Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Mary Magdalene

 Mary questioned her Master, "At the end of the eon, will all matter be destroyed?"

 Jesus answered, "All of nature, its forms and creatures are interrelated; all will be returned to their original source.  The essence of matter also returns to the source of its own nature.  He who has ears, let him comprehend."  The opening lines of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene was healed of 7 demons (Luke 8:2) and makes multiple cameo appearances in the four Gospels, often being found alongside or among Jesus' disciples.  In the 6th century, she got branded by a man who had never met her.  In a blistering sermon, Pope Gregory accused her of being a prostitute, and until recently, she has lived posthumously with that reputation. Thankfully for women-kind, modern research and feminist scholars are resurrecting her as "the beloved disciple" and a more central figure in Jesus' life and teaching. She is the only woman who has a gospel bearing her name - albeit one of the non-canonized Gnostic Gospels.

Mary Magdalene bears the weight of having brought an entirely different, more inclusive, more earth-centered spin on what Jesus was teaching, but found as a woman teacher in a patriarchal culture that she wasn't taken seriously.  Perhaps we see in Pope Gregory's public act of trashing Mary's reputation the threat Mary's inclusivity posed to patriarchal power structures. Or, was it Mary's esteemed position in the cadre of disciples of which he was jealous?

We have learned this much and are still trying to get the message heard; women do bring a different voice, another vantage point, and a far more relational view to theology and church than the majority of their male counterparts.  They always have. They probably always will. The cognitive, head-strong leadership served over the centuries as the only Christian theological option (including Crusades, Inquisitions, and heretic burning) is radically the opposite of the more Jesus-like stance many women bring with grace and intuition, care, listening, and community. 

If you haven't yet been exposed to this more multi-dimensional, honest, intelligent woman, I encourage you to seek out some of these sources:

Meggan Watterson, Mary Magdalene Revealed: The First Apostle, Her Feminist Gospel, and The Christianity We Haven't Tried Yet

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman At The Heart of Christianity

Karen L. King, The Gospel of Mary Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle



Tuesday, December 14, 2021

St. Francis

I have a deep love for birds.  My new house in Tacoma now has 5 bird feeders, and every day they are visited by various feathered friends. It is somehow reassuring that so many different species are living their lives in such an urbanized setting. Each visitation reminds me of the larger environment and the adaptations necessary to keep up with so many destructive forces at play, from overpopulation, overuse of resources to climate change.

St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals.  Each year my Episcopal church holds a Blessing Of The Animals near his recognized Feast Day (October 4.) He was born in 1181 or 1182 to a wealthy silk merchant.  Francis knew how to spend money and have a good time throughout the early part of his life.  But, like so many of the saints from this period, he had some life-changing exchanges with beggars and a spiritual encounter that totally changed the life course he was on.  Francis became a deacon (never a priest) and traveled over a wide area of southern Europe into Egypt and North Africa, preaching to Christian and Muslims about the love of Christ.  His early-life wealth and the familial connections with bishops and influence holders in the Church probably played a role when Francis, in sackcloth attire, requested permission to start a new monastic order.  He was granted an audience with the Pope, and the Franciscan order was created.  The order still exists today.

In 1979, the Pope made Francis, the patron saint of ecology.  That's an area that needs all the money and prayer it can get.  Francis would be terribly bothered by how the environment across the face of the earth is under siege.  The theology he preached incorporated the idea that through nature, God is known.  This is a radically opposite belief from the dominant 19th-21st century thought that nature is to be dominated, mined, drilled, and paved for the sake of the almighty dollar. We need Francis and an earth-centered spirituality that gives impetus to saving the planet and the millions of lives that depend upon it, my birds included.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

St. Clare of Assisi

Born July 16, 1194, Clare started life as the eldest daughter of an Italian count.  Her mother was a devout woman from a wealthy noble family.  She was known to have taken pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Rome.  She joined Clare's order of nuns later in her life.

Clare's monastic life started when she met Francis of Assisi.  She wished to follow in the steps of Jesus, so Francis had her cut her hair (not something women did in the day) and put on a simple robe (some texts describe it as coarse burlap). A spicy detail involving her father was where he attempted to drag her away from her vows to marry, which Clare forcefully refused, declaring she would only marry Jesus.  After the ruckus, Francis moved her to a Benedictine convent. And so began her life of asceticism.  The other women who joined her became known as the Order of St. Clare or The Poor Clares.  The order exists still today.  St. Francis maintained a vital role in her life throughout.  The order's rule expected the nuns to do manual labor and pray, go barefoot, sleep on the floor and eat no meat. 

