Sunday, March 25, 2012

March 24 - Óscar Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador

Commemoration of Óscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, and the Martyrs of El Salvador

Psalm 31:15-24
Isaiah 2:5-7
Revelation 7:13-17
John 12:23-32

If we are worth anything, it is not because we have more money or more talent, or more human qualities.

Insofar as we are worth anything, it is because we are grafted on to Christ's life, his cross and resurrection.
That is a person's measure.  -  Óscar Romero

He stood behind the altar, lifting his eyes to the element held above his head. The prayer stopped suddenly when a shot pierced his heart and quelled the devotion to the crucified and resurrected one present in his hands. It was not only a death in the most sacred moment of the mass but a political assassination against a man who preached peace, justice and equality in a country where dictatorship, political power  and terror among the people was the norm. He was a hero to the common people of his native land but had come to be viewed as an enemy, a communist and a turncoat by the rich and powerful, even those in the church he so faithfully served.

I don't think Óscar Romero sought to be a martyr, yet he became one in the space of a single heartbeat. He studied theology first in his San Salvador, then completed his studies and was ordained a priest in Rome. He then returned to El Salvador where he was seen to be quiet, bookish, conservative and a friend of the elite who supported the military government. After his elevation to Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 and the assassination of a Jesuit friend who was an early practitioner of  liberation theology, Romero became more and more aware of the misery and suffering of the oppressed poor who did most of the labor but reaped none of the rewards. He began to speak against the injustices, disappearances, terror campaigns and murders occurring every day across the country. Romero had no illusions of his safety, and not even his position in the Roman Catholic Church could provide a shield against the military. He stated, "If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my death be for the freedom of my people. A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never perish."

He became a voice of the people, an annoyance to the elite, including some of the bishops of his own church who supported the status quo, and a thorn in the side of the military government. On the day after an address imploring the army to cease killing innocents and follow the laws of God which would lead to peace, Óscar Romero was murdered as he said mass in the chapel of the hospital in which he lived. In less than a year, four Maryknoll sisters and nine Jesuits would be dead at the hands of the same army, and the slaughter continued until 1992. Romero's name, words and examples served as inspiration through those tumultuous years and continues today far beyond the borders of El Salvador. Romero's death and that of the Maryknolls and Jesuits finally caused the world to pay attention to the civil rights violations and the need for reform, including the proper allocation of aid from outside countries, including the United States.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to open the eyes to something that is badly in need of fixing. That's what it took for Romero, but once he made the decision that he could no longer stand by and watch, he pressed forward with every ounce of faith he had. It is easy to stand by and watch when something happens, but so much harder to stand up and do something, particularly if that action could get you thrown in prison, tortured or even murdered. In his last breath, Romero said, "May God have mercy on the assassins."  I wonder, would I have the grace to say that in a similar circumstance?

I didn't know a lot about Óscar Romero when I started reading the lessons for today, but after reading about his life and ministry, he is more than a name on a textbook page about liberation theology. His is a story of growth, something that is sometimes hard to recognize until viewed in the rear-view mirror. Growth has to begin somewhere, and in Romero's case it began with personal and professional sorrow. The result of that growth was a voice for voiceless people, a model of courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and a grace in the face of death.

Monseñor Romero, las gracias estén a Dios para su vida y al testigo. Ora por nosotros.  (Monsignor Romero, thanks be to God for your life and witness. Pray for us.).

Originally published on Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Café  under the title "Looking Through the Rear View Mirror" on Saturday, March 24, 2011.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 17 - Patrick

Commemoration of Patrick, bishop and missionary,  (461)

Psalm 97:1-2. 7-12
Ezekiel 36:33-38
1 Thessalonians 2:2b-12
Matthew 28:16-20

The commemoration of Patrick of Ireland is certainly one of the more popular saints' days on the calendar. Even people who aren't Irish by birth, marriage, adoption or the grace of God find something green in their closet to wear, have a craving for corned beef and cabbage, and go to pubs to drink beer colored green. Whole waterways turn green which, on any other day would cause great alarm, are treated as a lark on March 17th. Parades are held, special blessings given, little lads and lasses perform the steps they so carefully learned in their step-dancing classes, leprechauns pop up everywhere, and, in general, even if someone isn't really Irish they do something to celebrate. Sure and begorrah, 'tis a fine day, even if it's pouring rain, because it celebrates Patrick and all things Irish -- except, perhaps, those for whom orange rather than green is the color of celebration. But, I imagine, even they wouldn't turn down a glass raised in honor of Ireland's most notable adopted son.

