Sunday, December 31, 2017

Moving on from 2017

I had been planning to write a blog entry centered on the Gospel for today, which is John's prelude in which he tells about "In the beginning was the Word." There is actually a lot to say about the incarnation of Jesus, the importance to 2017 to remember that God actually entered into our experience as a human being with human flesh and bones. But I'm going to hold that discussion to go directly to the secular or cultural discussion of the end of 2017. 

I posed a question on Facebook to my friends to describe 2017 in a word or a phrase. The clear favorite among them is "shit show." There are many variations on that theme, but that is the two word answer that seems most popular. And, on the whole, I would have to agree. I really do hope there are people, or at least more people, in the United States who are realizing that electing a totally self-absorbed man with a strange love of Nazis as president of the United States may be the the most colossal error we have ever made since we took up arms against each other to defend the inhumane institution of slavery. I am not going to be deferential or attempt to find some neutral ground here. The man in the White House is a terrible buffoon. Worse, however, is that there is a Congress which is also largely run by cynical, greedy twerps who wrap themselves in the flag and place a Bible out on their coffee table to feign a faith in the Messiah who encouraged us to look out for the lost, the lonely, and the persons who were in need. If they actually read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested Scripture, they would be hard-pressed to continue punishing the poor and middle-class while giving away our tax dollars to corporations and extremely wealthy people. 

I do know that part of my charge if I am to live into the Love that is unconditional is that I must be able to still feel compassion for those with whom I disagree to the point of truly despising them....which is where I am now with the president and his lapdogs at the Capitol. The only way I can successfully muster anything close to warmth for these individuals is to remember that they are human and, just like me, they want to be happy and free from suffering. That latter part has been the most helpful because I'm pretty convinced that Mitch McConnell and the others must be suffering. There is no other logical explanation for being OK with taking away people's health insurance coverage, despoiling our planet with more drilling, and giving middle-income people a few hundred dollars in tax breaks for a couple of years while slashing the tax rate for corporations forever. There must have been something that warped their sense of right and wrong, or they must be so miserable that they have to take down other people. I'll never know because I doubt I'll ever meet McConnell or any of them.

So I will pray for the leadership of our country. And in 2018, I will be doing all I can to help them move out of Washington, DC, forever. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Purify Our Conscience: A Prelude to Christmas Eve

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Amen.--Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

For many of us, today is going to be a crazy and dizzying day of two different church services. This morning is Advent 4 in which we hear the annunciation and we learn that a young girl, Mary, agrees to be the mother of God. This evening, we will all reconvene in a church sanctuary bedecked in green and white to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In church liturgical time, nine months goes by rather rapidly!

Real time, of course, doesn't move so fast. So let's slow it down for just a moment...and stay in this moment of the morning with annunciation. This is a special mission, this idea that God will be manifest in the world in the form of a human baby and born in the same fashion that all human babies of the time came into the world. I imagine that this was also a method that was fraught with lots of danger in those days. Childbirth is dicey medical business and there were no incubators or sterilized surgical equipment. Heck, the mythology of Jesus' birth is that he came into the world in a stable with animals and hay. Talk about poor and lowly!

And that's really the main point: the Christ child, the one who was born to lead his people with Love as his sword and shield, was not born into comfort. Even the times of that day were hard and difficult for the Israelites. Their temple had been destroyed, they had been conquered and scattered, and the Roman Empire was notorious for being every bit as harsh as the Egyptians had been to the Jews many centuries before. The Jews were permitted to have their religion, but were heavily taxed, and were expected to keep their heads down and not disturb the balance of power...which was against them. Those who did attempt to revolt were killed and their deaths were on display as a reminder to anyone else who dared to question the Emperor or his subordinates. And yet....

The angel Gabriel comes to a teenage girl and doesn't pose a question: Will you bear a child who you will name Jesus who will be Emmanuel--God with us? Instead, the story the evangelist Luke gives to us is that Gabriel basically voluntold Mary that she had been chosen to take on this incredible responsibility. Mary, like anyone who has experienced a call from God to step out and do something they weren't prepared to do, is mystified and does some push back: how is this possible? I've never had sex? Look at me: I'm barely in my teens! And, just like anyone who has experienced a call from God to step out and do something they weren't prepared to do, the answers come back to her: trust this. Nothing is impossible with God. Girl, you're gonna be alright. You are exactly the one and this exactly the time and place. 

