Sunday, May 21, 2017

Gifts from Alcuin

I'm pretty much a child of the modern age. Although I dearly love the 17th and 18th centuries, I'm much too fond of electrical lights, indoor bathrooms, shopping malls, and books - lots of books. I'm even more grateful for electronic gizmos such as my Kindle. I have over 200 books on my Kindle, and it's lovely to know that I can put it in my purse, and no matter where I go, I've got a whole library to choose from so that I can read anywhere and on just about any subject represented in my Kindle library. Whoever invented the Kindle certainly did me a great favor, as well as the world.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, books were more common among the upper-class who could afford them. Until Gutenberg invented movable type, books had to be pretty much hand copied, which was time-consuming and meticulous task. If I think back even further I find the example of a scholar from York who lived in the eighth and ninth centuries. His name was Alcuin and he was educated, it is said, by a student of the venerable Bede, famed author of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People and many other writings.

Alcuin was made a deacon of the church and was named Minister of Education by the Emperor Charlemagne. This job involved establishing and maintaining schools centered in cathedrals and monasteries, basically the only places, other than the homes of very wealthy people who could afford private tutors for their children, where education could be had. Alcuin also established a number of scriptoria where books, ancient works both Christian and pagan, were copied and thus preserved. That we have writings from this period are due in great part to Alcuin of York. He had other talents and notable achievements, but to me, his dedication to education, scholarship, and also promoting cursive writing which speeded up the copy process, make him a star in my firmament.

Today, scholarship doesn't seem to have the cachet that it had at one time. Scholars are seldom treasured now the way they were way back when. Scholars studied, and frequently they studied until they understood the minutiae of a topic or subject that to other people would find totally unimportant. But the scholars kept going, kept investigating, theorizing, revising their theories and writing their theses, dissertations, essays, and letters in order to promote conversations with other scholars interested in the same topic. These discussions would be part of the curriculum a master would teach his students, and they in turn would pass them on to their own students. A lot of it was oral, but thanks to Alcuin and his scriptorium, there were more copies of ancient writings then there had been before.

It seems to me that the world thinks very little of scholarship these days. It isn't practical. It's all well to have a theory, but if it doesn't make you any money then what good is it? It doesn't make you famous, then what good is it? You can be the smartest person in the world, but if it doesn't bring you fame and wealth and respect, what good is it? Looking at our school systems now, football players are more highly rated than the kids in the Honor Society. The captain of the basketball team is a star but the local spelling or math  champion is just a master of the game. Even the kids that are whizzes with video games are given more respect than kids who study, come out with straight A's.

As Christians were told that we need to read and study the Bible. Of course, that's something we should do, but we should also read it with more than just an eye that reads a word and a mind that says "That means precisely this." It's like Alcuin reading the texts from a much earlier time. He could report it exactly as it was passed down, but it was also understood that it represented another time and another culture, and so it needed to be read with care so that it wasn't taken to mean what it really didn't say.

We run across this now with reading the Bible. We want to be able to use it in our daily lives as a guide and a direction, maybe even a rulebook, but that's not what it's all about. One doesn't have to be a scholar to read the stories and then try to place them into a modern context. We find a number of things in the Bible that seem to tell us this is so and this is the way it is. The problem is, that many of these writings were geared for a specific time, place, and culture. As time went by some things changed. Even God changed God's mind on several occasions, which should be an indicator that maybe what we think it says is not really what it meant to the people who first heard the words and passed them on.

To be a scholar would be a wonderful thing. To be an expert who could expound at length on a topic to which they've given their lives to understand, that would be a great thing. At least I think so. But I look today and wonder where war scholars come from if they are taught that the rules are what we say they are, and they may or may not apply to us. We don't teach our children to think critically. We teach them instead to recite facts and pass tests that measure their state of being able to regurgitate facts and figures to specific questions and specific subjects and achieve a passing grade and enable to school to keep its certification. Like when reading the Bible, we need to teach our children to think, to reason, understand, most of all to be to ask questions and to consider alternative points of view, even ones that are centuries old.

I appreciate Alcuin. I think I appreciate him  more every time I think about him, because to him learning was a passion and others benefited from his passion. I think this week I may try to see where my passion for books can lead me into maybe a slightly more scholarly way of thinking. Most of all, I need to take what I learn and use it wisely and well.  I think Alcuin would approve.

God bless.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, May 20, 2017.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

New Kid on the Block

My family got larger this week. I have a new great-grand nephew, the third great-grand nephew to go with a great-grand niece. This new kid is the first grandchild for my oldest niece and I don't think her feet have touched the ground since his first cry.

The one thing I can say about Facebook is that it gets people in touch quickly, and within a couple hours of his birth, I could see the little tyke and his beaming parents. It reminded me of when his mom's own mother was born. She was a gorgeous baby who up to be a very lovely, fine woman. I hope this little guy also grows up to a handsome and fine young man.

With the addition of this new twig on the branch of the family, my great-niece now becomes a mother, and conveniently, celebrates her first Mother's Day tomorrow. I don't think her firstborn has gotten her presents yet, or even maybe a Mother's Day card, but I'm sure someone will step up and contribute flowers or a cake or something else to honor his mother in his name. It seems to be the tradition when one has a baby. Wish I could be there to see them, but I'm happy knowing that all went well, everyone is happy and healthy, and mostly over the moon over this new little bundle of joy that's joined our family.