While Patrick surely didn't chase the snakes out of Ireland, he did do a lot of traveling, preaching and converting. A Briton by birth, he was captured and sold into slavery by Irish pirates, being freed (or perhaps escaping) six years later and returned home to his family and to prepare to become a priest. In a way it seems ironic that he was sent to serve in Ireland, the place where he had been a slave. Still, he went to Armagh  and went about his job as a priest and then as a bishop.

Patrick left us his story in the form of a confession like Augustine wrote and he left some letters. Best of all, he left (or folks attributed it to him) one of the most beautiful poem-prayers in Christendom, at least in my very humble opinion. It's included in numerous hymnals, including the 1982, and is usually sung when a very long processional hymn is needed (or at an ordination). I refer to Hymn # 370, generally known as "St Patrick's Breastplate." The congregation almost always groans when the bulletin or hymn board (or power point) indicates this is the hymn that will be sung, simply because of it's length and 90% minor key. Pagan friends refer to it as a binding spell, while Christians prefer to call it a binding prayer. In a culture where there's a prayer for everything from getting out of bed to going to bed and all the tasks and problems that might be encountered during that time, this would have been a morning prayer, speaking as it does of rising and girding and the request for protection from whatever the day brings. Not a bad way to start the day.

The one section that always grasps me is the one section in a major key, one of the oldest tunes in Celtic music.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
How reassuring it must have been to Patrick to have the confidence that Christ was indeed all around him, guarding and guiding, as well as the whole Trinity, the company of heaven, the communion of saints, the prophets, the scriptures, creeds, beauties and power of nature and, ultimately God leading it all. To a new ordinand, it represents all that they are taking on as they begin that phase of their ministry. Lay folk can sing it in the conviction that they don't need special chrismation or promises to claim what Patrick did. It is, in a sort of Irish nutshell, a binding prayer, a statement of faith and a memorizable way of linking oneself to all of creation both in heaven above and earth below. By its memorization, it goes inward, to be pulled out when necessary or desired, and retained for the next morning or time.

We have a lot to thank Ireland for, including Patrick and Patrick's lorica, the Breastplate. Who needs green beer when they can have a daily dose of poetry, prayer and statement of faith, all in one shot?

Bail ó Dhia ort - the blessing of God be on you.

(Note: The Breastplate of St. Patrick with tune and lyrics can be found  here.)  

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 17, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Anticipation Fulfilled

Anticipation is always so nerve-wracking. Whether it is an upcoming trip, a long-awaited purchase or something similar, anticipation moves in fairly early and, like the roller coaster car moving up the steep track, it seems to creep until it gets to the top, the moment when the event happens, or at least begins. When it comes to having company, there's the additional impetus of making sure the house is as clean as it can get (or as clean as I can get it, anyway), tidy (as tidy as it can be with four very hairy housemates) and stocked with whatever might be needed to make sure I keep up Mama's standards of hospitality. She might not have gone with feeding and housing any stranger that happened by the door like Abraham did, but if you showed up at her house, there was always plenty of food, a clean set of sheets (even if the kid had to sleep on the couch for a night or two) and plenty of toilet paper in stock.

This week I had the anticipation of meeting someone from the Internet. I'd read her blog long before I actually had any conversation with her, and when she showed up in an EfM class where I was a newly-minted mentor, it was somewhat akin to the feeling that I was meeting a legend. I mean, this lady really wrote good stuff, pertinent, articulate and had a lot of folks commenting on the things she said. Seeing her on the roster and finding out that she was indeed the person who wrote as Kirkepisactoid was sort of like the last-chair violinist sharing a stand with the concertmaster. I'm awed by her and still am. She's talented, multi-faceted, intelligent and the whole bit. And this week she was actually coming to my house to visit.

So, the anticipation of the visit really ramped up. The boys were really puzzled by seeing all the carefully-hidden loose confederations of hair they'd so effectively shed being sucked up in the noisy monster from the closet, and the smell of pine-sol was a bit disconcerting. It's not that they are unfamiliar activities; it was simply that I don't usually do them at 5am.

Anyway, when the red Explorer pulled into the driveway everybody was ready. For a dog person, she was definitely of interest to the boys, and within 5 minutes Sama had felt comfortable enough to jump in her lap, something he has never done with any other visitor. So what if she smelled vaguely of dog (not unpleasant, just something interesting and novel to the boys' noses), she had three cat-scans and was pronounced not only acceptable but comfortable to be around and who knew where to scratch (after an appropriate amount of introduction time).

