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"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On My Street - A Reflection on Epiphany 7

A reflection on the reeadings for Ephiphany 7:Leviticus 19:1-18, Matthew 5: 38-48, and 1 Corinthians 3:10-23 By The Rev. Karla Jean Miller

I live in a neighborhood where most of the block has lived in their houses for at least 50 or so years. In fact we bought our house from a retired couple who had lived on the block for over 50 years. I think we are the third owners of this 104 year old home! My neighborhood, although it is changing a little, was, back in the day, the landing spot for many first generation Italian-Americans moving out of the North End of Boston. Now, their children live in these single family and two family homes. There is definitely an Italian “flava” in my hood.

The woman who lives across the street, and is as Italian and Bostonian as it gets! She speaks her mind, speaks it loudly, and is unabashedly unapologetic. She gets things done. Let’s call her Loretta. Loretta also is president of a non-profit “ahgahnizashun” that rescues cats and dogs and finds them homes.

Next door to me live aging siblings, Steven and Julietta, who have big personalities themselves, and not always in a positive way. They have a houseful of cats (incidentally, so do I , but that is another story). So, it was natural for Julietta to volunteer for Loretta’s organization. That worked out alright for awhile, but it was inevitable that this would explode. Indeed, it did. Julietta had a falling out with Loretta, whom she felt was not as responsible as she should be. (If the Department of Agriculture has you on their hit list, well, jus’ sayin’.)

So, for the past three years, they haven’t spoken to each other, unless absolutely necessary—but with me living next door, it hasn’t been necessary too often. Usually one will ask me to relay a message to the other. You get the picture. When the snow buried all of us this winter, I took Loretta’s third-hand rusty snow thrower to try and clear a path in front of Julietta and Steven’s home—they aren’t very spry.

Loretta yelled at me from across the street, “Let Stephen do it himself. He can use the snow-thrower— he knows how to work it.” They really, really do not like each other—in spite of being neighbors for years.
Across the street from Julietta and Stephen live a whole host of Italian grandpas. Seriously. I can’t explain it—somehow they are all related, and they all are in their 70s-80s. I am friendly with Rocco. Rocco has a thick Italian accent and brings me celery and tomatoes and zucchini and basil from his garden. Rocco likes me. Rocco, I learned, does not so much like Loretta.

One day, I was walking my doggies on the street where Rocco was standing, smoking and watching traffic. Loretta drove by, slowed down, and rolled down her window so her dog, Nickel, could say hi to my doggies. Nickel jumped out of the window, and all of a sudden it was dog chaos on a busy street. I yelled at Rocco to grab Nickel, but he looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. I was so IRRITATED with his unwillingness to, oh, do the right thing and help his neighbor? I finally was able to corral all three dogs safely, but my heart was shaken! I couldn’t trust my neighbor to help? He would let Nickel get hit by a car? What kind of neighbor is this?

The Leviticus text this week talks all about right relationship with neighbors. Love your neighbor as yourself. Mathew reminds us to turn the proverbial “other cheek” (which I think has to do with forgiveness and going beyond, rather than allowing yourself to be abused. I also really like Walter Wink’s take on this passage, but I digress.) Matthew also exhorts the reader to “love their enemies.”

What happens when your neighbor is your enemy, or when your enemy is your neighbor? This is the tension that lives in my neighborhood. It makes me sad. It makes me sad because it isn’t that hard to do the right thing—to be neighborly. Is it really worth it to give bad blood so much energy? I don’t think so. But then, I live in a different reality.
Sometimes I live in the cocoon of my life and ministry, where I am surrounded by people who honestly strive and struggle to do the right thing, people who want to give, want to help, want to love as best and deeply as they can. Realizing that only about 10% of the people of the Commonwealth are participants in communities of faith reminds me that I don’t always live in the real world---like my neighborhood! These people don’t know, or don’t remember that there is real and richer way to live. They don’t hear these words of exhortation; they don’t know they are temples of God’s spirit, and that they are made in the image of God.

