How was Your Covid? Strategic Intimate Conversations

Sermon –  Sunday Scriptures Proper 25 B October 24th

St. Augustine’s in the Woods, Freeland, WA

 Jeremiah 31:7-9 and Psalm 126  • Hebrews 7:23-28  Mark 10:46-52

Over the past few weeks, in the readings from both the Gospel of Mark and the OT, I’ve noticed a pattern of strategic intimate conversations between Jesus and those who follow him, between God and Israel.

One party approaches, makes a comment or asks a question,                                                                the 2nd party listens and then responds to the question or comment                                                                            

the 1st party waits, listening to the reply, and only then replies               the 2nd party listens and only then, replies… and so on

          Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy

          What do you want me to do for you?

In these strategic intimate conversations what happens in the rest of that story      depends entirely upon the answers and replies.                                                                                      In these conversations, there is something for each party to say,                                    something for each to listen to, and                                                                                                    some response called for from everyone.

No one is left out as a silent, passive observer.

(Including the followers around Jesus in this story, and we who hear this hear today.)                       None of the parties  –  Jesus, his followers, the Prophet, Israel, God, and we here – 

          – assumes that they know what the other party is going to say, 

   and what happens depends upon what they do say, and do.

And all of this unfolds in public, out loud. Nothing hidden about any of this.

So, today I would like to offer something of a “strategic intimate conversation” that might be useful to us as a congregation, in the hope that many of us will have this conversation in the future.        

How Was your Covid?

         Not long after the end of WWII in the UK,  it was not usual to greet someone you hadn’t seen since the war with the question, “How was your war?”… As heard in the title, Foyle’s War.

That question acknowledged that it wasn’t the same war experience for everyone. Depending upon a whole lot of things,  but especially the things that make for diversity and oppression, and particular circumstances,

that war, and now Covid, were and are different experiences for each person who lives through them.

These strategic intimate conversations could be useful to us as a parish as we search for a new rector, if they help to not fear our differences, but rather see them as gifts and strengths.

This is not to come up with some consensus about Covid, but the opposite. So that we can see more clearly that being united, One in the Spirit, is more about being like-hearted, than like-minded.

We are One Body in Christ, even when we understand that in different ways.

[ I still hope and believe that ]as Americans, we can be what we claim to be,                 E pluibus Unem, from many, one.

The “things” that make for like heartedness and feed our souls, allowing us to remain in community

come not from agreement on points x, y, and z,

but because we care about the same kinds of questions, that often have very different answers.

For, we all can hear the question that Jesus asks Bartimaeus…

”What do you want me to do for you?” And yet, we each have a different answer.

It is my hunch that it is our questions, and the bonds (Holy Strings) that created when we hear the differences between our answers, which forms us into a community.

How as your war? How was your Covid?

In answer the question, “How was your Covid?” I am going to play a song,

Everything Must Change. That song is my initial response to How was your Covid?

Then I’ll tell you what has kept me afloat for more than a year now, my on-going spiritual snacking program on soul-food. 

Everything Must Change by Bernard Eighner, 1974 https://www.soultracks.com/story-benard-ighner-dies

Depending upon how many people you know who died, and were or still are sick, lost their jobs, loved ones, homes, careers, community life, access to what they care about, (church, sports, art, music), this has been the worst of times.

And for others, for whom these days have become an extended spiritual retreat, these have been the best of times.

How will telling our Covid stories contribute to our search for a new Rector?

Today, our collect mentionsfaith, hope and love as gifts rather than accomplishments,

things we receive and then figure out how to use in life-giving ways, to provide hope and vision – important kinds of sight – to a world with a supply chain problem low on hope and vision.

When we share these stories, we remove some of the barriers between us, and  allow each other glimpses our most pressing questions. With those glimpses, these gifts of faith, hope and love become manifest as a kind of Holy Strings of compassion, dismay,  wonder, gratitude, awe, …. As in religio… that is what religion of any kind does, it binds people together with Holy Strings. Together not necessarily because they agree or even are likeminded in all things, but because we care about each other, the Creator, and Creation.

2. Telling our stories is a kind of soul food & the Church a kind of soul food restaurant  

We’ve heard something about the four food groups — 

Junk Food             tastes great, but makes us sick and fat

Health Food          often doesn’t taste good, might make us healthier,

Good Food           does something good for both our bodies as well as our souls

Soul Food              tastes and feels good, inside, and out,

                              does not make us fat or sick, but rather makes us whole, if not                                         holy,   and brings joy, courage, compassion, gratitude,                                           humility, and love.

Early 19th century: from French, from restaurer ‘provide food for’ (literally ‘restore to a former state’).

The use of the words “soul food” is intentional. The “double entendre” = double hearing is not because either meaning is risqué, but because “soul food”, a significant aspect of Black culture reminds us of our covenant to work against oppression, of all kinds, the over and undervaluing of ourselves and others.

These strategic conversations make for soul food, by hearing, sharing, and honoring each person’s experience.

They are indications that the “gifts of faith, hope and love” are at work among us.

We come here to this soul food restaurant,

to feed, to be fed,/ to nourish each other, to be nourished

to “rest” in God, to be restored, to restore others

to be filled and then sent away with both full hearts and                                                  full stomachs

… by letting each other know something about our needs, i.e.

which questions matter most to us, and then sharing with each other something of how those needs are met, fed in the life of this congregation, we feed each other’s souls with small doses and (demonstrations) of faith, hope, and love.

My Covid Project begins each Monday morning by reading the lessons for the next Sunday, and then continues off and on over the week, as I chew upon, think about, explore the readings in terms of  what the lessons have to offer towards what I saw as my most pressing need for that week.

This is not any great work of scholarship or studiousness, It’s not about being right; it’s more about wanting to be whole, to be restored,  in a difficult time.

It is much more like snacking on little bits here in a way that does something to feed my soul, give me hope, help me to look about and see what I was not seeing… the kind of things that with hindsight I would come to label, later on, as our Psalm says, some of the “great things that God has done for us.”  But that label, isn’t where it starts out.

This spiritual / soul food program begins each week by taking stock… of what my greatest obstacle to – being okay, to being restored — now?

(And that question can become humbling, when week after week, I continue to come up with the same or similar obstacle. But,…so be it. That question is important.

This snacking program is a way of trying to figure out what is getting in the way of  the “faith, hope, and love” that the Collect suggests are gifts “we are given by God, ” and that I’d like to have more present in my life.

