Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter 2011

Christos anesti!

Yes, I know it's a few hours early but the anticipation is there, the impatience to give up the sorrow and pain of the past two days and get to the joy that I know is waiting.

I remember the first time I heard anyone use the Easter greeting "Christos anesti!" It sounded exotic but she wasn't satisfied until everybody in the congregation responded at almost the top of their collective lungs, "Alithos anesti!" She did it again the next year and with some prompting of memory as to the proper phrase, it didn't take nearly as long for the assembly to fall into the routine. The third year, it was almost automatic.

Anne was a dear soul, beloved by almost everybody. She was funny, deep, intelligent, tough, experienced and as open to listening as she was to speaking. She was easy to love -- and at times, very hard to love. But then, isn't anyone worth loving in the first place sometimes very hard to love or even like? I have a feeling even Jesus' disciples felt that way. Sometimes Jesus made things so hard ---

I can still feel some of the pain of his disciples and followers on that Good Friday. All their hopes, all their dreams, several years out of their lives spent following, listening, helping (and sometimes hindering a bit) this Jesus who was so suddenly snatched from among them. What to do now? They couldn't (or wouldn't) even be there to see his death because they were afraid his death might mean theirs as well. What they must have felt when they learned the tomb was empty -- a message brought by a mere woman who, with several others, not only dared to go to the tomb to anoint the body but who stood at the foot of the cross itself in all its blood, gore, agony and death.

What happened that Easter morning? Was it a resuscitation? A true resurrection? A hallucination? A case of wishful thinking? Something unfathomable? Something to just accept as fact and let ambiguity take care of the rest? It all depends on who you ask but specifics aside, Christians agree something happened. A tomb was empty, a beloved master was seen and heard. A ghost? Could a ghost break a loaf of bread? Cook a fish? Act very un-ghost like by walking around in places not associated with the death?

"Christos anesti!" gives me some sense of the mystery and strangeness of that first Easter morning. It sounds strange and the tongue stumbles a little on the unfamiliar syllables just as the suddenness of the appearance of a man who was, everybody knew, dead on Friday but alive, walking and talking on Sunday morning must have been to his friends, family and followers. "Christos anesti!" It is a cry of triumph, a Greek equivalent of the "Hosanna!" shouted at Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. "Christos anesti!" It is a proclamation that death is not the end, there is hope for a better day, God is with us and will continue to be so.

Χριστός Aνέστη! Christos anesti! Christ has risen!

Αληθώς Ανέστη! Alithos anesti! He is risen indeed!

Aλληλούια ! Allelouia! Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thoughts of a Progressive Anachronism

Like most people, I’m a work in progress. At various times, I see myself through different lenses and use different descriptions to say to myself and to others who I believe myself to be. Some days I wear political face (Democrat, liberal, believer in social justice, etc.) while on other days I where a more general mask (female, Senior, pudgy, widow). I can define myself as a cat person by virtue of the fact that I live with four-legged kids but also a cat person by virtue of the fact that I don’t particularly care for change – most of the time. I like furniture to stay where I put it the first time, unless I find I need to change it around for some particular practical reason. I tend to eat the same things over and over and am reluctant to try new stuff. I like my creature comforts and would love to have someone prepare and serve my meals (on MY schedule), cleaned my litter box, give me periodic treats and pay attention to me when I ask for it. I’d make a great cat.

I find, though, that I’m becoming an oxymoron (some would say the oxy– part is optional, the rest is accurate). I see myself becoming a progressive anachronism: someone who believes in progress but wants her comfort zone and traditional practice to stay intact because that’s the way it’s always been, or at least feels like it’s always been. I am progressive enough to enjoy the benefits of technology – computers, Kindles, iPods, cell phones, high-speed Internet access, satellite TV, etc. – but I like them where I want them to be and not in unexpected places.

When it comes to church, my catness really shows up. I like things the way they used to be, or at least how I thought they used to be. I have great difficulty sometimes with the way things really are. I love the hymns we have sung for years, hymns I grew up with and to which I know all the words and harmonies. I’m glad to have both the CDs and access to iTunes that let me hear them whenever I want. However, praise bands and PowerPoint presentations of simple lyrics to songs with simple tunes and not much harmony don’t satisfy something in me that is integral to the way I worship. I love my iPod but I use it to listen to church music of the 14th – 19th century. I love the liturgy with polysyllabic words that resonate in my mouth as well as my heart and brain and I know the Psalms and the Christmas story sound better in the King James version than in anything contemporary although I’ll accept most of the rest of the Bible in modern language. In short, I like things the way they always were.

