Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Incredibly Shrinking God Part Two

Last week, I heard something that I really wish I had not heard.

It was an interview on the NPR talk show, "Fresh Air" with an author who has been following and studying a group known as the New Apostolic Reformation.

This movement, which has swept up the likes of Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann among others, has a theology that I believe makes God the Almighty into God the dwarfish gnome.  One of their primary beliefs is that the world fell into the hands of Satan at the time of Adam and Eve.  And now it's time for people to help God gain control of the world again by taking over the "Seven Mountains" for the Glory of God.   These "mountains" are arts, media, business, religion, family, education and government.   They want to bring about a new kind of protestant reformation in which there are no longer denominations, but one mega-protestant religion.   They're on a mission to cast out the hierarchical legion of demons that occupy the "Seven Mountains" and reclaim the souls of whole groups for "Gee-zus". 

Yes, whole group conversion.  None of this namby-pamby stuff of the old school evangelicals with individual conversion.  They need to get a critical mass of Jews in Israel to accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God in order to bring about the End Times.   And they need to eliminate the "demons":  abortion rights, gay rights, and the end of any social safety nets while allowing for a laissez-faire market mentality.

This theological outlook, called Dominionism, makes God into the biggest loser.   God, in this realm, is such a bumbling idiot that the Almighty has lost the world, and now needs Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann to save it for God with their superfriends Lou Engle and Mike Bickle??

Yes, I will laugh at the absurdity of it all.  But secretly, I am a bit nervous because these folks have a lot of money.  Tons and tons of money.  Rick Perry practically sneezes hundred dollar bills.   Lou Engle and others of his ilk have been the ones making forays into Uganda and other African nations to stir the pot of prejudice and homophobia.  And Michelle Bachmann... well, when she is touted as the smartest of the bunch at a GOP debate in New Hampshire and wins the Iowa straw poll...

But what kind of deity is it that these folks worship?   Is it the same God of Love who showed us all victory over death through Jesus Christ?   And how can they be believing in the same God that I believe in when they openly declare me to be "anti-Christ" by virtue of my sexual orientation?  Of course, Bachmann's husband claims to have a "cure" for my affliction.  But I imagine in the coming months or so, we will learn that he has been fighting to "cure" himself of this same affliction.  That is so often the case with the most ardent homophobes.  And why wouldn't it be?   If they don't believe that "God is Love and where true love is God himself is there", if they really believe there is a legion of hierarchical demons running the world and God is powerless to help those who call out for God's assistance, then--yeah-- self-loathing is the logical next step.

There is no way to reason with people who believe in this Dominionism theology.  But I believe it is important for those of us with a belief in a much larger, broader, and ultimately more powerful God to recognize that this movement is afoot, and is aiming to, among other things, steeplejack our churches.  The folks who carry the banner of this New Apostolic Reformation are in bed with those who have been attacking the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole.  And they would like to hijack other mainline denominations as well... all in the name of reclaiming the church from "the demons" that recognize God as having ultimate power.

The collect for this week in the Episcopal Church encourages the increase in us of "true religion."  I believe that "true religion" places God at the front and center with the earth under His proverbial feet.  God is in the world as God has been for eons before and will be even after we're gone.   God doesn't need us to defeat demons for God.  God has already defeated the demons.  We are the ones who must wrestle with our own demons in the timeless struggle of living into faith and not fear.   The New Apostolic Reformation movement definitely creates a challenge for me in that department.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Broken Trust

I have a part two to my "Incredibly Shrinking God" post, but today I'm reflecting some more on a most disturbing event.

On Sunday, my beloved picked me up from St. John's and when we got home, we discovered that someone had tried to break into our house by smashing the glass out of one of our window panes.   This occurred sometime in the morning when many in the neighborhood were either asleep, at church, or otherwise out-and-about.  Luckily, the fact that our window was painted shut seemed to foil whoever this was and they gave up.

It was such a weird juxtaposition.  The day before, I had been out with a group of my fellow citizens helping to pick up garbage off the streets of one of our crime-ridden sections of town which is only a mile-and-a-half from my house.  The people in the neighborhood watched us as we scoured overgrown roadways and bushes for the beer bottles, empty plastic containers, condom packages, and tons and tons of cigarette butts.  They would ask us what we were doing.  We'd tell them we were helping to pick up their neighborhood.  Some would sigh and say, "Well, it's gonna get trashed again in another ten minutes."  And our group would say, "Then we'll come back and pick it up again."   The point was to give people in this community the sense that somebody sees that they're suffering from neglect, and is stepping in to help.  And I don't doubt that the leaders of this particular coalition will be marshaling the troops again to help this neighborhood.

