Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Palm Sunday Ends on Good Friday

In just a few days we will be joined by most of downtown Madison's Sunday morning crowd as we follow a cross, a piper and a donkey from the Cultural Center down Main St. over to Academy to arrive at our church.  The Procession -- some of our friends call it "the donkey walk" -- is counted on by many to properly stage the varied entrances each of our other denominational kindred will make in their particular Easter celebrations.

Some years the crowd has numbered more than 400. This year we'll return to Advent's churchyard for The Liturgy of the Palms and a recollection of the entry made by Jesus into Jerusalem.  We'll pray together and then send our friends back to their respective houses.  We will turn ourselves toward the next distinctive moment in the drama that is the Sunday of the Passion of our Lord.

A collection of readers will take turns as their parts require and help us to hear the story that moves rather poignantly into the days immediately after Jesus' triumphant "donkey walk."  Mark's gospel relies on a familiar cast of disciple and soldier, priest and governor, bystander and passer-by.  Included in the voices are ours as all those attending worship are expected to repeat the horrible command "Crucify him!"

The crowd is not just a mob remembered from that first century lynching but it is each and everyone of us as we admit our complicity.  We are expected to "play the part" because it's true.  By our lives of "things done and left undone" we are just as much the ones who require a sacrifice.  Our sin cannot be undone by simply observing the drama that unfolded over 2000 years ago.

In every way we can, we must confess and name ourselves as members of the mob who leveraged the collusion between Rome and Jerusalem.  Every time we enjoy a privilege of class or color, every time we scurry under the wings of secular powers, -- heck, the church is not exempt -- every time we act out of selfishness and fear we are joined to that horrific chorus.

But we must go there because Good Friday makes no sense without our confession. And so the narrative continues and we are there mocking Him and finding out too late what we have joined.

You could ask that obvious question, weren't we just outside, singing "Hosanna in the highest"?  Yes, we were.  And that was necessary as well.  The tragedy of His dying is just as much or more caught up in our duplicity, our contradiction, the abject hypocrisy of which we are all guilty.

Palm Sunday ends on GOOD Friday.  And we call it good because we are the broken ones, we are the hypocrites, we are the mob.  And he is good. Good enough to be our king, to lead us triumphantly, to see to the repair of all our broken-ness, the exposure of all our hypocrisy, the undoing of all our sin.

The drama we join and annually enact goes all the way to his breathing his last breath.  Goes all the way to a silence that informs all our prayers uttered with and without words.  Goes all the way to Good Friday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

God’s Real Estate

            I’m still in the Sabbath/Sunday mindset and under that larger heading I want to make a comparison between realty and reality.  That is to say that one of the ways we understand ourselves as a parish or a people gathered is by the spaces we inhabit and within which we practice our Sunday worship, our Sabbath observances, and that silence that is made so special by its being shared. 
            Our lovely worship space -- both its interior and exterior -- give a setting and shape to our use that is unmistakable.  Our processions, our singing, our reading, our prayers and our coming to the altar each take their cues from the walls, the floors, the pews, and how we sit, stand and kneel from within what I have frequently called “a great box for sound.”  Heck, I get to preach in the peripatetic way that I do because it is what the building allows. 
            Even the exterior helps.  Walking to worship along Academy St. is it’s own experience that if not filled with prayer still nearly equal to prayer.  Now that the weather is warming Ginger, Susan and I will probably start sitting out in the churchyard to meditate and share thoughts with each other while the building provides backdrop and focus. 
            So here the reality comes-in that is different from the realty.  Simply, our properties are not enough space for all the ways that we are expected to observe Sabbath or worship on Sundays.  We are joined to our neighbors in Madison’s presentation of itself and it’s history.  Resultantly, we are constrained by standards that protect the character of our block and beyond but clearly we have a vantage point and leverage to move out and create other ways to be inclusive, other “spaces” that are NOT part of our landscape or architecture. 
            Outreach is one of those space makers.  Every time our outreach committee meets we are considering how to grow and reach through the resources this parish shares so that others may find comfort, food, safety, or support in some other place away from our historic properties, outside our hallowed walls and most importantly away from their own pain and struggle.  The best example is to think of the little bit of Sabbath that goes out with every Panda Pack. Not only are those we serve embraced in what our Bishop likes to call a widening circle but those who join the effort to serve also find a place that becomes sanctuary. As my friends in Clarkesville would say “grace-filled.” Outreach extends a reality that is more than equal to the realty of 338 Academy St. Madison, GA 30650. 
            In this reality we are responsible for a long list of extensions and embraces that begin and are nurtured in Sunday worship and Sabbath prayer but simply cannot be allowed to stay there.  On that list with every one of our outreach ministries is every one of our Advent-ures events and participants, every yoga class, piano student, counselee, person in recovery.  Indeed this is true for every ride to the doctor, every foyer, every casual greeting at the supermarket, every Cultural Center event, every Conservancy Ramble, every County Commission meeting. 
            Everywhere “we live and move and have our being” we are part of expanding God’s realty of Sabbath and Sunday.  Everywhere we go we can find places and create spaces for others to become members of Christ’s body.  Everywhere can be a space for what we do on Sunday.  Everywhere can be a place for Sabbath observance.  The reality is that all of it is God’s real estate. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fear Itself

