Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Glorious Convalescence

I'll admit to a bit of recklessness in employing the phrase "glorious convalescence" to describe the time we've had since Loree's departure.  Not all of how we have grown and healed has come easily or been seamless.  There are some whose injuries still impinge, some who still limp, some who are still not happy.   So please understand that I do not mean to say that there isn't any more healing to occur, any more forgiveness to be granted, any more coming home to celebrate.   

But it matters to me that we begin to think and feel and move and have our being into a tomorrow where God already loves us.  So please understand as I invite you to walk to an edge I am visiting for the first time myself. 

God has been good to us.  And as much as there are still hurts to be healed we have a story albeit brief, that confirms the truth we proclaim as people of the resurrection.  

So how do we move now that our muscles have rested and perhaps have lost a little of the former strength of which we once boasted?  How do we take to this new exercise, this new role that is and -- perhaps just as much -- is not like what we were used to doing?

Think of Keith Marshall, he is a good man.  He worked and for himself found a place next to Todd Gurley that was serious and that required real effort.  Better than Batman's Robin.  Then the injuries came.  Almost permanently.  Now Gurley is gone and this good man is "third string" behind younger, quicker stars.  

We think in terms of what might have been.  And when he crosses into the end zone we celebrate in bittersweetness.  He garners an applause now moderated by nostalgia.   

Can I say that I hope for a future for this good man that might be missed if it is measured only by his vita ante acta?  If I could guarantee it I would but even Keith -- perhaps especially Keith -- will have to trust that he has a meaningful and worthy tomorrow made even more so by what he is NOW becoming, not by what he "could have been."

Here in Madison we are learning to trust God in a new way, too.  Not by forgetting what was or what happened but by honoring the possibilities that God is even now putting before us.  

If our measure of today is that it match the best of our memories or worse that it erase the realities through which we have been formed then our convalescence may not be so glorious.  Indeed it may not be a convalescence at all.  

But a greater glory with a strength we have not yet known,  awaits us because with our injuries, God is calling us to become something new.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Apologies and Questions

I need to apologize.  This is always true for me but in particular this time I need to say I am sorry and to ask the forgiveness of a some good people.  I did not do my job and adequately organize or lead our time together in discussion during one of our Food for the Journey dinners.

What could have been a fruitful time of exploration of the possibilities for us in whatever it is that God's is calling us to become as an Episcopal parish in Morgan County in the second half of the second decade of the 21st century got too focused on one idea.

I know this especially now because in another episode we did talk about who God is calling us to become.  We talked about how our common prayer life needs constantly to ask God for guidance. Not only to acknowledge God's presence with us in the calling but to understand ourselves as dependent on God's calling.  So dependent that we do not take our good days for granted.

I am sorry that I did not help one of our groups consider these same concerns.  Instead we got worried about numbers and programs and business.

Even more so I am sorry that I used my homily to criticize that failure as if I hadn't had most of the responsibility for its occurrence.

I am sorry.

Thanks be to God there is forgiveness.  And in this instance there is also a great value gained in reflection on all these dinners and the different ways in which our conversations have proceeded.

Understanding ourselves as bound by the things we do: programs, events, liturgical choices, budget decisions, etc is not just unavoidable; our discernment would be only virtual without the substance of those efforts and structures.

Like the proverbial Wisdom we are known by how we keep our house.  And there is no way for us to imagine a life together in response to God's calling without the things we do and the things we decide to do to be a part of the evaluation.

But another learning has me apologizing here as well.  I know this especially because I have worked many times before with athletes returning to competition after -- in some cases season ending -- injuries.

Many of you have heard me characterize our time since the spring of 2010 as a "glorious convalescence."  No doubt we are still healing but perhaps now is the time to try some running again, to try some discomfort with scrutiny and critique, to push out of the box, out of our wheelhouse.

To push out not only in the things we choose to do but in how we choose to identify and name and frame and re-imagine the very community we are in the doing.

There is probably no real immediate answer to the question "What/Who is God calling us to become?"  Our new running may be just to keep the question alive instead of answering it with a program or an event or a structure.

