Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Show me....

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, it is has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. -- James 2:14-18

I read this passage and immediately got an ear-worm of Eliza Doolittle from "My Fair Lady" singing "Don't' talk of stars burning above/ If you're in love, show me!" Somehow I don't think that was precisely what Paul had in mind, but it certainly captures the passage for me.

I remember the exhortations in the church of my youth to "confess Jesus as your personal Savior!" It was my ticket to heaven when I died, even though I was often reminded of how sinful I really was and how little I deserved God's grace and mercy. I was also expected to pass on the formula to my "unsaved" friends - and even total strangers - so that they too could look forward to being with Jesus in heaven. I was expected to do good deeds too, though, things like contributing to the missionary society or the March of Dimes, visiting the old folks' home and helping the "less fortunate" with my castoff clothes and canned goods. If I'd lived in a city, probably helping an old lady cross the street would have worked too, but in our little town there wasn't much of an option for that.

It doesn't take a Christian to contribute to food and clothing drives, help in soup kitchens or collect money for causes that will help research cures for now-incurable diseases. It doesn't take a Christian to help build schools in majority-world countries or send mosquito nets to help prevent malaria. It doesn't take a Christian to sign petitions or campaign vocally against the death penalty, war, rape, injustice, poverty and atrocities. It doesn't take a Christian to do a lot of things, but if one is a Christian, it is not a choice; it is an obligation to work to make the kingdom of God in the here-and-now, not somewhere in the then-and-there. It's not enough to proclaim my faith if what I do gives a different message. I can't complain about my medical coverage if there are people who can't afford a health safety net or have access to even the most basic medical care without severely or totally impacting their financial position, no matter how precarious. I can't think I am owed my big house and new car because I'm so good and I am being rewarded for being righteous when there are good people who are homeless and hopeless, often through disease or what others call "bad luck." And I certainly can't think God likes me better than those who are not as well-off as I am because I make sure people hear me say "Praise God!" or "Thank you, Jesus!", pray silently but visibly before meals in restaurants, or punctuate my conversations with scripture verses and references.

I have faith but I have to show it. It's how I show the world I am in love -- in love with it because it is God's creation and with all the people of the world, no matter how much I may disagree with them or even be turned off by their beliefs, because they are also God's children. Verna Dozier said, "Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what difference it makes that you believe!" Faith requires that I believe but also that I show that faith through my works -- words, deeds, attitudes and practices. I have to do what St. Francis suggested, "Preach always, and sometimes use words." And then there's Learner and Lowe's statement, "If you're in love, show me!"

Monday, June 20, 2011


As I have mentioned before, I'm a TV addict. I'm selective about what I watch, but I still watch some things that seem almost like train wrecks -- it's horrible but one can't help watching. Lots of reality shows are like that. Most reality shows I wouldn't give you a plugged nickel for; I'm not interested in bad girls being stupid, manly men mowing down forests or people fishing for swordfish (I lost my interest in the Alaska crab fishing when Captain Phil died). Once in a while I'll watch truck drivers take on the frozen arctic (I do like Alex and Lisa), but I wonder how much of that is just to see ice and snow when outside my windows it's 105° and above.

Last night I watched the second installment of Sarah Ferguson's journey on the Oprah Winfrey Network. As an avid royals-watcher for years, when she crashed and burned as a princess I was half-disdainful and half-sympathetic. Having been divorced once myself I could empathize with her situation -- to a point. The reality show features an older Sarah but one who exposes an almost childlike side that is rather painful to watch. She is, I believe, very much a lost child inside, and until that child finds a way to grow, Sarah will be trapped forever in a naivete that gets her into deep caca at almost every turn.

One thing I noticed about Sarah last night, though. In discussion with Dr. Phil, he gave her a name and it seemed to turn on a light bulb. It isn't a really great name, and many of us are ashamed to say we have the same name even if our situations are totally different. "Sarah, you act just like an addict. You are an addict -- for approval and acceptance." That was it. Sarah now had a name for her problem. Now she can start to look for a way to change simply because she can put a name to that problem. I've seen it happen again and again --- things are all screwy and out of control until, suddenly, what was an amorphous mass of confusing, defeating, fog-like symptoms and actions becomes something more concrete, more clear and more manageable. It's amazing to me what the power of naming something can be. I've seen it in my own life and I've seen it in the lives of others who aren't on TV and who don't play the role on TV.