But while reading a book recently I realized I am becoming an anachronism, a nice Greek word, anachroniziesthai, as near as I can figure. I like things permanent in a world that is in constant flux and change. I pride myself on being progressive, but my progress seems to stop at the church door. When I look back over the years that I have been involved with church, there have been changes, some more jarring than others, but nonetheless changes that occurred as a response to a need or a perception. The church has not always been as I know it to be now. I remember the fuss when the beloved 1940 hymnal was changed, some dearly beloved hymns were eliminated and new songs were added that really took getting used to. I remember when the 1928 prayer book was revised and some parishioners left because “It isn’t church anymore.” The words had been changed and, it appeared, the meaning and worshipfulness of the church experience got shifted a bit. I remember seeing a woman priest behind the altar, celebrating the Eucharist and not just setting the table and/or cleaning up afterwards. That was another change that a lot of people could not handle.

I managed to deal with those changes, some more easily than others, so I know I am able to change even things that are important to me when it comes to church. So why am I having such a hard time and so much angst about more changes? The church has been changing since the time of the apostles. It might go along with the same garb, words, postures and gestures for a couple of centuries but sooner or later, things would change. The church went into new places, to new people and cultures, and the old ways didn’t totally fit. So the church changed. My church, among others, is in a state of change because the world outside the church is changing, a natural and predictable series of events.

The church people of my generation think of as “theirs” really isn’t. It belongs to no one group or one set of individuals or even one country. The church is God’s and we’re just the people who have the responsibility of making it work. Part of making it work means making it relevant to the place, time, and people who serve within it and who it serves both inside and outside its walls. The question is how to keep young people in the church and active in the church once they get past confirmation, go off to college, or just get too busy to be part of the church as they used to be when they were younger. It is frequently heard at church meetings and discussions that the young people are the church of tomorrow. That’s not really true; they are the church of today, the church they share with the older people and children who also work and worship together in that church.

The disconnect comes because the younger people live in a world totally different from the one in which their elders grew up in. Our generation read newspapers, we remember when there were no TVs to watch, a phone call was about something important and not necessarily just a “hi, how are you?” The young people today don’t remember a time before a man walked on the moon, or before computers existed. Their vocabulary is shorter and, in some ways, more terse than ours was. We crafted letters and worked hard to convey in proper English and proper spelling precisely what we wanted to say, and then wrote with good penmanship on a physical piece of paper and envelope that got dropped in a mailbox and eventually arrived at its destination. It was opened, read, and sometimes saved for years. That’s harder to do with e-mails, and most people don’t do those things with e-mails. Their world consists of tweets, short messages of 140 characters that speak volumes in a few syllables. It’s a more individual world, even in crowds – and churches. Programs that used to work, like choirs, no longer work because people don’t have time for them much less interest in singing in harmony. They want fast, simple, emotive experiences that can be made relevant to how they live their lives now. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that “We’ve never done it that way before,” as one of the unofficial mottoes of the Episcopal Church states.

Well, guess what. Calvinists of the 18th century probably nearly had apoplexy when someone suggested they sing hymns rather than metrically chant the Psalms as they were accustomed to doing. But look where we are now; hymns are common things in churches and psalmody is almost a forgotten art. In the Jerusalem church, circumcision was the norm until Paul argued that circumcision was a Jewish custom that should not necessarily be forced on non-Jews. He won that one, but it certainly made a big change in the church. For centuries the liturgy was done in a language common people didn’t read or understand. They didn’t sit in pews; they stood through the whole service. After the Reformation ministers wore simple clothing or black robes with preaching bands instead of the garb of chausible, alb and stole that had become standard at an earlier time. Those things didn’t come back to the Church of England (and many of its daughter churches) until the Oxford movement in the late 19th century. Change happens. Change is part of life, even the life of faith and religion. I just wonder sometimes though, why can’t it wait ‘til it doesn’t matter to me

Whether I like it or not, change in the church is inevitable. There are new ways of doing church that speak to the people who will be in this church a lot longer than I will be in the future. Without change, churches, institutions, even life itself cannot continue. Nothing is static; it can’t be and continue to grow. So, I have a choice. Except the new way of doing church or go find old fogeys like myself who resist change and insist on their comfort level being respected.