And then the next day--smash--a rock through our window.

St. Paul's letter to the Romans from this past Sunday ends on the line, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."   A good lesson to bear in mind as a grapple with my feelings of broken trust in our human family.  My suspicion is that this was done by a teenager.  A professional wouldn't have given up so easily.  I do hope that whoever did this will one day get caught trying to do it again.  And I hope that rather than put them into the meat grinder of our justice system, they be made to face who they have hurt with their actions.  I think facing the one injured is more likely to result in the heaping of burning coals upon the head.  And that's where I'm at with all of this.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Incredible Shrinking God

Maybe it's Texas Governor Rick Perry and his "God told me to run for President."

Maybe it's the news about the Mount Dora (FL) High School Social Studies teacher and his Facebook postings this summer declaring that God opposes same-sex marriage. 

Maybe it's just daily living in the land of the church marquee signs.  

Whatever "it" is, I have been thinking a lot lately about the ways in which we try to shrink God down to matchbox size.  Make God small enough so we can carry our deity in our pockets and pull out this "God possession" to back whatever agenda we have developed for the Almighty.

Christianity is really good at this making of the miniature God.  I can understand why that is.  We acknowledge that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine, Emmanuel--God among us--during his time on the planet.  And for some Christians, Jesus becomes so much the focus of their belief in God that they somehow miss the part where he tells Mary at the tomb to not hold onto him for he has not ascended to the Father (John 20: 15-18).  Or perhaps they didn't hear in the words of Jesus that they shouldn't form such an attachment to his flesh and blood self that they are deaf to his words when he says "whatever you do to the least of these you do to me."  They fail to see him existing in our fellow brothers and sisters, both Christian and non-Christian.   There is a desire to clutch hold of Christ, so much so that he never gets off the cross, never is resurrected and certainly never ascends.  And he becomes the "personal" Lord and Savior for tons of people.  Suddenly, Jesus becomes the claimed instead of the one claiming us.

And God has been shrunk to fit inside our own personal pocket agenda!  Now that we've got God, we are invincible and we are convinced of our own b.s.

This is not the kind of God I worship.  And this is not the Jesus I believe to be the Son of God, the incarnation of God among us.

For me,  God was only giving us a glimpse of God's self when Jesus came into the world to live and die as one of us.   The Jesus example was a mission of reclamation of those who had let too many "things" get between them and the God who had been with them and their ancestors in every moment of light and darkness.   And through Jesus, God was breaking down a barrier between Heaven and Earth and allowing us to see how all people are the threads in the fabric of God's tapestry.  Whether someone accepts Jesus as God or not, his mission was to draw us all back to a Love that is so large and wide and deep that we will never find its bottom or its top.   That Love is so enormous that--as the bumper sticker says-- it's too big to fit inside one religion.

If I were allowed to turn back time and sit at the First Council of Nicea, I might have duked it out with the attendees and insisted on a creed that goes:

We believe in one incredibly huge God
who loves us all to the ends of the earth and beyond.
And in God's Son, Jesus Christ,
The incarnation of God and bearer of the Good News
That we are loved more than tongue can tell nor pen can write.
Born of Mary. Lived with us.  Died for us. 
Rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. 
And we believe in the Holy Spirit who gives us our breath in our bodies
To be the living home of God in the world.
And because we believe, we will strive to live
Remembering that we belong to God.
Thanks be to a God that would do all this and more
to be in relationship with us!  Amen.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Who Am I?

This morning, the Gospel according to Matthew is the moment when Jesus turns to his disciples and poses the question, "Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?"  The answers are all over the place: the Son of Man is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.   But then Jesus asks the compelling question of his friends, "But who do you say that I am?"  And Simon Peter, the most extroverted of the bunch, pipes up with, "You are the Messiah."  Nobody told Peter to say it.  It was something he knew in his gut. Jesus praises him for the observation and promises that the church will be built upon his understanding and ability to perceive the Almighty standing before him. 