Clare's story follows a common theme of many women in the Middle Ages who later became saints. They began life in refined style from "upright families" of some nobility only to turn a back on their families and join convents.  True, this was one of the few respectable options a young woman had in the day.  The two choices were assent to an arranged marriage with an older nobleman or run away to a convent. Still, it is difficult from a 21st-century vantage point to imagine walking away from a feather bed to sleep on the floor the rest of your life. It causes one to realize how profoundly privileged the majority of us are; that we have a much wider variety of options of all kinds such that rarely does anyone pick the monastic life. 

Yet, there is a mystique about monastic orders, especially for introverted people who have cultivated a deeper spiritual life.  I've heard many a church person question the value of monastic life.  There are two ways it has importance and value to us today. 

The first way is that it is a model for living in a sustainable community that may be required in the near future. By sustainable, I mean a relatively self-sufficient community.  The carrying capacity of Planet Earth is far past its limit.  A planet that could comfortably sustain 50-100 million people is burgeoning at the seams with 7 billion-plus.  Lifestyles will have to be radically scaled back as fossil fuel stores run out and climate change eats up arable land. The monastic communities have always known how to live inside their means while supporting nearby people.

The second way is that monastic life focuses on spiritual powers to sustain life's physical dimensions, even outside the convent/monastery.  Prayer brings unseen energy into undergirding the hardships others face, creates safe space, and guarantees a sense of belonging.

St. Clare died August 11, 1253, but she lives on in the life of the Church and many hearts. 

  

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Thomas Merton

The influence a person possesses varies widely and in so many ways.  A person can be a great orator, a writer, or gain recognition through their example or work. Thomas Merton was a 20th century Roman Catholic monk of the Cistercians Order of Trappists whose influence comes primarily through his writings. While many of his written works are worth reading, my favorite is The New Seeds of Contemplation.  

Merton was born in France in 1915.  Not long afterward, he and his family moved to New York.  He was widely recognized for his leadership in the practice of contemplative prayer.  He died in Thailand on Dec. 10, 1968, of accidental electrocution.  He spent his later years interweaving Christian thought with Buddhist thought, which is why he was in Thailand. 

One of Merton's many quotes is: "We are becoming what we already are."  This did not mean that we're stuck being what we've evolved/created ourselves into thinking we are (or in being what I think you think I am - ala Jay Shetty.)  Instead, it meant that we are born with the essence of God at our central core, and this life is spent finding our way back to being this central core. I think it would be fair to Merton to say he came to understand all humanity; actually, perhaps, all of the created order we know is grounded in God.  God's "body," so to speak, is everything we see, smell, taste, hear and feel.  My best possible representation is God's action and revelation. 

The impact this perspective could carry forth in this time of steadily increasing greed, self-centeredness, climate change denial, and excessive over-harvesting of natural resources is colossal. God put all that is into existence, expecting it to be self-sustaining.  Human beings' God-likeness was not planned to be at the core of undoing it all.  It is being undone rapidly because many have forgotten what we already are, who we belong to, who we answer to.  Together all things comprise the corpus of a loving God who desires goodness, safety, abundance, compassion, peace, and understanding.  May we become what we already are.


Thursday, December 9, 2021

Perpetua & Felicity

Martyrdom has been an important model and recognition of the devotion some exemplary Christians have shown.  It is difficult to number them all because while we have the "formal" (my word) ones who have been consecrated and hold a date (of their death, i.e. birth in Heaven) for their feast day, there are untold numbers of others who have been tortured and put to death without another soul being present to witness their devotion. The largest number of martyrs were killed in the first three centuries after Christ's death before Emperor Constantine blessed Christianity as the Empire's official religion. 

Women were not immune from being martyred and there are many.  Two of the earliest women martyred lived in North Africa at Carthage.  In the year 202 CE (AD), two African women named Perpetua and Felicity were put to death in a Roman arena by the sword after wild animals could not be coaxed to attack and eat them. Both women were mothers and part of the torture they were put to endure involved threats to their children.  Felicity at the time was Perpetua's pregnant servant who gave birth to her baby 2 days before her execution.  (The baby was adopted by a Christian family in Carthage.)  

In the United States, we are not used to thinking of Christian persecution, yet religious persecution has occurred in every corner of the world.  Religions foster strong commitment, which often threatens obedience to secular rulers. With Christianity, it may have been the host of martyrs dying that eventually wore away at the moral sense in the conscience of a more ethical Roman Emperor. Constantine. 

