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, September 29, 2012

Proper 21B

A reflection on the readings for Pentecost 18B By the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig

 I have been blessed by two vocations, priest, and my full-time “day job” as a psychotherapist.  In both of these, I have had the opportunity through the years to learn amazing things about how humans function, how underneath it all we are so much more alike than we are different, and in reflecting on both the readings from Numbers and Mark, I had the additional thought that….that apparently we have not changed in some rather fundamental ways over the last few thousand years.

The people God redeemed from slavery in Egypt had made a covenant with the Lord at Sinai. They have set off on the long journey to the land that God has promised, and things are not going well.   They have left behind the known and familiar, as oppressive as it might have been. The future is uncertain.  They are anxious and fearful. And in their memories of their “old life” in Egypt, they fondly remember the good things, “We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.” 

The people Jesus called to be his disciples have been traveling with Jesus for the better part of three years.  Living with him day by day, listening, watching, learning who he is and who they are called to be.  And lately, things have not been going well. They have been faced with the mind-boggling news that he is NOT the kind of Messiah that anyone really expected him to be, he has told them about his betrayal, death and resurrection. Any certainly that they might have felt about the future seems to be gone, they are anxious and uncertain.  And in response they have struggled among themselves, getting attached to position and pecking order, having an argument among themselves as to who was the “best disciple,” and then calling out someone else to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us."

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus thought sometimes as he listened to them.  If he wondered just what would become of them; if he got angry and frustrated like the Yahweh portrayed in the first lesson. His words in today’s Gospel might suggest that at the very least he does not want their all-too-human struggles to get in the way of the big picture here, warning in stern words of stumbling blocks and millstones; cutting off feet and hands and tearing out eyes. Clearly this is strong stuff.  This is Jesus speaking in 24 point bold type using language that is guaranteed to get our attention.  But what, I wonder, is he really saying? What was Jesus, through Mark, really trying to tell the disciples, the people of God who were the early church and to us, the people of God here and now?

As I listen to my patients and reflect on these readings, one of the things that occurred to me that seems to be one of those great universals is our tendencies to get really, really attached to things sometimes. The Israelites became overly attached to their memories of the good old days. That  things perhaps never really were as they remembered them didn’t really matter, it was their attachment to them that was the thing that caused the problem ; their attachment to how they wanted it to be (“how it used to be”)  that got in the way of gratitude for what was now before them. Their loss of gratitude led them to further rebel against Moses and ultimately, against God, leading to consequences that affected them and their children through several generations.

It is clear that disciples deeply loved Jesus. They cannot stand the idea that he will be taken from them simply because they do love him as rabbi and teacher and friend.   But they also had an idea about who he was and should be that came to them through their own understanding in the culture and the scriptures and they were attached to this idea as well.  When this idea is challenged, this is upsetting to them.  All of this gives rise to the infighting and finger-pointing that Jesus is responding to in his strongly worded comments, that are ultimately, if we read closely…about attachments!

I think it’s safe to say that most of us feel pretty closely attached to body parts…to our hands, feet, eyes.  The parts of us that enable us to apprehend the world and navigate through it, indeed these things that can help us do God’s work as God’s eyes and hands and feet in the world.  And yet, Jesus says, if these most useful things become obstacles, if they get in the way of connection with God, especially for one of the least or vulnerable ones …off they should go. 
I think it’s also safe to say that many of us have some things that we feel pretty closely attached to.  And in this case I’m not really thinking about our stuff or our body parts.  I’m thinking more about the beliefs and values and attitudes we hold.  The shoulds and shouldn’ts we have in life, the “rules of the game” as we see them. Sometimes, like the Israelites and the disciples, we get attached to these things because we are struggling and stressed and we just need something dear and familiar to hang on to…and that comfortable, familiar “way we have always done things,” or safe corner of knowing that “this is simply the ways things are and there can be no discussion” we can retreat to can provide that. 

Sometimes we get attached to our thoughts and beliefs and ideas simply because we are so very, very passionate about something. And this is a good thing. It gets things done and makes things happen, and generally makes the world a better place.  After all, Jesus calls us to be salty people, to stand up and take risks and let our voices be heard in defense of the outcast and weak and the powerless. 