Having her here was fun, but even more fun was having dinner with another classmate of ours, Carol. It's amazing how fast a couple of hours can pass and how many subjects can be covered in that amount of time. We talked theology, TRs, local and national news, travel, a tad about politics and just about everything else we could think of (well, we did pretty much eliminate music, stamp collecting, forensics and the weather) although there was a brief foray into canine anal gland impaction (before dinner, thank goodness!).  I know I had a good time, and I think Carol and Maria did too.

I was sorry to see her leave after breakfast this morning. I'd like to have talked with her for more hours than we had available but I'm grateful for the time we did have. And it's not like I don't read her blog (and I think she reads mine).  And, for the next year and three months, we'll still have EfM class together on Sunday nights during term. I am looking forward to more of her insights on TR topics as diverse as cartoons, matrices and the implications of the Apostle Paul on Christianity. Can't wait to see what she makes of all the various theologies of the 20th century that show up next year.

Oh, I think we'll manage to stay in touch from time to time, and the house is clean enough that I can take the weekend off from housework!

And the downhill side of the roller coaster ride is always worth the long slog to the top.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 10 - A Letter to Paul

To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

To the rest I say—I and not the Lord—that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you.

Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.

However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God. - 1 Corinthians 7:10-24

Dear Paul,

I would normally start a letter with pleasantries like "How are you? Hope all is well with you." I've read your letters and notice you have a formula for greeting those to whom you write, but it's as alien to me as mine would be to you so we'll dispense with that for now, if you don't mind.

The passage above causes me a lot of angst, Paul. There is a lot in it that I question, particularly since it seems to "clobber" some people while propping others up. If you're married, stay married -- unless. Huh. The criteria seems to be whether one spouse or the other is a believer. If the woman is an unbeliever, then she has only the choice of remaining married or leaving-- to go where, with what and in what state? If she goes she either must return to her family and probably end up a slave to them because she cost them the dowry and now she is dependent on them, or she must go on the streets and shame everybody, including herself and her family. If she stays in the marriage, she is subject to the husband, whether he is kind to her or not. If he chooses to use her as a punching bag or demean her in any possible way, she's supposed to just take it as a good submissive wife should. Of course, if she is the believer, she has basically the same choice, especially if the man chooses to stay and even if he is abusive, cruel or negligent. The long and short of it is that she has choices -- none of which are always and particularly favorable to her. Maybe you don't talk about that kind of male behavior here, but many good "Christian" men have taken your words and used them to justify anything they choose to do. That isn't your fault, of course, because you said what you meant at the time and for the people of Corinth whom you were addressing. Still, your words are in the Bible and are often the basis of how spouses treat each other and try to live according to what they believe the Bible says.

You place a lot of emphasis on celibacy. I don't have too much disagreement with you except that by using yourself and your chosen celibacy as the ideal, you've set it up so that some can set up rules of celibacy for others that they do not follow themselves.  Not to pick on the lady, but Brittney Spears was married for about 24 hours before seeking a divorce. I don't know her motives, but it seemed she had an itch that needed scratching and that marriage was the way to scratch. It didn't take long for her to find out that she'd made a mistake. Condemnation?  Not a lot, except that people judged the 24 hours as a bit of a short time for a person to be married before moving on. Contrast that with GLBT couples who have been in committed relationships for 20, 30, 40 or more years. They have been monogamous, worked out who does which chore, gone to work, done the grocery shopping, paid taxes, took out the garbage, disagreed with their partners and made up, and cared for those partners when illness or hard times struck. According to your principles, they are to be celibate because they are not married -- but in most places they can't GET married. They aren't called to celibacy but society expects them to be celibate because they aren't "normal" in the sense heterosexuals consider themselves to be. Paul, you had a choice -- but you've helped to limit the choices of others who do not share your calling. Again, you wrote to your time and congregation, but the ripples from the rock you threw in the river are still lapping at the shoreline and heading out to sea, and some of those ripples are the size of tidal waves, drowning those who just want a fair shake.