One of the Wesleyan hymns, "What Gift Can I Bring," (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Gs-nIo6vb8)  has deeper meaning at Christmas time when giving gifts is our common cultural practice.  When the extreme gift of martyrdom is included the awe is profound. Martyrs in the first, second, and third centuries provided a bridge between the Risen Christ and when Christianity gained enough critical mass to be accepted in a good part of what was considered to be "the civilized world" at the time. 

As we prepare through Advent let us ponder the commitment and devotion of the martyrs and the gift they give to all of us still today centuries later.   

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Saul/Paul

Paul is difficult to leave out of a series about people standing as bulwarks of good Christianity.  Many people would argue with his inclusion, especially women. Yet we're stuck with his canonized writings in the Bible.  Was Paul perfect?  Not by a long way!. But there is a quiet melodic tune that wafts in and out of his writings, which captures a deep essence of what the Christian life is meant to be. That essence is love as the fundamental basis for any beloved community. He says it best himself in 1 Corinthians 13: Love never ends.

What we know of Paul is that he started out life as a stalwart Jewish leader with the name of Saul.  He was also a Roman citizen, which was not the most common combination back then. We first find him persecuting Christians; rounding them up and sending many of them to almost certain executions. It is only his transforming run-in with a blinding light on the road to Damascus that he becomes Paul and almost everything about the prior Saul falls away and a new human being puts a heavy hand on the wheel of the Christian bus.  Were it not for this changed person, fully in service to God in Christ, I wonder if Christianity would have spread like it did.  Would it have remained under the purview of the Jewish establishment without him?  We can only speculate on what that fallout would have been.

Paul has his thorns, his warts, his misogyny, and his remnant of loyalty to Empire but he unlocks a language about the demands and powers of love in the Community that the Church still struggles to get its head around today. 

We talk in Advent about preparing the way.  Paul prepared a way, a divine calling, for the church to love extravagantly -- there is neither Jew, nor slave, nor male or female... no principality or power... that separates us from the love of God. The Empire church, the Patriarchal church comes along behind him and, seduced by power and money, allows itself to get pulled onto a road that sweeps it toward perdition. Yet that Pauline melodic calling to love has kept inserting a guardrail step by step through the centuries pushing the Church to its higher potential. 

The hymn says, "Love came down at Christmas."  Love continued after Christmas with people like Paul. 


Sunday, December 5, 2021

Mechtild of Magdeburg

In the first half of Christian development, there was a sizeable number of people who we could label as Mystics.  Mystics were those, often hermits, who experienced vivid encounters with God.  These encounters took the form of dreams, visions, trances, or other outside-the-body connections. We've already met one of these - Julian of Norwich. If you recall she was an Anchoress. 

Mechtild of Magdeburg was a member of another early loose-knit group of mostly single women known as Beguines.  Beguines were committed to working with helping the poor.  She is said to have had her first spiritual experiences at the age of 12.  Born shortly after 1200 she had some connections in her 20's to the Dominican monastic order that she flirted with on and off through most of her life. Her mystical experiences shaped her understanding of God, which got expressed in her theological writings.

Without the mystics, Christianity would have been a dour penitential hellfire and damnation religion.  Mystics have been key to bringing a vivid understanding that God is love to the faith and they understand this love is beautifully demonstrated through all of Creation.

I invite you to take 10 or 15 minutes to breathe deeply and then grab a word, a phrase, or a concept from one of these Mechtild quotes.  Let it flow over you and be absorbed by your spirit. 

Love flows from God to humans without effort:
As a bird glides through the air without moving its wings--
Thus they go wherever they wish united body and soul 
Yet separate in form.

Spiritual persons who dwell on the earth
are offered two kinds of spirit:
In this way, two pure natures come together,
the first is the flowing Fire of the Godhead
And the second is the gradual growth and expansion of the loving soul.

When my burdens and suffering are held in front of me,
my soul begins to burn with a fire of true divine love
and even my body soars in abiding bliss. 

Love is drawn into all things.

The rippling tide of love
flows secretly out from God into the soul
and draws it mightily back to its Source.

