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"

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Proper 8C

A reflection on Proper 8-C, 2010: 1 Kings 2:1, 6-14; Psalm 77; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62 By Jacqueline Schmitt

I was lucky enough to get to hear a talk by Harvey Cox this last week, and in his overview of the state of religion in today’s society, he looked back to early years of his career. It got me thinking about two influential books of the early 1960s. One was Cox’s The Secular City, which talked about how little American society seemed to care about religion, or God, or the church – that we were moving into a “post-religious society.” The other was Gibson Winter’s The Suburban Captivity of the Church, which put some of the blame for this lack of interest held by the wider society in things religious, at the steps of the church door. The church had been domesticated, had become captive to the nice life of the suburbs. The church had become the place where middle class values reigned, where people went to church not because it meant much to them, or God forbid cost them anything too valuable, but because it was the thing to do. The church would bless and sanctify THEIR life style choices, their comfortable homes, the aspirations they had for their children to do well in school, succeed and prosper. Indeed, the church itself was the place to be comfortable, to be friends with people like “us,” whoever “we” were. Looking back, we can really see a dialog between these two books: one of the reasons one theologian noticed that fewer people were taking the church seriously and preferring a “secular city” to a religious world view was that the church had become something that it was not supposed to become, something that Jesus had never intended it to become: a safe place, an orderly place, a place with no poor people, no conflicts, no challenges.

Well, some 40 years later, times have changed. Instead of increasing secularization, society has become increasingly religious. Part of the reason is the richness America receives from immigrants from all over the world: Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and of course Christians from all those places that used to be colonies. Soon after that book was published, the 1960s and ‘70s erupted in times of great upheaval – and so people began to realize that religious texts and faith were relevant – could provide guidance in troubling times.

Ah but there is the rub – and perhaps the explanation to the mindset of “the suburban captivity of the church.” These biblical texts, these words and stories about Jesus, are often themselves troubling. Jesus seems to be offering us comfort at the same time he challenges us to leave everything that is comfortable behind. No wonder people want the church to be a place of order and calm; if we took this Jesus too seriously, what kind of trouble would we invite?

The Jesus we encounter in this week’s Gospel is serious, stern. We are not yet half way through the Gospel of Luke, but already Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem, toward his confrontation with the powers and principalities, toward his passion and death. Jesus is on a mission which is serious, and spare: he has no possessions, not even a place to call home. Whoever follows him is required to take up a similar strict regimen: “Let the dead bury their own dead” – the disciples are not even allowed the bare minimum of fealty to their families – “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” If Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem, so then are the faces of his disciples – and of all of us who even today consider ourselves followers of Jesus.

Signing up for the kingdom of God means we don’t know what will happen next. Elisha had no idea Elijah would be taken up in a dramatic whirl of fire, leaving him in charge. The disciples following Jesus wanted a better life, and they recognized in Jesus the One who could bring that Good News to them; those disciples just had no idea they had to make such a dramatic and permanent break with everything they had known and loved in the past.
The passage we read today from Paul’s letter to the Galatians reminds me of another text from the 1960s: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Remember that when Paul found Jesus, he lost everything else: his status, his job, his comfort zone of being a Jew with power to persecute others. Paul here recognizes that when he lost all those things, he found freedom. He became a disciple of Jesus long after he knew that following Jesus meant following him to his death. Walter Brueggemann noticed that when you read today’s Gospel and this passage from Paul together, as we do today, you see that following Jesus does bring freedom but freedom …

of a very peculiar kind. It is not self-indulgent freedom, but freedom that enhances the neighborhood. The sum of the new freedom is “love of neighbor” …

There is a high cost to perfect freedom. To what plow have you put your hand, and where are you looking?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Proper 7C

A reflection on Luke 8:26-39 by The Rev Karla J. Miller

26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

My Name Is

I want to talk about your name.

And what is in a name.

Your name.

Do you like it?

How many of you were named for a relative, or have a “family name?”

Do you know why you were named by your name?

If you have children, how did you go about choosing their names? Did you wait til they were born? Did you pick out boy/girl names before? Did your in utero baby have a special name until coming into the world?

Tell me (let congregation respond)…

I have asked my mom why my name was what it was…and frankly, she just liked it, and it went well with Kari, my twin sister’s name. Kari and Karla. They were popular girls’ names in Williston, N. Dakota at the time. In my graduating class of 100, there were at least 5 Karlas and several Kari’s.