3.) This week’s soul food for me

This “program” is Highly flexible. Adjust, adapt, take short cuts… all you like. If you do it at all, it’s just right!!

  1. Pick my most pressing challenge for the week

As when my faith, hope, and love are in some kind of battle with my fears, doubts, and despair.

[For me this rotates between the most recent physical ailment or fear

+/or trying to love and get along with someone, I’m not loving very well or getting along with

+/or yet another terrifying awareness of one more horrific event of oppression and injustice

+/or some heart-breaking environmental disaster…

any one of or some combination of all four.]

This question is important because in spite of the fact that we’ve used the same lessons in a 3-year rotation for more than 40 years, we have never yet been posed with exactly the same questions and answers because the context of our lives, of our questions and answers, and our reading these texts is ALWAYS changing

2.) I read through the lessons… rather superficially… i.e. sort of speed reading to see what, if ANYTHING,   in any way, might in some way link up with the challenge I identified.   E.g. It doesn’t have to be “right”…according to anyone else. At this point, it simply needs to fit my need in a way that I understand.     

9 With tears of joy they will come;  while they pray, I will bring them back.

I will lead them by quiet streams&  on smooth paths so they don’t stumble.                                                                                 from  Jeremiah

6 Those who sow with tears      will reap with glad songs.

7 Those who go out weeping,  carrying the seed,

will surely come home again with joy, shouldering their sheaves  from the Ps.

And the conversation between the Blind man, in Mark

 “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” “Son of David, show me mercy!”

           “Call him forward.”   “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.”

           “What do you want me to do for you?”  “Teacher, I want to see.”

            “Go, your faith has healed you        

3. ) Keep track, however informally, of what I found that fit the need. Maybe write it down, or just highlight the printed text?

4.)  Chew on it for a while What the chewing gave me…  two things:

                  > a beautiful, powerful image of hope to counter act the too many visions of despair that keep showing up for me. An image I keep returning to again and again and again, for hope, vision of something more than what is currently before my eyes, in my heart.

                  > an example, and encouragement of how those who follow Jesus deal with each other to provide soul food to each other and those around them

For one thing, they argued with each other, and also stayed together, changed their minds, and openly encouraged one another.

They asked Jesus for what they needed. …meaning this glimpse of those who followed Jesus  looks more collaborative than I’ve at times come to imagine it.

There are important parts for everyone in the group to play,

something for everyone to hear, to say, to do, to be.

It’s not a story where anyone is sitting, left out in silence, nor does anyone, including Jesus, take over the story telling.  They do not begin in agreement; they disagree…and only after the small group conversation do some of them change their minds, and something new happens.

               The Blind man approached Jesus, not the other way around,

And he openly shouted, in public and asked for what he wanted. Jesus did not assume to know what the guy wanted. He asked, he listened… and when Jesus responded… he “gave the credit” to attributed the sight to the man’s faith rather than his own superpowers.                                                                                                                                                                  5.)  Come back a day or two later, and write a response to God based on what unfolded during the week

One aspect of this snacking program is that it resembles a snack in its incompleteness. It doesn’t pretend to be a full meal.  As important, or true some of this may be, I find it helpful to see this as more of something small along the way, to tide us over until something more filling comes along at a later time. I am more nourished when there isn’t so much pressure to do it right, etc.!!

6.)  Optional. I look up the songs and hymns that we have that go with these lessons, & pick one as a prayer.

The outcome of that step is what you are singing today. Our Episcopal hymnals, all five of them, plus the many hymns that we sing from the ELCA Hymnal are a WIDE range of soul food – we have a lot of hymns to choose from, they are not all alike, they do not all say the same things. It has been very powerful to look through the indexes of these hymnals and see how the many ways in which these texts become beautiful songs, or to realize that some Sundays, there isn’t one single hymn that fits any of the lessons for the day. I had no idea about that.

7.) Find a way to share that song and the prayer with someone else.

This final step… writing this closing prayer and sharing with someone else is a feast for me. Even a little bit of this kind of exchange is a feast… to catch a glimpse of how someone else’s faith, hope and love unfold in their lives, and share some of my own with others is life giving, hope building, connecting…restorative.

4. Conclusion    A Soul Food Snack for this Week

Holy One, here we are, together with You and one another, in this long season of distress; part of a great web of people who look to you with this outrageous hope of going out weeping,

and then coming back home again,

singing, with joy!

Here we sing glad songs together, for the many ways you restore us;

together, here in this place, where the soul food we consume,

          is rich in the compassion, humility, wisdom, joy, and courage

                    of Jesus-like lives;

          and becomes what we offer to the world around us. Alleluia, alleluia, Amen.

          I hope to hear about your Covid. 

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Praying our Disappointments – Lament

Lament is talking back to God from out of our distress and intimate trust that God is willing to hear us at our worst yet stay with us through all things. While it might seem particularly appropriate for Lent, the woes of the world are not limited to any time of year.   

This honest, intimate, daring, trusting kind of conversation is an important aspect of how the “friends of God” in Scripture deal with their disappointments.  It’s not everything, there is more to it, but crying out to God in distress is the place to begin with our disappointments. These kinds of prayers and conversations honor and witness to the distress of both the innocent and the guilty.  They also indicate an intimacy (in the human – Divine relationship) of trust and concern that we all need when we are disappointed, grieving, angry, longing, or afraid.

The “friends of God” do not hold back from expressing clearly to God their distress over many kinds of disappointment:

Abraham       But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children?  [This is the 4th time of asking!] Genesis 15:2

Moses             The Lord was outraged, and Moses was upset. 11 Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? And why haven’t I found favor in your eyes, for you have placed the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you would say to me, ‘Carry them at the breast, as a nurse carries an unweaned child,’ to the fertile land that you promised their ancestors? 13 Where am I to get meat for all these people? They are crying before me and saying, ‘Give us meat, so we can eat.’ 14 I can’t bear this people on my own. They’re too heavy for me. 15 If you’re going to treat me like this, please kill me. If I’ve found favor in your eyes, then don’t let me endure this wretched situation.”   Numbers 11: 10b – 15

Hanna            Hannah was very upset and couldn’t stop crying as she prayed to the Lord. Then she made this promise: “Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! I Samuel 1:10 -11

Jonah             Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish:

“I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me.

                        From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help;

                         you have heard my voice.  Jonah 2:1b -2

The Psalmist 17:6       I cry out to you because you answer me.