My new great-grand nephew has a lot of life lessons to learn. He will have to learn to communicate, first by cries, then by babbles, and finally by words and sentences. He will have to learn to move himself from the squirms and waving of infant arms and legs to rolling over, crawling, and finally walking. Then Lord help the parents when he learns to run! He will need to learn to read and write, play nicely with others, trust his family to always be there for him, love them as much is they love him, and, I'm perfectly sure, he will be taught about the love of God and what it means in his life. With one grandfather a minister and his mother a preacher's kid, I would expect nothing less. But knowing the family, they will teach him  this, whether in specific words or by example. That's the way most of us learn - by example. What we see in our families is what models us for our future lives. This little man has a lot to learn, but he has a lot of loving teachers to help him every step of the way.

Even when we are full-grown people, we are still on a path of learning, and we still depend on people to help us along the way. Whether it's a member of the family, a close friend, a mentor figure or a religious leader, or even sometimes a total stranger, we are still in the process of learning even though were further along on the path then the little man is today. We have walked the paths of learning so we can help others, from babies to seniors. We have learned to count on others to help us, most of all, to count on God.

God has been with us from our first breaths to our last ones (which we haven't quite gotten to yet, thank God).  Even when we think we are too big to need God or anybody else, we usually find that that isn't the case at all. Our view of God may change as we get older, but God is thoroughly able to grow with us, to stand and watch us as we stumble along on our own and yet be there when we call out. We never outgrow God, and God will be there throughout the baby's life as well. He will know about God, and perhaps he will teach us a few things about God too. That's one of the things newborns and small children can do, even if they can only squirm, cry and sleep. And what a way to learn! 

So this week I'll probably be thinking quite a lot about this new twig on the family tree and his extended family. It's a lovely change from the gloom and doom, the fear and the anxiety of everyday life. I will be praying that God will always be with him and those with whom he comes in contact. I'll be watching for pictures of him growing up, learning to do all the things humans do, and becoming a man after God's own heart.

So welcome to the world, little Abel. Have a long, happy, and blessed life. God bless.

And God bless us all.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café on Saturday, May 13, 2017.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Need for Duty


 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near’, and therefore view your needy neighbour with hostility and give nothing; your neighbour might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’ - Deuteronomy 15:7-11 (Reading for the commemoration of Frances Perkins, Public Servant and Prophetic Witness)

This week I've been considering the word duty. Duty, for me anyway, usually denotes an action or a commitment that I may not willingly undertake, but feel that it is necessary for me to do so. I have a duty to pray for people that I don't like, and that's a hard one for me overcome. I have a duty to pay my bills on time, to make sure I follow traffic laws, and to try to see God in each person with whom I interact directly or indirectly, whether or not I really want to even try.

This week duty came into even more focus with the retirement of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who, at almost 96 years of age, has performed his duties with humor, a few gaffes, but a visible support to the Queen and representative of the generation were duty was a far more common word then we use today. For almost 70 years he has stood beside the Queen, supporting her in her own duties as well as carrying out his own. I look at the Duke and I see a very elderly gentleman, with bushy eyebrows, thin hair, a man who looks very different than he did in his prime, but with a very straight ramrod back of someone who had  trained  in the military to stand tall and do his duty. He's done his duty, and the British Commonwealth, as well as Anglophiles such as myself, salute a man who represents the true meaning of the word duty. I'm sure there were times he was bored to death, having unveiled so many plaques, opened so many different events and charities. I'm sure he couldn't have been totally utterly fascinated with all of them, but he did them anyway, and to the best of his ability. That's duty.

The commemoration for today is for a lady named Frances Perkins. Up until a few years ago, I would venture to say that most Episcopalians had never heard of Frances Perkins or, as it may be, never took any note of her presence. In 2013, she did rise to prominence with her victory in the annual Lent Madness competition to wear the Golden Halo for the year. We learned about Frances Perkins then, and it seems quite proper for us to remember her now, especially in light of current situations.

Frances Perkins was notable for being the first woman appointed to a US cabinet post by Franklin D Roosevelt. She was Secretary of  Labor from 1933 to 1945 and did not just what had traditionally been a man's job, but a duty that I believe reflected her passions and more than a sprinkle of Christian values. 

Among her accomplishments were her promoting and establishing adoption of programs that helped change the lives of many people:. Social Security; child labor laws; federal minimum wage laws; and unemployment insurance. That's a pretty good list and a lot of causes in which she believed passionately.  Having witnessed throughout her life the struggles of the poor, unemployed, underemployed, and especially the plight of women in the workplace, she took her experiences combined with her Christian faith and her perceived duty, and worked tirelessly to change as much as she could for the benefit of those most in need. 