            I wrote last week about the effect of fear.  The fear of the Israelites that triggered a 40 year addition to their wilderness wandering.  I tied fear to how our hope for change is dependent on trusting God and not on our ability to first think outside the box.  Innovation is good but limited because it cannot see the future and can only forecast from one’s current successes in increase or failures in adaptation.  In the end without a hope born of trusting God we are stuck in work that preserves more than it changes.  Some of our best efforts to preserve the church we know and love end up serving those very fears. 
            Part of trusting God is setting aside one’s ego or need for being credited with being wise custodians or insightful planners so that the new thing can emerge to be appreciated and accepted.  Otherwise we’ll just keep perpetuating the systems that have ranked us above others or allowed our banking or fed our self-justifying fears. 
            Maybe if we understood the value of Sabbath-making to our whole world, to everyone around us. rich and poor, back or white, educated or not, then maybe we’d be less prone to be selfish, rigid, and fearful.
            Here’s how my hero Brueggemann says it
“. . .  Ours is a time of scattering in fear. We are so fearful that we want to fence the world in order to keep all the others out:
– Some of the church still wants to fence out women.
– We build fences to keep out immigrants (or Palestinians).
– The church in many places fences out gays.
– The old issue of race is still powerful for fencing.
We have so many requirements that are as old as Moses. But here is only one requirement. It is Sabbath, work stoppage, an ordinance everyone can honor— gay or straight, woman or man, Black or White, “American” or Hispanic— anybody can keep it and be gathered to the meeting of all of God’s people. Sabbath deconstructs the notion of being “qualified” for membership.
Later on, John the Baptist dealt with the professional insiders. They were so proud of being qualified insiders. They bragged about their pedigree, their entitlements, their ancestors, their primacy, children with family trees back to Father Abraham.
And John scolds them and rejects their pedigree: Do not presume to say to yourselves , “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. (Matt. 3: 9)
Brueggemann, Walter (2014-01-31). Sabbath as Resistance: (pp. 55-56). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
            Yes, even in bucolic Morgan County we are afraid.  You can hear it when we justify not helping someone who has a nice car or LCD TV or iPhone.  You can hear it in the questions people ask about some of our outreach efforts.  Yes there are good hearts in each of us but so often that goodness has to work its way out.  You can hear it in the concerns raised about budget and attendance, even when the news is as good as ours is these days.  It’s hard not to sound like I’m advocating a kind of carelessness or recklessness, so I’ll whisper, “It’s OK to share.” 
            That’s really where our fears are often found; in worry and fretting that we will not have enough for ourselves.  Fear is a filter that keeps us from seeing who we are and so without the perspective of the truth we shrink into passivity.  But Sabbath making is NOT a passive accident or hiding place from ridicule.  It is a movement of one’s self into a future where God provides, where God defines, where God inhabits.
            It is the irony of our age that our money – so symbolic of safety, of having our needs met, and of our stations in life -- is stamped with “In God We Trust.” 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wilderness Plus 40 Years

            I hope its OK with you that I am still into my Sabbath/Sunday kick.  The Sabbath the people are called to remember and make holy is established while they are wandering.  Wandering for a while actually.  The commandments are in hand and the Golden Calf consumed.  And this happens.  They send spies into the land to see if it can be inhabited.
           Only the witness of Joshua and Caleb encourages them to make the move.  But Moses and people are not convinced and THEN God sends them into the Great Lent of their wilderness wandering.  The clock starts and they must wait 40 years to enter the promised land.  In that time they become a new people.  Parents and grandparents are all gone by the time Joshua takes those born in the wilderness across the Jordan into the land of promise.

