Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reflections on the Past -- 9/11

I have noticed that through the television year, channels periodically seem to run series of programs dealing with momentous events, whether or not they are close to the actual date of the event. The assassination of JFK may have occurred in November but usually sometime during the spring or early summer, television channels rerun just about every program and documentary ever made on the subject. D-day and the end of WWII may get airings somewhere around Christmas while programs on the devastation of Katrina might appear in February or so. Stories about the Challenger disaster pop up periodically as if daring me to forget the sights, repeated again and again on the screen of all the other tragedies and disasters.

Last night I watched yet another program on 9/11 an the events in New York. Tonight there is a program on the crash into the Pentagon and how it affected not only Washington DC but all of us. Later in the week, I'm sure, will be commemoration of the brave souls in the plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, sparing DC even more damage. This year marks the 10th anniversary of that day that needs no name other than the date, like December 7th or November 22nd. I have a feeling that any person over the age of 3 at the time remembers where they were when they heard about it, what immediate reaction it had on them and what impact it had on their lives.

The program reminded me of how I first learned of the tragedy. It was a normal morning, just like hundreds of others. I woke up, turned on the Today show and there it was -- smoking towers, anxious faces, moments of silence when the newscasters and reporters had no words to describe what they were seeing. The old adage about "It was like watching a train wreck" was certainly applicable. It was hard to stop watching even as I went about doing the normal stuff. Somehow it pulled me back, making me part of it, even though what I saw was happening far, far away from the safety of my Arizona home.

Even after ten years, it feels like a wound being reopened. How can that be? I didn't know anyone who was killed or injured, the place I have the closest association with was at the other end of DC from the Pentagon (which, I know, is in Virginia), and the only real impact that was quite noticeable here was the total silence of the day. Traffic seemed to be almost non-existent on the usually busy street behind our house and the skies showed no trace of contrails or sunlight-reflecting silver planes. The silence was eerie, broken only by momentary panic when an Air Force jet streaked over on patrol or heading back to the base just a few miles away. I think that was the day the last of my innocence died, the innocence that said I lived in a safe place, a safe country, a respected part of the world.

The programs on TV can only mirror what we collectively and individually actually went through that day and in the days following. It's hard not to watch the videos even though I've seen them so often that I have trouble remembering precisely what I saw that day and what I saw on replays. What I will remember, though, is the profound sadness, the momentary skipped heartbeats and breaths held in, the fright, the anger, the sorrow, the shock, the panic, the unreality.

Life went on with the next heartbeat and the next breath, but it would never be the same. Ten years later it still isn't and undoubtedly will never be.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


There is one Krispy Kreme Donut place in the whole state of Arizona right now. A few years ago there were a number of them, including the first one I found a whole lotta years ago in Tempe. It was a real treat to go that far for a dozen donuts, but when the Krispy Kreme kraving hits, there's only two things to do --- wait it out or get in the truck. Once a year or so we bit the bullet and got in the vehicle (which was a car at that time).

Those were the days. Now there is only one and it is a whole lotta miles away. Good ol' Mapquest tells me that the most direct route between here and there will add just under 41 miles to my truck (one way) and cost me $5.81, again only one way. Double that and it would put 82 miles on the tires and subtract $11.62 from my wallet for gas. And this is before I even pay for the donuts, which aren't cheap (but oh, so good!). Are the kravings worth the expenditure?

Cravings are often very uncomfortable things. Ask anybody who's seriously trying to quit smoking, or giving up something that they enjoy but, for whatever reason, they have to give up. When I quit smoking (cold turkey -- couldn't afford the cigs much less the patches, pills or hypnosis!), it took me over three years to stop really craving the things. I'm glad I don't have to go through that again. But there are other things that I crave, things I know I can't have or attain, and those things get to be like an itch that can't be scratched. Must be nice to be a cat -- there are very few places that can't be reached when you're that flexible.