Frances Perkins saw duty when she saw people struggling to make an honest living in a world that was very much like the one we live in today, a world of 1% versus 99%. The causes she worked for and believed in have become our causes because they are now under scrutiny and, in some cases, threatened by people who may not even know the name Frances Perkins, but they certainly see those programs so dear to her heart as nuisances and as blocks to their own success and increased wealth. We see social programs being shipped away, actions that will affect the poor and the needy, the sick, and those who have the  most negligible safety nets. I wonder if the word "duty" ever comes into the conversation or even the thought of those making decisions today that affect so many millions of people, but benefits so few?  I wonder what Frances would think.

Frances was a Christian (Episcopalian since young adulthood), who saw her duty and responsibility in changing the world to make it more of what God's kingdom should be than any earthly kingdom. Jesus laid the duty on all of  us to care for the less fortunate, and even the Hebrew Scriptures make a priority of being generous and caring for the widows and orphans, the sick, and even the aliens, the foreigners. It was their duty given them by God, and they took it seriously. Whether with straight backs or bent ones, duty was laid on all and, they did their best.

So, where do we stand at this point in time insofar as our Christian duty as outlined by the very Bible that we proclaim to believe in and follow? Where the duties that God and Jesus appointed for us to do? How are we to conduct ourselves so that we can not only perform our duty, but to let with gladness and with pride, and also with compassion?  It's our duty to create this kingdom of God on earth. God said so. So it's about time we got busy and started doing our duty.

This week I think I will try to stand a little straighter, be a little more thorough in doing my duty at whatever task I'm given, and to do it because it helps not just me but other people. I need to accept the word "duty" not as something unpleasant, but something I need to do joyfully and thoroughly, and with gratitude to God for guidance and help in this kingdom-making endeavor. One voice may not be heard by all, but it certainly can call for like-minded folk to join theirs.

God bless.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, May 6, 2017.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Relics

It seems like, listening to the stories of some of the lives of the saints, some of them seem to have been born to be a saint. Take Catherine of Siena. She was one of a large family home it's reported that there were 25 children in all and she was probably number 25). By the time she had barely reached what we would consider school-age, she was having visions of Christ and his saints. It seemed she'd rather meditate than play with dolls or play childish games. By the age of 16, she joined what was known as the third order of St. Dominic, even though her parents still did not like the idea.

By the time of her death in 1380, she had expanded her world considerably. She was considered to be extremely wise and full of insight, and people came to her with questions and searching for answers, answers what she could guide them to finding. She was also quite a diplomat, working to resolve a schism between the two popes that were claiming papal power at the time, one in Avignon, France, and the other in Rome. She did not fully succeed in healing the breach between the two popes, but she was much admired for her tenacity and diplomacy. She was also a prolific writer, leaving us with over 400 letters.
 
Wise and saintly people have always been admired and revered, and their possessions, sometimes even parts of their bodies, were often kept in places of honor. They became objects of veneration and places where the sick and hopeless went to beg the specific saint for intervention on their behalf. When Catherine died, the Siennese were afraid that Rome was going to keep her and so they quietly snuck in, removed her head and thumb, and took them back to Siena to St. Dominic's Church, while her remaining remains remained in Rome. If you go to the church in Siena you will find in a beautiful case the mummified head of Catherine of Siena, and not too far away from that, you will find a reliquary containing her thumb, also mummified. In addition, we have over 400 letters and her book, the Dialog of St Catherine, also known as the Book of Divine Doctrine. It is a classic mystical work, favorably compared to Dante's Divine Comedy as representative of the attempt to express the Divine in symbols of that era.

"Relic" is a word with several definitions, but for the most part, it is defined as something from an earlier time that has some historical or sentimental value, like Catherine's head or the Shroud of Turin, George Washington's false teeth (although rather less revered as a religious icon) or the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It seems kind of barbaric to have pieces of people placed up in a place of prominence where they can be adored and used as foci for prayers and requests. Some of them are pretty gruesome. Even in our own time we still respect and revere relics, not only of saints but also other things, like memorials to famous people, their clothing or jewels, or homes or articles associated with them.  But then, we flock to museums to see the mummies of ancient Egyptians, bog people, or dinosaur bones.

It seems like were learning to make our own relics. The Declaration of Independence is a relic, as are the bowls and baskets unearthed from Native American homesites like the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Arizona. We learn from ancient artifacts, most of them outmoded, but some surprisingly useful even in modern times. We have the flag flown at Fort McHenry which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics to our national anthem. We have rebuilt slave quarters to remind us of our enslavement of people of color for generations. In our churches we use a sort of outmoded technology to create images and representations in stained glass of everything from images of the early saints and martyrs to the window containing a moon rock at the National Cathedral.

Relics are things which beg to be pondered. They ask us to consider what these objects, images, and artifacts meant to those who created and used them, and then what relevance they have for us today. What do they teach us? Of what do they remind us? What do they call us to do?  We're used to thinking of the Bible (itself a relic) in those terms, but there are other things as well. And we can find glimpses of God in many of them, if we but look.

I may never get to Siena, but I have seen pictures of Catherine of Siena's head, and I can see why people would revere it. It brings her close to us today even though she lived hundreds of years ago. She is a reminder of how a simple person, simple in the sense of plain living but great service to others, can make a big difference in the world. Maybe we need a few more relics to remind us of that. Who knows? We might learn some lessons that we should have learned long ago.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 29, 2017.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What happened to "Happy Easter"?