As I thought about this moment, I considered the significance of what it means to be known for who you are.  Society assigns labels to us, and sometimes we label ourselves, so that there can be order in the chaos.  We get defined by lots of things: our jobs, our genders, our marital status.   But none of that really speaks to who we are.   Who we are may not be so easily defined and categorized.  To know us requires a person to see more deeply and look to those things that are below the skin surface and to get to what makes that light shine out through our eyes.  That takes time, and a willingness to be seen as well.

In that sense, it's a bit like coming out.  To be known for who we are requires us to take the risk of letting others see us for who we really are.  Depending on the circumstances, that might not always feel safe.  I think that was a little bit of what was happening with Jesus.  Once Peter nails him as the Messiah, Jesus warns the others not to repeat that revelation to anyone.  For if that word got around too quickly in the world where the Roman Emperor had the reigns of power, there would be some serious trouble. 

I think about those places in the world where to be outwardly gay does run the risk of a person being killed.  And yet there are those in countries such as Uganda and Nigeria brave enough to live their lives honestly knowing that they are in jeopardy.  These real and present dangers put into context the fears some of us might have in this country about being out.  There are those dark corners of the United States where being openly gay might get you beat up or killed.  But, in general, our culture is changing, and it isn't as frightening to come out as lesbian or gay or even bi.  We are still struggling with transgender in most parts, and I think that's because of the human urge to place people in the binary camp of either "male" or "female".  With the next generation coming along, even that stumbling block is going to fall away.  

When we consider Christ's question, "Who do you say that I am?", I think we are being challenged to search our hearts for that answer.  Who do we say that Christ is?   Is he our personal Lord and Savior, only caring for our kind?  Is he the great emancipator for all (yes, all) people? 

Do we know Christ is the Messiah?  And if so, how do we know that?  Do we know it because other people have told us so, or have we experienced the liberation of the love that comes from Christ?   And, having recognized Christ as an active part of our lives as liberator, advocate and peace maker, do we allow that to be seen?  Or do we hide or act in ways that would make one wonder if we really are Christian?

A way to show that we know Christ is to treat everyone and everything as a living, breathing organism of God.  As Paul notes in his letter to the Romans, we are all part of one body, even in our many parts.  The more we live as part of the body, the more we make the Almighty visible to the world.  If God becomes the centerpoint and the starting place of our lives, we stand a better chance of realizing the promise of eternal life right now... and not as some off-in-the-distance end time event.  And that kind of positive vibration can be infectious.

Be seen.  Be heard.  Be out as who and what you are.  It takes all kinds to be in this body and we are each making our unique contribution. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Healing The Wounds of War

Last weekend, I met eleven men. 

They were on a retreat with the Wounded Warrior Project out of Jacksonville.  The project was established to assist veterans wounded in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq adjust to coming home and transitioning into civilian life.

After dodging bombs and bullets on a battlefield for months on end, the body learns to respond with adrenaline in a constant mode of fight or flight.  These are the unseen wounds of war and are all tied into the mental scars from seeing death and destruction up close and personal.  And there are the visible scars: lost limbs, massive burn marks, and the remaining signs of an incision made to remove debris and stitch-up the gashes in the flesh.

What the body absorbs affects the mind and the soul of the person.  This is the truth that all massage therapists know.  And this is why I went to meet these eleven men.

The setting was the calm and quiet environment of Camp Weed, the church camp for the Episcopal Diocese of Florida.  Me and the other massage therapist were assigned to rooms that had a view of what looked like a prairie of grass.

I only had a half-hour to work with each guy, a definite challenge for me as I usually like to spend some time talking with clients before we head to the table.  So, the intake time was shortened to a smile and a handshake, and a brief exchange to find out what part of their body bothered them the most. 
One man, who I will call Ted, had a cheerful personality.  He smiled big and was looking forward to the idea of a massage.  I asked Ted where he'd most like for me to work.

"My shoulders.  They're always tight, or at least that's what I got told last time.  They just stay tight."

"So, you carry the world on your shoulders."

"Yeah, I was a grunt, so I guess that's true."

He really did carry the world, and the war, on his shoulders.  They were rock hard like a couple of boulders keeping his head in place.  I had to encourage him to let his head fall back into my hands.

"I promise, I won't let you lose your head," I said with a smile.  He chuckled and slowly let go.

I was only half-joking.  As bouncy and happy as this soldier was, his body still spoke of the need to stay ready for action.  In war, he wasn't allow to lose his head.  And in massage, I assured him, his head was safe in my hands.

