

I remember the seminary years of studying the Trinitarian heresies, the ones which neglected to make God fully God, or fully human. One person of the Trinity taking precedence over another.

The revelation came when I began to understand the essential nature of the Trinity in terms of the relational nature of God. As three persons, God is essentially in relationship with God’s own self. Above all else, God is relationship. And if we are made in that image then so are we. We are in relationship with God, with each other and within ourselves.

Here at the Episcopal Church Center we have been working in our Mission Department to live into something called relational leadership. It is the kind of leadership which seeks to be grounded in the baptismal covenant of respecting the dignity of every human being, not in status or who has the power over another but in mutual accountability and recognition of gifts. This kind of leadership is not always easy. When anxiety or uncertainly emerges, we return to old models, seeking permission, recalling hierarchies and protection which give us approval or make us feel safe. Somehow as we move more deeply into this work, I suspect that God’s connection to us in relationship will allow us the freedom and the safety to commit to this new way.

Lately I have been pondering my own relationship with this Trinitarian God. I have begun to use some Ignatian practices in prayer and discover a God whose desire is that I ( or we) discover our own heart’s desire, the better to become fully human and fully the one whom God made us to be. It is comforting to believe that my desires are those which will best keep me on a path of faith. Is this God the spirit? The parent? The son? Perhaps all three. In the depths of this prayer I discover that the most mundane desires are made sacred as part of the process of equipping me (us) for authentic lives. And it is out of that authenticity that our work bears fruit.

Yet even as I relish the sweetness of the Ignatian offering, my mind returns to John Donne’s poem of the 17th century. Batter My heart, Three Person’d God:

Batter My Heart, Three-Person'd God ( John Donne)

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you

As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend

Your force, to breake, blow, burn and make me new.

I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,

Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,

Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,

But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.

Yet dearley'I love you,'and would be loved faine,

But am betroth'd unto your enemie:

Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe,

Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I

Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,

Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

This Trinity is not full of sweetness but is invited to ravish the prayer, to mold and remold. A lover? Abuse? Or perhaps just the way we struggle with the God of our lives to become the one God calls us to be.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


A reflection on Pentecost by The Rev. Camille Hegg

Part of the story of Pentecost is that people of different countries and cultures understood each other, for the first time perhaps.

Maybe it was an awakening for them, that they could understand someone from a different culture who spoke in a language they didn’t know. How that happened I don’t know. But I do know that it takes some dedication to understand a language other than the language of one’s birth. The Holy Spirit is always involved in dedication.

Last week my seven year old grandchild shouted out from her back seat of the car we were in….

“omg…Look at the yellow punch buggy.” I was glad I understood. “Oh, my God, look at the yellow Volkswagen.” How does a seven year old know “omg?” And I doubt she knows Volkswagen, just punch buggy. They also yell out “bubblegum” when they see a yellow car.

I was schooled by her 10 year old sister. She taught me “LOL” (“lots of love” or “lots of luck” or “lots of laughs”) “IDK” (“I don’t know”) “BFF” (best friends forever)and of course, “OMG.”

I haven’t taught them some of our initials in the church” “AMGD” : “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – to the greater glory of God” or “HIS” the first three letters of Jesus ‘ name. No, it’snot, “In His Service.”

It’s important to learn the language of the people we are with. We need to know about the cultural and religions sects or groups in Iraq and in the religion of Islam, about the customs of the Japanese, the Hindu, Buddhists, all religious groups.

We need to know about the genocide in Darfur and Rwanda and other regions. We need to know about the recovery in hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the floods of Nashville.

Every now and then I am asked, “habla Espanol?” I can reply ‘um poco” and usually discern what the person needs. Seven years of Spanish in high school and college and I am very rusty at it. But more and more I am meeting Hispanic people who need help and I am grateful that I can do my little bit. They are patient with me.

My friend is very careful to keep quiet about his burning passion. He helps undocumented mothers who have a baby in this country, get the child a US passport. That way, if she gets deported, the baby, at some point, can come back into the country.

There is so much to reading the lessons for Pentecost, and how the Holy Spirit participates in understanding all people.