I remember being told when I was younger that as you get older time goes by faster. It used to be the three months of summer vacation from school flew by. It hardly seemed like I had gotten out of school in  the middle of June when it was time to go back again after Labor Day. Now the same period of time drags a little, mainly because of the heat here in Arizona, but it still seems to go fairly quickly when I look back on it. It's because I'm getting older I guess, but I wonder what has programmed to me to feel this way? Another mystery I have to investigate.

For instance, here it is, the middle of April, and I'm wondering why it feels like Christmas was just last week. I like Christmas, and it seems like lots of other people like Christmas too because all through December, while my denomination celebrates Advent and tries to avoid saying "Christmas" in terms of greetings, the world, even non-Christians, will often greet one another with "Merry Christmas."

There has been talk for years that there is what they call, "War on Christmas," where allegedly people are discouraged from using the word "Christmas" and especially "Merry Christmas," and encouraged to be a little more diversified, like "Happy Holidays," which, at least, has the intimation of covering all celebrations occurring in the time roughly between Christmas Day and New Year's and a bit beyond. It really isn't a war on Christmas. People say it all the time, in fact they say it usually for the whole month of December up until December 25. After December 25 world cuts out Christmas and goes on to Happy New Year. By Christmas Eve at midnight, the stores are already filling up with Valentine cards and what have you. Christmas Day? It's over, let's move on.

In a church which believes in the 12 days of Christmas ending on Epiphany on January 6, this can be somewhat discouraging. We are just getting started with the celebration of  Christmas when everybody else is finished. We don't hear Christmas carols for us; we heard them during Advent, but that's only on the radio, in the stores, and in a lot of churches. We never hear them in our church, not until December 24th. There are other denominations that are the same. Yet still come December 25th, we seldom hear "Merry Christmas" for the full 12 days of the season.

But how about the season that we're in now, the Easter season? During Holy Week, the week preceding Easter, people will accept a greeting of "Happy Easter," and Easter cards, endless candy and chocolate rabbits and even chocolate crosses are presented to be consumed beginning on Easter Sunday, some of it allegedly given by the Easter Bunny. But Easter Sunday, like Christmas Day, cuts off for the rest of the world and we keep going.

Easter for us is a season of 50 days, lasting up until Pentecost which is about the end of May. Like Christmas, though, we don't really use the phrase "Happy Easter" after Easter Sunday. I wonder why that is? We don't say it the week before because we have to go through the progression of Holy Week with the adulation on Palm Sunday, focus on Judas on Tenebrae, foot washing and the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion and entombment of Christ on Good Friday, the waiting of Holy Saturday, and then finally on Saturday night and Sunday morning we celebrate Easter like the biggest birthday party ever. The Sunday after Easter is often called  "Low Sunday" for a  reason. People often feel that they've gotten their church ticket punched during Holy Week and Easter Sunday and that makes them good until Christmas.  But nobody really says "Happy Easter, even this close to the day. We still have, what, six more weeks of Easter season? Why aren't we saying "Happy Easter" more often, and not just saving it for one special occasion?

During Lent and the rest of the church year, Easter is commemorated every Sunday. We celebrate a little Easter, we remember that the resurrection came on a Sunday, and we sort of go through a bit of Holy Week every Sunday morning in our liturgy. There is a  procession, not necessarily waving palms, when the ministers enter the church and remind us of the procession into Jerusalem. We move on to the Eucharist which is the celebration of Jesus giving us his body and blood from the Maundy Thursday celebration. And then, like Christ arising from the tomb, we're sent out into the world to take the light and the message to the world itself. You know, though, we still don't say, "Happy Easter."
Maybe it's a picky one thing. I mean, in the greater scheme of things, how important is it that we say "Happy Easter" ? For that matter, how important is it that we say "Merry Christmas"? Or "Happy Hanukkah" (although we do it during the 8 days of Hanukkah, oddly enough). Or even using a specific greeting for Kwanzaa or any of the other religious celebrations that focus around that same time, and believe me, there's a lot more than one or two. So why is important for us to remember to say "Happy Easter"?

I think for me it's the recognition that we are still in a celebratory period. We are Easter people, and this is our season. Granted, Christmas is important, because if Jesus hadn't been born, we would not have Easter in the first place, or at least Easter as we know it. The idea is putting something out into the world with words that people can hear.  Granted probably 90 people out of 100 will be thinking a person saying "Happy Easter" at toward the end of May is probably really weird. Never mind that the Orthodox are quite often week behind us on Easter, so we have a legitimate reason for saying it to all our Orthodox brothers and sisters even after we, like the stores, have packed up Easter and started to move on towards whatever comes next.

What if we actually said Happy Easter" to someone? Maybe it would prompt them to ask us why, and, there's our chance for some evangelism because we could tell them precisely why. 

This week I think I'm going to try saying it to somebody. I may start off small, like my next-door neighbor, a devout Christian lady, who might be curious as to why I'm saying that. Of course, if she reads this, she'll know why, but still, after I do something once it's a lot easier to do something a second time. I may use it with my Education for Ministry groups this week, just see how they react.

