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"

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Proper 13C

A reflection on Proper 13C, Ecclesiastes 1.2, 12-14, 2. 18-23; Psalm 40. 1-12; Colossians 3. 1-11; Luke 12. 13-21 by The Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers

Last weekend, I spent some time at the ‘Big Cheese Festival’ in Caerphilly. For those of you who don’t know, Caerphilly is famed for its cheese, although these days it is no longer made here! Every year there is a festival, which includes a cheese race, a fun-fair, various stalls selling local foods and crafts, as well as many charities. We had a churches stall as part of the events in which we were asking people to fill in a postcard, asking God a question. The three most common questions will be addressed later in the year in three separate sessions. I helped out at the stall for a short time – not everyone wanted to take part, but some engaged and filled in the card – I have yet to see what the questions were! I became slightly distracted as one lady came up to me and was quite forth-right in telling me that I obviously don’t read my bible and that there is no way women should be in the pulpit, because Timothy’s letter says so!

So, when I came to read this Sunday’s readings I was in a shaking frame of mind, not having been in ministry very long and faced with real opposition for the first time. I wish I had had some witty retort prepared, perhaps an intellectual ‘well we are fairly certain Paul didn’t write that bit’, or even just being able to cite some of the other texts in the bible where women’s ministry is indicated and supported by the early church such as Phillipians 4.2; Romans 16: 1, 6-7, 12; Acts 18: 24-6– but I was too stunned. In reading that passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I was of course reminded of that other quote from Paul in which he also states that there was ‘no longer male or female’ in Galatians 3: 28, that passage that is often used in support of the ministry of women.

Paul is clearly making sure that the developing church in Colossae know what they are letting themselves in for. They are putting off the old and taking on the new. They have a new life in Christ. He makes the point that there are certain patterns of behaviour that remain ignorant to the God revealed in Jesus. Paul is concerned with the behaviour of each individual Christian as well as the Christian community as a whole.

Christians are called to live and be seen to reflect the image of Christ. What greater calling is there?

I can’t help feeling that the woman I encountered should probably re-read this passage from Colossians, she was far from Christ-like in her approach to me, but she has a genuine faith and is doing her best to live out that faith. We all fall short sometime or other.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori was visiting the Archbishop of Wales, who is also my bishop, last week. She said “I think the Anglican Communion is in the process of growing up and evolving into a set of relationships that will serve the wider church in the third millennium.” She was of course talking about the challenges that face the Anglican Communion and the way the Communion is currently divided over issues of homosexuality.

Paul wrote to the church in Colossae and effectively told them that they had to ‘grow-up’ if they were to live life in Christ. It is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn. It is so easy to produce the childish response when we are faced with a challenge to our firmly held beliefs. The church constantly faces new challenges and even now has to learn how to respond to these challenges with maturity. Even so, the age-old challenges of poverty and starvation remain. As Katherine Jefferts Schori is right in insisting that these issues are the most important when she says “I think in most provinces issues of life and death are much, much more central – starving people or disease that’s killing not just the Anglicans but everybody else in the nation.” We need to have a global outlook, to set aside personnal issues and look towards those who really need our help. There may no longer be “greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumsized, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free”, but there should also no longer be any rich or poor, hungry or starving, diseased or cured. We are called to care for all those less well off than ourselves, if we persevere in persuing that calling, then one day then Christ will truly be “all and in all”!!

I have always thought that I would ask God why he created slugs, and I suppose that will still be my question. I wonder whether I should ask ‘why did you give us freedom, why did you allow us to hurt others?’, but I know the answer to that one…it goes along the lines of ‘because I love you, and because I had to let you spread your wings’!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Words Matter, A conversation of interest!

I spent the better part of six days working on two versions of the press release announcing the Expansive Language conference coming up in two weeks. I am on the planning team working with a group of fabulous women, all of whom are excited about this. Here is a link to the NCC release and below is the other  version of the press release I worked on which we hope will be picked up Episcopal News Service:


Office of Communication, Diocese of Chicago

NCC group to meet in Chicago August 9-11
to discuss the words we use to talk about God

Chicago, July 23, 2010 -- A diverse group of Christians will gather here August 9-11 to talk about the language people use to talk about God and faith.