__________________
Quotes from Sue Woodruff, Meditations with Mechtild of Magdeburg, Bear & Co., 1982


Saturday, December 4, 2021

Dismantling Conflict

In the late first century, several whacky ideas arose in Christianity, which threatened to oddly change who Jesus was conceived to be. Philosophical ideas about holiness took a serious Platonic spin which separated the physical realm from the spiritual realm.  It did this to such a degree that in many of these theologies the physical was considered evil and the spiritual purely holy.  Hence, some Christian circles were repulsed by the idea that Jesus had any type of physical body or physical need.  So, around 700 CE (AD) the Church wrestled with what came to be recognized heresies like Monophysites and Manichaeism.  The Monophysites taught that Jesus had only one nature - spiritual, and in Manichaeism everything physical on this earth was evil (so Jesus could not have had a physical body.

In approximately 674 or 675 John of Damascus arrived on earth.  He was not born in a lowly estate like the majority of the Advent people I'm recognizing.  He was born to a wealthy Arab family and was highly educated but John got hooked on Jesus, abandoned his wealthy inheritance, and became a Christian monk. 

Because of the above philosophies, a substantial controversy in the Church arose over the veneration of images.  Icons had become a part of the adornment in churches across the Middle East.  The Manichaean/Monophysite influence detested these pieces of artwork and argued that venerating images was a corruption of the holy.  Other factions argued that "there should be no other gods before me."  John of Damascus wound up being that guy in the right place to arbitrate the conflict.  He wrote and spoke forcefully to the different sides and made clear the distinction between veneration vs. worship, between idol and respect for the sacred.  He spoke of venerating the representations/of the sacred in images but that we worship only God.

I believe God has given each of us a role to play in life.  Some are extra capable of mediating conflicts.  Even in the Realm of God, I believe there are going to be conflicts.  What sets conflicts apart in the Realm of God is how conflict gets settled.  In God's World, love reigns supreme. Profound degrees of respect for one another ground every conflict with the understanding that we all have the best expectation for each other and the future. Resolutions encircle the whole of the community in this Light and nobody gets left on the outside.

On this day - December 4, 749 John of Damascus died.  On this December 4th, we recognize and honor his conflict resolution and adoration of the Church.  His spirit is still pushing us to find a way to reconciliation and peace. 



Friday, December 3, 2021

Preparers of the Way

What's it like to be born to parents who are "very old."  In Biblical parlance that could mean anything from 50 or 60 to 300.  Add to it that your parents tell everyone the story that an angel named Gabriel came to both your Mom and Pop to foretell your birth, give you your name, and provide them with a full plan for your whole life?  What is it like to live into that kind of expectation laid on you from birth?  (rf Luke 1) That you are charged with preparing everyone you can for the coming of the long-expected Messiah? 

John the Baptizer's life mission was all about preparation.  Beginning with the annunciation of his birth to his father Zechariah the angel Gabriel told him his son would "make ready for the Lord a prepared people."  His self-proclamation of who he was when quizzed was I am the one who prepares the way of the Lord. (Luke 3:4)  

Preparing the way for someone.  Who in your life prepared the way for you?  For whom do you prepare a way?  What is involved in helping someone prepare? Of course, that depends on what the person is preparing.  So, let's take faith.  John was in the wilderness, attracting huge numbers, and opening them up to deeper faith.  The Angel Gabriel told John's father, "He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.  And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the father to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous." (Luke 1:15-17)  So, how do we go about preparing others to encounter their faith in a holistic loving way?  

We have to start with doing that for ourselves first.  It is kind of like not being able to love someone else well unless we love ourselves first.  If we feel inadequate in our depth of faith, we have to work on that. Don't be ashamed.  Giants in the faith have confessed their failing on this score.  Take John's father Zechariah again.  He flat out accused Gabriel, an angel of all things, of telling him an untruth there in the Temple.  For that, he lost his ability to speak until after Elizabeth delivered John. That's interesting since keeping silent, practicing contemplative prayer, spending daily time focused on a positive word (like gratitude) or a short verse can increase your faith muscles.

God wants a relationship with us.  The Lover of our souls wants us to love us and be in love with ourselves, with all of humanity, and with creation. God, the sender of many our way, sent them to prepare ourselves so we could prepare others.  Keep an eye open for those who may need a little conciliatory boost to their day.    