He is risen, the focus message of Easter and all the little Easters that come after it. We celebrate it all year, so why not use the phrase at least during the official liturgical season?  It might give us an opportunity to do a little evangelism?  Maybe it would be a turnoff for some, who knows? It might just open some conversational doors. This week I'm going to try it. May I invite you to do the same? We can always give it up at Pentecost, and Christmas will be here before you know it.

God bless -- and Happy Easter.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 22, 2017.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

To Be a Fool

We are fools for Christ sake but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, we are dishonored! — 1 Corinthians 4:10 NKJV


 
April Fools' Day, the day to prank just about anybody you can think of. By prank I don't  mean doing something mean or hurtful to somebody, but rather some simple joke like putting a fake spider in their water glass or something similar. It's like a kid limping into the room, nearly in tears, saying, "Mommy, I got hurt!" and then, when mommy goes all sympathetic and tries to help, the child jumps up and says "April Fools!"  Sometimes you wonder.

The Bible uses the word "fool" a number of times, 66 in the KJV alone.  "Fool" in the Jewish tradition usually meant stupid, vile, or wicked. From the Greek, it added unbelieving, unwise, egotistical, rash, or mindless. Today's definition adds someone acting unwisely or imprudently, a silly person, or any of a number of synonyms, many of which have connotations of someone who with mental challenges, pejoratives that really have no place in a world that we are trying to make into the Kingdom of God on earth.

What I think Paul is talking about is going against the culture of the time, any time. It's in the impracticality, a countercultural move, even something that can be very dangerous, especially in the days when after Jesus's death and resurrection, where persecution of Christians was starting to be a fact of life. They were considered fools because they didn't stick with the traditional Jewish teachings and worship, even though many still went to worship at the synagogues and some even did the offerings at the temple until it was burned in 70 A.D. Little by little much of the Jewish influence was weaned out of Christianity or, as they called it, the Way, and they appeared more foolish than ever. It was foolishness to actually refused to worship Caesar is a God, no matter which religion the person was, and especially with armed soldiers standing right there and your very words and actions were most probably condemning you to death. That was foolishness. Those who felt that they were wise bent the knee to Caesar but then, in the back rooms of their homes and those of their friends and neighbors, they participated in Christian worship. Their foolishness was not trusting in God and living honestly, if apparently foolishly.

Today we look at foolishness as not following the status quo, full. Foolishness is standing with people at Standing Rock in their attempt to protect the water. It could have cost every one of them their lives, but yet they were fools for Christ, or the native peoples, or perhaps  for the water itself that was precious to not only our First Nation people but to all of those who depend on that stretch of water to provide them with clean drinking water. Foolishness is standing for an organization that most people connect with abortion, but which in reality does far more for reproductive health, not just for women but also for men who might not be able to afford care or treatment or diagnosis without the help of that organization. It is considered foolishness for African-Americans to follow in the path of Martin Luther King Jr. and to use what he had taught them to protest the killing of innocent people just because of their skin color or the possibility that they might be bent on doing some kind of mischief. 

The appearance of being foolish is a stigma nobody really wants to have to wear. Being foolish is really a form of insult, as if a person did not have the wit or the intelligence or the savvy to be like everyone else around them and do things the "normal" way. Being a musician is foolish, because who wants to hear a symphony when you can go down to the nearest street corner and be almost drowned in sound by boom boxes, amplified guitars and overpowering drum sets. It's foolish to fight for school lunch programs for children and Meals on Wheels for elders who are unable to get to the store or perhaps cook for themselves. Children can't learn as well when they're hungry, and elders are often ignored because they are old, they don't have a value in terms of work, or they may be too ill or infirm to make much of a contribution to the general welfare. There are so many ways to be foolish now.

Perhaps it's time for us to reclaim the foolishness and to admit that we are foolish at times. Mostly it's a negative. Jesus encouraged us to be foolish, not by pranking others or being impractical,  although he did call the religious hierarchy names that corresponded with foolish or fool because of their stubbornness and spiritual blindness. Where Jesus encouraged us to be foolish is to not care what the neighbors think, but rather to do what is right and what is needed to make this kingdom of God come alive now and not just at some future point in time.

It's time to be as foolish as possible in the name of Christ. It's easy enough for me to look foolish, but what I really need to be as Christlike as possible. Maybe I can't walk from place to place like an itinerant to preacher like Jesus did, but I can work to make others more aware of the value of being foolish, being countercultural, being unlike those around us who only care for the material or what benefits them and the heck with everyone else.

This week, go thou and be foolish for Christ sake. Do what thou canst for others and glorify God for the wisdom of that foolishness. God bless. 


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café  Saturday, April 1, 2017.

Being Disconnected

Tomorrow we celebrate Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Tomorrow commemorates Jesus' ride into Jerusalem accompanied by people waving palms and laying them on the roadway for the colt he was riding to walk on. It was meant to be a celebration similar to a conquering hero arriving in the city, and there were crowds there to observe it, cheering and yelling "Hosanna!" It must have been quite a day.