Some folks' craving, though, could be considered meritorious in a lot of circles. Those who crave the experience of God, the immediacy of God, the desire to submerge oneself in God, are usually willing to go the extra miles or pay the extra price. The saints did it, most of them, anyway, and the result was, well, sainthood. They were still human, still had human foibles, failings and cravings, but they also had a tether that let them wander a bit but still kept them attached to God in a way that most folks weren't. The church often wants to remember the tether without acknowledging the foibles that made the tether more necessary. Jesus had a very direct connection with God, but he didn't need a tether, just a communications line like a phone cord or even wireless. That worked for him but for most of us, it wouldn't be nearly enough. Like a boat bobbing in hurricane-turbulent waters, people like me need extra tethers, extra-strong ropes and secure cleats and bollards to keep us from breaking loose and being smashed on the rocks or tossed far up on the shore. My tether must be the size of the mooring ropes of the Queen Mary; they have to be, even though in terms of boat size, I'm probably about the size of a kayak.

Still, the tether is there. Sometimes it chafes, sometimes it is comforting, sometimes I don't even notice it is there at all. Funny thing about that tether, it's always there; it's just my perception of it that changes. If I crave the experience of God, the tether will be a reminder that it's as close as I want it to be and as strong as I am willing to work toward it. It's a craving I can give in to without qualm. The hard part is just giving in to it and doing something about it. Is it a cost I am willing to accept?

As for the Krispy Kreme kraving, I have faith that one day there will be a Krispy Kreme near enough for me to indulge, but not now. The cost is just too high.

August 27 - Curing and Healing

They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’ -- Mark 7:32-37

The reading is a natural one for the commemoration of two souls, Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle, who worked with, taught and ministered to the deaf and who, with others, began to make all of us aware that being deaf was not a stigma but a challenge.

To the people in Jesus' day, anyone who had something "different" about them -- deafness, lameness, paralysis, patches of differently-colored skin (vitiligo or leprosy, both were the same to them) -- were believed to be punished by God for something, either their own sin or that of their parents. A difference was not normal; it marked the person and his family as somehow flawed, broken, incomplete.

Today we still look at people in wheelchairs, with extensive scarring, white canes, crutches or odd pigmentation as "different." We even have names for them -- disabled, handicapped, invalid -- which seem to make them less "normal" and more abnormal, different, incapable of doing what normal people do, poor or weakened in condition, deficient in substance, somehow not as "valid" as the rest of us. Often we use the words without thinking of how our labeling can affect those we try to tag with such titles. Sometimes (usually?) we wish they could be cured of their affliction, made whole and productive. Jesus healed people like this, but as hard as we try, we can't always do it either as well or at all.

Part of it is that Jesus healed, we cure. There's a difference between the two, a very big difference. Curing means taking care of the illness, disease or disorder, restoring the person functionality and normalcy. The condition is partially or completely reversed and, barring some unforeseen difficulty, will not be returning to trouble the patient. Medicine and faith take the credit for the cure, but sometimes there is a ghost remaining inside the patient, the ghost of the illness, disease or disability that often remains when cure takes place.

Jesus healed -- blind people, paralyzed people, lepers, women with bent backs or prolonged bleeding, even people who had died. He healed them, not just their bodies but their souls, their relationships, their very beings. The woman at the well didn't need a cure, she needed to be healed of the mistakes she'd made, the way she lived, even how she appeared to her neighbors. The centurion was not even a Jew but had faith that Jesus could heal his servant, just by his word only, not even by touch or even being in the same house. The servant was healed, just as Jarius' daughter was. They were cured of whatever caused their deaths but they were also healed, as were their families and households. With Jesus the process was a complete one, both healing and curing.

There is a caution, though. Many who have disabilities or disorders don't feel "broken" so they don't need curing. They make the most of who they are, the abilities, talents and skills that they have, and they bless us with their insights. They teach us what it means to be whole even if something is missing or impaired. They give us the opportunity to practice grace, the grace of acceptance and admiration for their strengths, not pity for their weaknesses. We have learned much in the two thousand years since Jesus walked on earth. We have learned and yet we still remain blind and deaf, more blind and deaf than those who actually need to use white canes or cochlear implants or hearing aids. Perhaps we should ask Jesus to heal us of our disease of superiority and need to "fix" people and things that aren't broken. And perhaps cure us of failure to see and hear what people like Gallaudet and Syle have to teach us.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Cafe August 27, 2011.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Does Your Cat Know What You're Watching?