The National Council of Churches (NCC) symposium, “Language Matters,” will discuss how to talk about God and faith in ways that respects the sensibilities of people from a variety of Christian traditions and viewpoints.

The conversation will focus on the language, images, and symbols used in worship and everyday life to talk about faith and God.

Initiated by the NCC’s Justice for Women Working Group, this conversation is a first step in a larger project designed to create resources for congregations and groups to assist their own conversations.

"Issues around the use of language in our churches have been on the agenda of J4WWG for years. Now the opportunity to take this discussion to another level has arrived. I hope this consultation will be the first of many conversations as we continue to explore ways to welcome and value every person who walks through the doors of our churches,” said Kim Robey, chair of the Justice for Women Working Group.

The term “expansive language” has been used in some circles to describe respectful language that honors all of God’s people and is more than just “gender inclusive”.

As communions seek to become genuinely inclusive as well as multiracial communities of faith, planners say, the conversation about the use of language in churches becomes more critical, and more challenging.

Sensitivity to gender inclusive language, particularly religious language and metaphor, emerged in the 1970’s with the advent of feminist theology and feminist biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. Many denominations began the process of developing gender inclusive worship materials, protocols for publications, and even biblical translations that offered metaphors and names for God and humanity that reflected this inclusiveness.

In 1988 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church first approved Supplemental Liturgical Texts, now known as Enriching Our Worship, as an alternate to the Book of Common Prayer for Episcopal worship.

“While the Episcopal Church has been at work on expansive language texts for over two decades, the extent of their use varies. I’m delighted that a new resource is being created to encourage dialogue about this important topic,” said the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, chair of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

Part of the impetus to have a meeting on language is the impression of some observers that the use of gender inclusive language throughout NCC member communions has declined, say the planners. They also note that new insights have emerged within churches about language that reinforces harmful stereotypes around the realities of race, disabilities, sexuality orientation and gender.

“As a parish priest for ten years I understand that the primary locus of formation happens in Sunday morning worship. We Episcopalians are fond of saying, ‘praying shapes believing.’ Therefore the words, symbols and images used in worship are crucial in forming our faith,” said The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski, licensed priest in the Diocese of Chicago and a member of the planning committee. “I’m excited to be a part of the planning committee for this event and hopeful for the outcome.”

The August gathering will explore dimensions of language, images, and symbols for God through multiple approaches that reflect the diversity of the group.

The 30 participants, both lay and ordained, come from a wide diversity of NCC member communions and religious traditions.

Co-facilitators are Aleese Moore-Orbih, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and director of training and consulting for FaithTrust Institute, and Virstan Choy, a minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a church consultant and member of the adjunct faculty at McCormick Theological Seminary.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

For Additional Information Contact

Kim Robey
Chair, Women for Justice Working Group

Rev. Ann Tiemeyer
Program Director Women’s Ministries
National Council of Churches, USA
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 800
New York, NY 10014

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Proper 12C

A reflection on the Propers for 12C, Luke11:1-13, by The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig

Jesus and the disciples are continuing on the road to Jerusalem, where Jesus will face suffering and death, and along the way, Jesus has been teaching about what the kingdom of God might look like, about loving our neighbors even when it requires going out of our comfort zones to do so, the importance of traveling light on their mission trips (don't even carry bread, Jesus says, just trust that it will be provided along the way) , and, in the story of Mary and Martha, the importance of both listening to, and doing, the Word of God.

Today, the disciples find Jesus at prayer. Luke tells us that at the most important moments in Jesus’ ministry—his baptism, choice of the Twelve Apostles, sermon on the plain, transfiguration and especially during his passion—Jesus prayed. In fact, if you want to know what events Luke regarded as most important, look to his many references to Jesus at prayer.
Apparently the disciples noticed that Jesus prayed and that his prayer experience was something important, something special, something that they too wanted a part of….enough so that they asked for a prayer lesson from Jesus. Now I don’t know what exactly what they were expecting when they asked Jesus to teach them to pray. I wonder what we would be expecting if we were in a similar situation? Maybe a set of guidelines? A formula…if this, then that? Because that would be kind of comforting. Especially if it could guarantee some kind of results. You know, like if we just ask God in the right way for things, say the right words, we could be sure we would get the answer we want.