                                    So tilt your ears toward me now—

                                    listen to what I’m saying!

                        18:6      I cry out to you because you answer me.

                                     So tilt your ears toward me now—

                                     listen to what I’m saying!

 Jesus                          My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matt. 27:46

If talking back to God is okay with God, as it seems to be in the examples above, so is talking back to each other and witnessing each other’s laments. As North American Christians we’ve picked up the idea that lament is the same as whining and is never ever okay!

Whining and lament are very different kinds of expression. Whiners are not interested in change, are unwilling to take the risks necessary in intimate relationships and have little interest in hearing any response to their protests beyond giving them what they want.

A lament is based upon a trusting mutual relationship in which vulnerability is weighed against disappointment. A lament doesn’t work as a lament apart from this intimate balance of need, risk, trust, and care. Lamenters are opened to new possibilities by this experience of sharing their disappointments with God and with each other.

Part of what we gain from lamenting our own disappointments, is insight into how other folks deal with theirs.  As we move through these times of transition, we are reminded that everyone deals with disappointments. Everyone. We are disappointed about very different things. But whatever our disappointments may be, we all need our distress to be heard, honored and responded to.

Another thing we notice about disappointments after a while… that no matter what happened and who may be at fault or who has been harmed, the powerful experience of having our disappointments being taken seriously does a LOT to set us upon a path that eventually leads to healing and reconciliation, especially when that involves changing our minds and hearts. (aka repentance)

We thank you for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone….   BCP 865

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Breathe, Lament, Repent, Covenant

A Sermon — Pentecost, May 23, 2021

The Giving of the Holy Spirit & Using Covenant to Root Out Racism

Breath + Lament + Repent + Covenant

If we had one of those reader boards where they put up the sermon title, ours would say                                         

                        Lament, Repent, Covenant – Pentecost and Mr. George Floyd

So, how is it that on this Pentecost, we, in the Diocese of Olympia have been asked by our Bishop, Greg, to “incorporate ‘A Covenant to Root Out Racism’” into our worship today?  Tuesday, May 25th is the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. Today’s commemoration comes following the overwhelmingly passed resolution supporting anti-racism at our most recent Diocesan Convention.

The importance of what we are trying to do vies with the difficulties and inevitable clashes that will occur, within and without. It Isn’t easy.  We will make mistakes. May we be courageous and strong enough to ask hard questions and patient enough to listen for a long time.

I am doing this sermon because I have a lot of experience in the kinds of efforts that have NOT yet worked to bring about the change we need.

…over more than 50 years of task forces, committees, coalitions, exchange programs, conferences, workshops, 40 hr. long training sessions, books, retreats, classes, liturgies, conventions (Diocesan and National), study groups, commissions, and resolutions. I know a lot about what has pointed out, but not ended this peace with oppression.

I came to the Episcopal Church because of racism, even though I may not have used that word for it then.  In 1964, with a probably naïve awareness that there was “something” wrong about my mostly all white Ingraham H S, I applied for an inter-racial student exchange program with Garfield HS in Seattle. I was 16 yrs. old. In the course of that experience I participated in an Episcopal youth conference, walking into the Cathedral at sunset for Compline.

The other major experience was indicated by an obscene phone call and one piece of hate mail addressed to me, after I gave a short talk, based on my experiences at Garfield, for my all-white Presbyterian Church. I spoke out as a Christian against legal red-lining and in support of open housing. I had dared to suggest that different was simply different, not better, or worse.

So, Pentecost and George Floyd!

The Feast of Pentecost is a brilliant choice of days for this commemoration, it offers us such a rich collection of resources for our grievous problems.

The core of today is one Hebrew word for          breath + wind + Spirit            RUACH

The breath of life breathed by God into the dry bones of Israel, that these long dead bones might live again, and come together again as God’s people, is paired with:

w/ the breath in the Psalm, breath no creature can live without

w/ the groaning too deep for words for when we have no words to pray,

w/ the Spirit that fell upon a vastly diverse gathering of the early Church (including Jews                     and Arabs)                                       

w/ the Spirit sent to guide us into all the truth, taking what is of Jesus & declaring it to u       

and with all of the lives lost and damaged by the constrictions of oppression & injustice,

            as marked this day by the anniversary of the death of Mr. George Floyd,

            who died because he could not breathe.

Thus two images  give us much to hold on to.

the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost on the gathered diverse community

and that Valley of Dry Bones being breathed into life,

As with the Dry Bones, our situation today, at times, feels impossible, like long dead, dry bones.  After this many years of trying, and we do not seem to have made much progress.  

But these images, rather than those of despair and hopelessness, are precisely the images we need in our hearts, minds…and “guts.”

It is a challenge to do justice to both the new life-giving breath, wind of the Holy Spirit alongside of the anniversary of the death of George Floyd. I see that connection of Spirit and breath as stunning. Without breath, without the Spirit, we cannot live.

And, along-side of wave upon wave of division in our country and world, I see that VERY diverse group gathered together as one-in-the-Spirit, to be precisely what we need.  For, we are not “gathered in the Spirit’s tether” because we are alike, like each other, like the same things, and or agree in matters of theology, politics, or social theories of race.

Rather, we are drawn together in the Spirit’s tether by Holy Strings of love manifest as respect, trust, and mutual responsibility that are fruits of the Spirit.

We are drawn together at the level of breath:                                                    Holy Strings, BY Kathryn Rickert

and by a constellation of the reasons why Mr. George Floyd could not breathe.

Our desires”,

the ones we share

with all who breathe,…

are what bind us

together with

the Holy One,

Creation,

one another,

and ourselves.

It is in the fulfillment center

where our desires

are weighed,

and so variously responded to,

that we are pulled apart.

That we desire and long

for something, anything,

isn’t the problem.

The problem

is whether or not

the desires are “ours”.

That is, shared with the Holy One,

Creation,

one another,

and ourselves,

and then allowed to

connect us.

The problem

is what comes of those longings

for the self alone,

apart from,

without any

of those holy strings  

attached.

As to this Covenant to Root out Racism –

“Holy Strings” is my shorthand for how entering into a covenant could contribute to the changes needed for ending our peace with oppression and injustice.

However, in order for the covenant to be yet more than words without actions, we need to spend some time pondering 4 words – Breath, Lament, Repent, Covenant

Breathing, lamenting, repenting, and covenanting are actions best understood in the first person. These words only “work” when they become familiar practices recognized in our experiences and felt within our bodies.