Phone calls to and from friends are an important part of my life. Mouse and I had our usual Saturday night conversation last night, touching base, covering what had happened since we last talked (which, this week, was the night before) and just enjoying each other's company. It's this kind of thing that makes my life richer.

One thing I was reporting on was the final session of the EfM mentor training I'd just finished that afternoon. Somehow, I don't remember precisely how it came about, in the course of a conversation at training, I mentioned that the boys usually had me awake by 4-4:30 so I turn on the TV until a time closer to when I felt I should get out of bed and into the daily routine (namely feeding the boys). I mentioned that about the only program on at that hour that I found even remotely interesting was one called "Mummy Autopsy" so that was my preferred morning-starter. It makes sense to me; I like forensics and I also like archaeology and anthropology. Mummy Autopsy gives me both and, quite often, lets me doze a few more minutes more.

The general consensus of the group was "You watch WHAT?" Most of them, I guess, wouldn't find such a program interesting at all, much less that early in the morning. But the boys don't seem to mind. Since they know I was awake enough to turn on the TV and gravitate to that channel before lying back down again, they have expectations of breakfast somewhere in the near future and so they usually stop acting like the house is the track at Indy and the bed is a catapult into the fourth turn (pun intended).

The boys aren't usually interested in TV. Once in a while, if they hear a strange cat-sound, they'll glance at it but usually, for them at least, it's just background. Maybe they don't realize what Mummy Autopsy is and, very surely, they don't really care. They gave up interest in mummies when their ancestors got wrapped up in Egypt. They don't even pay attention when the mummy being "autopsied" is one of their ancestors. They just know that somewhere between four and four-thirty in the morning, they will have made enough noise and commotion to cause Mom to turn on the TV and then sink back down into her pillow for a short while. They can then settle down and wait for nature to take its course. Of course, weekends kind of get messed up because Mom doesn't HAVE to get up at the usual time and Mummy Autopsy isn't on, but they do try to be flexible -- or at least, as flexible as a cat can be without consigning his/her own dignity to the litter box.

The group at the training session may not have understood the 4am Mummy Autopsy program bit but many certainly understood the cat part. There are a lot of people owned by cats who can certainly identify with the phenomenon.

The boys were singularly unimpressed when I told them that they'd been part of the conversation at training but Mouse thought the whole thing hilarious. In fact, blame her for this post. The cats may have provided the basis for the story but the Mouse made me tell it.

August 20 -- Invocation

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from the insolent,
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. -- Psalm 19:7-14 (NRSV)

I'd like to have a dollar (hmm, in these inflated times, maybe a quarter would be more appropriate) for every time I've heard a sermon started with this invocation, or a variation of it. It's a good invocation - scriptural, short, sweet and to the point. It certainly seems a favorite among those who preach since so many use it in that context.

Reading the portion of the Psalm for this morning, I can't help but think of the Psalmist chanting glowing praise for God's law which he, the Psalmist, uses six synonyms and six values. The law is further described as something of great worth like fine gold or even the gold of sweet honey. Sometimes I wonder if this Psalmist might not have been a lawyer. Still, it does extol how he sees the law of God and passes that vision on to us.

It also crosses my mind too that people today glorify the law of the land -- as long as it is interpreted in their favor. The law of God says that the widows, orphans and strangers are to be sheltered, cared-for and protected; the law of the land manages to find umpteen million loopholes to close in the very faces of those widows, orphans and strangers while opening millions more for those who can pay to have the law interpreted in their favor. Yet if the law favors those on the other side of the case, then of course the law must be changed and forthwith!

What are the people of God to do? Many proclaim that this is a "Christian nation" founded on "Christian principles" and as such should follow Biblical principles. What makes this claim hollow is that many of the Bible's injunctions, laws if you will, are ignored while certain snippets are frequently quoted as if they were all the law and the prophets. There are many verses about caring for those who need care, yet the focus today is on how much can removed from their plate without their noticing that there's a pattern on the china and not very many mashed potatoes to cover it. Laws are more about restrictions on certain segments of hte society rather than the well-being of all of it. In short, the laws of God about widows, orphans, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, caring for the dying and above all the worship of God in all things are less important than retaining tax shelters and privilege.

