Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Recent Unpleasantness

There's lots of stirring in the world, our nation, and our parish.  I'll admit to my own part in it.  Some of my part in the stirring seems almost habitual.  As I read and listen to the news and opinions of minds greater than mine I sometimes just automatically pass them along with my own added likes, emojis, comments and replies.  Sometimes I let the "things settle" and then add my part.

This is not news to most Advent-ers.  Seven plus years of service with this community has exposed the content and manner of my thinking to just about everyone.

Some may not be aware that I've always seen myself an outsider of sorts.  I don't blame but I trace this perception back to my childhood as a PK.  Our family lived and moved among people who were less constrained by their roles in the church.  Think of those times when you've said something like "but he's a minister!"

For instance, the ONLY time you would have seen one of Tom and Dodie Brown's kids at the movie theatre on a Sunday afternoon was if they had been invited by a friend to go home with them from church, making sure to be returned for 6:00pm "Training Union" class and 7:00pm Evening Worship.

We NEVER went as a family to the theatre, except on the two or three occasions we were invited for an opening.  I remember when "Ben Hur" came to the Osteen.  It was slick marketing to get a bunch of Anderson's ministers in on the buzz.

But the world for the Browns was always "once removed" from us by way of social constraint, economics or our parents' tastes and sensibilities.  "In the world but not of the world" was how it was.  We knew nothing else.

That "once removed" perception is still with me, even as I move into my rental on Sandy Creek Rd.  An event in our lives that signifies to many of you that I'm "finally, here."

Do not worry or weep.  I'm thinking that it suits me and always has, to have a distinct place from which to watch and learn, from which to pray and love.  It reads as presumptuous but I'm also thinking that is much of why Jesus kept going off to be alone.

Back to the stirring or maybe we could call it serving, or leading, or pastoring, or teaching.  Whatever we call it, I've never just stirred up a tempest for stirring's sake.  I'm not denying my role but I try to see what I see, try to think what I think, try to feel what I feel, try to pray what I pray from a place that is by experience and calling "once removed" and not enmeshed, as much autonomous as partnered, as much grounded as idealized. "In the world but not of the world."

It helps me to remember that I am just the rector and by that just the one who presides in our vestry's work.  I'm not the only stirrer, not the only one praying. The dust of our "recent unpleasantness" will settle, the stirring will fade, likely to be displaced by another.  None of us need to be "in on it" so much so that we are helplessly or inextricably "of it."

Much of what was true for me as an "outsider" is still true, but I believe I have grown throughout my life from PK to Priest.  I'm looking forward to how we will grow and learn to live with each other in this world that has been so stirred.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sacramental Forgiveness

Some of you may remember that I wrote extensively back in 2014 and 2015 about the importance and difficulties of practicing sabbath in modern culture.

I compared our practice of Sunday worship to that call to rest at the heart of any good sabbath observance and found the disconnect.  Sunday was "up."  Sabbath was supposed to be "down."

Recalling the places in scripture alone where sabbath principles are expressed shows how central to a life of faith in God a good sabbath practice can be.

We need sabbath, God made sabbath by being the first to take that rest.  Moses' minions yearned for a sabbath and found out the hard way how important a sabbath discipline could be.

There's a presumption of forgiveness in the sabbath practice that we learn from our covenanted ancestors.  By scripting in "time out" to the regular week of night and day, of work and play, of eating and sleeping our tradition is admitting that not everything we do brings the benefits we expect.

Sabbath says "stop."  Isn't that what we say to the tireless type "A," the insistent toddler, the descending addict, the extra-punch bully?  Stop!

Not everything that humans do makes the world a better place, perhaps especially those things we do to leave a mark for ourselves in the script we hope our descendents will recall.

The other informing piece toward forgiveness embedded in the sabbath tradition is at least a version of the truism that "time heals all wounds."  In terms of Israel's exodus to and taking possession of the promised land sabbath meant creation could take care of itself, given a chance.

The earth -- with just one day of rest in seven days of cultivation, harvesting, construction -- could find healing and wholeness all on its own.

That principle can still inform our shared lives as members of the Church of the Advent.  Finding ways to stop our relentless marching to notoriety, success, and righteousness is its own hard work.

But the sabbath principle is principal.  Let's stop.  There's forgiveness and healing "down" there.

Every Sunday even in the rush to accomplish a liturgical feat/feast, to orchestrate and perform an intricate process of presentation, offertory surrender, uplifting consecration, and purposeful dismissal what matters most is that we just stop.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Forgiving God

One aspect of our learning about forgiveness as an expansive function of God’s presence that I have not yet addressed is perhaps the toughest one: our forgiving of God.