There actually is a kind of “theology of prayer” out there in the culture kind of like that. We might have heard of, and at some level might even subscribe to it. It’s the belief that if we ask in the right way, approach God in the right frame of mind, we will surely get what we seek, especially if what we are seeking is a certain kind of material abundance and security. But among other serious shortcomings of this approach, it is far too shallow, one-dimensional and linear to reflect the complexities of our spiritual lives and relationship with God, and it sells both of them way short. It portrays God as a kind of holy vending machine. We put in the right combination of words and intentions and out come the desired results. And yet who of us has not been there in our prayer life? Often in times of desperation or need, we find ourselves feeling almost as Abraham must have in the Genesis reading, bargaining with God for just one more chance, one more try, one more better offer. But at the same time we have this sense that perhaps there is something deeper, something more to this life of prayer. “Teach us,” we too might ask.

As Jews, Jesus’ disciples did know how to say prayers, and likely did so often, but when they saw Jesus pray, saw the connection between his prayer life and everything else he did and said, perhaps they had a sense Jesus prayer was different than anything they were experiencing, and so, “Lord,” they asked, “Teach us to pray.” The prayer phrases we heard in this morning’s Gospel are very familiar to us…we know them in almost these same words as the Lord’s prayer, which really was probably not Jesus’ intention in praying this prayer by the way….to give us something to put in the prayer book and pray every Sunday in the liturgy.

Like anything that has become as familiar as this prayer, it’s possible that we can hear it without really hearing it deeply. So I’m going to try to play around with the language a little bit and see if we might be able to “hear” it a little differently….What if Jesus said something like…”When you pray say:
Loving God….Abba… Blessed One ….We honor your mystery and reverence you for all you are…and all you have ever done, do, and promise to do in your great and incomprehensible love for your people.
May earth come to be like your heavenly kingdom, where love and justice rule….where there is healing and peace…and no one is an outcast.
Let our hungers be filled from your abundance each day.
Help us to understand that forgiveness is given as we give it.
Loving father, help us in the struggle lest it be too much for us.”
Now of course I have no idea if that is quite what Jesus said. But the idea is that in teaching the disciples to pray, Jesus models prayer as an intimate conversation with someone with whom he is in a close relationship, someone from whom he can ask and expect love and support and to whom he gives love in return

Jesus then he tells a story to persuade us that, if we have sense enough to answer the door and help a neighbor, or to give our children good things, not bad ones, well, then, of course, God, who is infinitely greater, more loving, more generous than we are, will also respond to us.
“Ask.” He tells them. “Search. Knock and the door will open. If your child asks for a fish, who would give him a snake, or a scorpion instead of an egg?” Hey, this is all sounding pretty good, almost like that vending machine theology I mentioned earlier. But Jesus has more to offer “How much more,” He says, “will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” What? Who said anything about the Holy Spirit here? We are asking for bread and fish and eggs, forgiveness and being spared from our trials! In our limited minds we ask for what we can imagine to be what we want, and yet God knows that this is what, beyond anything, we truly need, the indwelling Spirit of Christ Jesus in our hearts. It is not God who changes, not circumstances that alter, but we who are transformed. This is truly the Good News of this Gospel. If the answer to our prayer, no matter what the question, what the need, what the request, what the pain, is always the indwelling, present, loving spirit of God, from which nothing can separate us, then it is true that we can indeed BOLDY say, “Our Father…”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Proper 11C

A reflection by Janine Goodwin, M.A., M.S. Ed. Proper 11C: Genesis 18:1-15
Psalm 15, Colossians 1:15-29, and Luke 10:38-42

Sarah, Mary, Martha,
hear the word of the Lord.

Sarah, you feed strangers
although you may not eat with them.
You know your world and your body
well enough to laugh at crazy words,
no matter whose they are.
You fear the messenger’s anger
and hear God contradict
your self-protecting lie.
How will the word of the Lord change you?