To be an aware person, we need not to hide our faces, but look squarely at reality hope and an eye to find the holy in the midst all we experience.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Easter 7

A reflection on the readings for Easter 6: John 17: 20-26, Acts 16. 16-24 by The Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers

I have personally had a very bizarre couple of months. I was rushed into hospital on St. Patrick’s Day, so missed out on all of the events of Palm Sunday, Holy Week & Easter. In fact, I had major surgery on the Wednesday of Holy Week so that week saw me go through my own personal resurrection experience as I gradually recovered. The cause of all my trauma was gallstones and many parallels could be drawn with the Resurrection as the stones were finally declared to have gone. For me, that time was full of waiting. Waiting for test results, waiting for the operation, waiting for the all clear, waiting to be released from hospital, and then finally, while I was recuperating, waiting until I was well enough to return home to my parish.
So, I find myself writing this for the Feminist Theology Blog on the eve of the Sunday after Ascension the day when I will finally return to work after a very unsettled eight weeks, in the midst of another period of waiting.

We wait in Advent for the birth of Jesus, we wait in Lent for Jesus to die on the cross, we wait for three days for Jesus to rise from the dead and then finally after the Ascension, we wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

I think the disciples must have wanted to run away and hide after the Ascension. They had had a troubled and confusing few weeks as Jesus was arrested and crucified and then the events of the Resurrection. Jerusalem was not a safe place for Jesus’ followers, but that was where they had to wait. They knew something was going to happen, but they would not have known quite what. Fear of a difficult situation and the uncertainty that brings often makes us take a step back away. However, Jesus had left the disciples with a mission to fulfil and the means of fulfilling that mission was what they were waiting for, they could not do it without the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Reading the passage from John’s gospel and reflecting on the context the disciples found themselves in brings tremendous reassurance. Part of that great prayer of Jesus just before his betrayal where he has prayed to be returned to the glory he shared with God before creation, the disciples he will leave behind in the world though they are not of the world, consecrating them for their mission ahead. Now, he prays that all who believe in him ‘may be one’. This unity is rooted in the life of God; we share the unity that Jesus shared with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus commanded us to ‘love one another’, that was no mere exhortation, but a challenge to share our life in God. We share the unity that Jesus has with God and the love that the disciples were commanded to have for one another so that we can continue the mission of the church. This love is a new love, it is of a sort that has never been fully experienced, it is a love that reveals itself only through the cross, completely unconditional and all consuming, and it is the love that we are called to share with one another, the love that holds us together in unity.

Two millennia ago, the church was a small, close-knit group of followers, huddled together in fear and anticipation of what would happen next. Today the church stretches across the globe, it has grown and developed and is now incredibly diverse – it seems unity is very far away. The phrase ‘that they may all be one’ is the central theme of the ecumenical movement; unity is constantly strived for despite our differences. However, structural or institutional unity is not what is sought; rather it is the relationship of unity, such as is found between the persons of the Trinity.

We have been reminded again of the divisions that exist not only between the denominations, but within the Anglican Communion itself, as Mary Glasspool is ordained as Bishop. I draw heart from the fact that despite the division in the Anglican Communion, the Anglican women have declared their desire to strive for unity within the Communion. I am also reminded of Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus:

‘For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.’ (Ephesians 3. 14-19)

That passage strikes me as the perfect message for the whole of the church at this time, as much as Paul was writing for specific situations in the early church, I can’t help feeling that this is a message that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of. We are all one, we are all the church, we are all one body. And we wait…..we wait for the reminder of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we wait for unity, we wait for mutual understanding, we wait for tolerance, we wait…..! The list is endless. We wait…but we never give up, or given in…and we trust that it is God who will prevail. We wait and we continue to strive for unity within the church.
‘Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.’ (Ephesians 3. 20-21).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Easter 6

A reflection Acts 16:9-15 for Easter 6 by The Rev. Karla Jean Miller

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Mothering God, you gave us birth, you hold us safely in the shelter of your wings, you feed and nurture us with your Spirit and Grace. Feed us this morning, hold us this morning as we seek with open hearts your love. Amen.