I am sorry but as difficult and frightening and painful as our trials and failures may have been God IS calling us to become a new thing.  Let's keep asking the question.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Breath Prayers

I have been reading again from an "old friend." A biology textbook written in the 80's by two Chilean Marxist Biologists, Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana, "The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding" Shambala Publications, Boston, 1987.

Beginning with a whimsical description of the senses and how we learn to see color, hear voices, etc. they are able to explore the development of life. In the middle, not near the end of their description of that thing we call evolution they place altruism, that capacity to care, to love, to share, to cooperate, to teach.

They argue that our usual take on evolution as a competition of one against another misses much of what allows for survival. Instead of love miraculously appearing after generations of existence that is "red in tooth and claw," it is nurture and cooperation that enable the fittest.
"This view of animal life as selfish is doubly wrong. It is wrong, first, because natural history tells us, wherever we look that instances of behavior which can be described as altruistic are almost universal. Second, it is wrong because the mechanisms we put forward to understand animal drift [evolution] do not presuppose the individualistic view that the benefit of one individual requires the detriment of another. 
Indeed, throughout this book we have seen that the existence of living organisms in natural drift (both ontogenic and phylogenic) is not geared to competition but to conservation of adaptation in an individual encounter with the environment that results in survival of the fittest." (p.197)
Our own human experience in the smallest moment of adaption, that is the birth of a child, immediately demonstrates this principle. We know that the child must breathe and we are ready to help that happen. Thank goodness we've learned better practices than shocking the newborn into breathing with a slap. But we will not leave until that child is breathing on his or her own.

From within that earnest and anxious beginning our hearts go out as the child and our hopes hang on their ability to learn from more of our teaching and care not just for their own survival but so they may in turn help those who come after them.

We know this altruism in the New Testament as ἀγάπη or agape. In the Old Testament the closest term is the word for the character of God to be merciful, to express loving kindness, חֶסֶד or hesed.

For the Chileans altruism is natural. It is everywhere there is breath and it connects us for the sake of survival.

I have a close and dear friend whose daughter-in-law and son just gave birth to a baby boy. I visited the hospital and saw how preciously this new life was held by someone just as new to grand-parenting as the baby is to the world. It was a beautiful thing to behold. It took my breath away for moment.

As I was leaving I was given the opportunity to "say a prayer." I reached out and we held hands and first let our breathing be our prayer. We gave thanks for the baby's first breath and acknowledged the prayer-FULL-ness of that breathing. We gave thanks that a family of prayer surrounded this little one and we gave thanks for our own breathing.

This is no proof of Maturana's and Varela's claims for altruism as an instrument of evolution. But it is all the evidence I need to understand that a little child's chances of survival -- and therefore the survival of our own species -- are best found and forwarded by God's hesed and agape, especially when we understand our praying together to be as basic as our very breathing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Life is What Happens

We are all still caught up in the sadness.  Charlie Mason is gone and too soon again we are grieving.  Our prayers go up to God in the hope that Janet and Bobby and their families can move to a place better than sorrow or regret, richer than the feeling of loss, brighter than the light now absent that was Charlie's smile.

Everyone who knew Charlie has responded to the news and gracefully each has found a congruence somewhere between their plans and the real life passing of one we love.  Advent is busy with responding to the call.  We have had to put some of our work to prepare for Sunday's Ministry Fair and Picnic on a brief hold.  It reminds me of the old saw, "Life is what happens while you're making plans."

Churches and the people who make them get to live into that truth in special ways.  Maybe its because we know the other version of that famous quotation.  It's the one with God in it.  "If you want to make God laugh just show God your plans."

We know that version because we know the stories of God calling prophets, and kings, and priests and lots of others all the way to Mary and even Paul.  God's laughter wouldn't be one of derision or insult but more as an acknowledgement that we have not fully understood the picture that God sees for us.  But we know the stories of God seeing our plans and calling us to change them.