The name "addict" isn't particularly attractive. It means an uncontrolled need for something or someone. It's almost always destructive, even if it is something touted as so healthy as exercise. Nobody likes the term "addict," particularly when applied to them, but as almost any 12-stepper will tell you in so many words, you can't start curing the sickness until you know what the sickness is. Put a name to it and suddenly there are options.

Watching Sarah's light bulb moment made me remember some of mine. There are situations, too, which seem so unclear and so confusing that I was/am never sure which way to go to either get out of it or get through it. Finding a name for whatever is preventing me from movement -- fear, anxiety, past experience, addictive behaviors, stubbornness, ineptitude, hopelessness, ignorance -- helps me identify what I need to do to get off dead center.

To the world I have a name, an identifier by which they identify me. A lot of them have other names for me, most probably not very flattering, based on how they perceive me or have found in interaction with me. To myself I have more than one name, depending on what I'm thinking or involved in at the moment. A lot of those aren't very flattering either. I've been taught (or, as is probably more accurate, taught myself) to think negatively about myself; to think well of myself would be pride, to constantly remind myself what a lousy, worthless sinner I am is to be properly humble.

But I am moved to remind myself (and Sarah too) that no matter how badly we've done things, no matter how messy things have gotten and how poorly we've behaved, we still have one name that is ours for all eternity. It's one that can help move us beyond the swamp and onto solid ground. It's one that sticks, even when we seem to feel we shouldn't have it at all. It is the name God has for each of us.


Saturday, June 18, 2011


I confess. I'm a TV addict. There. I've said it.

I love music and listen to it at work most days. I have a classical music station permanently tuned in on the radio in my truck. Even during times when I find myself iPod-less or radio-less, there's music playing in my head. It's been that way long before the advent of my truck radio --- and way, way longer than my iPod infatuation. But when I'm sitting at home, working on the computer, doing housework, even going to sleep, the TV is on. True crime stories, forensics, mummy autopsies, pyramid investigation, women shopping for wedding gowns, documentaries, even Harry Potter marathons, I watch'em all --- or at least, keep track of them while I'm doing other stuff. I think it helps me keep what brain I have left active and working.

There's a downside to TV too, though. Commercials. Advertisements. Teasers. Each station on my dish seems to have a group of favored commercials and they play them -- over and over and over. I can see the same commercial at least once every half hour for the length of time I have that particular station tuned in. Change the channel and a new set of repeaters shows up. Some of them I kinda like, like the one for a medical show that shows an iguana loose in an ER and racing through a doorway at top speed -- but the accompanying vocal soundtrack gets a bit wearing. I can watch the iguana but the song drives me nuts. I can only watch so many reiterations of Shania Twain's "I was losing my voice and losing my confidence" spiel for her reality show or the like. I will often switch channels just long enough to watch another commercial, any other commercial, rather than the one that's on the channel whose program I am interested in watching. Luckily most of them take commercial breaks at about the same time. Wonder bras, Sham-Wows, endless bathtubs of couples touting Cialis or slick super Bob and his eternal smirk indicating the efficacy of Enzyte or whatever, I can do without entirely.

I wonder what the reaction would have been in Jesus' day. "Back to our healings in a moment, but first a word from our Sponsor." Would people have gotten up and gone for a pit stop or to get something from the fridge? "Dang, we've heard this same message 15 times now. Can't they come up with something new?"

I remember at least one church commercial that appeared on TV that actually caught and held my attention every time I saw it. I believe it was the UCC and hook was that their church didn't keep out all but the select; they accepted the very people society said were unclean, unrepentant and unregenerate sinners and outcasts. "Wow!" I thought. And I wished so much the Episcopal church could come up with something even half as telling and half as inviting as that was. But then, we're Episcopalians. The old joke is that "We don't need evangelism. Everybody who is supposed to be Episcopalian already is!"