The thing is, has any one ever called you by the wrong name? The bummer about being a twin is that quite often, people can’t keep your names straight, even if one twin is bald and tiny, and the other chunky with a shock of red hair. Are you Kari or Karla? One of my aunties just resorted to calling us each Twin, so she wouldn’t have to stop and think. It was sort of nickname.

Do you have a nickname?

My mom’s brothers called her “Dot” and “Dottie” instead of Dorothy. She hated that growing up…but now, even in their senior years, they still do it. Just to bug her. I guess that’s what happens when you have brothers.

Do you know if other people have your names??

If you have a computer, you can google your name.

I did!

You will be happy to know that a. something about Eliot Church comes up right away—on Boston. Com…..then next the Eliot website, and then, something about Amanda Kaipo (our soprano section leader.)

But did you know that other PEOPLE have your very given name???

I learned that there are Karla Jean Miller’s from Alabama to Texas to California to Brooklyn…

And we have all kinds of professions…

From nursing to campground owners to recycling specialists in California to lectueres at Oxford in England.

When I lived in Raleigh, there was an attorney named Karla Miller. When I introduced myself to my neighbors, they would ask, oh, are you the attorney. “Mmmm, not so much” I would reply….

Most of us would agree that our names are important.

Our names embody our identity, if you will. Sometimes, there are those who don’t think their names fit, so they go through a very extensive process to change their names in order to truly be who they are.

This is very common in the transgendered community. The first transgendered ordained person changed his name from Miriam to Malcolm. In fact, the documentary about his life and spiritual journey is entitled, “Call me Malcolm.”

It is important that our names fit who we are as people. Malcolm was never Melissa, ever. He knew he was Malcolm….and thank God, he had a pastor who affirmed him. She told him, “you know, I think that transgendered people get the essence of God—male and female in God’s image.” Born female, Malcolm knew she was Miriam…female, yet male. Miriam, yes, but really, Malcolm.

In biblical antiquity, we know, names were extremely important, as we know from the multitude of genealogies we find in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Testament. What house name you came from indicated where you came from. For example, Joseph ben Jacob, means that Joseph, is the son of Jacob. In the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, we find women mentioned, which is very unusual of the time. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus ben Joseph and ben Mary was someone different. Someone to be noticed—from a long line of patriarchs a lineage of women who bear to be noticed.

So, in our text today, when we Jesus meets the man possessed by demons, it is no small thing that Jesus asks his name. This poor man, banished to the tombs, homeless, possessed by demons…today we might think he suffered from mental illness, schizophrenia, or worse…lost on the streets because no one could harness his illness.

I remember one very cold winter evening, in NYC, on the upper east side near Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue, a woman, lying on the sidewalk near Crate and Barrell, STARK NAKED, cracked out on drugs, shivering, begging for money for her next hit and the world, including me, averting eyes and not doing anything….she was this demoniac that Jesus met in the tombs…

No one knew what to do.

Except Jesus.

Jesus knew how to meet this person possessed.

He knows that he is more than possessed.

He knows that he is more than a crazy person.

He knows that he has a name.

And he asks the man at Gerasenes.

“What is your name?”

I wish he had been with me in NYC 13 years ago.

I didn’t ask her name….

No one did.

When the man replies, “My name is Legion”

Jesus knows that is not his real name.

Legion knows that, too. They know who they are dealing with.

It is Jesus.

The healer.

The one who Knows.

They beg to be released into a herd of swine, instead of the abyss, which Jesus gives permission for. They end up into the abyss anyway.

Those poor pigs.

The socio-political reading of this text is clear.

Legion was a term for a Roman battalion.

Jesus, speaking truth to power,

The Messiah,

Turns power upside down.

He sends the occupying forces of Israel

Into that which is unclean,

The swine,

Those occupying forces,

Will die…

And Israel is liberated.

This is the hope of those living in Matthew’s time,

And it makes sense.

But there is more.

This poor man of Gerasenes has taken on a name that others’, that society has given him.


Crazy guy.


Crack head





Fat Slob.




Jesus knows that isn’t the right name…

And so his love banishes that name into the rocks…

Into the abyss….