I wonder --- what would happen if not just the preachers used that invocation before speaking but if all of us used it before committing to an act or a belief. I wonder what would happen if those Christians in congress would recite that prayer before rising to speak against legislation that would help provide a safety net for the most vulnerable. I wonder what would happen if they went into bipartisan meetings with that invocation in their hearts?

I wonder what would happen if I made that prayer throughout the day? What if I put the laws of God as they pertain to me and to those less fortunate uppermost in my mind instead of how I can get the most return for the least investment of time, talent or treasure?

I wonder.

Originally published on Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Cafè Saturday, August 20, 2011.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

August 20 -- Going Home

Towards the beginning of harvest three of the thirty chiefs went down to join David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold; and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. David said longingly, ‘O that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!’ Then the three warriors broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it; he poured it out to the Lord, for he said, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this. Can I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?’ Therefore he would not drink it. The three warriors did these things.
-- 2 Sam 23:13-17

There's something about going home, sometimes depending on circumstances. Still, there always seem to be one or two things that just announce, "You're home!", whether it's the sight of a forest with almost every shade of green God ever thought of, the sound of waves lapping on a shore, the smell of salt air or the distant sound of a church bell. No matter how long I've been away, something always pops up to remind me that this was, and, in a way still is, home.

David must have had sort of the same kind of reaction when he found himself near his home town, Bethlehem. He remembered the well next to the gate and even remembered the taste of the water. It called to him to remember that this was home, this was familiar, this was what was. Three young men, hearing his longing for a taste of that familiar water once again, went through the enemy lines and secured water for their king. When they gave it to him, though, he paused and then, without tasting a drop that not long ago would have been irresistible, he poured it out on the ground. He equated it with drinking the blood of a sacrifice which, according to the laws of God, was unthinkable. Sacrificial meat could be eaten, but blood was the life source and thus was sacrosanct. It was for non-Israelites and idol-worshippers to drink the blood of sacrifices, not for the people of God. Had the young men perished in their errand, the cup would have contained their blood, not well water. It must have been hard for David to do, but it was the right thing.

When I go home, I always see things that are different. New roads, new streets, new clusters of houses and apartments, new buildings, things built in what used to be empty fields, familiar things gone, and loved ones and friends that I must now visit in the cemeteries instead of in their kitchens. I always visit my river, a body of salt water that has been flowing past my town for who knows how many thousands of years. It has seen far more changes than I have and has been changed itself from time to time by the hands of man and nature. Still, it is a familiar place, one where I walked, sat, thought and also found God present whenever I went there. The scent of the salt water, the lap of the waves, the feel of the soft sand turning harder as I walk barefoot toward the tide line -- it all means "home".

I think David and I would both find the same things if we went home again; we'd traveled too far and been gone too long to ever find the same place we left years before. There would still be familiar things but the changes would have been too great for it ever to be the same as it was.

Thomas Wolfe said "You can't go home again," and he's right. You can visit but you can never be a part of the place like you were when it really and truly was "home." I can live with memories that paint it as a certain place, but that place is now only in my memory. There are those who will paint a picture of what heaven will be like and long to "go home" to a place they've never been but have formed its image in their minds. Very possibly the image they have will be as accurate as the home I remembered from my youth, but only time will tell that.
Still, home is where the heart is, as the old saying goes, whether it's the as-it-was or the as-it-will-be

I am just goin' over Jordan/ I am just goin' over home. - Old Spiritual

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hearing the History

The best thing about the blog world is the things I learn from it, and from the people who make up that world. I've been thinking about a post I saw on Biblische Ausbildung several weeks ago about a tiny little artifact found in Jerusalem.