Living in my neighborhood reminds me that the light of God’s love shines very dimly in so many pockets of our lives. As a person of faith, as a person of Love, I need to shine that grace wherever I go. As a person of faith, however, I also need to find better ways to help 90% of those find their own lights to shine, so that the neighborhood of the world can truly be a home of hope, of healing, of forgiveness and mercy.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Epiphany Six,

A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 6:Deuteronmy30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8;I Corinthians 3;1-9; Matthew 5:21-37; by The Rev. Camille Hegg

I bought valentines on Thursday, two that I hoped two granddaughters would think cute. On Friday morning I put $5.00 in each envelope, signed the cards and mailed them. One was a stylized butterfly covered in hearts; the other a ladybug, her “spots” different colored hearts, Three or four three years ago the little one asked me (she is now seven) how to draw a heart. I broke it down to two motions and told her she didn’t have to make each side even or the same size. She draws hearts all the time now. They both have T-shirts that read “I (heart) NY,” their special request as I went to New York last year.

Heart shapes, especially during valentine season, are very visible these days. There is a national jewelry store that designs necklaces, earrings and bracelets in heart shapes. One advertises jewelry that is an open heart saying that an open heart allows “love to come in.” Pajamas come with hearts on them, we are encouraged to buy candy, flowers and cards during this season of heats. And remember those little candies in the shape of a heart that have a message on them? “Be mine”’etc I understand they have been updated with things like “text me.”

But it is always a ‘season of hearts.’ The ancients wrote and pondered that part of the body that is called the heart is, in fact, the center of the emotions. It does seen that way when we experience some things: our loved ones; our new baby; a sunrise; full moon. A feeling of excitement does seem to start from the heart. Likewise, a sense of guilt, remorse, or grief also seem to start from the heart. A “broken heart” comes from betrayal or deep sadness. Whether emotions actually begin with the heart, or the heart registers and transmits them is a question people have long pondered. The metaphor of the heart is found throughout the Bible and especially in many of Jesus’ teachings. As a metaphor, there is an understanding that the heart represents a core of humanity, our loves and cares, and implies that when we are authentic with ourselves and others heart and actions match.

In the gospel for this Sunday Jesus, teaches about actions that refer to the heart and which match the feelings. When Jesus speaks about lust, anger, reconciliation, careless oaths, he is talking about hearts, and actions that reflect authenticity. We see throughout his life this authenticity. This gospel is not just a list of do’s and don’t, but a glimpse of the heart of God.

In her new book “The Meaaning of Mary Magdalene” Cynthia Bourgeault says Mary Magdalene is the “woman at the Heart of Christianity.” For so many women she is a hero in part because she is so prominent in Jesus’ life and because even a smidgen of it made it into scriptures. Knowing what we know about how scriptures came to be written, chosen and preserved we realize that it is remarkable that Mary Magdalene was included in stories of his life and death. For me she is brave and determined to function authentically in spite of the patriarchy. So has she done so for these two thousand years of Christianity which have not silenced her but have enabled us authors to explore her and her role with Jesus.

Her heart seems to be Jesus’ heart. And Jesus taught and acted so as to show us the heart of God. It is that the physical life can mesh with the spiritual life and help us be “fully human,” reflecting the wisdom of “what is above is also below” The one who is fully human has grasped the essence of God. Bourgeault expresses it as a union of finite and infinite, or a union of opposites within oneself. Mary Magdalene was able to become fully human, not by parroting Jesus’ teaching, but because, as it says the in Gospel of Mary Magdalene, she was able to ‘turn the hearts” of the disciples to the Good. She lived so that she could move in the world and especially with the disciples seeming to understand that an apostle is as an apostle does. For me, Christian and feminist, Mary turns my heart to the Good. The more she is written about and pondered over, the more I can take heart for her presence in history and my own life.
Valentine’s day may be a season of hearts, but turning our hearts to the Good is always in season.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Epiphany 5A: Letting My Light Shine……