I wonder what the new prayer book and hymnal will look like? How soon can I expect them not just in the pews of my church but on my Kindle? It may not be comfortable, but somehow it’s going to have to be. May I have the strength to bear it with grace and accept it with more patience than I have to date. It’s God’s church; I just have to get out of God’s way and let God set the agenda for the church of the future.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Dark Night in the Daylight

I've been combing the news for reports of damage in the area I used to and still call "home." A school collapsed, trees down, roads blocked, power out --- these are significant but except for the school, the same things happen every time a hurricane or severe thunderstorm go through the area. But a tornado? I never remember a tornado going anywhere near us in the years I spent there.

As more news is available, I have more cause for worry. Oh, I'm sure my family members on the south side of my river are safe. There aren't any reports of major stuff coming from there, but the once sleepy and rural areas north of the river where Daddy's family came from and some of their descendants still live have been hit, including my nephew. Oh, the area has developed almost by explosion; where there used to be fields and truck farms and meadows and virgin forest are now blocks of houses, strip malls and fast fooderies. The narrow roads and lanes we used to drive down to visit the relatives or go to the cemetery where so many of the relations now rest are now splayed across the news as areas hard-hit by the storms. I read -- and I worry.

I'm sure my family is all right. It's Palm Sunday. I'm sure most, if not all, are in church, celebrating the ride into Jerusalem and preparing for Easter. Another nephew, this one a preacher, will be preaching on that gospel, I'm sure, and my brother and sister-in-law will be sitting in their usual pews. I pray as I wonder, though, about those who should be sitting in the little church that stands watch over the graveyard across the river where so many lie -- aunts, uncles, a niece, cousins by the score, and my adoptive mother and father among them -- and which are surrounded by deep woods.

I took a google-tour of the area not a month ago, seeing the changes but also seeing the unchanged. I wonder now, how much of what I saw then is no longer there.

It hasn't been hard to pray for the people of Haiti, China, Japan and all the people of the world shaken by disaster of a magnitude that is almost unimaginable to us. It has been easy to pray for them; I don't know them by name or the streets on which they live. It's harder to get my jumbled thoughts together so as to pray coherently for those whose names I do know and who live on roads and streets that I've known from my childhood. There have been deaths in that area; I pray none of them have a familiar name just as I pray for comfort and strength for those who have been affected by this storm, wherever and whoever they are.


I paused while writing this and called home. No answer until a few minutes ago when I reached my sister-in-law. They still don't know the names of the dead but my nephew is safe and helping those neighbors who were harder hit. There was other news, not so good, but that was something else entirely.

Thank you, God, for the family, as far-distant in many ways as the people in Japan or Haiti but still close enough so that phone lines can carry news both ways. thank you for the technology that can cause me to worry or cause me to cease worrying.

God, be with those across this country who've suffered injury or death or damage from this storm. May next Sunday, Easter Sunday, be a day of resurrection -- hopes, dreams, restoration, renewal and replenishment. My anxiety has abated, on that situation anyway. The family is safe. That dark night is over even though the sun has been up for hours.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Praise for Things Impermanent

Spring is obviously here. Even though the thermometer shifts between 97° one day and 61° a few days later, the mulberry trees have lost their fuzzies and the leaves are now full sized. The roses are starting to bloom, the jasmine is a day or two away from open blossoms, and the kleenexes are filling the trash baskets because of the pollen that marks spring's exuberance after a winter of hibernation. Another signal of spring is the lengthening of days. That can be a good or a bad thing, depending.

It's easier to get moving in the morning when there's light outside. Somehow when it's still dark when I get up and even when I get ready to go to work, it's harder to leave the house (sometimes even to get out of bed.). Like the plants, I've got more energy and urge to get moving even if I don't bloom (except maybe as a bloomin' idiot sometimes).