Within the biblical traditions….

Lament is a sound, a cry of distress, addressed to God

Repentance is a movement, a physical &/or spiritual change of direction or orientation, a turning

Covenant is a mutual arrangement, but not necessarily 50% + 50% of respect, trust, and mutual responsibility.

Lament  is a sound, a cry of distress, linked to animal cries in Heb & the sound of a loon in English.

            Addressed to God, out loud, usually in public, in the first person. (I or We)

            It is the prayer of insiders and witnesses, rather than spectators in the safe seats.

            Lament is an indication of faith, courage, & a willingness to risk… laments are not        guaranteed to work, they dare to talk back to God

            Lament also involves humility because it deals in volatile, strong emotions  —

                                       grief, fear, anger, rage, longing, lostness,

Outside of the Psalms of lament Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,  is our best example of lament

                        Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.

                        Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,

                        a long way from home,

                        a long way from home.

Lament may seem an unfamiliar term to us, but we actually do a lot of lamenting… but it is undercover, disguised as Country Western heart-break songs, screaming rock and roll, rap, the blues, jazz, sad movies, plays, and operas, communal mourning after a favorite team loses… that is, shows up in the arts, music, & sports.

The word is often used now to mean, “I regret”… something, much weaker than this intense first person ( I or we)… cry out to you God in our distress.

            And guilt is what repentance is for.

Repent   As lament is sound, repentance is movement.

Repentance – teshuva, in Heb. means to turn, to change directions. Feeling sorry for something is not repentance until it leads to a change of direction.

Oppression and injustice are not confined to the edges of our personal worlds, they are deeply woven into all aspects of public life. We cannot repent for the things others have done, — that we mourn, that we work against.

We can repent what we have done, left undone, not known, failed to notice, not cared about, not seen or heard, have ignored, or denied, by doing, noticing, caring, paying attention., and changing.

Guilt is about oneself, concern directed towards the self, not towards the those who are being harmed. For guilt to become constructive, bringing about major change or direction, it needs to keep growing and turn into compassion, escaping the confines of self-concern.

Covenant is the foundation of lament and the form of Holy Strings

A Covenant is an arrangement of mutual respect, trust, and responsibility, between two or more parties. Biblical covenants are not necessarily 50%-50% Parents have more power and more responsibilities than children do, but all have responsibilities and are worthy of respect.

Biblical notions of covenant have in mind matters of life and death, rather than house colors, or rules about boat trailers in the driveway, etc. 

Both the oppressed and the oppressor are caught in oppressive systems. Without these Holy Strings of respect, trust, and responsibility that work against “over and undervaluing” of anyone, no one is liberated. “Over and undervaluing” is another way of describing oppression and injustice based on race, gender, ethnicity, ability, religion, national origin, age, social class culture, sexual orientation, or indigenous heritage… that bring about “unnecessary suffering caused by social inequality.” (Nieto, 43)

A mutually shared covenant is how we are bound together in the Spirit to work against oppression. So, unless we have some experience of the Holy Strings between ourselves and Mr. George Floyd…and the millions of people whose lives unfold as though there were no Holy Strings between us, nothing will change.

We will have opportunities in the coming months to come back to this again…This is a very long- term project. We can only enter into such a Covenant a little bit at a time,…and with many ups and downs. Please… follow the excellent Anglican tradition of “read, mark and inwardly digest.” Please keep these pages, and take them home and put them where you will see them again, e.g. on your refrigerator door.

Mark the things you wonder about, don’t understand, don’t recognize, find troubling, disagree with.  Write your own version of it, translate it into your life, your words, your experience! But, don’t stop there, keep going. Consider using a Pondering Prayer

out loud, in writing on paper, in a computer, in your head,… while you walk around,

sitting at the beach, in the garden,

                        Come, Holy Spirit come,

                        and breath into us courage, hope, and wisdom,

                        as we ask — Why, Holy One, why?

Why are things this way? Why did George Floyd die?

Why am I upset? angry? sad? afraid? concerned? worried? longing? or not?

Why is/are she, he, they upset? angry? sad? afraid? concerned? worried? longing? or not?

Why, Holy One, why? 

And then listen, and wait in hope. Give the Spirit time, a lot of time, to come upon you, to breathe into your heart and gut some new understanding, insight, compassion, wisdom… and see what comes.

Should you become discouraged in this process, as many people are, remember these two images the Spirit Breathing Life into what seemed impossible:

the Dry Bones …& the Descent of Holy Spirit upon a diverse group

            including Jews and Arabs, together in peace!

In that valley of the long dead, of the given-up hope ones, of despairing that God is with us still in this mess. we hear —  

“From the four winds, come [Spirit] and blow into these slain ones that they may live.” …and. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.”

            May the Spirit breathe into us and counsel us to

            restore and repair these many wounds of oppression and injustice. AMEN.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment: A Developmental Strategy

to Liberate Everyone, by Leticia Nieto with Margot F. Boyer, 2010, Cuetzpalin Publishing, Olympia, WA.  This book is available by calling the De Colores Book Store in Olympia.  (360) 357-9400, $60.00 including shipping. The same price as Amazon.

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What Easter Means to me, 2021

There is a rather long list of qualifications that belong here:

I know that anything I say is incomplete, not enough… falls short, is not all there is etc.

And that probably more than one person in our group will tell me why I am wrong about what I have written here.

But, I also know that the importance of the contextual setting of any answer can’t be dismissed, ignored, overstated, or downplayed. The meanings really do change from year to year, moment to moment.

Now, at this age, it’s become increasingly worthwhile to answer most questions with.. in this year, 2021 under these circumstances, etc. …

Easter means that….It’s not all about me. I am not the center of the universe, nor am I alone, I am not disconnected from others, and what I do or fail to do with, to and for others, including the Planet, matters immensely.

The short version, is that Easter means that whether or not I wear a mask, and get vaccinated has the most to do with the lives of others, not my own. It’s not all about me. I am not the measure of what is most important. What I see in the cross is a too familiar demonstration of how good is not reached by the easy way. In one form or  another, there are these moments where the only way for good / life/ light/ hope to arise will come by genuine self-offering, setting the self-to-the-side for the sake of others.

The salient feature of this year is the unique view of what Covid is making it more possible for some people to see — suffering, terror, fear, compassion, selfishness vs. self-offering giving/ sacrifice

while others are, if possible, are even more blinded than they were before as to the presence and impact of our connections to each other.