Gradually, I felt the connective tissue at his occipital ridge melt into my fingers and the muscles in his neck relaxed.  His body could trust he was really safe.

As I looked into the faces of the men like Ted, I saw their youthfulness.  Their outward appearances, tattooed and tough looking, gradually softened with the lengthening and stretching of their muscles.  As their faces relaxed, I was struck by how young some of them were.  Some of them looked like teenagers with facial hair.  In the moments between appointments,  I couldn't help but reflect on the war and the men and women we send into combat.  Most of them were born when I was in high school.  And so many of them have not survived.  More than 6,000 servicemembers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ones I was seeing today bore tattoos of the Fallen Soldier to remind them of the ones who had died on the battlefield.

Some of the men who had never had a massage before smiled sweetly at the end of their sessions.  One young man, I'll call him Tom, was so quiet and he looked at the massage table as if I were going to be doing a mad scientist routine with him.  Picking up on his angst, I took time to let him know exactly what I would be doing and why.  I asked him to take off his shoes and his cap, and start by lying on his back.  Nothing more got exchanged between us but the change in his body was again evident in his face and his shoulders.  This very reticent recipient of massage flashed a shy grin.  He shook my hand not once, but twice, thanking me and thanking me again.

A few wanted to know if I was connected with the Episcopal Church, the ones running the retreat for the warriors.

"Yes, I am."

It was one time I can say for sure that I felt the Church was doing something right.   And I was happy to be using my gifts to contribute to the healing of these wounded men.    

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fade to Black

My heart was sad and I let out a heavy sigh this evening as I exited the Miracle 5 movie theater.   This was the last day of operation for this place that specialized in independent and international films.   As of the 7pm movies, the theater which has been in operation since 1968 was fading to black.  Regal Entertainment, the owner, says that it was an underperforming venue and in these economic times, you better perform or you're outta here.
The Miracle was my movie house of choice.   This is where I went to see Michael Moore documentaries, foreign-language films like  "Once Were Warriors", "The Lives of Others" and "Of Gods and Men" as well as just odd films such as "Ed Wood" and "Bubba Ho-Tep".   I saw "March of the Penguins" several times and was fascinated with "Control Room".   

It was also the place most likely to show movies with LGBT themes.  So it was only fitting that my final film at the Miracle 5 would be "Beginners", an interesting sweet and sad story about a man named Oliver (Ewan MacGregor) in mourning over the death of his father (Christopher Plummer).  Turns out the father lived the last few years of his life as an openly-gay man, something he had kept a secret throughout his 44-year marriage.  When the wife died, Plummer's character was finally free to love in the way he had wanted, only to die of lung cancer.  Still, Plummer was able to live and love fully.  Something his son was struggling to do as he mourned his father's death and the relationship he'd witnessed between his parents.

"Beginners" is not a "Harry Potter" or a "Captain America" or "The Help."  It is a film about relationships as opposed to shoot 'em ups.   It may not be the stuff of blockbusters, but it is the stuff of themes that I'm willing to pay to see on a big screen.  I'm not alone in this.  As a protest to the corporate decision, there was a large gathering of people that showed up Saturday night for a tailgate and movie party in the Miracle's parking lot.   The idea was to show the corporate number crunchers that there is an audience for such art house movies in Tallahassee.

And there really is.  The theater for the 4:10 showing today of "Beginners" was probably 40-percent full.

Still, 40-percent is not a packed house.  And probably qualifies as "underperforming."

I'm hoping that the other Regal Entertainment theatre in Tallahassee will dedicate at  least two or three of its 12 screens to showing some of the usual Miracle 5 fare.  This city, which has a film school at Florida State, really needs a place to show those movies that are characterized as "small films."

At the end of "Beginners", Oliver and his love interest in the film, Anne, are sitting next to each other as they try to begin their relationship after a lot of ups and downs.

"What happens now?" asks Oliver.

"I don't know, " says Anne.

"How does that work?"

I have the same questions about the future of such films in Tallahassee.

Good night and good bye, Miracle 5.   You've been a good show!


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rock on, Canaanite Woman

It was this time three years ago that I was at the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Durham.  A movie short that I had written and helped to produce was having its premiere in the Tarheel State and I was anxious to see how it was received.  I love going to this festival because you get to see lots and lots of LGBT-themed films of all kinds, the hosts are really nice and attentive to the filmmakers and its just an overall good time.