Martha, you welcome your friend,
feed him, fuss, grow angry,
resent your slacking sister,
turn to the one you call Lord
and scold him
as you would a brother.
How do you respond
to his words
about what is needful?
How will the word of the Lord change you?

Mary, you take a place
forbidden to women,
a student at the feet
of one who calls you
to learn from him.
He gives you
what no one can take away.
How will the word of the Lord change you?

Sisters, brothers, listen.
How does the word come to us?

Have you heard it from a stranger?
Has it called you out of everything you expected, brought you back to withered hopes and long-held bitterness until you laughed at God in anger and heard yourself contradicted?

Has a word from a loved one
called you out of your busy day
to remind you that your events,
your obligations,
your knowledge of what everyone else should be doing are keeping you from hearing God’s call in the voice of a friend?

Dare you take your true place
because at last
thirst for the truth has led you
where even the ones who love you
will say you should not go?

What is God saying to us now
that we do not want to believe,
that we do not want to hear,
that calls us into life?
How will the word of the Lord change us?

The word of prophecy,
the word of wisdom,
the word of truth
come to all of us
in the ways we least expect
at times we do not choose.

The presence of God is among us,
always speaking,
always waiting for us to hear.

Feed the stranger.
Welcome the friend.
Sit and listen.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Life In A Ditch

A reflection  on Proper 10C Luke 10:25-37 by The Rev. Terri C.Pilarski

The phone rang, it was a colleague of mine, she had something she wanted to discuss with me and wondered if we could talk over lunch. A few days later while we ate our salads, she told me about Dorothy, a single mom with a young daughter, living on disability and public aide. My colleague assured me that she had visited Dorothy; that her situation was legitimate and that what she needed was some assistance until her daughter was out of high school. Up to this point my colleague was providing that assistance but now she was leaving her church and moving out of state. She wondered, since the woman lived near my church, if we could help? I thought perhaps my church might want to help. I took Dorothy’s situation to our leadership team and we talked about it. In the end we agreed to help with monthly groceries and PACE bus passes. We held food drives and had people bring in chicken and hamburger, cereal and cheese, vegetables and fruit. Sometimes, when church members were really busy we collected a fund and I had PeaPod deliver her groceries. I ordered PACE bus passes and they were mailed to her house. We collected food for her Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinners. We gave her daughter clothing and school supplies. I even bought her daughter’s senior year high school year book. We probably helped Dorothy and her daughter for five years, maybe more. I liked Dorothy and her daughter and I was grateful we could help fill in the gaps between what she received on disability and what she needed to live on.

It wasn’t all great though. At times it was tiring work. There were days when Dorothy had needs beyond what we could give her. On those occasions she’d call me repeatedly at all hours wondering if I could help with one more thing. I had to lay down very clear limits with her. And whenever I sent a parishioner to her house I warned them: she will ask you for more. She will want a ride someplace or she will want money or she will want something. Her needs were endless. They were real needs, but they never ended. I told parishioners to just give her whatever it was they were delivering and tell her that this was all we could do right now. Over and over we had to place limits on what we could give her and when and how we would give it to her. That part was sad and difficult, but it was what we had to do in order to help her at all and not burn out.

Helping is a curious thing. It makes us feel good to have helped another. Helping can change lives and make the world just a little bit better. But helping can also burn us out, wear us down, and make us cynical. Sometimes the help is appreciated. Often the need for help in this world seems endless. And now today, more than ever, with the Gulf Coast oil spill, the economy that has crumbled, two wars overseas, famine and civil war in many countries around the world, children orphaned to AIDS and other disease. I could go on and on. In a world of so much disaster and tragedy it’s easy to understand why the Levite and the priest might walk on by. Maybe they had already helped too many people. Maybe they had overwhelming concerns of their own. Maybe they were cynical and burned out and tired. Maybe they were just in a hurry or didn’t want to touch someone who was beaten and dirty? Maybe they felt it wasn’t their problem.