Thursday, December 2, 2021

God is Nearer to Us Than Our Own Soul

Julian of Norwich is a fairly well known Christian mystic while also being a shadow figure. Her birth date is not certain but placed between 1342 and 1343 and her death occurred after 1416. Not much is known of her childhood, but speculation has it that her parents may have died in one of England's many plagues explaining her attachment to images of God as mother.  Julian brings that feminist voice to the Christian Church that greatly softens the harshness present in so much of the theology of the Roman Catholic catechisms and the "accepted" doctrines of male dominated Church councils

Julian was able to exercise this alternative theological voice largely because she was an anchoress. An anchorite or anchoress was a special order of mystic whose "strings tied to the Catholic Church" were mostly removed since by becoming an anchoress, a bishop would perform a funeral rite basically declaring the person dead.  The person was then given a small cell in which to live that was usually attached to a wall of the church/cathedral building.  From that point forward they were more closely akin to hermits than members of a monastic order.

The idea that set Julian's theology apart in her time was the imagery that God/Jesus were mothers with great love for her children. Much of Julian's relationship with God arose from her recurring visions.  In them God is so near to us and knows us to be so perfect that we simply have to wait for our maturity to be realized under Mother's watchful eye.  Once our spirits reach maturity there is no room remaining for sin to dwell. One of her more well known phrases is: "All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well."  

The concept of positive motherly love encircling us all is one that our times need as a counter to the increasing divisiveness, hostility, and the widespread death and misery connected to the Covid-19 pandemic.  It is one that today's church should be bringing as an Advent incarnational message of the living Christ.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

From Rags to Riches to Rags


Charles de Foucauld is someone many have probably not heard of before. He started out in life in France as an orphan who was raised by his grandfather, a military officer. What else could a military officer, now child guardian, do but send his grandson to military academy? Through the military and service in the Middle East, he was well known as a carouser/entertainer and became well acquainted with Muslims and Jews. When his grandfather died, he was left a hefty inheritance that he spent lavishly on extravagance. Resigning his commission as an officer, he chose to become a geographer in Algiers but because a Frenchman would have been killed on the spot he adopted an identity as a Jew.  He is credited with mapping Algeria. While rubbing elbows with those living the Muslim faith, Charles' spirit drew him back to France where he recaptured his Catholic faith. He renounced all his wealth and lived for a while near a convent of Poor Clare who influenced him into pursuing ordination as a priest. He was ordained and for a while belonged to the Trappist order but desiring greater nearness to God he left them and began his hermitage in Morocco.  As a hermit his sole goal was to be the most exemplary model of Jesus he could be.  He practiced love and kindness to everyone.  But on December 1, 1916, Nomadic Bedouins took him captive and in an altercation to free him he was assassinated. His meditations and fine example still sprinkle Christendom with wise spirituality. Pope Francis canonized him in 2020 and he will become a saint in 2022.  

 
"Have that tender care that expresses itself in the little things that are like a balm for the heart... With our neighbors go into the smallest details, whether it is a question of health, of consolation, of prayerfulness, or of need. Console and ease the pain of others through the tiniest of attentions. Be as tender and attentive towards those whom God puts on our path, as a brother towards brother or as a mother for her child. As much as possible be an element of consolation for those around us, as soothing balm, as our Lord was towards all those who drew near to him."    --Charles de Foucauld, Sept 15, 1858 - Dec 1, 1916


Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Peter

The Apostle Peter is one of the early persons of humble beginnings to sign on to the Way of Jesus.  Known for his brash way of jumping in to volunteer an answer or an action to prove his "me first" undying love, he probably is better remembered for his flaming flop of denial near the end of Jesus' life. Peter though becomes The Rock on which the church comes to be and is looked back on in a lot of ways, at least within Roman Catholicism, as the first Pope. 

So, Peter is one of the many we'll come alongside of during this season who was living a small shallow existence until Jesus entered his life and suddenly that major fork in the road changed everything.  Peter is a study of someone who could enthusiastically leap when others would hold back waiting to be sure of their footing before stepping out. God must love the enthusiastic people like Peter.  Sure, they can make colossal miscalculations at times but how often does the Church's mission languish waiting for a brave soul to appear who will move it in the direction it needs to go?

So, to all those who are first with their hands up, first to race into any situation, first with a new idea, first to volunteer -- bless them!  Adventurous first responders are frequently the leaders who blaze new trails and open new doors that over time become the way most people come to accept.  When that door opens and someone is pulled by another's enthusiasm across the threshold into God's Realm, hope burns a little brighter and God smiles a bit more broadly.  The light of that broad smile is the light that spills out illuminating the darkness.


Monday, November 29, 2021

Joseph, God's Man of Honor

 We've made it just a few miles out of town. Mary has decided to get on the donkey for a bit.  Joseph and I are walking together leading the hesitant critter. Joseph is a man of few words and seems to be in a contemplative mood.  Perhaps he is in deep thought about what lays ahead? 