These many ways of looking at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus can be useful or not, depending on which ones we latch on to. The whole idea of personal salvation, especially a kind of salvation that is presented as though it did not include and demand rather challenging levels of voluntary setting-of-the-self-to-the-side, and costly connection to others and the Creation, needs little commentary as to its potential to offend, and do anything but bring New Life, Light in Darkness, or Hope in the place of despair. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t  “save.”  It is not reconciling, healing, or life giving.

For me, as well as many others,  the isolation of the death and resurrection of Jesus from the Life is a major problem. To me, the death and resurrection apart from the Life is simply wrong. The point of the Life is that it demonstrates (the Law and the Prophets) and is the foundation of the pattern found in many, many places in Hebrew Scripture ( much taught to me by James Eblen) of orientation + disorientation + new orientation (Walter Brueggemann’s words). A model that omits the step between orientation and disorientation doesn’t work.

With this many Easters within my memory… at least 70, my answer is a mishmash of those various events. And the answer has certainly changed a lot over time. Now, unlike when I was much younger, more of the memory has less to do with words or ideas than it does with lived experience…much of which I can’t accurately describe, because it means more than I am able to convey.

Part of it has to do with Pesach, because of the various seders (more than one with Jim Mirel and far more in my own home,) I have been part of over the past 30+ years. For all that many around me do to keep the two far apart, they are not far apart for me. So the memory is a fusion of a fabulous Greek Easter Bread with dyed eggs, apricots, and figs woven like a crown Challah alongside of this Sephardic Charoset that I make from apricots, sour cherries, and pecans. Both.

But the most powerful memory so far has to do with what we call the Great Vigil of Easter, held on the Saturday Night, in full dark, beginning outside with the lighting of the New Fire, and the singing of the Exultet, before processing into a completely dark Church illuminated only by the Paschal Candle and the candles that the people are holding.  And, then sitting in the mostly dark, and hearing all of these lessons from Hebrew Scripture:

The Story of Creation                         Genesis 1:1–2:2         Psalm 33:1-11, or Psalm 36:5-10

The Flood                                              Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18;  8:8-18; 9:8-13           Psalm 46

Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac             Genesis 22:1-18            Psalm 33:12-22, or Psalm 16   

Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea   Exodus 14:10–15:1      [Exod. 15:1-6,11-13, 17-18] 

God’s Presence in a renewed Israel  Isaiah 4:2-6                  Psalm 122    

Salvation offered freely to all              Isaiah 55:1-11             Isaiah 12:2-6  or Psalm 42:1-7 

A new heart and a new spirit              Ezekiel 36:24-28         Psalm 42:1-7, 

The valley of dry bones                        Ezekiel 37:1-14           Psalm 30, or Psalm 143

The gathering of God’s people            Zephaniah 3:12-20      Psalm 98, or Psalm 126

All of that is the set up for this powerful proclamation, that Christ is risen. Which to me is shorthand for… there is Light, Hope, Life, Love, Reconciliation, and Compassion. Good Wins. God is. We are not alone, we are connected. And what we do, think, feel, and set our hearts upon (aka believe) matters.  And we “know this” in the breaking of the bread, Eucharist, and in the sending forth into the world to be who and what God has called us to be and do, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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A Lament for Today Feb 13, 2021

for Harley

“I find the difference between Black and White Evangelicals to be interesting. White Evangelicals tend to think in catastrophic terms when they think about Biden. Less so for Black Evangelicals. Indeed, the White-Black differences stand out in many ways. I am led to think that the crucial factor is not Evangelical but rather it is White. Note that the same difference is found with Black and White Catholics. Is the famous loyalty of White Evangelicals (and in general White Christians) all more about race than religion? I think so.

The bottom line: racism has permeated American Christianity to an appalling degree. This is no surprise, given our history, but it is very demoralizing. As Christians, we are supposed to be redeemed and transformed people. Is our faith really just “skin deep.” Are our faith statements empty platitudes? 

Where do we go from here?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Prelude:                                  Everything Must Change – words & music Bernard Ighner

Address to God        O Holy One, God of Everyone,

                                    God known, unknown, recognized, ignored, denied

                                    You are still our Emmanuel,

                                    God with All of us,

                                    alike, unlike, disliked,

                                    our God,

                                    the only One there is.

Complaint                  “Where do we go from here?”

                                    Like Jonah,

                                    we are called to go where we do not want to go

                                    called to do things we don’t want to do

                                    asked to love people we don’t know, don’t understand, or like,

                                    and disturbed by minds that do not change,

                                    and those that do,

                                    apparently, Including YOURS!

                                    We are upset, outraged, sad, angry, afraid, confused, and                                                     overwhelmed

                                    with longing for something we can’t find or name!

Petition                       God of Everyone, do something,

                                    please, do something!

                                    We cry out to you from deep trouble,

                                    this is our belly prayer:

                                    We need, want, long, desire…

                                    to be restored, repaired, and reunited

                                    with You,

                                    with the Creation,

                                    with each other,

                                    with ourselves.                                         

A Song:                      Sometimes I feel like a motherless child

Affirmation of Trust    Holy One for everybody,

                                    we’ve heard the stories

                                    the one about being vomited up by a great fish

                                    about walking on water

                                    about bringing new life to what was thought to be dead.

                                    Do that, again, please.

                                    Do that again,

                                    and this time,

                                    with us.

                                    Our faith is so off and on,

                                    so up and down.

                                    This time,

                                    may we wait for you

                                    with patience

                                    and hope.

Vow of Praise:           So much is still broken,

                                    in disarray, at odds,

                                    not at all right,

                                    divided.

                                    But we won’t wait

                                    until the day when it’s not.

                                    Even now,

                                    when our hope is wobbly,

                                    we will continue

                                    to notice even the smallest

                                    drops and rejoice

                                    in you,

                                    our God of Everyone.

A Song:          When Jesus Wept, William Billings (1746-1800),                     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahRyAZZ1qCQ

            When Jesus wept, the falling tear In mercy flowed beyond all bound;
            When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear, Seized all the guilty world around.

Vow or Blessing:        Blessed are those who are sad,

                                   afraid, distressed, longing, & mad–

                                    for they shall comfort each other,

                                    and be comforted by you,

                                    the God of Everyone. Amen.