“. . .  the people of Israel [were] in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not a man of those numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had numbered the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said of them, “They shall die in the wilderness.” There was not left a man of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.” Numbers 26:63-65, RSV.

            It is worth it for us to consider that our plans, even those generated out of established traditions and customs may not be the real work of our lives in Lent or in the larger lent that is our whole lives.  Even with things like the commandments in hand the people and Moses with them are not confident in God’s promise.  Even with our lives contained by homes, family, investments and occupations we are more often than not afraid and not confident in God’s promises either. 
            Brene Brown’s take on this was to marvel that our generation with all that it has is still the most afraid of any generation.  Fear tells us who we are in the morning.  Fear gets us to crave news and somehow especially the news that feeds our fears.  Fear keeps us from seizing the moments in honest and trustful ways and instead gets us to horde and compare stacks with our neighbors.  Fear redefines our neighbors away from us. 
            Like that line that says, “If you want to make God laugh, just show God your plans.”  Our plans are not what will make even our 40 day sojourn effective.  Our organizing principles can only help us stay.  The new people God is calling us to become requires of us a confidence beyond the structures and rules and  . . . plans. 
            Shriving takes time, way more time than a pancake supper.  Growing out of the fear and into a people of promise that is still ahead means that little if any of what we have protected and structured our lives around will accompany us where God calls.   It’s less that we will have to always “think outside the box.”  It’s more that we are learning to trust.  Trust God to be more than the enough we need.  Trust each other as something new is being born in us that is the life we will live into God’s promise.  It takes time for fears to die and for trust to be born and sometimes it feels like a wilderness.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rabbits and Paradigm Shifts

My heart and my mind are in funny places right now. Peacefully close to each other but more on parallel courses than matched and joined in one location. I have been writing a bunch about the interface between Sundays and Sabbaths and Silence and Sleep and I have found myself moved by these considerations toward an ease and comfort with the new life I’m imagining with the people of Advent, Madison.

As I have had conversations in following up or correcting the things I’ve written I have been assured at just about every turn that we are growing and changing and we are OK with that. Growth and change are parts of why Episcopalians “do Lent,” important parts.

The lengthening of Lent is described by a symbolic frame, 40 days. It is kin to the 40 days and nights of rain that renewed the world for God and Noah’s family, the 40 years of wilderness education that formed a nation, the 40 days of Jesus’ formation before his first sermon. There are other biblical 40 day periods that we mostly miss. Here’s a quick list:

  • Isaac’s Egyptian burial took 40 days of embalming (Gen. 50:3)
  • Moses is on the mountain for 40 days (Ex. 24:18, 34:28, De. 9:9, 9:11, 9:25, 10:10)
  • Joshua and Caleb spy on the land of Canaan for 40 days (Nu. 13.25 and 14:34)
  • 40 day-long Philistine attack of Jesse’s stand begins the ascendency of David (1Sa. 17:16)
  • Elijah’s 40 day strength plan helps redirect his ministry (1 Kings 19:8)
  • Ezekial’s 40 day preparation for his siege of Jerusalem (Ez. 4:6)
  • Finally, the 40 days of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances (Ac. 1:3)

For sure there are purification practices caught in several of these 40 day periods. More than one looks like a weight loss plan. But every one of these 40’s helps change to happen. Simply, there is a difference between who or what goes in and who or what comes out.

When Thomas Kuhn first wrote about paradigm shifts in 1962 his examples were less intentional than these biblical periods. More like the way an epiphany leaves you changed. Once you’ve seen the duck you can’t just see the rabbit or vice versa.
But these biblical examples all point to intention, purposefulness, shriving and even more so toward God’s purposefulness. So I’m thinking AND I’m feeling a change. It is both an intentional product and a happy by-product. Little of it is the result of my efforts but I’m sensing that most of my shifting is the result of God’s efforts using my shriving, my praying, my imagination to take me to a place where I have never been. My heart and my head are moving and I can’t wait to come out on the other side of this forty days.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent is for Learning

            I was not raised in a Christian tradition that observed Lent as the best way to prepare for Easter.  Mostly what we did was dye eggs.  My mom would hide chocolate and plan the menu around ham.  There were Easter baskets and we hunted eggs on what I have now learned to call Holy Saturday.  We shopped for our new spring and summer outfits and were allowed to wear them first on Easter Sunday.  My sisters got two dresses. I got slacks and a jacket or a two-piece suit.