I have prisms and things hanging in all my living room windows. the small-bay windows are oriented toward the north and mostly shaded by one of the mulberry trees. Still, this morning, There were flashes of color coming from a round prism I have hanging in the north-west one, light striking it from the window on the east wall at just precisely the right angle. Phoebe was confused by all the little flashes that suddenly appeared on the ceiling and I was mesmerized by the flashes of color in the heart of the prism, but by the time I grabbed my camera and got back, the sun had risen higher in the sky and the prism was asleep again. But wait --- a prism in the east window as just getting its moment in the sun and there were some bold splashes of color dancing around the room, including the ceiling. it only lasted a very few minutes, but oh, what glory in those few brief moments in time.

It made me think about transient things, how briefly things and people come into my life, seemingly out of nowhere, create a splash and then fade away again as if they'd never been there. But they were -- that brief time is engraved on the memory, for good or for ill, and becomes part of me, part of what makes me me -- my thoughts, my experiences, my memories.

The Bible uses flashes usually in terms of lightning flashing across the sky, the sound of YHWH's voice, the swiftness of arrows and the flickering of flame. There are moments, though, when a momentary something happens that changes everything. Just in the gospels, stories of Jesus touching people who seemingly come from nowhere, encounter Jesus, are healed or changed and then sink back into oblivion are everywhere. The blind man from last week's reading, the Syrophoenician woman, the woman with the hemorrhage, the leper, the Gerasene demonic -- like meteors their stories flash across the horizon of our consciousness and then vanish, leaving only the memory of themselves, their story and their encounter with Jesus for us to contemplate. It only takes a minute to change a life, really; the gospels are full of them, as is the rest of the Bible. One simply has to be in the right place at the right time for something that was just words to become a flash of rainbow that changes how we see, think and act.

The rainbow on the ceiling has faded but I caught it with my camera. I know that tomorrow another will take its place, if the sun is rising and it isn't cloudy, and whether or not I am here to observe its coming and going. But that is tomorrow. Today I have the memory of something bright, beautiful and fleeting that made me think of the value of not durable goods but rather the importance of transient things. It reminds me to look for the flashes of -- beauty? importance? intuition? joy? -- that happen in everyday life and suddenly change how I see or feel things. It reminds me that there is value in impermanent things because they can give permanent blessings and insights.

Kinda like Jesus passing through a town and in a flash, healing what had been un-healable.

Today I give thanks for the little flashes that bring me insights into greater things. May I not forget to look for them tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hummingbird Confusion

Last night I noticed (too late to do anything about it) that one hummingbird feeder was empty -- or empty enough that no nectar was visible in the bottle. CATASTROPHE! I thought about it early this morning but wasn't about to go out on the patio in my pajamas to retrieve the empty so it waited.
Meanwhile the hummers visited both feeders regularly, evidently finding some nourishment in the bit that was left.

Something interesting was going on up the street so I finally got some threads on and went outside to rubberneck --- er-- retrieve the empty feeder and incidentally keep an eye on what was going on when I noticed the other feeder had an empty bottle. Ok, no problem there. I filled up the first feeder and hung it out and got the empty one while the second batch of water was heating in the microwave. The hummers didn't waste time making use of the full one so I figured I had a little time.

Standing at the kitchen sink and watching the "interesting" happening up the street I noticed that a hummer kept returning to where the empty feeder had been just a few minutes ago and flitted about as if to say, "Hang on 'ere. There was something 'ere just a bit ago, now where did it go? Dangit, I'm 'ungry and that bunch at the other feeder isn't gonna share and I want MINE back!" The tiny bird came back three or four times while I got the dishes finished as if to check to see that the thing that was there and suddenly wasn't was back again. No joy, just confusion. How could something that big just vanish all of a sudden?  The hummingbird world was all discombobulated.

I empathize with the little bird; I know what it's like to suddenly have the world suddenly gone all goofy and strange. Things that seemed permanent are revealed as impermanent and possibly rubble  in a matter of moments. Things I counted on are all of a sudden not there, not available and not able to be relied upon like before. Sometimes I go back several times to where I thought I left something, searching for it,  or come home from work to find something that was there in the morning when I left is not there now. Where did it go?  What do I do now? What can I do?  And yes, I know I sound vaguely like Scarlett O'Hara but the world pretty much gives back the answer Rhett Butler gave, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." 

For me, there are friends I can count on to help make sense of most things. They've been through it and they know what I'm feeling and thinking and what the next step ought to be, even if they don't say it quite that way. I've got strength  I didn't know I had until it was tested and I came through whatever it was that I wasn't sure I could handle. And I've got faith that somehow, some way, God will be there.