Postlude:        Lift every Voice and Sing,   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGaEV_ir3KQ

                      James Weldon Johnson, & J. Rosamond Johnson (brothers)

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won

Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast

God of our weary years
God of our silent tears


Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee

Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land
Our native land

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Advent 3B Prayers

OPENING PRAYER: Hymn #69 Carol Christopher Drake, (b. 1933), alt.

1. What is the crying at Jordan?

Who hears, O God, the prophecy?

Dark is the season, dark our hearts

and shut to mystery.

2. Who then shall stir in this darkness,

prepare for joy in the winter night?

Mortal in darkness we lie down

blind-hearted, seeing no light.

3. Lord, give us grace to awake us,

to see the branch that begins to bloom;

in great humility is hid all heaven

in a little room.

4. Now comes the day of salvation,

in joy and terror the Word is born!

God gives himself into our lives;

O let salvation dawn!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ib44LWGJJCM (The Miserable Offenders)

CLOSING PRAYER:

Holy One, who comes to us

in a season of captivity;

May we not brush off your messages

of comfort for broken hearts,

prisoners, and ALL who mourn.

May we receive and send

messages of joy instead of doom.

May our spirits, souls, and bodies

be kept in your comfort

and used to make new

the rubble left behind

from these difficult days.

Then, may our hearts overflow with joy

As we recognize you in our midst. Amen.

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Advent… waiting for hope

ADVENT 3B Reading and Reflection

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11  +  Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b-55  + 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24   + John 1:6-8, 19-28 

 A Comment: These readings all come out of various times and places — both Old and New Testament– with strong points of view to acknowledge what is wrong in the world, yet continue to see and hear Light, hope, and a future that is transformed rather than overwhelmed by grief, fear, and anger.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

  1. From any one or all five of these readings, which 1-2 sentences best describe how you are in this second week of Advent?
  2. Which aspects of the many problems described are of greatest concern to you now?
  3. Select one of those many problems and then use one of the readings as a pattern for a strategy of Divine-human collaboration for responding to that problem.
  4. What do these readings have to do with Advent? Who is coming? When?

Why? Who are you waiting for?

  • What kind of assistance do you need this week, and where do you find it here?
  • What questions continue to weigh upon your heart and mind?
  • To what is God calling you within these readings?
  • What is your prayer for this week?

Isaiah 1 1-4 The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.

He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken,

Announce freedom to all captives,

    pardon all prisoners.

God sent me to announce the year of his grace— a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—

    and to comfort all who mourn,

To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,  give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,

Messages of joy instead of news of doom,

    a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.

Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness”

    planted by God to display his glory.

They’ll rebuild the old ruins,

    raise a new city out of the wreckage.

They’ll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new.

 You’ll feast on the bounty of nations,

    you’ll bask in their glory.

Because you got a double dose of trouble

    and more than your share of contempt,

Your inheritance in the land will be doubled

    and your joy go on forever.

1: 8-11 “Because I, God, love fair dealing I will sing for joy in God,

    explode in praise from deep in my soul!

God dressed me up in a suit of salvation,

and outfitted me in a robe of righteousness,

As a bridegroom who puts on a tuxedo

    and a bride a jeweled tiara.

For as the earth bursts w/ spring wildflowers,

    and as a garden cascades with blossoms,

So the Master, God, brings righteousness into full bloom and puts praise on display before the nations

Luke 1:46-55  J.B. Phillips New Testament

46-55 Then Mary said, “My heart is overflowing with praise of my Lord,

my soul is full of joy in God my Savior.

For he has deigned to notice me, his humble servant and,

after this, all the people who ever shall be will call me the happiest of women!

The one who can do all things has done great things for me—

oh, holy is his Name!

Truly, his mercy rests on those who fear him in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm, he has swept away the high and mighty.

He has set kings down from their thrones and lifted up the humble.

He has satisfied the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away with empty hands.

Yes, he has helped Israel, his child:

he has remembered the mercy that he promised to our forefathers,

to Abraham and his sons for evermore!”

Psalm 126    In convertendo

1 When God restored the fortunes of Zion, *

    then were we like those who dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *

    and our tongue with shouts of joy.

3 Then they said among the nations, *

    “God has done great things for them.”

4 God has done great things for us, *

    and we are glad indeed.  

5 Restore our fortunes, O God, *

    like the watercourses of the Negev.  

6 Those who sowed with tears *

    will reap with songs of joy.  

7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *

 will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24  Common English Bible

16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t suppress the Spirit. 20 Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, 21 but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil. 23 Now, may the God of peace himself cause you to be completely dedicated to him; and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept intact and blameless at our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming. 24 The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this.

John 1:6-8, 19-28  The Message

6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

19-20 When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They pressed him, “Who, then? Elijah?”

            “I am not.”

            “The Prophet?”            “No.”

22 Exasperated, they said, “Who, then? We need an answer for those who sent us. Tell us something—anything!—about yourself.”

23 “I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’ I’m doing what the prophet Isaiah preached.”

24-25 Those sent to question him were from the Pharisee party. Now they had a question of their own: “If you’re neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?”

26-27 John answered, “I only baptize using water. A person you don’t recognize has taken his stand in your midst. He comes after me, but he is not in second place to me. I’m not even worthy to hold his coat for him.”

28 These conversations took place in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing at the time.

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Reflections on the 2nd Sunday of Advent 2020 —

Reading to Survive

Advent 2B Isaiah 40:1-11  •  Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13  •  2 Peter 3:8-15a   •  Mark 1:1-8

Advent is much more than a time of getting ready for Christmas. In a way, Advent isn’t  about Christmas (the 1st coming), so much as it is a time of awakening to what Christmas means within the big picture of life and how it is connected to Easter, (the 2nd coming). So now that this heavens and this earth are clearly in trouble, we are invited to   to listen with our hearts to announcements of comfort in bumpy places, visions of mercy and truth meeting, righteousness and peace kissing, and care for nursing mothers.  

Reflection Questions:

  1. Which 1-2 sentences here best capture how you are this week at the beginning of Advent, a new church year, in the midst of difficult days?
  2. What is the overall direction of these Advent texts? Where do they point? Why?
  3. How do the “comfort and tenderness” fit into a setting of distress, bumpy roads, withered grass, and faded flowers?
  4. Where do you see righteousness and truth kissing?
  5. Rather than being a cause to give up, the 2 Peter reading considers the coming of the “day of God” to be the basis for holy living and a sign of God’s patience. What do you make of all of that?
  6. 6How are you helped through this week by these readings?
  7. To what is God calling you in these readings?
  8. What is your prayer for this week?