After thinking about it a bit, I wondered what would it be like today if Jesus came into town, maybe driving a white convertible. Probably people would be so busy taking selfies and videos that wouldn't matter who this person was. There would be a lot of people looking and a lot of people recording the event for their walls and webpages, but I wonder if they were would stop to hear what he had to say, or would they be just so busy looking for a photo op or maybe a selfie with the celebrity himself, it wouldn't  matter what he said. The important thing was that they got the image and used it to impress their own followers. 

The world has changed a lot, I don't think anybody is denying that. Mobile generation, mobile civilization, we have instant communications so that if war breaks out, we know instantly. We don't have to wait a week for a message to get to our town from some central place where they knew what was going on. Oh no, we are connected. We check the number of friends we have on Facebook, the number of connections we have on LinkedIn, and the number of responses that we get to blog posts and whatever. Oh yes, we're connected. But if we stop and think about it, do we know our next-door neighbor's name? What about people two houses down? Do we know who they are? 

No matter how much we are connected on instant media, we are still disconnected from our fellow human beings. Walking through a store or down the street, waiting in line at the post office -- everybody is so busy paying attention to their cell phone and who is texting what that there is none of the free conversation that used to be possible in those situations. Now, if someone says something to someone in line at the grocery store, or in passing, or even sitting on a park bench feeding the ducks, it's very unusual for people to strike up a conversation. We have become disconnected, no matter how much we say we are connected.

Lent is a time that we usually think about connection. We may pray more, go to church more, participate in church activities, take on Lenten duties like helping at a food bank or doing volunteer work for some organization or other as a way of taking up Jesus' cross and maybe making it a little lighter for him. Now that connects us with other people and hopefully it connects us with God a little more. We find ourselves so busy these days that it's really difficult to connect with God as easily as we can our best friend across the country on Twitter,  Instant Messenger, Facebook, or texting. And , there's usually a fairly instantaneous reply. With God, though, there may be quite a wait, and an answer may never come in a way we can easily identify. So what we do is  say "Okay ," and go on to the next thing, like if we called someone and only got a busy signal.  

Of course, that's not the way it's supposed to be. Yes, we may have an increase in pious activities during Lent, but what about when Easter comes? Palm Sunday is the run-up, but Easter is the big event. On Easter Sunday at church, the place is jammed to the rafters and you see a lot of people that you haven't seen since last Christmas for even last Easter. It's a kind of reconnection but it's a temporary reconnection. We were told and taught to go to church on those days, even if our families were particularly religious, and that's the way we do it. Then we off the hook until next Christmas or Easter. We can disconnect again and return to our other "connected" lives. 

What of the connection between us and God? And also between us and our neighbors? Of course, we're supposed to be doing this all year, but it doesn't always work that way, not in our busy lives when we barely have time to say hello to the kids, get dinner ready before it's time to go to bed. Maybe we need to do is disconnect from our connections and reconnect with one that really matters.

I've been having Internet problems with connection for the last two months. Connected, disconnected, and then the cycle repeating itself over and over again. It's frustrating, I have things I need to do online, it's important that I get these things done, but how can I do it if I keep getting disconnected? The answer is go on to the next thing to which I can and at some point in time I'll be reconnected and get as much done as I can.

With God it's a little different. With God, this connection is always on our end. God doesn't disconnect from us, we disconnect from God, and many times this God dis-connection is our perception rather than actuality. It's like taking pictures of Jesus in a white car driving over palm fronds,  and being in the crowd standing there with cell phones in camera mode and taking it all in and then posting it to prove that I was there. But what was I actually there for? Am I there to actually connect with this man in the white car being treated like the greatest rock star that ever hit the planet? Am I there to hear some words of wisdom, some reassurances, some things that I need to know and encouragement to do things I need to do? When am I going to disconnect and reconnect with my priorities in order? 

It's time to connect with God, and connect with my neighbor, not just on a cell phone, or chat, or a tweet, but in face-to-face, hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye ways. Time to reconnect with God, because that's the most important connection of all.

God bless.  

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 8, 2017.

Waiting

Holy Saturday has come again. It's always one of those days when I'm not too sure what to think or how to feel about it. Like most Saturdays, the church is quiet and sitting alone except for the flurry of activity of the Altar Guild preparing the altar and flowers for the following day's services. Other than that, it's another day in the life of the church, a day when there are no meetings being held in any of the various rooms, no worship being held until the Easter vigil in the evening and a sense of waiting.

It's the waiting that I think about this Holy Saturday. Recently a number of people that  I know have been  undergoing the pain of waiting for various things, some of them for the demise of loved ones.  It is a release for the dying but it is gut wrenching for those who are waiting. Waiting like that takes a lot out of a person. For one thing, it means the imminent loss of someone very important in their lives. For another, it's almost being afraid to leave the loved one's bedside, even for a short break, because it might be just at that moment when the loved one steps from life into a larger world. It's hard, and even though we know it's going to happen, we are never really totally ready for it.