I wonder what kind of commercial we could do? "We take the Bible seriously -- but not literally." "Our sign says 'The Episcopal Church Welcomes You' without any 'unless....' following it." "An old church with a message for today." "God and human beings served here." "Asking questions is fine, even hard ones. That's how we learn and that's what we practice." "A church established in 1534, based on a faith founded in 33 AD." "We believe Jesus died for all the sins of the world, not just a few."

Ok, you see now why I'm not some advertising wizard or copy writing powerhouse. But the point I'm trying to make is that we need to put our church out in the marketplace, not to sell it but rather to extend an invitation to visit it. we get lots of publicity over "gay bishops" or lawsuits and the like, and the Lord knows those topics sell a lot of papers and even air time on the national newscasts. Some of that publicity has proven to be in our favor; people who had been wounded by churches who rejected them because of who and what they were, people who had been preached at and bashed over the head with Bibles (figuratively if not literally!), even people who had been turned off by the perception of hypocrisy (like preaching about sin and then getting caught coming out of a cheap motel or arrested for propositioning undercover cops). Those folks have been a blessing to us. They keep us honest and they keep us working to try to show more people what we have to offer.

How do we really get across the message that appears on signs outside Episcopal churches all over, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You"? What kind of commercial, infomercial or ad campaign would really get that point across? "If you're seeking a honest place to practice your faith, apply within"? "Come let us show you faith in action"? "Feeling lost? We can help you find directions"?

I know what I found in the Episcopal church. It didn't take a commercial, merely a "Coming to church with me today?"

Sure sounds a lot better than even a cute iguana hot-footing it out a door to the accompaniment of some tune that states, "We're gonna make you feel all right."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Spirit Moving.....

It's been a quiet weekend, like most of them. I don't mind at all; I rather like walking in my front door on Friday night and, except for feeding the outside cats or taking the garbage to the dumpster, not going anywhere or even needing to talk to anyone if I choose not to. Of course, talking to people is something I do choose to do, and I'm grateful to have several friends I can call whenever I need to. Much as I love the boys (and Phoebe), they're not always the world's greatest conversationalists —except maybe at 3:30 a.m. Often what we say is far less important than the fact that we are communicating, building stronger bonds between us, each providing thoughts and jokes and an underlying feeling of support, sharing and love. Sometimes to outsiders it might seem like we're talking normally but there are little catch phrases and words that mean something to us other than what they would normally be expected to mean.

Today was Pentecost, one of the "biggies" in the church when the Spirit finally gets a day of celebration. I read of churches where the account of the first Pentecost is read not only in a single language but in a number of them -- simultaneously. It's sort of a reenactment of what happened when the disciples and followers of Jesus met together 50 days after the resurrection. The Spirit popped down, did something and all of a sudden everybody was talking in languages they'd never spoken before. No Rosetta Stone for them; it was just "poof!" or whatever and they were speaking in foreign tongues, tongues that weren't just "spiritual" or "a private prayer language" but actual languages of people to whom they were to bring the message of Jesus.

I know people who speak in tongues, the ecstatic, unintelligible-to-others speech. It isn't a litmus test of who's a real Christian and who isn't, but rather a way of communicating with God personally and intimately, with no one else understanding what is being said. It's not something I've ever experienced myself; the closest I've ever been to it was during a Catholic mass in Portland years ago at an outdoor shrine. Frankly, the tongues I heard sounded like baby-babble to me, repeated syllables in a sort of monotone that made no sense although the speakers seemed to be totally engaged, swaying gently, eyes closed and totally oblivious to anyone or anything around them.

All my life I've heard the expression, "I'll get to it when the Spirit moves me." Somehow I don't think they're waiting for the Holy Spirit to come down and put a finger on their head, cause an eruption of flame and a sudden burning passion for speaking another language or going out to missionize. Sometimes they're just waiting for the Spirit to move them to do the dishes or go to work or take the kids to Sunday school or the movies. Most of the time the Spirit doesn't do that stuff; it's a way of putting the onus on an outside force in order to compel an inner stimulus that in turn instigates an outward action. Of course, then there are the ones who claim the Spirit tells them to do all kinds of things. I can't refute that; I'm not party to their conversations with God in any of God's persons so I have no way of knowing the veracity of their claim. Still, I look and see what action is produced. Sometimes I can see that yes, this does seem to produce something that helps -- an individual, an institution, a world. Other times, I'm not so sure who it helps other than the person themselves.