 And yet, Jesus also says, be peacemakers.  So then…what if our attachments to a thought, a belief, an opinion, a way of doing something becomes an obstacle to another finding a way to God, a way to being in community with us…what then? What if our attachment to speaking our truth keeps us from deeply listening to and hearing other voices? What if our attachment to the way we see the world keeps us from seeing another, from considering them, from connecting with them, from loving them? 

So many of us define our lives as Christians by our passions and beliefs and strong voices.  We strive to create churches that are welcoming places to the poor and the disenfranchised.  I have absolutely no doubt that people who might struggle to feel comfortable in many places would find open doors and open hearts in our communities.  And yet I wonder….are there those who would find obstacles in these places to God’s love? Are there stumbling blocks we place before others, unknowingly, enthusiastically and with the best of intent that would be obstacles to them?  Is there something we are attached to….words, attitudes, beliefs or ways of being that might cause anyone to feel less than welcomed, less than loved, or just “less than” that we might need to change?    Are there things we need to do to balance our saltiness with our peace that all may truly find welcome among us?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Welcoming the Child

A reflection on the readings for Proper 20B: Mark 9:30-37 By Janine Goodwin

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” 

Welcoming the child

Welcome not the sentimental idea of the child, but the real child:

yes, the wanted and loved child
who can nevertheless be difficult enough,

and also

the child who was not wanted
who was fed drugs or alcohol or both in the womb
the child who is not loved
the child who is beaten
or used
or worked beyond her years
the child who is trafficked
or simply abandoned
the child who, because of all these things,
is angry
is frightened
is not able to trust
whose creativity has turned toward hurting others
or hurting himself

or the child who is disabled,
who will not live out anyone's dreams of achievement
whose future depends
on a safety net
that thins and tears year by year

the child who is not fed
who is not clothed
who is not housed
who is not healed

do we welcome that child?

Do we work to give that child what he needs?
Do we treat her as though we welcomed Jesus through her?

Dare we be last, and servant of all,
and the follower of the one who knows
that his love will lead him
to be killed
by the powers that be?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Proper 19B

I read this poem via TEXTWEEK from the Church of Scotland liturgy pages. I was so moved by it, that I wanted to share this with the blog. I will be using it as part of my sermon tomorrow. - submitted by the Rev. Karla J. Miller

The Church of Scotland: Mission and Discipleship Council.
16 September 2012 Pentecost+16

If you want to witness to who Jesus is, listen to who Jesus says you are.
You are the light for the world,
the defiance of the darkness;
when the world remains silent,
you are the voice that still speaks. When the world says “a fairer world”, you are the pressure that remembers.
This is who Jesus says you are in the world. The irritation.
if you want to witness to who Jesus is, listen to who Jesus says you are.
You are the challenge to the status quo, the salt in the wound:
when the world says “go to war”,
you are the protest;
when the world says, “everyone has a fair chance” you are the laughter.
This is who Jesus says you are in the world: the contradiction.
If you want to witness to who Jesus is, listen to who Jesus says YOU are.
You are the voice of dissent,
the truth amid the propaganda.
When the world says, “be beautiful”,
you are the brokenness.
When the world fills its belly,
you are the hunger.
This is who Jesus says you are in the world: the aggravation.
If you want to witness to who Jesus is, listen to who Jesus says YOU are.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Proper 18B: Be Opened

A reflection inspired by the readings of Proper 18(B), by The Reverend Anne Fraley.

They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.  He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak." (Mark 7:32-37)

Ephphatha. Be opened.

Not a command, not a plea. Jesus’ words to release the deaf man from silence are spoken softly and without urgency. They are enough to crack open a new world not only for this deaf and ineloquent man, but for those who witness the miracle of his restoration as well.

It is both a joyous and frightening turn of events. The isolation of silence has been ripped away, ushering new life into a once-comfortable—if constrained—means of existence. We take for granted the sounds of life. How often do we stop to consider that the chatter of voices signifies access to a community, even if they are strangers? Do we hear in the wind that wraps around objects in its way the mystery of God’s movement? All manner of sound carries significance for us. 