Opening Prayer:  Hymnal # 67 Comfort, comfort ye my people Johann G. Olearius (1611-1684), trans. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)

Comfort, comfort ye My people, Speak ye peace, thus saith our God; Comfort those who sit in darkness, Mourning ’neath their sorrow’s load; Speak ye to Jerusalem Of the peace that waits for them; Tell her that her sins I cover, And her warfare now is over.

Hark, the voice of one that crieth In the desert far and near, Calling us to new repentance, Since the kingdom now is here. Oh, that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way! Let the valleys rise to meet him, And the hills bow down to greet him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked, Make the rougher places plain: Let your hearts be true and humble, As fits God’s holy reign, For the glory of the Lord Now o’er the earth is shed abroad, And all flesh shall see the token That the word is never broken.

Closing Prayer:

Holy One, as we “sit in darkness mourning ‘neath our sorrow’s load”, or sometimes missing the marks you’ve set before us, you speak tenderly to comfort us. You hold out images of Repair and Hope —             mercy and truth meeting,             righteousness and peace kissing, and bid us to help you prepare the Way for the New Heaven and the New Earth.  Amen.          

 .

Isaiah 40:1-11  Jewish Publication Society

Comfort, oh comfort My people!

    says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

        and declare to her

that her term of service has ended,

that her penalty has been paid, (her iniquity is expiated).

For she has received from the Lord’s hand

double for all her sins!

3 A voice rings out:

“Clear in the desert!

A road for our God!

Level in the wilderness

A highway for our God!

4 Let every valley will be raised,

Every mountain and hill be made low.

Let the rough ground become level,

And the ridges become a plain.

5 The Presence of God shall appear,

And all humanity, as one,  shall behold —

For God himself has spoken.”

6 A voice rings out: “Proclaim!”

Another asks, “What shall I proclaim?”

All flesh is grass;

All its goodness is like the flowers of the field:

7 Grass withers, flowers fade

When the breath of God blows on them.

Indeed, people are but grass.

8 Grass withers, flowers fade–

 But the word of our God’s is always fulfilled.

9 Ascend on a lofty mountain,

O herald of joy to Zion!

Raise your voice with power,

O herald of joy to Jerusalem–

Raise it; have no fear;

Announce to the cities of Judah,

    “Behold your God!”

10 Behold, the Lord God comes in might,

And his arm wins triumph for him.

See, his reward is with him

His recompense before him.

11 Like a shepherd, God pastures His flock;

Gathers the lambs in his arms

And carries them in his bosom;

Gently, Gods guides the nursing ewes.

 (mother sheep)

Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13    

1          You have been gracious to your land, O God, *

    you have restored the good fortune of Jacob. 

2          You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *

    and blotted out all their sins.

8          I will listen to what you are saying, *

    for you are speaking peace to your faithful people

    and to those who turn their hearts to you.

9          Truly, your salvation is very near to those who fear you, *

    that your glory may dwell in our land. 

10        Mercy and truth have met together; *

    righteousness and peace have kissed each other. 

11        Truth shall spring up from the earth, *

    and righteousness shall look down from heaven. 

12        You, O God, will indeed grant prosperity, *

    and our land will yield its increase.

 13       Righteousness shall go before you, *

    and peace shall be a pathway for your feet.

2 Peter 3:8-16      J.B. Phillips New Testament (adapted)

8-10 But you should never lose sight of this fact, dear friends, that time is not the same with God as it is with us—to God a day may be a thousand years, and a thousand years only a day. It is not that the Holy One is dilatory about keeping his own promise as some seem to think; the fact is that God is very patient towards you. The Holy One has no wish that anyone should be destroyed. God wishes that all people should come to repent. Yet, it remains true that the day of the Lord will come as suddenly and unexpectedly as a thief. In that day, the heavens will disappear in a terrific tearing blast, the very elements will disintegrate in heat and the earth and all that is in it will be burnt up to nothing.

11-13 In view of the fact that all these things are to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be? Surely people of good and holy character, who live expecting and earnestly longing for the coming of the day of God. True, this day will mean that the heavens will disappear in fire and the elements disintegrate in fearful heat, but our hopes are set not on these but on the new Heaven and the new earth which God has promised us, and in which nothing but good shall live.

14-15a Because, my dear friends, you have a hope like this before you, I urge you to make certain that such a day would find you at peace with God and one-another, clean and blameless in God’s sight. Meanwhile, consider that God’s patience is meant to be our salvation, …

Mark 1:1-8

1 Principio del evangelio de Jesucristo, Hijo de Dios[a].

2 Como está escrito en el profeta Isaías:

He aquí, yo envío mi mensajero delante de tu faz,

el cual preparará tu camino.

3 Voz del que clama en el desierto:

«Preparad el camino del Señor,

haced derechas sus sendas».

4 Juan el Bautista apareció en el desierto predicando el bautismo de arrepentimiento para el perdón de pecados. 5 Y acudía a él toda la región de Judea, y toda la gente de Jerusalén, y confesando sus pecados, eran bautizados por él en el río Jordán. 6 Juan estaba vestido de pelo de camello, tenía un cinto de cuero a la cintura, y comía langostas y miel silvestre. 7 Y predicaba, diciendo: Tras mí viene uno que es más poderoso que yo, a quien no soy digno de desatar, inclinándome, la correa de sus sandalias. 8 Yo os bauticé con agua, pero Él os bautizará con el Espíritu Santo

Mark 1 1-3   The Message

The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

Watch closely: I’m sending my preacher ahead of you; (Malachi 3:1)

He’ll make the road smooth for you.

Thunder in the desert!

Prepare for God’s arrival!

Make the road smooth and straight! (Is 40:3)

4-6 John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.

7-8 As he preached, he said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”

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Praying our Disappointments – Lament

Praying our Disappointments — Lament

Lament is talking back to God from out of our distress and intimate trust that God is willing to hear us at our worst yet stay with us through all things. While it might seem particularly appropriate for Lent, the woes of the world are not limited to any time of year.   

This honest, intimate, daring, trusting kind of conversation is an important aspect of how the “friends of God” in Scripture deal with their disappointments.  It’s not everything, there is more to it, but crying out to God in distress is the place to begin with our disappointments. These kinds of prayers and conversations honor and witness to the distress of both the innocent and the guilty.  They also indicate an intimacy (in the human – Divine relationship) of trust and concern that we all need when we are disappointed, grieving, angry, longing, or afraid.