And this transformation

Heals this person…

And those around him are afraid.

Transformation is fresh, new, and scarey.

Even for those transformed.

This man, no longer Legion,

Begs to go with Jesus…

To be a disciple, perhaps?

To cling, perhaps?

Yet, Jesus, says no.

You have a new name, I imagine Jesus saying.

Legion is no longer here.

But You are.

I give you a new name.

You are my Beloved.

Your name is Testimony, telling others what God has done for you.

You are Mine.

Share this Good News with those around you.

Sisters and Brothers,

We all have a name in the realm of God.

It is not shame.

It isn’t “not good enough”

It isn’t even “Eliot”

Our name is Beloved.

Our name is Testimony.

We are charged by Jesus,

Our healer of hurts and disease and shortcomings…

to share this good news of hope and justice and love.

We are Testimony…

We need to tell the world…our worlds,

That all are Beloved

And hold the promise of God.

What is your name?

Beloved of God.


Sharer of the Good News.


Friday, June 11, 2010


A reflection on 1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a and Luke 7:36-8:3 for Proper 6C by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

Over the last few weeks I found myself engrossed with hockey. (OK, I know...I can hear you now, wondering what the heck hockey has to do with Feminist Theology. Maybe nothing, we’ll see where this ends up going....). In particular I watched the Chicago Blackhawks in their efforts to win the Stanley Cup, the championship of hockey. Wednesday night, in a nail-biter finale, the series ended with a Blackhawks win in overtime. As a Chicagoan I was thrilled but not as emotional as one of the sports announcers who commented on the game and broke down in tears, post game. I don’t know this man’s name but I found myself thinking about him and the open tears he cried on live television. One of his co-announcers mentioned his emotion and the man replied something like this, “Yes, I am very emotional. In the years I played hockey I played in a Stanley Cup series with the Blackhawks, but we lost. This is a very moving and proud moment for me.” Spoken, I thought by a man who loves this team and loves this game. Then, I thought about how the world has changed, for a man to cry in such an open and public way. I don’t know, maybe it has always been culturally “ok” for a guy to cry over sports? But in the moment the emotion of this man struck me as touching, authentic, and a reflection of a changing world. The irony is that hockey is a violent sport, one where pushing, shoving, power and aggression are not only valued but allowed as part of the game. This aggressive power was contrasted by a Chicago announcer who described the Blackhawks players as humble, respectful, and gracious. When I think of all the post game commentary what comes to mind are images of love and power; the power inherent in the sport itself, the love of those who play the game, and the love of those who support their team.

Love and power are themes in our readings this week; one might say they offer us examples of the power of love and the love of power (see RevGalBlogPals Lectionary Readings comments, Tuesday, June 8 for a conversation on this idea).

The reading in 1 Kings continues the story from last week’s readings of Elijah, Jezebel and her husband, Ahab, the king of Samaria. Then we reflected on the impact of misguided faith in the worship of Baal and the punishing drought and famine. The roles of Jezebel and Ahab in the story are examples of the love of power propelling people to murder and theft, all done in order to gain more power. Elijah stands in contrast to Jezebel and Ahab, as one who brings the power of love. He brings the power of the love of God to a people who have been mislead and are suffering. This story shows us a woman, Jezebel, who is clearly smart and knows how to maneuver a powerplay and win the vineyard for her husband, the king. She’d be a valuable player if the game were hockey. Likewise she’d be a valuable leader in today’s politics or corporate world. That is, except that her love of power costs a man his life and leads the people down a hopeless path. As a woman she becomes an example of what people fear will happen when a woman gets power; that her “manipulative ways” will lead to misguided, self-serving, and conniving leadership. But more to the point I think she stands as an example of what can happen to any human being who places a greater value on power than on love. Team sports give us an example of people who understand the importance of strong leadership and yet value playing for the good of the whole and not the individual. (Of course there are problems comparing God’s love to team sports since there remain in sports, winners and losers. But the idea of team work striving for a the good of the whole is nonetheless exemplified in sports).