I think about Mary, Jesus's mother, and those who loved Jesus, especially Mary Magdalene and the others who gathered under the shadow that cross and watched as their loved one suffered and died knowing that they could do nothing to prevent or relieve it. It was brave of them to be where they were and to share in what was happening at the that time. It was brave because they were women, and it was unusual for them to be standing in a place of execution for criminals. But in their case,  convention, rules, tradition, all went out the window. They needed to be where they were, and I do think that Jesus knew they were there. Maybe in one small part of his brain not consumed with pain and loss, he blessed them for staying with him. It must have been hard waiting, with the sun shining down on them, no benches or chairs to sit on, and is certainly the only ones giving them any sympathy at all were the members of their own small group. Still they waited, just as we in the church wait and watch and pray from Good Friday until we rekindle the light at the Vigil.

For them, the end came and released them from the agony of the deathwatch, but it was so close to sundown that they didn't have time to prepare the body for burial as they would normally have done. The body was taken down from the cross and quickly whisked away to the tomb where the stone was rolled across it and they could not go in. They had to wait until after the Sabbath was over before they could return to do what needed to be done. So they waited.

Male disciples waited too, in their own way, up in that room where they had last gathered with Jesus and wondered what was going to become of them. They feared that they were known to be Jesus's followers and, as such, were at risk of arrest and possible crucifixion themselves. So they sat and worried about their own futures and what they should do now that they were leaderless in a hostile environment. The two groups waited, although it was a different kind of wait.

Holy Saturday for most people these days is just a normal day like any other day. We mow the grass,  go to the store, go shopping, and watch whatever sport is on TV as a way of rewinding. We are not waiting, we are busy doing things, we go on with life as if nothing important happened or is happening, that is, unless we become one of those who are forced into waiting for something. At that time, we can put ourselves in the same place with the women at the foot of the cross. We're suffering, and we look up and see one who suffers even more. We look on the face of our loved one and we hope to see the look of peace in the time before their last breaths, but we keep waiting until the inevitable happens. Then, and only then, can we take a deep breath and let the tears roll and we can express our own grief, selfish grief because we have lost something someone precious, but also a joyful time knowing that a loved one has found his or her way out of this world and into the next.

So today is a day of waiting. It's a day to spend some time contemplating and praying and most of all watching with those who are suffering, whether physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. It may be a day where all of us can join those standing at the foot of the cross and then waiting before the sealed tomb, with faith that in the morning our sorrow be lessened and our weeping will turn to joy.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Scent of Gratitude


Now and then there comes a moment when time seems to stop, even for the merest fraction of a second, and in that fraction of a second something becomes so clear that it's almost heartbreaking. It happened to me the other morning when I went to feed the outside cats. It was just about dawn, and the air was moderately crisp, given the temperatures we've been having during the day lately. In my hurry to get the cats fed I didn't notice anything special, but when I turned to go back to the  house all of a sudden there was this most marvelous scent. I looked at my jasmine growing up one of the patio supports. I couldn't see any blooms although there were plenty of buds, but still there was a slight whiff of something sweet coming from it. Then I noticed an even stronger fragrance coming from the orange trees across the road. Between the two it was such a delightful aroma that I wanted it to last forever. Unfortunately, like most things that attract me by scent, the olfactory centers quickly assume that that is normal and move on to something else, so I can't smell it anymore. It's only for a short period of time that it's new enough to the nose that I can actually smell us and enjoy it.

There are other times when I know I noticed a pleasant odor or tang that that has a trigger to it that cascades memories and sometimes new thoughts in my head. Give me a whiff of salt water and I'm back home on my river even though I'm thousands of miles away. The scent of pine, the smell of rain, the aura and warmth of wax candles, like a bayberry one at Christmas or the beeswax ones in church. Speaking of church, there's a remnant of, the scent of incense in church from years of high holy day celebrations. Then there's the  perfume mama used to wear, and her hand lotion. There are probably a hundred others ( would recognize that I can't remember right at the moment, but if I caught a bit of their scent then I would react to it.


The world we are  more accustomed to smelling is one of  diesel fumes or auto exhaust, hot tar, fresh-cut grass, the neighbor's steaks on the grill, the sweaty smell of the gym, some pleasant, some  pungent. We lose ignore smells because there are more important sensory work going on. Still, it's hard to walk past a stand of flowers in the grocery store this time of year, because there is a fragrance of hyacinths, and it reminds me of the hyacinths back home in the spring. I can walk by the fruit and for a moment I'll smell the strawberries or oranges or even some of the vegetables, and I remember how amazing they smell compared to the aisle full of air fresheners which, while they smell good, or so I'm told, they don't necessarily do the trick.

As I stood there the other morning enjoying the brief encounter with the orange blossoms and the jasmine, it was easy for me to be thankful for such an enjoyable treat. I'm afraid there many times when I fail to be thankful for little things like sweet scent in the air or the flight of the hummingbird or even a gorgeous sunset. I've been churches were there was an indefinable smell of furniture polish and candles with maybe just a tiny bit of leftover incense last used months ago. It seems to soak into the place and it adds a kind of what used to be called an "odor of sanctity", a smell that reminded me that I was in a holy place, and one where such things  help me to relax and to fall into a little bit more meditative mood simply .