But on that visit, I saw something I didn't like.

There was an African-American man, accompanied by some white teenagers, standing outside on the sidewalk to the Carolina Theatre.  Megaphone in hand and donning his "Jesus Saves" T-Shirt, he was pelting the movie goers with a message of "Repent!!  Repent your abomination of man lying with man and woman lying with woman!!" 

People strode passed him.  Some threw comments back at him.  But what I noticed was that the faces of the people headed into the theatre were hardened.  No doubt this was a reflection of what must have been in their hearts.

How many times has a gay person had to listen to someone in a "Jesus Saves" shirt screaming at them to "Repent!!"?   What an irony to say that Jesus "saves" while telling someone they will burn in Hell?   Jesus can save, but it would help if his supposed fan club would stop nailing him to the cross!
Sunday's gospel lesson was, of course, the same one I heard that weekend in Durham at St. Philip's Church.  And it was as poignant then as it is now. 

We begin with Jesus defending the disciples for eating with 'unclean hands' by noting that it isn't what goes in the mouth that defiles the person but what comes out.  From there, Jesus goes off to Tyre and Sidon where he encounters (in Matthew's version of the story) a Canaanite woman.  The Canaanites were the antithesis of all things good and righteous for the Israelites.  After all, God had promised Abraham that he would basically conquer Canaan and establish the nations of Israel.  So, here is this woman (already a bit of 'eww' factor) and then she is a Canaanite (way beyond just 'eww') and she has the audacity to call out to Jesus... even noting that he is a Son of David... and asks for healing for her daughter.  At first, Jesus dismisses her noting that he came to feed the children of Israel and not the dogs.  But she persists and tells him, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."  Her boldness in stating her right to his attention is rewarded, and he praises her for her faith and the daughter is healed.

In the queer ear: wow!  There's a LOT here. 

"What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart and this is what defiles."  If a man wears a T-shirt to identify himself as a Christian, but then speaks an anti-Christ message of hell and damnation upon you "others", he is reflecting what is truly in his heart.  And his heart does not belong to Christ if he believes that Christ doesn't love LGBT people unless they "repent" of their LGBTness.   A queer person can no more repent their sexual orientation or gender identity than a Mexican can repent of her ethnicity.

There is also the next scene with the Canaanite Woman.  Jesus, who has said it isn't what goes in that defiles but what goes out, encounters the challenge of being met by an "other" of his time.  And he calls her a dog.  How many times has a gay person sat in the pews of a church and heard words from the pulpit about loving the neighbor, welcoming the stranger, do unto others... only to find that for the priest or pastor, there is an exclusionary clause in that "welcome".   All are welcome... except for LGBT people.  In some quarters, LGBT people are treated, as Bishop Barbara Harris describes,  "the half-assed baptized."

This is why the Canaanite Woman stands for me, and many of us other 'others', as the beautiful representation of standing up for one's self in the face of resistance and discrimination.   Rather than accept the slur, she lays it back at Jesus' feet by noting that even she is worthy of the crumbs that fall from the master's table.  She has established that she has the utmost respect for him, but she refuses the dismissal.  Many of us of the queer persuasion have had to make a similar courageous stand.  We bring our whole selves into the sanctuary and will not hide who we are or attempt to "pass" as straight because we know that when Jesus died and rose from the dead, it was for "all", and not just the chosen few.   This is why I think queer Christians are some of the most faith-filled members of Christendom.   Despite human sinful attempts to block us from the grace of God, we have persisted and prevailed.

My hope is that anyone who has ever felt wronged by the people of God will take another look at what is actually in Scripture and not the warped and perverted versions screamed into a megaphone on a street corner.  Take a chance on reading what Christ was teaching.  It is a message of Love beyond measure that even the Canaanite woman could claim as her own. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

In the Water

Sunday's gospel lesson about Peter walking on water until he starts to sink and Jesus saves him has been on my mind for several days.  As one who is not a great swimmer and prefers walking along the beach rather than venturing out into the ocean, the whole idea of stepping out of the boat and onto the surface of the sea seems like a drowning just asking to happen.

Seriously, if I were in a boat being battered by waves, and Jesus invited me to step out onto the ocean and walk,  I think I'd be tempted to say, "What the hell for?"