There was a huge discussion this week on the RevGalBlogPals website as to how to approach worship on Mother’s Day. Do you go with a traditional Mother’s Day sermon (whatever that is?) Do you celebrate all women? What about women who aren’t mothers? What about those who have estranged relationships or no relationships with their mothers. What about those congregants who have recently lost their mothers…and what about those who longed to be a mother but couldn’t, or what about mother’s who have lost their children, or lost a pregnancy, or what about men who mother? Besides the fact that Mother’s Day isn’t even a church holy day or in the liturgical calendar, so should it be acknowledged, even? It’s a tangled web of what is politically correct, what tradition is, and how to be sensitive and honest.
As a woman who is NOT a biological mother and has a little bit of baggage about that, as well as being someone who mothers in many other ways, besides feeling so grateful for her and the many mothers in her life, all I can say is that I resonate with all of the questions flying ‘round the blogs. I think our hearts just need to be open for the contradictions and open to the pain and joy that can be overwhelming of this day. I am drawn, too, the open heart of Lydia, whom I have no idea was a mother or not, but her life was a set of contradictions that did not keep her from being transformed by the love of God.

In many seminaries, you can take a course on the Patristics , or, Fathers of the Church. Where I went to seminary, there was a whole reference room filled with translations of their writings. Sadly, there are no courses in Matristics, or Mothers of the Church, probably because women didn’t do a whole lot of writing back in the day—but there are many Mothers of the Church. We just have to look a little deeper into the texts, because often times, the stories of women are passed over, overshadowed by patriarchy and editing. Take our text today. A story of one of the many mission trips of Paul. It’s easy to focus on him in this story—he is fantastically courageous and certain in his faith. Who do you know has dreams about people in other countries, calling to him or her to come and help them, only to awaken, then wake up convinced that God is calling them make that dream a reality. Not many, for sure. If I have dreams about strangers calling to me, I wake up wondering what I ate that caused such a crazy dream. Not Paul, however. He was in touch and in tune with God’s call that he was able to make u-turns and boat-trips across oceans on a dime. This particular mission trip is packed with the best parts of Paul—who not only follows God’s lead, but is willing to go to the edges and fringes to find the least likely of converts—such as women praying at the river—to share the message of justice and hope of Jesus. This trip embodies one of Paul’s greatest revelations from Galatians 4—that there is no Jew or Greek, Male or Female, Slave or Free in Christ.

But Lydia, Lydia. To our contemporary ears, her story sounds fairly regular for a bible event. But there are several surprises in this text, if we dig deeper. Do you realize that you have just heard the story of the First Christian Convert in Europe—who was a Gentile, and a woman at that. (There is irony is this, don’t you think? That the first European Christian is a woman when European Christianity has for so long denied women from being leaders in the church?) Our information about Lydia is limited—some commentators think she had a family, a husband, and servants. Others argue that she was single, possibly a former slave. Most agree that she was a successful merchant, dealing in purple cloth that only the wealthy were permitted to wear. We know she was a former pagan who's studying to convert to Judaism, which is why the narrator calls her "a worshipper of God." We know that there are very few Jews in Phillipi, which is why we find the women down at the river, at the edge of town. There aren’t enough men to make a minyan—the required number to form a synagogue.

In spite of her wealth, and her elevated place in antiquity, we know this to be true: Lydia is hungry. Lydia is longing for nourishment. She has already affirmed a God that is compassionate and just, who knows her as a chosen one. She, too, is willing to go the fringe, the edge, in spite of who she is, in order to learn more, be filled more….seeking more Good News…

The Rev. Kate Huey puts it like this:
Lydia's open heart and mind can hear the good news and she can embrace the promises of God and know that those promises are for her, too, and for her whole household, her own people. She has such passion and, no doubt, energy, and, I like to think, maybe even some skills with preaching (after all, she talks Paul and his companions into accepting her invitation – even though she's a Gentile and that would have been a major problem for some folks); she has such passion that before this chapter sixteen is over, she's already gathered a group of sisters and brothers to be church right along with her, in her own house. She's not only the first Christian convert in Europe, but she's got herself a new church start – the first new church start in Europe, and it's by a woman, and a Gentile woman at that! Who would have ever thought it? (May I just mention here that nobody ever told me this kind of thing when I was a young girl growing up in the church? Are we telling our daughters these things?)

Lydia’s open heart led her to an unexpected place and to an unexpected discovery and to an unexpected twist in her life that was transformative.
We walk around, too often, with our hearts empty and closed, instead of wide open to possibility. The contradictions in life, suffering and sadness mingled with wishful thinking and half-hearted searching can be difficult to embrace. Empty hearts are o.k., I think—but locked up hearts aren’t.

I am wondering today, if your heart is open?