It's tiny, it's shiny, it bespeaks wealth and privilege and it is beautiful. It doesn't look like much in the picture, but looks can be deceiving. This tiny thing is a bell, a gold bell found in a drain in Jerusalem, totally unexpectedly and seemingly totally out of place. There is a place on the top where a hook or loop was placed so that it could be hung, probably from the fringes or hem of a garment. It has been dated to the end of the Second Temple period (516 BCE -70 CE).

It fascinates me that something so tiny could survive the turbulent history of Jerusalem while other, much larger and supposedly more durable things have disappeared or been left only as a shell or a fragment. It looks almost perfect; it has a shape that appears functional, it has details that appear undamaged -- and it has a sound.

Sound in history is something that is hard to find. There are plenty of reconstructions and, if you think about it, that's probably the best we can ever get. What David's psalms sounded like sung to the tune of his harp we will never know even though we can build harps shaped as we have seen portrayed from decorations from jars and mosaics from cultures contemporary with Biblical times. We can chant or sing the words to the psalm, but they aren't the tunes or chants David sang. The shofar probably sounds pretty much like it did in Joshua's time, but We can't even say that the music of Bach's that we play sounds exactly the way Bach would have written and played it, and that is so much more recent than this little bell. Yet the bell gives us a sound of the past as the wearer or someone nearby would have heard it.

That is its charm and its impact to me. This little bell, hidden from the world for so long, buried in the muck and crud of the drain from which it was drawn, brings forth its sound when lifted up and lightly shaken. It speaks in its own voice, just as it did all those thousands of years ago. I am amazed how much that speaks to my soul. It isn't a loud sound, in fact, you have to listen closely to hear it, yet it resonates with me. Granted, it wouldn't sound quite so sleigh-bell like when worn on a garment, but still, it is the bell's own sound.

Listen and see what it brings into your ear,mind and heart.

Information about the bell and its discovery are found here.

August 14 - Witness, Word and Advocate

[Jesus said] ‘I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

‘If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?’ --John 5:30-47

There's this funny word, veracity. It means accuracy, a recounter of factual information, having a reputation for telling the truth. We expect that people will tell us the truth -- people like doctors, lawyers, legislators, merchants, teachers, and priests. Then there is Jesus, telling his disciples that what someone else says about him has more veracity than what he says about himself.

In today's world, a suspect would probably be examined thusly

"Where were you when the crime was committed?"

"I was at home, sir, asleep."

"What witness do you have to the fact that you were at home and sleeping at that time?"

"Well, none, sir. I was there alone."

The policeman isn't going to take the guy's word for it without some corroborating statement from a reliable source. Evidently there were some in Jesus' company who wouldn't accept his word at face value either. Evidently God's testimony was either not sufficient or easily overlooked, so that left the prophet John as the reliable source.

It's a horrible feeling to tell the truth and not be believed. The world of Jesus' time was much more word-oriented than our own; if a person gave their word then that was their bond and their reputation was on the line if they proved to be liars, exaggerators or cheats. Today it seems like snake-oil salesmen are everywhere and few have faith in the words of people that even 50 years ago would have been like gold. Betrayals, exaggerations of someone's honesty or something's worth, accusations of malfeasance or suggestions of impropriety have created a climate of mistrust and it is hard to know just who to believe.

The disciples faced this, since in their world a man could not testify to his own honesty; only third parties could so testify and had to do it publicly or it did not count. A person could brag about their honesty, truthfulness and reliability, but without the words of someone else, it was just hot air. Come to think of it, that part really isn't so different today.

But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. - 1 John 2:1c-2 (NRSV)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

August 6 - Taking the Lower Place

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ - Mark 9:33-35

There are some passages and quotations that always stick with me, even if I can't always remember precisely where to find them (thank God for Google!). The one for today's reading, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all," is one of them. Another along the same vein is from Luke:

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable.‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ - Luke 14:7-11.

Both scriptures deal with the same thing -- the place (or non-place) for pride and the emphasis on the virtue of humility. Virtues are notoriously uncomfortable things; they're a lot harder to do than their opposites. Virtues these days also seem to be a bit less desirable, sort of like shopping in second-hand stores for a dress to wear to a White House state dinner or Hollywood gala. Just because there's a tiara involved doesn't mean it's made of diamonds.