If we are honest with ourselves, I think we'd agree that most of us really feel that way.  The invitation is there for us to focus our eyes, our hearts and our minds on God.   But instead, we balk at that invite and begin scouring the invitation for the fine print, the black out dates, the exclusionary clause that says, "This unconditional love and grace void and prohibited for the likes of me!" 

Why do we always want to make God so limited and so small and petty?  Perhaps because we, as humans, can see ourselves placing limits and boundaries on the love we're willing to share. If we can conceive of limits, then surely God must have limits, too.

How quickly we forget the words in Isaiah 55:

"For your thoughts are not my thoughts nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord."

Just because we are willing to place limits and boundaries does not mean that God does the same thing.  As it shows in the gospel story, even when Peter gets distracted and takes his eyes off Jesus and starts to sink, Jesus didn't laugh in his face and say, "Suckah!!"  Instead, he grabs hold of Peter and, in what I imagine was said in the love shared between two friends, chides him with the line, "O you of little faith!"  A reminder to Peter that he was doing fine until he let the winds and choppy sea steal his focus.  Much in the same way we, in our day to day living, will allow all kinds of things to interfere with the unboundless Love that surrounds us all the time.  Nothing like a crappy job, or lack of employment, to steal the focus on the fact that we are products of Love and we are worthy of Love.  And we can live and share our lives out of a place that knows the freedom of that Love.

Centering prayer is a great practice toward training our minds and hearts to focus on Love and keep that as our home base.  I've found it useful that way as an additional supplement to the other more liturgical worship I do.  It's a way of allowing the space for God to place the invite to come out onto the waters and walk with me, if only for a little while, so that I can see that I can do it, remember it, and let that be the core of how I function.  Those days in which I have taken the time to sit in quiet and focus on a sacred word have been the days in which I don't feel myself fighting as hard to keep above the waters that would otherwise drown me.

Perhaps it can be said then that the Kingdom of God is like a vast body of water with no shores to border it where one can feel the coolness of the waves against you and yet never drown. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Transfiguration of Peter, John and James

I saw a very interesting quote this morning on Facebook courtesy of Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton:

We call it Jesus’ actually might be more accurate to call this the story of the transfiguration of the three apostles...suddenly they, too, were filled with this light: lighting their lives, lighting the darkness of their pasts, lighting their hopes and dreams and confusion and fears about the future. Suddenly the dim mirror through which they had been seeing life became clear. They saw. They understood. It fit. Everything fit. Everything was okay.-Br. Curtis Almquist

I think this is almost accurate.  Almost because, of course, if they had really been fully transfigured in their thinking then I would have to believe there would have been a very different outcome at Jesus' time of trial.  A transfigured Peter would have been braver than he was in the moment in Pilate's garden.

Still, we know from the Gospel of Luke that upon hearing the booming voice in the cloud announce "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!", the three men did not speak a word of what they'd experienced to anyone.  They didn't run down the mountain and say, "Hey--guess what just went down with Jesus!!"  Probably a good idea to keep that underwraps until the time was right to tell.

What I get from Br. Almquist's analysis is that each one of us when we encounter Christ as revealed in that amazing light are changed.  Much like when Moses came down from the mountain with the bright, shiny face, we, too, may manifest a physical, or at least a visible spiritual, change when we have felt the contact of God in our lives that up close.  I have had friends say to me more than once, "You've changed!"  And I have.  They haven't always liked those changes initially.  I have certainly felt gangly and awkward as I have gone through some spiritual growth spurts.  But the growing I'm doing feels as though I am becoming fuller, deeper, and with roots that allow me to drink from many things to get a greater idea about this creation I am a part of with God.

Transfigured?  A little.  But the alchemist is still melting and pounding away at the edges.  I think that's the space Peter, John and James found themselves in when they descended from the mountain after witnessing something too awe-inspiring to adequately describe.  Here's hoping that everyone has a moment or three like that in God.

Our Id-Driven World

I can't help thinking that as I look around at this world, Freud's theory of "Id", that basic instinct of seeking what pleases us without any sense of right or wrong, seems to be driving the bus. We want our needs met and we don't care about the consequences to anyone else. The Id is the very primitive part of our being and is the motivator of infants and very young children.