            In that brand of Christianity we did more to diminish Easter than the 5&10s and grocery stores.  Add Walmart and his retail cousins to the public’s current practices and how we teach and learn our Episcopal version of Lent, Holy Week and Easter starts to feel like mobilizing a rebel army.
            I’m learning that there is so much Christian history embedded in the 40 days that our puny disciplines – so many of them born of our unhealthy cravings for what a friend has called the Lenten Episcopal trinity of “chocolate, caffeine and vodka” – miss the connections to the saints who have walked before us AND the world saved in Christ’s resurrection. 

            So we have chosen to name our practice during these 40 days, Lent is for Learning. With packets and brackets and pamphlets and booklets we will do some of that learning about who has walked the path before us and how that path can lead us into witness to the whole world. 

            But a better part of our learning will have to be right here at 338 Academy St.  Our gatherings on Sunday mornings will include our praying prayers of sorts mostly penitential before we do anything else.  We'll do a different entrance rite each week.
Lent 1 -- The Great Litany (chanted)
Lent 2 -- The Supplications, Exhortation and confession
Lent 3 -- Penitential Order with Decalogue
Lent 4 -- Suffrages B, Exhortation and Confession
Lent 5 -- The Great Litany from Enriching Our Worship.

            All are prayers, some ancient some modern and meant to join us, embed us in the very same history as our saints, the very same world as those in need or in harm’s way.

            Our addition to each week’s prayers by walking our way through the Stations of the Cross every Friday at noon is yet another joining to that same history and world in need. 

            Lent is for Learning will also provide us a chance to focus on the world’s needs for outreach and ministry,  both the world immediately around us and the world reached through agencies like Episcopal Relief and Development.  Wednesday Nights at 7pm from March 4 to 18 and Sunday mornings at 9:15 from February 22 to March 8 we’ll show the 3 episodes of A Path Appears, the PBS documentary telling the stories of efforts at home and abroad to walk with and learn from those most in need.  We’ll hear the stories of abused women and children, families imprisoned by poverty, government and non-government agents as they have made a road or have made it so “a path appears” just by the constancy of their efforts that others can also walk to a better life, to a world resurrected. 

            Lent is for Learning and we have so much to learn.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lent is Nearly Sabbath

Lent is fast upon us and we will be learning as much as we can during this season but least we forget, Lent is what it is because Easter is what it is first.  New Zealand priest, Rev. Bosco Peters says it this way about Easter:

Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost do not form three seasons. The Easter season celebrates the three dimensions of the resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Spirit. Ascension material is appropriately used as Ascension Day approaches. Pentecost material is appropriate from Ascension Day to the Day of Pentecost. Easter threads, of course, remain suitable up to and including the Day of Pentecost.
These fifty days, a seventh of the year, form our great “Sunday” of the year. “Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” forms the greeting in every service during Eastertide. Similarly “Alleluia! Alleluia!” is added to the Dismissal and the people’s response (these are equivalent to the “Alleluia” added at the beginning and end of the Daily Services). These help to give these celebrations a distinctive festal feel.

So if Easter is Sunday then Lent is by analogy Friday for some and/or Saturday for others: a time to get things done and to settle into one's rest and prayers so as to greet the next day’s “alleluias” full-throated and exuberant. 

“to get things done” could mean that we use this season of Lent to add something to our spiritual practice, long walks instead of the simplistic deprivations that leave us craving chocolate or caffeine or alcohol all the more come Easter Day. 

“to settle into one’s rest”  could mean learning a new way to pray.  Chatting with a friend about her Episcopal roots caused me to remember my first time ever praying by Episcopal order:  “my first exposure to the Episcopal Church was '28 BCP Evening Prayer in Tappahannock, VA in 1970.  I remember feeling like I was going back in time. I remember the pace and flow of the service was so different from my Baptist ‘prayer meetings.’"    There was a space between the prayers and gestures that begged rest and settling. 

“to greet the next day’s ‘alleluia’” could mean not only a joyous occasion of worship on Easter day but a thorough examination of our own lives so as to anchor our alleluias to those places we see God’s hand at work.  Imagine our Easter alleluias like welcoming an old and well traveled friend into our homes.

“full-throated and exuberant” could mean that we have not only rested but have developed a practice of training and preparation like voice lessons and singing scales.  The same reason that athletes train to jump farther and run faster.  Our exuberance grows because of how we prepare and practice. 

We need not deprive ourselves of much at all as long as we are learning.  And we can stay focused, indeed we can enhance our focus, on the celebration that is to come in that day of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Lent is nearly Sabbath because Sunday is clearly Easter, alleluia!