When was the last time I stopped to smell something like I did the other morning? I did this morning after I finish mopping the floor and the Pine-Sol made the house smell nice and clean. After that I gave thanks. There are times I give thanks for the smell of clean sheets or the almond oil for the wood furniture. Perhaps the sense of smell is somehow attached to a feeling of love? Well, some of them, anyway. It's hard to love the smell of a diesel bus exhaust.

So where am I going to allow scent to take me this week? There are many pungent smells, many of them unpleasant, that I run across on a daily basis, but how do I create a thankfulness moment with fragrance that gives my heart a little bit of joy? Febreze won't always do it, and now they tell us not to burn candles because of the lead in the wick, and one can only take so much Pine-Sol. So my next search is to look for something somewhere, inside or out, that will help me find a moment of joy and a moment of thankfulness. After all, God made smells as well as sights and sounds and tastes and touches. God put them there for us to use and to enjoy and also spur us on to clean up the unpleasant and rejoice in the pleasant. So this week I need to find something to bring that to mind are more regular basis.

Go thou and find something beautiful and sweet and fresh, then remember to thank God for it. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 25, 2017.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

God in Creation

The wider our contemplation of creation, the grander is our conception of God.  -  Cyril of Jerusalem

This week I've been thinking about climate, weather, and all that they entail. It could be that the temperature here in the Phoenix area has been around 90°, and this is only the middle of March! Our average is at least 10° below that, so please don't mention that global warming doesn't exist. At least don't mention it to me.

Climate is part of what makes our world work. Climate defines how much rainfall we get, or are supposed to get. It defines a basic temperature range, what kind of precipitation we can expect, or not expect. It defines where we spend our time, if we have the ability. Folks who freeze to death in Minnesota cheerfully drive down to the Phoenix area for the winter because it seldom freezes, and is usually warm enough for them to run around in Bermuda shorts and T-shirts when people like me who live here are bundled up against what we perceive as cold. My friend in Oregon groans when I tell her it's 90° here because she still cold and getting snow and lots of rain. Can't please everybody I guess.

Climate has changed over centuries and millennia. When the world was new and pristine it was like a huge garden, or so we are told. There were deserts I'm sure, just as I'm sure there were mountains where the snow never melted and glaciers that crept along and kept forming along with the ice caps. I'm sure there were things like earthquakes and massive windstorms, and typhoons and hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, all affecting our world and our climate in one way or another.

Thing is, God created the world to run according to certain rules. If the balance of things gets out of kilter, something happens. Take fault lines. when the pressure builds up to a certain point, something's gotta give, and so the earth shakes, rumbles, and acts like an old man trying to get comfortable in a lumpy bed. When a warm air current runs into a cold air current, all kinds of interesting (more or less) happens. God set the rules, then set the world in motion, and it's been following those rules all along - until humans decided to play God and change things. Too bad we're not God-wise enough to see clearly what we're doing.

Since we are unable to control a lot of what goes on in creation, especially when it comes to things like creation itself, we're just out of luck. We have to admire the fact that God put everything together like a clockmaker forming an instrument that would run well, keep accurate time, and also be interesting to look at. The clockmaker might add a set of gears that would show which planets were circling overhead as well as tell the time of day, chimes on the hour and a quarter hour, and even a very comforting tick-tock as the pendulum swings back and forth. Creation is a bit like that. It started out as finely tuned as a watch of the finest craftsmanship. But then we started "improving." We completely left God out of creation and put ourselves in. 

I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but I've seen enough pictures from enough different viewpoints that I have no doubt that it is a most spectacular place to see.  I've seen great mountains and I've overlooked the Shenandoah Rivers,  so old that in places the sides of almost every curve in the river almost touch each other. I seen storms at sea and I've seen the fury of hurricanes and typhoons. I've felt the rumble and shake of a big earthquake, or even a small one for that matter. Every time I run across something like that it reminds me of how immense this world is and how tiny I am, and then I think about God.

God is so much more than the clockmaker who set this one little blue marble in motion. It's part of a small universe in a small galaxy off to one side of a super galaxy billions and trillions of miles from the next galaxy or the next star is. We look through telescopes to see if we can find God, but what we find is that the universe is infinitely more expansive, more complex, and more spectacular than we could possibly have ever dreamt, and we haven't even found the edge of it yet, for all our technology and our looking.

We still haven't found God, but we have found what God created. I have to agree with Cyril, I can't contemplate creation without being totally in awe of the Supreme Being with such immense power and such immense love, a God who is the creator of worlds and universes but who willingly cradles each of us in God's hands, especially when we need a little nurturing.

This week I will contemplate the mystery of God in the enormous diversity of creation itself and my place in it. I look up at Orion, my favorite constellation, and think of all that lies beyond it even as I look at the familiar shape that I have seen many times from my childhood. It's God's work, and all that is in that creation, from the lichens on the rocks in the woods and the moss beside streams, to the vast variety of animals. I think about the different kinds of trees and the adorable innocence of babies and kittens and puppies. We are all made of star stuff because God made the stars from stardust and, as we are told on Ash Wednesday, we are dust and to dust we shall return. Guess who made the dust?

In the creation that is God's playground, go thou and find something awesome in creation that points thee to God. God bless.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 18, 2017.