He has been unusually gentlemanly in comparison to his peers.  He is a number of years older than Mary, as is common in Nazareth. If most of his peers had a fiancĂ© who turned up pregnant, there would be a whole lot of shouting and ugliness. I said to him, "How has it happened that you and Mary stayed together when most of your peers would have dumped their betrotheds at best or had them stoned at worst?"  He said, "It's a story that not many could believe.  In short, an angel came to me and told me her child is of the Holy Spirit and God wanted us to go on with our plans to marry."  He went on, "If God spoke to you, wouldn't you listen?"  

"How do you know it was God speaking?" I asked.

"Well, here's the thing.  What is the most forgiving, loving action possible in this situation?  Because the answer to that has the watermark of God all over it."  

                                             _______________________________

So often we lose sleep & overwork ourselves hoping, praying for God to drop the "right answer" in our laps.  We'll consult all kinds of other people on what to do - therapists, clergy, friends, family, self-help books, and even TV and internet... But, what a simple measuring stick: "What is the most forgiving, loving action possible?"  That points pretty clearly at the right answer you're looking for.  That is not to say the logic in that answer will resonate with all those consultants or with society in general. God does not define nor hold the keys to our community standards.  God holds the keys to life in the Realm of God.  This is a life powered by forgiveness and undergirded by the certainty

"that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths -- nor anything else in all creation-- will be able to separate us from the love of God..." (Romans 8:38-39 IB*)

Joseph showed us this way.  Even though his peers probably thought he was an idiot for believing Mary's fantastic story, his honor and respect for the loving direction God acclaims first through the angel and then that he sees get lived out in his son's life guides his decisions and his life.  

He takes a back seat in the rest of the Jesus narratives.  But in doing that he also takes the humble path, not needing to have a central stage when it is God in his child making all the points about how we need to live. 

This society has lost its ability to be like Joseph - kind, forgiving, loving, gracious, humble and honorable. In many places even the church has lost this capacity.  Church and society can't get back that capacity unless brave people be like Joseph.  Joseph proved himself to be an honorable successful human being in God's eyes.  Now that you know how he did it, how about you?    

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Blessed are you among women....

I awake early remembering that this is the day we set out. It is still dark and a thousand thoughts flood into my head about the trip ahead.  Mary and Joseph seemed a little gruff with each other last night.  It does seem pretty dumb that they have to travel like almost 100 miles on foot just so the Roman Emperor can count them. It isn't going to be easy with Mary so pregnant and their donkey is often not onboard with going where it's told.  We have decided not to travel through Samaria which adds a chunk to the trip.  I don't know what we'll eat or where, or where we'll sleep.  We don't have a lot of money for Holiday Inns even if they existed.  Fortunately, I suppose, we aren't going to look like wealthy travelers who would attract the attention of robbers.

I am quite in awe of Mary.  When she was a young girl, could either of her parents have imagined that she would grow into a young woman that God would choose to have bear the Christ Child?  What an extraordinary one-of-a-kind soul that takes.  Or does it? The pure Biblical witness (separate from the theological stumblings and ramblings of men drunk on and corrupted by power, greed, violence, and dominance) tells us we have been beloved, held, cared for from the beginning -- all of us. Furthermore, if we choose, are we not all called to take on the job of bearing the Christ Child to the world? How many of us refuse the offer?

Mary grabbed this vision with both hands and never looked back.  From a careful looking backwards into the Middle Eastern culture of her time many scholars have discerned that she was likely quite young - very young, in fact, for making such a monumental decision that would carry her to places she had no idea where it would lead.  She allowed Love to have an authority over what many of us would call "all common sense."  This decision did not win her wealth or success by worldly standards that spell out "what counts" in life.  But if her success is measured on how she is still known and revered in almost every corner of the earth two thousand years later, there are very few who can claim such a success.

The sun is up and it is time to set out for Bethlehem.  I am in the best of company today as I look forward to my day.  I wonder who else we'll meet on the way?  Stay tuned.