The “friends of God” do not hold back from expressing clearly to God their distress over many kinds of disappointment:

Abraham       But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children?  [This is the 4th time of asking!] Genesis 15:2

Moses             The Lord was outraged, and Moses was upset. 11 Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? And why haven’t I found favor in your eyes, for you have placed the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you would say to me, ‘Carry them at the breast, as a nurse carries an unweaned child,’ to the fertile land that you promised their ancestors? 13 Where am I to get meat for all these people? They are crying before me and saying, ‘Give us meat, so we can eat.’ 14 I can’t bear this people on my own. They’re too heavy for me. 15 If you’re going to treat me like this, please kill me. If I’ve found favor in your eyes, then don’t let me endure this wretched situation.”   Numbers 11: 10b – 15

Hanna            Hannah was very upset and couldn’t stop crying as she prayed to the Lord. Then she made this promise: “Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! I Samuel 1:10 -11

Jonah             Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish:

“I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me.

                        From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help;

                         you have heard my voice.  Jonah 2:1b -2

The Psalmist 17:6       I cry out to you because you answer me.

                                    So tilt your ears toward me now—

                                    listen to what I’m saying!

                        18:6      I cry out to you because you answer me.

                                     So tilt your ears toward me now—

                                     listen to what I’m saying!

 Jesus                          My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matt. 27:46

If talking back to God is okay with God, as it seems to be in the examples above, so is talking back to each other and witnessing each other’s laments. As North American Christians we’ve picked up the idea that lament is the same as whining and is never ever okay!

Whining and lament are very different kinds of expression. Whiners are not interested in change, are unwilling to take the risks necessary in intimate relationships and have little interest in hearing any response to their protests beyond giving them what they want.

A lament is based upon a trusting mutual relationship in which vulnerability is weighed against disappointment. A lament doesn’t work as a lament apart from this intimate balance of need, risk, trust, and care. Lamenters are opened to new possibilities by this experience of sharing their disappointments with God and with each other.

Part of what we gain from lamenting our own disappointments, is insight into how other folks deal with theirs.  As we move through these times of transition, we are reminded that everyone deals with disappointments. Everyone. We are disappointed about very different things. But whatever our disappointments may be, we all need our distress to be heard, honored and responded to.

Another thing we notice about disappointments after a while… that no matter what happened and who may be at fault or who has been harmed, the powerful experience of having our disappointments being taken seriously does a LOT to set us upon a path that eventually leads to healing and reconciliation, especially when that involves changing our minds and hearts. (aka repentance)

We thank you for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone….   BCP 865

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Christmas Cards?

A Christmas Collage, on the 7th Day of Christmas

Christmas Collage 2019

There are still in this year almost gone, 2019, Christmas and “Seasonal” cards arriving at our mailbox. Fewer than in the past, but they still come each year beginning either before Thanksgiving or just after. Understandably, many see the entire enterprise of such card sending and receiving as a waste of paper, stamps and time.

And it certainly can be that. Perhaps a “waste of time” is the wrong expression. When the card sending appears to me to be unfruitful, it is because while a minimal level of connection between us is made, that connection is thin at best. I see the names and even recent pictures of people I know and care about. But for me the fruit of card sending and receiving, is found in those small treasures of disclosure in which we open ourselves to each other. Which usually means more than an extensive list of the year’s accomplishments and successes and dares to convey something of our common human fragility. Surely all of those lives represented by those cards are not free from some degree of distress and anxiety in the face of our current mess. I wonder if we live in the same world, and how it is possible to report year after year that all is well with world, and Happy New Year.  I wonder that, because I know that is NOT the case.

The card exchange may also be something rare and powerful, a life-giving connection otherwise not made or sustained. It is one that, so far, I attempt to nurture. Mine are almost always “late” according to the secular Christmas calendar by which Christmas is over by the evening of the 25th. However, the great advantage of the Christian calendar by which Christmas begins on the 25th and concludes on the 6th of January, the Feast of the Epiphany, a commemoration of the arrival of the Three Kings, sending our cards on the 5th or the 7th day is just fine. It could even be considered early.

This year, there was a very wide array of cards. Some arrive with a complete three-generation family history of the previous year, attached to pictures, etc. Some contain the hand-written name and very brief greeting from the sender, without any additional information. On others, there is nothing hand-written and no sign of life, happy or sad. Perhaps more importantly, there is no indication of concern for and interest in those beyond this small circle of family and friends.

The types of cards are also interesting and indicative of the wide range of how this season is experienced and celebrated among privileged peoples. Fewer and fewer of these greetings are Christmas cards, many are Season’s Greetings, and some contain no printed text at all, rather some simple image and a brief hand-written love note of friendship, gratitude, and wishes or blessings for the coming year.

I appreciate any card that arrives, and I send one in response. From the thirty or so cards that we received; I was especially moved by nine of them. In full disclosure, three of these are cards are not actually Christmas cards. Rather, one is a thank-you note, one a note of reconciliation, and one simply a hand-written greeting. Yet, this combination of images, texts, people, creatures, places, and events are now woven together into a collage that gives me hope and for which I am deeply grateful.

  1. A Cabin on a snowy beach, with the rising Sun, from friends who have dealt with challenges
  2. A Snowy Egret, from a note of reconciliation to repair a broken friendship
  3. An image of bare branches, no text on front, but a note of love on the back
  4. A Family Card of Peace with images from a safari in Africa last summer
  5. A Single red bird on a bright white textured background from a writer
  6. A photo of friends we’ve known since 1970, but hardly seen since
  7. A woman dancing in the snow from a friend who would like to dance in the snow
  8.  An image of the Episcopal Cathedral in Portland with a long note inside from our 80+ year old friends bought in support of the Choir’s trip to the UK
#6

These images, and those represented by some of the cards I did not include here, come from a very wide array of worldviews, lifestyles, locations, faiths, (probably politics, but I don’t actually dare ask), and ages. And, they all have one thing in common – we do not see each other often, if at all.

Something about this combination of images, texts and the way they are here together in one place, touching each other, as VERY different as they are, is powerful. It is a power of hope that comes from simply placing one thing next to the other, even if only in the imagination. All of this, the red bird from Ohio, the elephants in Africa, the bare branches of Winter, the Egret of Reconciliation, the Radiant Dawn greeting from the O Antiphons of Advent, the dwelling and dancing in the snow, sacred places and lives that seek PEACE and point out the Light that is among us who dwell in darkness.

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