We are living in a time so many thousands of years later that still has extreme poverty and cruelty and oppression where those with means and money work to crush the hope of those without the capital. I suppose then as we celebrate this story of how Mary trusted in God enough to allow herself to be a main player in the story of his birth, we need to look at our own selves and see how perhaps God is searching out the people who will embody Christ and give a figurative birth to that one who will lead us back to Love in these times of despair. And this isn't going to happen in those places of comfort and fancy houses and mansions  on a beach in Florida. It will be coming from the many who are meek and lowly of our world...the 99-percent. Prepare ye the way.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Hear What the Spirit is Saying

Jerusalem Window in St. John's Episcopal Church's Carter Chapel.

We are finishing out the First Week in Advent, and I can say this has been a week like no other Advent that I can remember in recent years. Past Advents have felt introspective and--how to say this--a little more private in their impact. But given our current state of affairs in the world with this particular administration and Congress in Washington, D.C.,  this season with its emphasis on patient waiting, self-reflection and examination, repentance, turning around and preparing for the return of Jesus Christ into the midst of our human condition, the words in the daily office spoken by the prophet Amos are echoing loudly. 

A phrase repeated in one of the Amos readings this week has stuck with me for a couple of days. Amos is listing out calamity upon calamity that have befallen the people of God. Prophets do that sort of thing and in the past, I might have heard these words and shrugged them off as what we always hear from the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures to make their point. But as I listened to the lector going through one natural disaster after another as God's "punishment" for Israel's transgressions, there was the repeated mantra:

"Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." 

Tears began to well up in my eyes as I stared at the Jerusalem window in the chapel. So many truly terrible things are happening now because we have a president who is a liar, thief, and abusive man. Our Congress is run by even smaller tyrants operating out of a place of greed and shamelessness. And the height of all that is wrong from my perspective could be seen staring into that window depicting the landscape of the Holy City, and knowing that it was destined to be a scene of bloodshed and terror once more after our feckless leader announced that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel only. Our president, and Vice President, are catering to the extremists of Christianity who believe that the events foretold in the Book of Revelation can only happen if all the Jews return to Jerusalem, while also pandering to the crazed Zionists who oppose the presence of Palestine. This, of course, has led the Palestinians to rebel, and will egg on extemists in Islam who want to kill all the Jews and have hated the United States for our attempts over the decades to broker a peace that includes Israel, not to mention the corporate dealings we've had that have polluted water ways or backed oppressive regimes around the world. Attacks will happen, people will die...Muslims, Jews, and likely Christians, too..."yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." 

I contemplated the new sexual ethic we are living in where, after centuries of ignoring the voices of women when they say they have been harassed, abused, or raped, we now say "We believe you." As a woman, I am happy that there seems to be a recognition of the wrongs that have been done to us. Seems to be a recognition. What seems more like the reality of this new found belief is that we only seem to care if it is politically expedient to care. U.S. Senator Al Franken, who had been a very effective leader for the Democrats and was showing signs that he might be a potential presidential candidate, has been drummed out by his own party because of allegations that he sexually harassed women. Long-time Detroit U.S. Representative John Conyers, also a Democrat, was similarly forced out of office for having paid off claims of sexual harassment. Many praise these moves as "the right thing to do." Because we seem to care about women now. In fact, we care so much, that the Republican National Committee is funneling money to support the campaign of a man running for the U.S. Senate in Alabama who has been banned from the Gadsden Mall in that state because he was a child sexual predator. We have a justice serving on the U.S. Supreme Court who we learned from Anita Hill during his confirmation hearing is a porn-addicted sexual harasser. And then there is the president who bragged about grabbing women by their private parts, admitted that those comments were wrong, but we were told by his wife that it was all "boy talk." Twenty women...with names...have come forward to say that the man who is now president acted inappropriately with them. "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." 

I prayed for all those in Southern California surrounded by a ring of wildfires, for the people in Puerto Rico who are stuck on island that still has less than 50-percent of the population with electricity after a hurricane, for all of us here on the mainland who are bracing for what type of future we'll have if the tax bill that was so hastily pushed through gets to the president's desk for his signature. Among the many purported problems with the legislation, losses due to natural disasters such as a wildfire will not be counted as a tax deduction. Graduate students will see their tuition waivers taxed as "income." And already the talk of how to pay for all of this comes back around to more cuts to Medicare,  Medicaid, and Social Security. Those programs, by the way, are often all a family has to work with when their parents become too frail or become otherwise so dependent that they must be moved into an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Without those, families would be out thousands of dollars a month. "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord."