The nectar finally reached the right temperature to be put in the empty bottle and outside it went.  I hadn't even gotten it hung when I heard the unmistakable sound of hummer wings humming in my ear and saw the flash of iridescence not four inches from my nose. " 'Allo, wotcher got there?" Before I even got back to the door, the hummer tavern was open for business and customers were rotating in and out. Once again, all was well in the hummer world.

The "interesting" event up the street is over and now there's a big raw spot where a trailer stood for years. It's going to take a while before I get used to not seeing it there on the corner but I got to see it leave and that gives me some sense of closure. Still, things will be different now, even if not by much.

And God's still here. That's comforting beyond all words.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Indeed feminism changes the way we see everything, not just the way we relate to men. It changes what we value and what we seek. It changes the way we see ourselves as women. And it turns a critical--and calloused-- eye on both state and church. After that there is no going back to "ladylike" docility or clerical worship. After that there is only me. -- Joan Chittister*

I look at chapter 27 of year 4 in the EfM textbook --- one chapter out of four years of 34 lessons per year -- that talks about feminism and the women whose voices have played their part in theological thought. Even then it feels more like a sop thrown to make women happy that they're mentioned but without real appreciation for their value as theologians, as contributing and participating members of hte Body of Christ and as human beings also created by God with thoughts and experiences to be spoken and voices to be heard. Oh, yes, a few, very few, women are mentioned in the history of the church but more as cheerleaders and bench warmers than actual contributors to the work. Usually they are the dutiful saints although some of'em had fire in their bones for change and some, like Julian, dared speak of God as someone other than "He." Needless to say, I found the chapter quite frustrating.

One thing that needs to be pointed out is that feminist theology may include but does not generally meander into male-bashing. Feminists are not always about how rotten men are and what boogers they can be. Feminism, of which there are men subscribers, believe it or not, is about the acceptance of women in their full personhood, "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights" of which life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the equality of treatment is part and parcel. If feminists sometimes speak in less than dulcet tones and appear to have barely-concealed anger, it's because they've been given cause to be so; being ignored, being patted on the head and sent off to sit quietly in the corner, being told to be quiet, that they can't do thus-and-so because they don't have the right plumbing apparatuses, etc., is enough to make even a doormouse roar.

One of the eye-openers for me as Phyllis Trible's book, Texts of Terror. It featured some stories I NEVER heard in church (even in the So. Babdist church of my youth) and, if they were discovered, were sort of glossed-over in bible study class. They were stories like Jephtha's daughter, the one to be sacrificed in order to fulfill her father's promise that if something particular happened he would sacrifice the first thing - person or animal - he saw on his return home. Which just happened to be his beloved daughter. Oh, he gave her a month to go out with her friends to take a retreat in the mountains to mourn her upcoming death and what price virginity, but in the end it is implied that he, unlike Abraham with Isaac, actually completed the deal he'd made. Now if that ain't enough to curl someone's toenails...

Feminism looks at the bits that have been overlooked, primarily those that feature or refer to women, and sincerely and deeply questions what it all means, why it was as it was, why it isn't used now as a learning experience for men as well as women. Caucasian women have Feminist theology, African-American women have Womanist theology, Latinas have Mujerista theology, all basically similar but with the focus on their particular religious, social and cultural lives and understandings. The chapter in the book only refered to Feminist, as if the others did not exist and, admitting that it focused on the US, sort of dismissed the rest of the world. Granted it's hard to put so much into one chapter but considering that some topics got two or three, this particular one might be worth more than three-quarters of one.

Don't even get me started on the last quarter of the chapter, the bare mention of GLBTI theology. Granted, the chapter was written in 2003 and had a postcript added about the election of Gene Robinson, but dang --- haven't we had discussions on this in the church for at least the last decade if not the last 30-35 years? And it's condensed into how many pages? Two and about 8 lines of another?

I love EfM. I've learned so much and continue to learn each time I go through a year but honestly, sometimes it just makes me want to go out and burn a bra or something. Oh, wait; that period passed some time ago and I missed it. Well, better late than never, I guess. Please, Sewanee, PLEASE update the texts! Thanks.

* Chittister, Joan, Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir. (2004) Landham, MD: Sheed& Ward. (Kindle ed.)