So let’s start by telling the truth: every single one of us has had moments in our lives of hurt, disappointment, failure, loss for which we only know to blame God.  True or not we've all felt that way, especially in those moments when we were doing what we thought was our best.  We don’t always blame God but when all other causes are excusable who is left?

It seems like much of this condition has to do our preconceptions about God.  It's interesting that most of our preconceptions box God into roles in many ways unlike what we see in Jesus of Nazareth.

One of the boxes we use for the “blamed God” is puppeteer.  We need help and we pray to God and we expect God to pull some strings for things to get better.  We need to be cautious here because we risk defining away the very freedom that makes love possible and I’m pretty sure love is a thing God wants for us.

Popular culture has dealt with this question especially well in the film “Bruce Almighty,” where Bruce, played by comedian Jim Carey can move the moon but can’t compel his crush, played by Jennifer Anniston to love him.

Another box is that one I characterize as “Santa Claus having a bad day.”  God is portrayed as always watching and keeping accounts of those who are “naughty or nice” and ordering just enough toys or sticks and coal for the Christmas giveaway or judgment day.  The best corrective for this limited view of God is the entire book of Job, ‘nuff said.

Another box is one many use to make sense of those particularly puzzling times when we say things like “only God knows” or “everything happens for a reason.”  Here it is worth it to dig a little and let stand the truth that the only trustworthy picture of God is the one revealed in Jesus and not in some hidden esoterica or Hellenized philosophy.

There are plenty of other boxes but the ones I've listed clearly indicate our struggle to live in a world of hurt and loss even while believing in God.  Each of them, in an attempt to express one aspect of God’s character misses another.  And each makes our forgiving God that much harder.

Letting Jesus be our best picture of God is a game changer for me.  Born humbly to become a compassionate healer, faithful leader and courageous teacher, who died obediently so that our lives could have new meaning and purpose, kind of makes all the extra-biblical descriptions of God seem “clunky” at best and well off the mark.

In Jesus we see the God who saves us first by being with us and who clearly chooses love over control, forgiveness over revenge, presence over power, mercy over punishment.  What’s to forgive? We should be sorry for thinking otherwise.

Admittedly, the hurt and loss of this life don't disappear.  God is still with us, knows everything we know about disappointment, failure and loss then still forgives us and all our bad pictures of him.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Covering of Love

Last week I connected the power of "binding and loosing" that Jesus bestows on Peter and the others of the twelve to an agency that is now ours as ones aroused by the proximity and approach of God's reign.

Binding is more than pronouncing judgement or laying blame.  It is that important first part of truth-telling and recognition.  Loosing is the concluding phase that ultimately works through to saying "you are forgiven."

Operating throughout is an expectation that the binding has adequately identified what matters and has done so in accordance with God's spirit.  Remember how important it is to acknowledge that we can never talk "behind God's back." Remember also Paul's caution to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

This love presumes a God fearing respect and I think also promotes a depth and clarity in our truth telling.  It's not just to soften the blow.  Love can do more and actually helps to create conditions that avoid trivia and pettiness.

Empathy begins the binding as we first listen to the victim's truth to fully understand the who, what, where, when and why of how we have wronged someone.  God is in on this and so both the listener and petitioner can risk the vulnerability necessary to speak the truth love.

The pattern is not just a simple two step of "heart felt" apology and resolute absolution.  It is much more like that three-fold dynamic of regularity, validity and efficacy in all our sacramental practices.

Binding/Regularity sets the stage and follows some rules in order to be reliable, comprehensive and repeatable.  Loosing/Efficacy happens into the future and acknowledges a new/renewed status of both penitent and victim.

Rising out of and covering beyond the overlap of "binding and loosing" is love.  Love encourages depth and clarity in our calling out and naming the wrong.  Love allows for real contrition and a change in behavior.  Love helps sustain reconciliation and moderates our holding each other accountable.

Without love our agency accomplishes little more than changes in the pecking order and entrenchments of power.  With love forgiveness sets us all free.

The sequencing of "binding and loosing" or of "regularity, validity, efficacy" is ours to "suffer" because we are creatures of time and space, yet to inhabit fully that future from whence God approaches us.

Because of who God is, he does not have to suffer such restriction.  God can do whatever God wants. Indeed part of our arousal to the kingdom's nearness is that from it God provides forgiveness before we've even acknowledged our sin.

The order is less important than the acknowledgement and expression of love -- God's love --  that empowers, validates and sustains forgiveness.  Without love it's just not forgiveness.