In contrast to Jezebel our Gospel reading offers us an unnamed woman, a sinner, a more classic role for a woman than one who has power, voice, and leadership. And yet this woman brings with her an amazing power. She is determined to do what she thinks is right for the good of the whole, for the love of God in this world. This love of God is known to us as Jesus, and she intends to anoint his feet regardless of the scrutiny and hostility of those around her. (Would it be pushing the example too far to suggest that she is the MVP and Jesus is the team captain? Probably...).Those around her accuse her of having selfish motives, of spending money poorly instead of on the poor. Simon, who thinks he has a place of power and position in his relationship with Jesus, is given a good dose of humble pie when he realizes that he has not shown Jesus some common love and courtesy. Perhaps full of his own sense of “pride of position” Simon thinks too much of himself and loses his compassion for others. This is a risk we all face when we begin to love power for its own sake more than the power of love.

In the news this week we have also learned of a record breaking number of women being lifted up in American politics. Five women won their state primaries for elected political positions that will be decided this fall. Women are gaining, ever so slowly, a more powerful voice. For me, the reality that in the same week a hockey player, now sports announcer, can cry openly on public television and five women win their state primaries points to the potential of interesting times. Even more interesting is the fact that two of these women candidates are affiliated with the new “Tea-Party,” a fact that may point to a more narrow understanding of love and power than one would otherwise assume with a woman candidate. I hope, though, that it means we are moving toward a more balanced world, one that recognizes the potency of power and the grace of love and combines them with compassion. That we are moving towards a world where both women and men have voice, name, and a role in working toward a just balance of power and love. If so, that’s a winning goal for all of us.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Proper 5-C

A reflection on 1 Kings 17:8-24; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

There is a bad word in today’s Gospel. Right in the middle. Luke 7:13.

The word is translated into English as “compassion” but that is an inadequate translation. In Greek it is splanchna, and it means bowels, guts, innards. It was used to describe the anatomy of that part of the body, but it was also used symbolically to mean the “bowels of mercy,” to indicate deep, gut-wrenching feeling, more physical than mere sympathy.

In this story no other word would do to describe what Jesus felt on seeing the funeral procession for this woman’s son. Was it her grief, her alone-ness, her courage that moved him to such gut-wrenching compassion? That moved him to act so powerfully?

We know in ancient times that women alone were as good as dead. In the stories of women alone, we have often glimpsed the divine, have often seen God at work, bringing these women out of their isolation and into social balance. God’s gut often wrenches when God sees poor women, marginalized women, grieving women, women without status, without men or fortune to protect them, women without children and hence without hope of a future.

God stepped in, in the person of the prophet Elijah to save the life of the son of the poor widow. Now this woman was not a woman of the covenant; she was a pagan, a Ba’al-worshipper, like the other Ba’al worshippers Elijah had denounced. But this woman was compassionate. She gave the prophet a meal out of the little she had. Her son then becomes sick, and is near death, and Elijah performs this wonderful and strange miracle. The son is brought back to life. The larder is full. Life in all its abundance is given to this poor woman.

It was the grief of the widow of Nain that caused Jesus to act. It was her plight that wrenched his gut. It almost doesn’t matter if the son was really, truly dead or not. Maybe he was just in a deep coma, just seemed to be dead – who knows. This was not an emergency room, a “code blue,” a get-out-the-crash-cart-stat kind of setting. He was not in the tomb, three days dead and stinking as Lazarus would be when Jesus raised him. But there, on that road outside of Nain, he was dead and his mother the widow was as good as dead, and the deep pathos of the scene stopped Jesus in his tracks. In his gut-wrenching compassion, he brought them both back to life.

We are all called to compassion. It’s not an easy calling. The Greek word for how much it hurts your gut is aptly descriptive. That is the depth of compassion to which we are called, as disciples of Christ, as followers of the one who brought the widow and her son back to life. In a book called, The Search for Compassion, the author says, “The practice of compassion is the practice of ministry. Compassion means ministry. … [It] means getting involved in another’s life for healing and wholeness.”

In each of our church communities we are listening for what God is calling us to do. Exploring gut-wrenching compassion could be one way to describe that journey of discipleship, that process of discerning our mission in these sacred places in which we find ourselves, these places God wants us to be. Dutch priest Henri Nouwen, who wrote frequently about ministry and healing, wrote this about compassion:
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. … compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.

Jesus’ gut-wrenching compassion took him to those people and places, to people like us and to places like these, where we live and work. This is the place where Jesus has built a home, where Jesus has pitched his tent, where God dwells among us. If it is good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for us. Let us begin.