A reflection on Matthew 5:13-20 by The Rev. Margaret Rose

A few years ago I heard a Bill Moyers interview with Bernice Johnson Reagen. A Georgia native, she was the director of a program in African American history at the Smithsonian and the leader of a favorite singing group, Sweet Honey in the Rock. She and Moyers spoke of church and the important role the church had played as a place of liberation and freedom for many slaves. Later, during the Civil Rights Movement, the Church continued in many places to play a vital role. In the interview, they spoke of music and its central role in the survival of slaves. Singing spirituals carried people through the hard work and helped them survive the abuse. They were songs which spoke of God’s love and a hope of heaven which would carry them beyond the drudgery of their days. One of the songs Moyers asked her about was the one that our children often sing, “This little light of mine”. It was sung during marches and was oft repeated in the days of the Civil Rights Movement. “Why not ‘This little light of ours?’ asked Moyers.” After all, wasn’t it part of a group effort, a community movement.? Aren’t we trying to get away from all this rugged individualism in America toward interdependence?” “Yes, replied Reagen. “But each one of us individually has to believe that our light, our lilfe is worth shining out, worth offering to the movement. We have to believe that we are worth it individually before we can come together to say, We are going to let OUR light shine.” She went on, and I paraphrase:
For a people who’ve been told they are worthless for too long, we need to stand tall, believing that this light of mine is worth shining. To claim my light is to proclaim that I , along with everybody else am made in the image of God. My contribution is valued because it is mine. And then it can be part of the whole.

We have come a long way in understanding all creation as “made in the image of God”, but knowing this in our heads and living it in our hearts is not the same thing.

I am reminded of a woman in our parish who had worked hard for the success of an event, spending late hours cooking and finally cleaning up as the event was over. I thanked her, ‘Great job!” I said. “Oh, it wasn’t much,” she said. “These hands are not good for much.” She went on, stretching her hands out to me. I of course tried to convince her otherwise, but not to much avail at that moment. Until she could claim her own light, see herself in God’s image, good for lots of things, then the light will be under a bushel. “This light of mine” will need to overcome a history which still lingers in such hymns as “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” ( remember that one?) The original version went like this: Two wonders I confess; the wonders of redeeming love and my own worthless ness. The 1982 Hymnal has changed to “my unworthiness”—not much better in my view. We may not in fact deserve God’s redeeming love, but we are not in any case worthless. If we were, why would God bother? Made in the image of God we are part of God’s Body. Great worth. Let your light shine.

Matthew in his continuation of the message of the blessings of the Beattitudes is not interested in our worthlessness but in our great worth to God. You are the light. Do good works, because that is what it is to be God’s creature. We are the light. Shine, do good works because that is what it is to be ourselves, authentically human, claiming the gift that God in Jesus and in ourselves.

That is not to say that such claiming is easy. One has only to look around the world and in our own country to realize the light is too easily extinguished by a world that does all it can to extinguish the light from within.

I think here particularly about women—trafficked in our own country and abroad. Apparently the Super Bowl this weekend will be a big moment for bringing women to Dallas either from across the border or elsewhere. Women as weapons of war, rape victims who then are outcast by society are common occurrences. The recent execution of a woman in Afghanistan for blasphemy, the rape of women in the Congo and the violence that is escalating against women in the tents in Haiti are but a few examples of how far we are from being able to live out the vision of the shining light.

One hopeful sign is the statement of the Anglican Primates, written from their recent meeting in Dublin. ( I am sure it is on a link for the Anglican Communion site) They have asked the Provinces to identify theological and practical resources for responding to gender based violence. And more important, they have committed their Provinces to raise the profile of Millennium Development Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women.

Such a word from the primates has been a long time coming and there has been much work in the background to bring it about. Nevertheless, these are steps in living out Matthew’s Gospel word and that of Bernice Johnson Reagen: This light of mine. Let it shine! Give thanks for small steps that will make it possible for light to overcome the darkness.