And the Id seems to be the engine driving of our Congress. Consider this quote in the Washington Post by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell following the down-to-the-wire vote on the debt ceiling debacle:

“I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting,” he said. “Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done.” (Washington Post)
The “must be done”, I’m presuming, is to deal with our latest era of deficit-spending which began this time under President George W. Bush, a Republican. Most people understand that if you are spending money, you need to bring money in. For government, that means collecting taxes even from wealthy people. The hostage taking has cost us. The country’s credit rating was reduced by Standard’s and Poor… and the Chinese. Way to go, patriots of partisanship. I wonder what our next blunder will be?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hallelujah for the Artists!

We give thanks to you, O Lord, for the vision and skill of Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder whose artistic depictions helped the peoples of their age understand the full suffering and glory of your incarnate Son; and we pray that their work may strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ and the mystery of the Holy Trinity; for you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

At the noon day Eucharist, we celebrated the lives of three Germans of the Renaissance period. Dürer, Grünewald, and Cranach the Elder, painted and created woodcuts that captured images of Christ and some of the icons of church history such as Martin Luther during a time of enormous change happening with the Protestant Reformation in Europe.  Their works, especially the woodcuts and copperplates, allowed for mass reproductions for a populace hungry for art.

But these are not the only artists who ever tried to share their faith through their works.  As mentioned in the homily, there are many people who have used art to express the gifts God has given them.   I think again of the stunning beauty of hearing Haydn's piece "The Creation" and its electrifying introduction of a blast of sound at the line "Let there be light!" ("God is in the Art")    That musical moment stands out for me as such an amazing attempt by an artist to capture what he was experiencing in his head and his heart as he tried to give a glimpse of God's work through his own work.

Artists, both those who perform and those who create with their hands the images in their heads, reflect back a perception of the world as they see it that informs, provokes, inspires, and entertains our own imaginations.  Their contributions, especially when illustrating God,  is a form of prayer that works on a level transcending the headiness of corporate church.    Thanks be to God we have people of such creative energy to be among the mitochondria in the Body of Christ!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Aching Hip Insights

My right hip was killing me yesterday. Not in a way that made me lame, but just in that way that I kept “noticing” it. These days, it’s not uncommon for me to have occasional aches in my joints, a result of not getting enough exercise outdoors because it’s too hot and no interest in going indoors to a gym to bike in place for thirty minutes. Taking time between clients to stretch some more usually does the trick. But, for whatever reason, that wasn’t working yesterday.

As I tried to warm up the muscles around the hip joint, my mind went to the lesson from last Sunday’s Genesis reading in which Jacob wrestles with “the man” and “the man” puts his hip out of joint. I laughed at the thought that perhaps the reason my hip was hurting was because I seem to be locked in a struggle with “the man” myself. Tussling over my obligations, my choices, and where am I going to steer my energies.

No, I don’t think God caused my hip to ache, or that I am actually physically wrestling with God and demanding a blessing etc. But I have felt myself in a bit of a push-pull relationship with God as I keep along this journey.

I realize that I’m involved in many ministries, both inside and outside the church, each of which demands more and more of my time and attention. And I am aware of my humanity, and hence my limitations, to accomplish everything that might be expected of me in each of these ministries. For example, yesterday, I had to tell the Circle of Hope, a ministry to support the unemployed and underemployed in their job searches, that much as we might have been hearing from members of the parish about needs such as school supplies, such needs fall outside the purview of our particular ministry. Fortunately, the group agreed.

My partner and I ate at Jonah’s Fish and Grits restaurant in Thomasville, GA. I had been wanting to go there for months after seeing the billboard every time I traveled 319 into downtown Thomasville. I reminded her that Jonah is my “power prophet.”

“Jonah was whiny and judgmental,” she said.

Yeah. And these are both traits I am capable of having at any given moment.

But where I see me in the story of Jonah, the prophet who prayed in the belly of a fish, comes in the desire to run in the other direction from God’s stated mission. Jonah was to go to Nineveh and tell the people to turn from their ways and go back to God. And Jonah took that to mean, “Get in a boat going the opposite direction, so I don’t have to do this mission.” And we know what happened after that.

It’s not so much that I feel God has a stated mission or message for me to deliver that I am not willing to deliver. I find my tendency is to think of a hundred things I need to do instead. This is where the struggle with “the man” begins… and I feel my right hip joint.

It’s been better today. I guess I must not be putting up as much of a fight.