We consider slavery to be abominable, yet you tell slaves to be content in their calling.  There may be comfort in knowing in their innermost hearts that they are free because Jesus bought them, their bodies are still enslaved and the work ain't gettin' any lighter. The adolescent girls in the brothels of the world, the pre-teen boys forced into combat and unbelievably horrible and barbaric acts or face a tormented and tortured death themselves, the untouchable adults who have to do the dirtiest and most demeaning jobs in society, the haggard woman standing on the street corner with aching feet and an intense worry about what her kids would do if she got into the wrong car -- these are today's slaves just as surely as there are those whose bodies are considered the property of others. Paul, do you really mean that they are to look to a better life in heaven and just endure this one because Jesus died on the cross and opened the gates of heaven for them at some future point in time?  Is that really what you meant? Is that really comfort?

You say a lot about love in a lot of place in your letters. I am sorry, but I don't really see a lot of love in this passage. If you were here I might be tempted to try to dialog with you and see what you meant and what you might consider a bit differently if you lived in this time and culture, but since you aren't available for such a conversation I have to read, study the words of others explaining what you meant, and try to discern where the truth lies. As of right now, here is where I stand, as Brother Martin would have said. I can do no other.

Thank you for listening.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 10, 2012.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March 3 - Dreams

After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and there came up out of the Nile seven sleek and fat cows, and they grazed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. The ugly and thin cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. And Pharaoh awoke. Then he fell asleep and dreamed a second time; seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. Then seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them. The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Pharaoh awoke, and it was a dream. In the morning his spirit was troubled; so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.

Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘I remember my faults today. Once Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard. We dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own meaning. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each according to his dream. As he interpreted to us, so it turned out; I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.’ -- Genesis 41:1-13

Dreams are odd things. They seem to be the brain's way of entertaining itself while the body is off sleeping and rebuilding. The brain can't shut down, though. It's like a power plant -- shut it down and everything comes to a total halt. Can't have people not having heartbeats or breaths while they're supposed to be resting, now can we? So the brain keeps going, doing its thing while we are sleeping.  One thing the brain does is create stories, whether based on reality or on pure imagination. Sometimes I wake up and there's a fragment left of a dream my brain was conjuring. Sometimes it's amusing, sometimes absolutely unreal and sometimes there's something that sticks with me long enough to think about it for a while, looking for the memory or the meaning of what my brain brought to the forefront in the wee small hours.

There are probably thousands of books that have been written as purported guides to the meaning of dreams. In fact, people have been seeking and interpreting dreams for probably as long as they have been communicating. Does the car trip in the dream mean that I will be taking off to far places in an automobile or is it a symbolic or spiritual journey? Somehow I don't think the dream of rescuing puppies from a swollen gutter means I will be adopting a litter any time soon, but am I rescuing something, someone or maybe myself? 

Dreams in the Bible were serious business, considered messages from God (or their god) or revelations of truth that needed attention. In some cases the dreams could be interpreted by the dreamers themselves, but kings and rulers had groups of professional dream interpreters on staff specifically to perform that function lest the gods (or God) be sending a revelation that wasn't completely understandable even to experts. In Joseph's story, he was an outsider who was given the ability to speak the true meaning and prophecy.
That ability to interpret dreams first imprisoned Joseph and then freed from jail and gave him power, status and the ability to help others, including his own family. But that part is yet to come in Joseph's story.

I don't think my dreams are of any great shakes in the greater scheme of things, but I wonder what they are telling me. Are my frequent dreams of being in strange but interesting places a signal that I need to expand my horizons or just a wish for a break in the normal (and often boring) routine?  I remember the dream of being at home as a child, every detail of the neighborhood remembered exactly but with the exception of a drainage ditch full of water and with spotted puppies in it, neither of which never existed or happened. Was there a meaning or message from God? Or was it just my brain processing something of which I was unaware except for the image left behind?

There are times, though, where I know there's something I need to figure out when a fragment of a dream sticks around and doesn't allow itself to stray far from my thoughts during the day. I'm no Pharaoh or ruler, dreaming of things which affect not only me but thousands of my subjects, nor am I a Joseph who has been given the power and guidance to say what dreams mean and what to do about that meaning. Still, there is something that I need to interpret and can only use my own experience and knowledge to do it. I usually find it is something that I need to do to make a change, and then it is up to me to figure out precisely how to effect that change.

Just as a thought to myself,  do I look at my dreams and fragments to see if God is in there somewhere or whether it's just my brain amusing itself?  It might be that sometimes that's the best chance God has of getting my attention.  I'll have to be more attentive to that. For sure.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul  on Episcopal Café  Saturday, March 3, 2012.