The story of the wedding banquet has stuck with me for years, the part about not taking the higher seat, a place of honor, unless invited lest I be asked to move to make way for more exalted people. I have been reminded of this numerous times in my life, if not at a dinner party or gala. When I begin to be proud of something, someone or something comes to remind me that there are so many greater than I, more intelligent or more creative or more talented. Oh, I'm allowed to feel some pride when something I've done is good, but I'm reminded not to take TOO much pleasure in that feeling because it is transient and it's not healthy to be too attached to the feeling of pride.

Jesus reminded the Sons of Thunder that there were more important things than , well, being considered important enough to occupy places of honor. There are duties required of people of honor, duties that seem to be for those lower on the status chain to accomplish. That's where humility comes in. Humble people do humble things because they need doing, not because they have to do them. They have a choice and they choose to let their actions speak louder than their words, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. To be humble is to try to be transparent, to work behind the scenes almost invisibly and yet to do what needs to be done because it is the right thing to do, without looking for glory or fame. The joy is in the doing, not the recognition of having done it.

The tiara of pride is jewels of paste; the tiara of humility may be invisible, but the purity of its diamonds shine brighter than any visible light. It is that tiara with which Jesus crowns those who do not seek riches and fame but who quietly go about doing the work of the kingdom here and now.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Cafe Saturday, August 6, 2011.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 6 - Being the Best (or the Only)

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. -- Mark 9: 33-41

"Mommy, you love me best, don't you?"

One thing about being an only (or near-only) child is that the question is sort of moot; it is only when there are two or more children in a family would this question come up. And, of course, parents must carefully answer because sooner or later one kid will say to another, "Mom loves me best cuz she said so." The other child will, of course, come back with something along the lines of, "You're a liar 'cuz she told me she loved ME best." When faced with two upset children, each demanding that the parent reassert the assertion made only to them that she really does love this one better than that one, it would be better to have been Solomon. At least he didn't have a vested interest in one over another other than to ascertain the truth. Whatever this mother says will color the lives of two children possibly for the rest of their lives -- as well as shore up or sink the relationship between them.

Jesus had adults to contend with, and took the presence of a child to make his point. Yes, children can be selfish little beasts, thinking only of their own comfort and happiness, but yet their innocence can lead them into trouble. There is a time to put away childish scuffles over who is more loved than whom and begin to look for the best in and for others, even the most innocent.

The same sort of thing happened with the disciples running to Jesus, "That man over there is doing what we are doing. Make him stop!" Again, it is the desire to be the best, the one, the most loved, honored, talented. For poor fishermen from Galilee, the power to do healings and demon-casting is probably far more power than they ever thought of having, and when someone else other than their teacher has it and shares it out, then that's a threat to them. They react predictably. Again Jesus uses the more innocent to make his point. "If someone does something good in my name, then that person cannot speak evil of me. Let them act, for it is a good thing."

The soundbyte I hear from this is "...Whoever is not against us is for us." How true that rings in these days when nation opposes nation, clan opposes clan, church opposes church, even members of a communion oppose other members of that same communion, even family member against family member. Who is greater? Who is more right? Who is doing God's will? Who does God love best?

I wish I could rest comfortably in the "God loves me best because...." God loves me, of that I have no doubt, but God loves an awful lot of other people too and deservedly so, even undeservedly so. Still, offering a bottle of cold water in the heat of summer, encouraging someone whose spirits and hope are flagging, doing things that need doing but that others don't seem to want to do, all can be deeds of power if done in the right spirit and with Jesus' injunction in mind.

God loves me -- even if not best. I don't need "best" when it comes to that.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Just out of curiosity.....

when congress considers cutting the budget on programs that benefit middle- class and impoverished voters, dependent children, senior citizens, people wanting to keep their homes or having medical problems that need assistance in order to stay alive, necessary repairs and improvements to the infrastructure of our country and even making the military wonder if they're going to get paid next payday, then having congress refuse to raise taxes for the richest and most powerful (who also pay millions to campaign committees to get their candidates elected),


If they're asking us to make sacrifices, which ones are they willing to make personally themselves?

Just wondering....