Some people help though, not out of a desire to assist the other, but out of a need to boost their own ego. “Oh, see, aren’t I a good person, look what I’m doing for YOU. I have so much and you have so little, and I’m so great because of what I am doing.” Of course the thinking behind this can be much more subtle while at the same time being more about boosting the ego of the person helping than it is about actually caring for the other. And sometimes helping takes on a kind of condescending attitude, an attitude of “oh you poor thing, here let me help you.”

Such is the premise of the book, “How Can I Help” by Ram Dass. Some of you might remember Ram Dass from the 1971 best seller, “Remember Be Here Now”? Well in “How Can I Help” he takes a deeply spiritual and rather profound look at the nature of helping. Through telling story after story of people helping others he points to the real depth and intent of helping - that the person doing the “ helping “ is almost always the one who ends up actually being helped, changed, transformed, in ways they least expect. But even more important is the reality that helping is a mutual act – each person participates in the helping and the being helped. In other words sometimes we have to allow someone else to help us. So, in reality, helping is about building relationships of mutual care and compassion.

This is part of what Jesus is pointing us to recognize in this story from Luke about the Samaritan and the man from Jerusalem who was beaten and left for dead. If we were to have heard this story in Jesus’ day from Jesus himself we would understand that the beaten man is one of us, you or me, beaten and left on the side of the road to die. Prestigious people in our community walk by but do not stop to help. Like the priest and the Levite, these prestigious people are too important to be bothered with a simple person and their suffering. We would anticipate, though, that one of our neighbors, one of our friends would come and help. But none come and no one stops to help. No one comes, that is until this stranger walks by, this Samaritan. For us, like the man in the story, the Samaritan would be the person we most despise and are most afraid of. And Jesus’ point is -just as the beaten man needs the compassion of the Samaritan- we too need those we despise or are afraid of to have compassion on us. Likewise we are to show compassion in return. Strong words. This is not a nice little story. It’s a tough teaching.

Our global community needs not only individuals to have and show compassion but groups of people, entire communities and nations, to have compassion for one another. The core of this reading underscores that such compassion begins when one person’s heart is moved to love the other, and from that whole groups of people follow. Jesus tells us that having compassion on the stranger is how we inherit the kingdom of God.

But what is the kingdom of God? Is it some reward that we are trying to earn in the future, in the life we hope to live after this one, if we are found worthy? Again, I think Jesus points us to see the kingdom of God in a richer context, as a place that is both here now and yet still to come in the future. The kingdom of God can be manifested right now –whenever the peace of Christ and the love of God – abide in and through us. It is also a kingdom that will never be fully realized in our lives, in this world, but will reach its fulfillment in the age to come. It is a both/and kingdom.

So, it’s a both/and kingdom; and we are invited, by the grace of God, and the love of Christ, and the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit, to be a part of the kingdom coming into fruition right here and now through acts of love and compassion.

The way we help others need not be grand. It need not be something that wears us out. And, while helping some one may make us feel good about ourselves and be a motivating side perk, feeling good about ourselves can’t be the primary reason we help, not if we want to help with the compassion of Christ. We don’t help with the intent and purpose of boosting our own egos nor to find our meaning in life. We help because that is what it means to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world. In a curious way we often find that in the end we, who were supposedly doing the helping, are in fact the one helped.

Helping, showing compassion and love for others, is what we are called by God to do. We do this because it’s how we build community, it’s how we create the Body of Christ, it’s how we bring forth God’s kingdom now and in the future. It’s a profound question we are to ask ourselves, “How can I help?” And the answer is simple, look carefully around you; you’re bound to see someone in the ditch of life. And when you do, offer them a kind word, a strong hand, a loving heart. Then again, don’t be too surprised if you are the one in the ditch.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Proper 9C

A brief reflection on Luke 10:1-16 for Proper 9C, by The Rev. Crystal Karr

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

It’s easier to damn them all to hell.
especially when you’ve breathed in all that dust,

You know the stuff…smells sweet as you breathe it in
but the aftertaste is bitter and you can’t spit it out.

I cough and sputter
spitting it up, spitting it out.

I sip some water, some milk, some tequila
yet the bitter remains.

I’d rather damn them all to hell
rather than stir up more toxins into the air while shaking my shoes.