And Mary said,

"My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior, because you have looked with favor on the humble condition of your lowly servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, because you, the Mighty One, have done great things for me, and holy is your name.  Your mercy is from generation to generation for those who fear you.  You have shown strength with your arm.  You have scattered the proud in their conceit; you have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places.  You have filled the hungry with good things, while you have sent the rich away empty. You have come to the aid of Israel, your servant, mindful of your mercy -- The promise you made to our ancestors, to Sarah and Abraham and their descendants forever."  (Luke 1: 46-55  IB*)  


*The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation,       

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Advent Pilgrimage

 Advent is my favorite season in the church liturgical year.  The sensuality of the season - the tastes, smells, sounds, sights, and feelings all associated with Christmas and its preparations supercharge the positive memories of Christmas I experienced annually as a child. Those memories along with the more focused spirituality just makes it easier to engage in reflection and meditation.

I have written devotion books in years past that I think are still for sale on Amazon.  Again this year, I am committing myself to write devotions more on the fly.  I even have a theme for this year.  It came to me the other morning just how many small insignificant people become giants through their faith-filled pilgrimages through life.  I invite you to join me in a pilgrimage this Advent where we walk alongside these people. Perhaps with them we can experience the perniciousness of God's Love that powered their successful spiritual journeys. 

Advent is frequently all about the Holy Family, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  It is impossible to push them aside as they are central to the season.  But so many others have lived with similar lowly beginnings, humility, faithfulness, and devotion that I hope to gather these "giants" around us as we walk the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Look for us to meet our first pilgrim on the First Sunday of Advent next week.

Mark

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A New Song & New Direction

 A reflection I read this morning based on Psalm 98 ended by saying,

"What new song is God inviting you to sing?"

Indeed, it is time long past overdue for Christianity to sing a new song.  When those who have claimed the most loudly and fiercely that they are the 'true believers," yet they lift Donald Trump up as their messiah king - a man who no more lives out the acts and prayers of Jesus than a fly can lift a car -- there is trouble in the Christian theological realm. 

The Christian theological realm has had a heavy "Orthodox" overture for nearly a thousand years that arose in a vastly different time, culture, and worldview.  So much has changed.  Yet, Christianity has limped along carrying perspectives of life from the Dark Ages; perspectives that survive only in the smallest and darkest of earth's places - wee human hearts with stuck imaginations and dysfunctional neuropathways.

There is a scene in The Mission*, where the former soldier newly converted to Christianity is assigned the penance of carrying his heavy armor up the cliffs of a high waterfall. Nearing the top he cuts the cord and the armor clatters down the rocky face.  This is an image in my head of how we must cut the cord that holds back the church with the worn, tired theologies of some epistle writers, St. Augustine, Anselm, and other "church fathers" (Euro-Caucasian fathers.) I don't expect a single one of them expected for their refrains to still be reverberating the way they do in 2021!

New more profound understandings of the unique unfolding of life on this planet, the global interconnections, the fragility of health in the midst of toxicity generated through human avarice and indifference, vulnerabilities to pathogens after a long period of supposedly conquering them, the struggle to hold on to democratic principles that all people are created equal are demanding a new song, a new word of inspiration.  The old formulations of sacrificial or substitutionary atonement are nonsensical in the 21st century.  The ancient lineages of authoritarian abuses taint and a "top-down hierarchical structure" to the Christian faith leave most post-modern people cold. 

The following Christian-held doctrines have (honestly) never held much sense under the spotlight of Divine love or the teachings of Jesus:

  1. The idea that a "loving" God has to nail someone on a cross to "pay" for one's "bad" behavior.
  2. That God authorizes human authority to burn, drown, draw & quarter, nail to crosses, disembowel, chop, behead, ostracize, exile, banish... anyone because their beliefs didn't match up with the letter of that group of human's enacted law.
  3.  Heaven has a specific location "up there" with St. Peter guarding the gate and streets of gold.
  4. Hell has a specific location "down there," and it is run by a red man in horns with a pitchfork (i.e. Satan, the devil, Beelzebub.)
  5.  Humans have "dominion" over the earth, so, for the dominate "good Christian authority" it is okay to burn, cut down, bulldoze, concrete, asphalt, pollute, hunt to extinction, or commit genocide against all creatures great, small, prescient or not.
  6. The mentally ill and others (including LGBTQ, midwives & herbalists, witches, non-white...) are demon possessed and must submit to painful exorcism and "re-indoctrination," or in our modern times be marginalized from every Christian assembly.
  7. The assumption that nobody experiences the presence of God on their own without the proper indoctrination of how to think, live, talk, and be in "the right" church.
These are just a start on naming why a new song is needed.  The Christian faith did not start out as an individualistic saving grace with most of its power waiting in "eternity" for the beloved to die in order to receive it.  It didn't start out as a weapon of fear used to scare people into faith and thereby submission to the ruling authority or class.