We likewise undervalue the tools of communication available to us through words and voice. The words we choose and the speed and emphasis with which we deliver them are as varied in number as the stars above us. The possibilities to convey the songs of our hearts and depth of our thoughts are infinite. Denied to this man for so long, the opportunities now available to him are no doubt at once exciting and overwhelming.  What was old has been made new again, and layers of meaning and nuance ripple from the mouths of others to tender, receiving ears. The sound of a loved one’s voice, once imagined and shaped by the receiver, may now seem grating and out of place. The work of integrating two realities lies before the one who has received a blessing.

How odd this may seem to us, even as we appreciate the raw truth of the experience. More startling, perhaps, is to recognize that we all live this paradox daily in a world full of conflicting values and agendas, especially as we endure a toxic political season.  In these bitter months approaching an important election, I strive to listen to those with whom I disagree to understand how they come to hold the point of view to which they cling so fiercely. When those views are held rationally rather than strapped on with fear and ignorance, I am challenged to hold in tension opposing and legitimate perspectives. It’s not a comfortable place to be, often, and the effort to live with that discomfort can be exhausting.

Harder still is enduring the excessive presence of irrationality, fear, hatred and ignorance that surrounds us. We want to shake loose the known falsehoods worn like badges of honor to allow the light of truth to penetrate the dangerous layers some people wrap around themselves as apparent protection. And that is precisely what it is, protection from the pain of reconciling what we think we know and believe with what is revealed to us.

The deaf man of this gospel hasn’t known a life rich with sound, and the work of moving past his familiar confinement to encounter that world, for better or worse, is daunting.  To engage the broader world requires vulnerability unlike that which he has known in silence. Jesus has not only opened his ears, but another part of his soul.

It is risky for any of us to be open to transformation.  New life brings blessing with it, but living into the fullness of that new life has its own twists, turns and potential pitfalls. Too many shrink from the prospect of God’s revelation in spite of the promise of his saving help and grace. For those who stand before Christ and offer deafness to him, the blessing of having ears to hear transcends the risk and we find ourselves in the presence of the Risen One.

And so I pray, for myself and all who would entrust whatever part of our world is closed and silent, “Ephphatha. Be opened.”

Monday, September 3, 2012

Proper 17B

A reflection on the Proper 17B: Mark 7:1-23, by the Rev. Dr. Katherine Godby
7Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”  21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
I’ve always loved this passage.  I read it as a confirmation of my own intense inner work.  And yet today I find myself a bit uncomfortable with that reading.
I’m quick to recognize how others (politicians lately, in particular) seem to have so little integrity.  When Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” my mind immediately goes to self-identified Christian political leaders who profess the love of Jesus even while, through the policies they support, they make the lives of so many people (women, the LGBTQ community, racial minorities, the elderly, and prisoners locked away without benefit of trial) more difficult, less decent, than need be.
That’s not love.
Love includes a real desire for others to flourish.  Admittedly, this is often difficult and complex, but it’s certainly not accomplished through policies that make it harder for people to live decent lives, free from sexism, heterosexism, racism and the like. 
Oh, I’m quick to recognize that kind of disingenuous rhetoric and behavior.  I’m attuned to it. 
And yet today as I write, I find myself in a too-rare mood to look at my own disingenuous behavior.  I’m thinking mostly of how I, too, am quick to honor God with my lips, but allow the busyness of my days to take precedent over quiet time, over intentional daily prayer, over completing the Examen daily, as I promised myself and God that I would.  Does defiling evil come from this?  I’m sure it does, in a way, because it leaves more space inside me for the things that are not of God—more space for my own fears to take hold and tempt me toward pride or deceit, etc. 
Don’t worry, this is not a “tell-all” confession!  It’s simply a brief word about how this passage has opened up something important for me.  My desire to be authentic and conscious is deep and strong.  But Jesus’ words remind me of just how perilous the inner journey toward uncovering God’s image within me can be.  I know I’m not alone in my too-frequent desire to “look good” to others, the desire to counter fear by sticking to rules and tired traditions because it happens to benefit us in some way—at the expense of freedom and truth and beauty, the desire to take the easy way out by telling ourselves that it’s OK to skip those moments in the day spent devoted to listening for God. Thank God for the grace that surrounds us all.