Indeed, this First Week of Advent is bringing home to me more and more the chaos and the desperation of the world we now live in here in the United States. The warnings of the prophets of old are sounding more current than they ever have before. So the question is: will we repent and return to the Lord? What does that mean?

For me, it means what it has always meant: we take care of the planet. We tend to those that are dependent on us, be they animals, children, elderly, people with special needs for assistance. We treat everyone with dignity and respect in the same way that we wish to be treated. We honor one another. "Returning to the Lord" is about restoring relationships and recognizing that we are not the center of the universe.

When will we return to that?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

"Lord, Let Our Eyes Be Opened"

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!’ Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him. --Matt 20:29-34

Typically, I do the morning office readings, but today I was thrown off my game. I woke up and made the terrible mistake of looking to see what had happened in the world overnight. And I saw where, when given the chance to choose life and be a sheep instead of a goat, the Republicans of the United States Senate approved a destructive tax bill that is not going to help anyone who isn't the owner of a private jet or a hedge fund operator living on the U.S. Virgin Islands. The plan will eliminate many standard deductions, end access to health insurance for 13 million people, and put us another trillion dollars into debt. In order to do this, the Senate kept giving away more pieces of the American Dream to buy off Republican votes and they ended up with a bill that was 500 pages that nobody had time to read, much less understand the handwritten amendments in the margins of the pages. This was not a great day for the Senate, and it was a terrible day for the country.

So, I guess it was helpful that I decided to end the day with the office and give myself some time to sit in reflection on this passage of Matthew in light of today's events and the dawning of a new calendar year in the church tomorrow.

Here we have two men, blind men at that, sitting on a road side as this itinerant and revolutionary rabbi is passing by with a large crowd in tow. Obviously, these two must have been hearing something about Jesus and his ministry of healing because they start yelling out to him. The crowd, the ones who were already part of the following of Jesus who could see just fine and could hear quite clearly, were annoyed at these two for creating a spectacle. Or perhaps the crowd was afraid that these two were bothering their beloved leader. And, at any rate, they wanted the blind guys to sit down and shut up. But they won't be bullied into silence and in fact got louder. Jesus stops and asks, "What do you want me to do for you?" We don't know the tone of his voice in asking that question: was he exasperated? Was he perturbed? Was he calm? Jesus does this many times throughout his ministry. Somebody is in need, and instead of just instantly fixing whatever it is they want addressed, Jesus makes them an active player by inquiring of them what is it that they are seeking? "Lord, let our eyes be opened." 

This answer, I think applies beyond the story of these two men. They are seeking to have their physical eyes opened so that they are no longer blind. And while Jesus meets them in that place and does restore their physical sight, they also began to follow him. To me, this says that not only did Jesus give them the ability to use their eyes to see the world, he opened their hearts and their minds to "the peace of God which passes all understanding" that causes them to follow him. They see beyond just the tips of their noses. They now see the bigger picture of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ and with God.

I think that plaintive cry, "Lord, let our eyes be opened," is a perfect set up for this upcoming season of Advent in which we are a church living in a land of destruction and fear. I think there is much that we all could be turning to Jesus and asking, "Open my eyes so that I may see you more clearly":

+see the poor and the homeless not as an "other" but as a "mother" or "brother";
+see the hopeless as a person who has not felt the warmth of acceptance or felt anyone has listened;
+see the depressed as one feels as though they are always looking up from a pit of hell and instead of sitting at the edge looking down, sit with them and meet them as you offer that they are never alone;
+see the pained and scared about our political climate and offer them the hope that you will never abandoned the mission of bending the arc of history toward justice.

Open our eyes, Lord, and in so doing, break open our hearts and our minds to be your people...the peacemakers, the justice seekers, the lovers of liberation, and the compassionate listeners, so that we can usher in an Advent of new beginnings, and greater resolve to find the common bonds with our neighbors and build up our strength and never be deterred from that mission to love and serve the spirit of what is good, right, and Holy. Amen.