The name of that "change in plans" motif is the "Prophetic Call Narrative Form."  Even as Moses is following his sheep herding plans from the burning bush God calls, changes things and commits to supporting Moses in this new direction.  It happens for the prophet Isaiah "in the year that King Uzziah died." It's an incredible experience that culminates with God's promise to be with him. Mother Mary gets called similarly and is told to name the child Emmanuel which means "God is with us."

God saw more of what was to happen. God called a servant and in some cases called a host of servants to help. God said to those who were called, especially to those for whom this task would seem daunting, "I'll be with you."

God called Charlie and his and all our plans changed.  Everyone of us has heard that call because we love Janet and Charles and Clay and Sarah and Tina and each of the ones they in turn love.  Those of us who love Bobby and his family have heard the call, too.

The laughter will come.  I'm pretty sure that God's being with us means that God isn't laughing yet.  I want it to be true that God will wait until we are laughing and wait to be invited into that laughter.  God will wait because just as much as God can see that larger view God is with us in our grief.

God calls and promises to be with us.  God waits while our plans change.  God keeps calling and life is what happens.  Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Size of Prayer

If you haven't seen it, take a look at Daisy Jane Buck's question for our bishop at a recent diocesan youth event.  Doug Adkins passed it along to me and I have posted the short video on our Facebook page.  She asked Bishop Wright about prayer!

Thanks to Doug for having his phone ready to capture this important moment.  Sorry if the sound quality makes hearing Daisy Jane or Bishop Wright difficult. 

Her question was this, "When you pray, do you think it could be about something you're asking or for someone or can you just be having a conversation [with God]?"  Bishop Wright was thrilled to hear such a question and he said "My heart is singing!"

We should all be thrilled.  Her parents should be proud.  Daisy Jane's question is hugely important. Not only because she asks about a core concern for faithful people -- how to pray -- but because the act of her asking is an example for us all.

First the question itself and I'm paraphrasing: Is prayer asking God for things or more talking to God? You'll have to ask Daisy Jane what the bishop's answer was but I'm hoping he said, "YES!"

We can and should and should want to petition God and to put before God our concerns, our worries, our fears, our anythings-that-would-be-introduced-with-saying-"please!"

Sometimes I've felt like I've left important matters off my list even though I've known God knows before I ask.  Try as I might, I know I'm always going to leave something out of my list of names and things and problems and thank you's.  I still think God appreciates my asking.  

The conversation thing is tougher.  Not because we don't have much to say but more likely because we are afraid of what God might have to say.  So whenever I start -- should I say join? -- a conversation with God it almost always devolves into reciting my list.  

The only way I know how to hear God's answering of my prayers is to try to make my whole life into a kind of prayerfulness that listens more than lists, that waits and trusts and wonders and sometimes "just sits." 

It takes practice.  Our gathering for Night Prayers, which begins again this coming Sunday September 13th is the best chance I know to practice our part in having a prayerful conversation with God.  

For me it takes silence.  Or better a stillness or steadiness provided by the repetition of "Jesus, Son of God, abide with me."  If I don't repeat the phrase over and over my mind starts down some list. Sometimes I just let that happen and when I can let it go I can get back to my mantra.  

Lots more can be gleaned from Daisy Jane's question.  Mostly for me it is an example of how dimensions of scale shape our praying.

Don't you feel like she was brave to stand up in a room full of people she didn't know or had just met that day and ask THE BISHOP a question?  All the "little me versus the big ole world" emotions kick in and I am afraid even though I know the outcome of the moment.

But how else can we pray?  Especially when our prayers are focused on God's forgiving us and our wrongdoings.  Confession will always expose us as smaller than the one who is merciful.  

We shouldn't let that stop us.  We can certainly pray for each other but there are some prayers, some questions for God that we individually must take the responsibility to ask on our own.  

It may feel like standing in a room full of strangers and/or before a bishop but there is no other way for us do it.  Funny what will get us to leave ourselves off the list.

Thank you Daisy Jane for asking the bishop about prayer AND for showing us how to pray.