Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Embraces: Part 6

Bishop Wright has led us to understand the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta as of "Middle and North Georgia" and as an "ever-widening circle."   Perhaps you remember the logo.

It says something about the dynamic of humans embracing the world around them in Christ's name especially those bearing the Episcopal brand.  Our embrace is BOTH inclusive and never finished. We can look at who is among us as we reach to bring others in.  We can also see immediately that there are some still to be included among us.

It has always interested me that we call our work of extending God's blesing toward the world around and beyond our parish "outreach."  For Episcopalians that is largely an effort of giving and providing for those who are in need.

We do not usually insure that any informational piece gets delivered along with our gifts.

Some of our brothers and sisters in other denominations are more inclined to include messaging that is not only informational but meant to elicit a response of commitment.  I grew up calling it "accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior."

I rejoice that there are multiple ways to accomplish "outreach."  Some with targeted messaging some without.  No matter.  In the end we all should have a hand in God's widening circle.  Not just Episcopalians in Middle and North Georgia.

At our most recent Outreach Committee meeting I shared something that was news to many at the table.  It was information about who we are as Episcopalians and how our outreach effects an ever widening embrace.

The old name for our denomination was the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America."  For a while we reduced and then finally removed from almost all our labeling the word "protestant" and the acronym became ECUSA.

Now we known as TEC - The Episcopal Church.  That is because our circle is not just in the United States of America.  We are in 16 nations other than the USA.

Here is the biggest piece of what was learned by many at the outreach table:  The largest diocese in TEC is . . . The Diocese of Haiti established in 1861,  with over 83,700 members and over 100 congregations.

Some of the "widening" is within our embrace.  Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Embraces: Part 5

I barely mentioned something important in last week's blurb about hugging.  The intentions of the hugger matter but in and of itself the act of hugging is best when understood and appreciated by the one being hugged.  The hugger needs the permission of the hugged.  

It matters here because I failed to include that the kind of hugging tested gains such benefits as lower blood pressure and increased immune response is hugging that last 20 seconds or longer.  

Why 20 seconds?  There is a language to hugging and in the conversation -- the call and response -- the benefits find purchase, take root.

It makes sense, doesn't it?  Otherwise our "hugging" sinks into idiosyncrasy.  Watch the YouTube videos of that young man hugging police officers.  Their eyes meet and the officers often hug back.  It is brief -- less than 20 seconds in most cases -- but a conversation begins into which we in our watching and sharing are also called.  
I remember Eric Berne's "transactional analysis" of the late 60's.  He charted the way we converse in greeting and more.  What he identified is that most of us prefer to keep our transactions brief and shallow.  If someone answers to "how are you?" with a long discourse on some existential predicament we end up knowing more than we want to know.  1 meets 1, then 2 meets 2, then 3 meets 3.  A 1 met by a 5 mostly means the 5 needs help.    

Just like hugging, conversations -- as embraces graduated through an agreed language -- take time to make a difference and require the consent of both parties to go as deep as they can.  

Sundays and their sermons pass through the same agreement.  Our agreement is that I listen to the conversation that is our lectionary readings, the life of the parish in the days and weeks before, the noise AND message of the world's happiness AND trouble and I hope to speak toward the level God is calling us to inhabit.  

I hope that every Sunday no matter the level the sermon approaches the next words spoken are by all of us in agreement reciting the Nicene Creed.  If we understand that God was first to speak then we also understand that when we say "We believe in God . . . " we are in conversation with the first to embrace us and give us permission to love.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Embraces, Part 4

Lots of different reputable sources (here's one) have reported on the health benefits of hugging.  Surely many of you have seen the online video of the young man giving out free hugs to law enforcement officers on patrol during civil disturbances in cities like Dallas and Ferguson.

Apparently hugging triggers the release of oxytocin in the brain.  The effects are both immediate and residual.  Studies have shown that hugging reduces the chance of illness, lowers blood pressure and minimizes the effects of depression and grief.

The benefits of human hugging are apt metaphors for what God's embrace of us accomplishes in the person of Jesus.  Think of the old hymns like "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine" or "I come to the garden, alone."  Disregarding the overly individualistic language, what happens in both songs is a description of blessing that comes through one's proximity to the person of Jesus.  Good feelings, release from torment or pain, simply are the effects of being embraced.

The meaning of this for us is that embraces -- both the ones we extend to each other and especially the one that God offers -- are confirmed by real experience.  In the case of our experiences with each other the research is fairly conclusive.  In the case of God's embrace of us it is known most assuredly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  That is to say it is incarnated by all that Jesus does and all that God does through him.

Nothing demonstrates God's embrace of humanity more than the realities of the incarnation, its fulfillment and most completely in God's raising Jesus from the dead.  Altogether it says "I am with you,"  "be not afraid,"  "trust me,"  "stay close."  Like one cosmic and eternal hug from God.

There is much for us to learn from this gift of divine embrace and there is just as much for us to do in response.  Perhaps most important is that we hug God back; especially in less than ideal moments and in ways particularly meant to help others recalibrate their embracing.

One caveat: hugging people for no reason may not be the best demonstration of God's embrace.  Duh!  It's just like being overly focused on a bread recipe that will not accomplish all that we hope in making eucharist.  That is to say outward and visible signs beg an inward and spiritual grace, an intention, a purpose, a commitment to be real after the hug and beyond the ceremony.

Where are those near us, like an officer on patrol in a tense environment who need a hug.  When might we step into a difficult moment and demonstrate the commonality of our lives as loved by God so well, so warmly, so fully?  Who among us deserves a "blessed assurance" that they are not outside God's embrace.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Embraces, Part 3

Another way that we embrace each other and live into God's embrace of us to be regular at our practice of embracing.  Like learning how many times on which cheek to kiss someone from France embraces have a language behind them, a set of standards to be observed.  We know that value of these sorts of rules when we break them.  Awkward!

There are also special patterns that help us to know when to embrace in love and when and how to accept an embrace.  We greet each other during the Peace in a way that might not always work at Ingles.

It says something about how important a thing is that we visit it at particular times and on certain days of the week.  When we set aside Sunday's for worship and prayer, for being quiet and being observant, for listening and celebrating we are admitting to ourselves and to the world what our focus finds for us, we are saying something about how we share in and value God's embrace of us.

Not all that we can describe of our regular observances and embraces is wonderful.  Sometimes there's a disconnect between our relationship during the Peace and our relationship at Ingles.  The pattern of greeting can become a kind of hiding place.  We'll go through the motions and hope it doesn't last too long.

But it says something, doesn't it, that we come back Sunday after Sunday and practice a pattern of practicing a pattern. Isn't there an implication of hopefulness?  Isn't there a wishing that things would be "Peaceful" all the time?  For sure nobody comes to church because they get to fake their embraces. Our hope and our hunger for God's embrace get us to return to the time and place and to the practices called for within those moments.

Yes, there are the introverted and shy among us and we are often stretching them beyond their comfort levels.  So the pattern and practice hopes to accommodate an overall need for expression AND restraint.  We want people to "tell the truth" AND we want them to come back next Sunday and do the same.

Returning Sunday after Sunday also helps us to learn the language of God's embrace of us.  It helps us get past the awkwardness of first meetings and new customs.  It helps us to find ourselves being sought out, to find a waiting embrace across the aisle, to find an ease after the awkwardness, and ultimately to find the embrace of God's Peace.