It was initially a communal fellowship of believers who frequently ate together and shared all they had.  Looking to Jesus for the model for life, he ate with tax collectors and sinners, fed people, and pretty diligently worked to remove boundaries that isolated or separated "the least of these." While he was clear his intent wasn't to wipe away the model of  "The Law" (of Moses), his acts focused, for all who would follow him, on "loving God and one another as yourself."  For this "radical" re-ordering of the religious habits he was judged to be a revolutionary disrupter and turned over to Rome under false testimonies to be killed.

We need to get more engaged in confessing the hurt this false co-optation has caused and work more diligently to bring forth a clear articulation that warring with the devil is not the purpose of Christ.  Bringing forth communities of love, caring and sharing all that we have is the goal.  I will be attempting to sound some chords for new songs in all future blogs. 

 

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Saturday, February 13, 2021

Transfiguration Prayer

Light of all light make me.

Dark of all dark not undo me.

Tabor Light, lighten my way.

Bring me comfort, referee my struggles,

Push back the shadows and lengthening of all sorrows.

Thy will be done by me.

With thine outstretched hand

Lift and lighten the weight of all sources of gloom.

Transfigure my sour interpretations, raise my descendant thoughts

Gather round me with thy joined liminal spirits -- Moses, Elijah,

Mary Magdalene, Peter, Jude, Theresa of Avila, and Hildegard. 

Greatest glory of Christendom

Light of all light make me

Be my hope as I am thine in your belonging.

Amen. 


Saturday, January 9, 2021

A Baptismal Divider

 "...when Jesus had been baptized, and was still praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form like a dove on him, and from the heavens came a voice, "You are my dearly beloved child; you bring me great joy." -- Luke 3:21-22(*)


Christian baptism has three or more conceptual meanings in different denominations.  It is a considered a sacrament which is, simply defined, an outward visible sign of an inward invisible grace.  It is practiced differently with different conceptual understandings.  One understanding is the baptism of repentance, like John the Baptist practiced and what gets labeled in our modern day as "adult baptism."  The outward sign is the water (be it applied via "dunking" or "sprinkling.")  The inner grace is the "cleansing from sin."  The second form still involves the water but the understanding of it is that the act denotes an embracing by and inclusion of the individual in the beloved community (family) of God.  The third form is connected with the idea of christening.  It is the baptismal act done with a small child, often an infant, and is mostly the idea of naming the child.  A fourth form of baptism is "the baptism of the Holy Spirit."  It might not involve the use of water and it is often said that it is a "second" or added connection that occurs within the spirit of the person.

Whichever form we look at, baptism draws a line in a person's life.  There is before baptism and after baptism.  Jesus is baptized and in the Gospel of Mark he immediately embarks upon his working ministry.  An uneventful life becomes an eventful life.  What difference did baptism make in your life?  What events in your life are different because of your baptism?

I propose that we reexamine our lives in the context of what baptism initiates. I argue that it is not just a sprinkling into belonging to a church.  It is a divider in your life - a before and after moment of consequence.  Spirit life before baptism is a concept and after it should be an engaged purposeful dance with Jesus. 

We are witnessing the arrival at a fork in the road of American life & society.  The road for the past 4 years has shown signs that we were approaching a desert.  Unless we exit it, we are in for a long period of wandering in a wilderness where many will die and suffer, even more so than already have.  Hate speech, vitriol, untruth, and violent talk has spread like a malignant cancer across social media and every institution has been pulled into the maelstrom, even the Church.  Baptism is the water that must be tapped into to renew the human drought of spirit.  

The Apostle Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23

Love, joy, peace, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, trustfulness, gentleness, self-control.(*)

These are the properties seen in human relationship when baptism has been initiated within us.  They are sorely lacking in all political speech and difficult to come across on social media, proving neither venue is of God.  They don't exist in the Nationalist Christian Church, which has co-opted the "evangelical" wing of the Church, much as Trumpism has taken over the Republican party. But they are properties that the mainstream Church in America needs to re-commit itself to spreading, while simultaneously calling out all forms of lies, hate speech, or violence.

The divider is laid down as a redline in the desert sand.  Water and fruit of the Spirit is like the manna God gave the Hebrews in their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness and it must be again what each of us and our churches preach, teach, and demand.


(*) - Hal Taussig, A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts, c. 2015, Mariner Books, Hougton-Mifflin Harcourt Pub., Boston & New York