If it isn’t, what is keeping it locked? Can you find a shred of what it takes to at least crack it open?

If your heart is open, and you are searching for Good News, What are you hearing? What are you being touched by? Who are the unexpected gospel carriers among us?

Is it the long-time faithfulness of our elders that show us perseverance and trust can get you through most anything?

Is the good news the joy of a kindergartener marveling at a story bible?
The irony with the gospel, the good news of love and hope and justice and peace, is that is almost always discovered in the most unexpected, fringy parts of life. That’s why we need to allow ourselves to be mothered and nudged by Grace to keep our hearts open,

So we don’t miss out on the good news in life—
Who knows,
You might discover the grace of good news in your beloved,
Or in an unexpected moment where you stare out the window and see the clouds billowing in the sky as you look up from your computer.
It might be in the words of scripture, or the words of a seven year espousing wisdom about a cockroach like zen koan. (This happened to me this week).
It might be in a dream.
It might be down at the river.
It might be….(fill in the blank)
One thing I can promise…
With an open heart,
The good news will come.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Easter 5C

Easter 5C
Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35
A reflection by Janine Goodwin, M.A., M.S. Ed.

One day a few years ago, when I was working as a substitute teacher, I was talking to a middle school boy during a break at the end of a special education class. I forget how the conversation began, but I remember we were talking about possible ways to deal with a conflict. I suggested there might be a way everyone could get what they needed. The memory becomes painfully clear after that. His young face went rigid with anger.

In a voice of complete certainty, he said, “No. My dad told me: You can either win or lose. You either give orders, or obey.”

“You really believe there’s nothing else?” I asked.

“That’s all there is,” he said, and I thought I saw despair in his eyes, somewhere behind his scorn at my crazy question.

The bell rang. He grabbed his books and walked on to his next class, bumping shoulders with a buddy and grinning, a boy doing his best in a school system not designed for his needs.

I thought of the famous line Milton gives to Satan in Paradise Lost:
“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” I did not see the boy as being like Satan, but I felt he was living in a hell he had inherited from his father. It is a hell in which many of us grew up. It is the hell of the eternal power struggle, where no real love can live. In that place, anyone’s gain must be someone else’s loss, and everyone, no matter what their relationship might be, was in competition with everyone else for the one prize: control.

This kind of thinking makes perfect sense, if you accept its premises:
first, that there is only a limited amount of power available; second, that power is always and only power over others, the power of control; and third, that it is good to have the power to control others.

Fortunately, the perfect love that Jesus shows us doesn’t make perfect sense by those premises. Jesus, in this gospel passage, has a whole different set of premises. Those premises are that God’s love is infinite; that we can make a life of mutual service in community rather than trying to defeat or control each other; and that God does not control us, but gives us the freedom to choose, even when we make choices that are evil.
In feminist terms, God is not interested in the power of control, power-over, but in the power of creativity, power-to.

In the beginning of the chapter from which this week’s Gospel is taken, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, taking on a task so humble that Jewish law of the time declared that it could not be required of a Jewish slave.
Only a Gentile slave could be forced to wash the feet of others. Jesus washes his followers’ feet over the objections of Peter, a disciple with some interesting control issues: Peter is always trying to tell Jesus what to do and how to be. After washing the disciples’ feet and telling them to love each other, Jesus predicts his own betrayal; instead of destroying Judas, he offers him a morsel of food, a generous and intimate gesture that reminds us of the Eucharist. Then Satan enters Judas. Some people of faith and even some ancient documents claim that God forced Judas’s choice, but to me, the entire meaning of this passage says otherwise.

Jesus lays down power-over at every point in this chapter. The Jesus who washes his disciples’ feet is not a puppetmaster, but one who offers love even to one whom he knows is planning to betray him. I believe Judas has made a free choice to betray Jesus. When evil enters Judas, it is by invitation, through one choice influenced by a lifetime of choices. Jesus may know and accept his choice, may even tell him to go ahead, but Jesus does not force that choice. Jesus is not in a conspiracy with Judas, either; by this point in his ministry, there are plenty of people who want to kill him, and there is no need to engineer his own death. Jesus lets the world act, but does not force it to act. He sees what is coming, and chooses not to exert control over it.

Jesus dies because people who believe in control see him getting out of control. They see him calling for mercy where they want vengeance, and calling for justice when the powers that be would rather demand compliance with their own unjust systems. Jesus is crucified by our need to control God; he dies because he will not choose to control or to be controlled.
Jesus dies for power-to, and he is sentenced and executed by power-over.
He could take the morsel and decided to stay, could have confess and change his mind.

When Judas has accepted a gift of love, chosen evil, and left, Jesus turns to his disciples. He does not talk of power-over, of being a victim of the power of others, or even of winning in the end. He talks of God’s glory, in words that also hold the meaning of truth revealed. Jesus will be lifted up upon the cross so that God’s glory can be known. The glory of God has nothing to do with competition or power struggles, and everything to do with love. The response Jesus wants to God’s paradoxical glory is love. The disciples are to love one another as he has loved them. They are to exemplify the power he has given them, a power that is not about control but is about healing, about the immense creativity of the parables, about the divine justice and mercy which are so unlike our vengeful and cowardly ways of dealing with each other. The power of God is power-to, not power-over. It is about the freedom to love, not the urge to control.

Peter misses the point entirely. He drops the command to love one another and the promise that God’s glory will be revealed even in the crucifixion, and goes back to the words, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” He cannot accept a No from Jesus, and he tries to start an argument. “Where are you going?” he asks. Jesus repeats that Peter cannot follow him--yet. Peter insists that he will come with Jesus. Can you hear the power struggle? It is an echo of his argument with Jesus over the footwashing, when he first tells Jesus not to wash his feet, then tells him to wash his hands and head as well. Peter is always trying to control Jesus. Despite his loyalty and his love of Jesus, he is still playing the power games where one wins and one loses, and he wants to be the one who wins, even when he tries to make Jesus the other player. Now he pleads with Jesus to let him follow, not later, but now, saying, “I will lay down my life for you.”

Jesus knows his people. He does not play the game, but confronts Peter with Peter’s inability to keep his own grandiose promises. His response is not, “Because I said so,” but, “Will you lay down your life for me? Before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” Once again, I believe that Peter is not forced to deny Jesus, but Jesus knows him and knows how he will act; knows he will be unable to stay away from the turmoil resulting from Judas’s betrayal, but will also be unable, in the end, to risk death for Jesus before he has seen the proof of the Resurrection.

In reading this passage, I used to see Judas as irredeemably evil and Peter as misguided but basically good. The longer I study it, the less I feel inclined to make that simple opposition. Yes, Judas chooses evil and does evil. The spirit of evil enters him by his choice, yet he stays human, and that means he could repent if he chose. Peter does not make an open choice for evil, but he is making dangerous choices against faith, choices that could break his relationship with Jesus if he persists: he tries to control Jesus, and then denies him. What, then, is the difference between Judas and Peter?

I think it is this: Judas leaves the table, and Peter stays. Judas removes himself from Jesus and the other disciples: Peter, for all his wrongheaded attempts to get Jesus to do things his way, for all his failures, stays at the table and stays as close to Jesus as he can. He repents of his denial as soon as he comes to himself, and even though he wavers, he stays part of the community of faith. In the end, Peter chooses to accept the news of the Resurrection when Mary Magdalene preaches it. He gives up his attempts to tell Jesus how to run things, and finally listens when Jesus says, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” Judas never appears again in this Gospel. He chooses not to be part of the new thing God is doing. In twelve-step terms, Peter obeys the saying many people hear at twelve-step meetings:
“Keep coming back! It works if you work it!” I can only hope that the student I met one day when I was substituting has found some community where he can learn to keep coming back and discover that there is more to relationships between people than control.

The Resurrection tells us that power-to transcended the power struggle and brought new life into the world. Jesus waits to give power-to to us, our families, our churches, our workplaces, if we are ready to refuse the forces of power-over. The risks of confronting power-over are great. Many people have lost families when they confronted abuse, been pushed out of churches when they called for change, lost their jobs when they blew the whistle or just suggested a more humane way to do things. Many have been killed when they confronted tyrants. Yet they have brought the power of the Resurrection into the world by their actions. When we give up the struggle for power over others, when we give up the habit of telling God how to run the world, when we turn to each other with our limited ability to care and cope and our very partial understanding of what God asks of us, we are serving the reign of God, and the crucified and resurrected Jesus is glorified. Thanks be to God.