Thinking about the Spirit on a day where the church celebrates not just the Spirit but the actions of the Spirit, I'm wondering where the Spirit is in my life? I know how easy it is to say that when something serendipitous happens that "It's the Spirit working!" But then I wonder, "Is it really?" Or when I do something that has a positive impact, "Oh, the Spirit led me to this!" Was it really? Or is it just wishful thinking.

I probably know about a dozen phrases in about 8-10 languages, everything from "Thank you" to "Where is the loo?" I'd love to speak another language fluently, but I'm just not disciplined enough to work at it long enough and hard ehough to make it happen. I've never really wanted a "spiritual" or "private prayer language" to communicate with God. But I would like to know for a certainty that when I say I'm waiting for the "Spirit to move me," it's really the Spirit that does the moving.

Perhaps I'm just too cynical -- or maybe skeptical. I do know that just once I'd like to be in a crowd where suddenly the languages of the world wash around me and I can know that it's all for a good purpose, all about healing and helping the world.

I wonder, though, how long I can wait for the "Spirit to move me," and how I will know it really is the Spirit. If I'd been in that room with the early Christians I wonder -- would the Spirit have moved me?

Just some ramblings on the night of Pentecost.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Learning and Doing

I've worked hard this week, at work, on the book, planning for next year's EfM groups. Even though this week was a "short" week job-wise (Memorial Day holiday), the office still had to be visited, even on the holiday, and then regular hours once again. Hours free from the office have been filled with typing on the book and fighting with formatting (always the worst part of the job) , and then the normal things of life -- feeding and taking care of cats, feeding and taking care of me (including naps now and again), and, in whatever time is left, cleaning the house and doing the laundry. Holiday last Monday or no, it's been a pretty normal week.

Yesterday I finished typing the draft of the Jean's book. Now for the rounds of polishing, correcting, adding to, deleting from and rearranging. I've been doing a lot of typing this week, both on the book and at work, so my right hand is giving signs of stress and strain, so I decided I needed to take today off and do some goofing off -- that is, once I clean the cat boxes, mow the floor, finish washing the dishes and the laundry and a few other little chores like wading through the basket next to my desk that is the receptacle for papers, brochures, ads, pay stubs, and God knows what-all else.

It isn't the chores that are so onerous, it's the getting started on it that takes a lot of oomph, oomph that at present I haven't got. I just look at what needs doing and feel overwhelmed. Oh, sure, I know the drill: break it down into small, manageable pieces, get it done and then goof off, take a nap or do whatever it is you really want to do. Got it. I really do. Getting it is the easy part. It's the actual getting going that's the hard work.

This week the church marked the celebration of the Ascension, the event of Jesus' ascension to heaven. I wonder what the disciples were thinking at the time. "Dang, he's gone again!"

Once before they had suffered this loss of the leader and teacher to whom they looked for guidance in what they were to do next, what they needed to learn next, even where they needed to go next. They had been in this place before, mourning the loss of someone dear and important to them and feeling acutely the absence of the man who was the symbolic rudder to their boat, who kept them on course and out of trouble. They didn't have long to feel rudderless the first time; barely had they gotten past the initial shock of his death when he was once again among them -- and yet not in the same way he had been before. Some of it was different, but he was still among them at times, just like he had been in life. He still gave direction and stimulus to their lives and activities and so they could continue to follow and do what was asked, demanded of them.

Then came the Ascension. Jesus went away again, this time in triumph rather than the shame of the cross. Still, he went away from them, beyond their sight and leaving them to put into practice the things that they had been taught to do, say and be.

"Dang, he's gone again!"

"Now what do we do?"

I imagine for them, the knowing what to do was in place -- they'd been practicing for quite a while now. They had their memorized lessons in place and now it was time for them to do something, sort of like getting past their final exam.

Having been a student, it's easy for me to remember the "Oh, dang!" reality of final exams and the idea of going into a situation that will determine my grade in the class or program barehanded, alone, with nothing but a pen and what I carried in my brain to get me through it. But if I don't go into the testing room, the examination chamber or the assembly of examiners, I don't have to do anything but study, rehearse—and probably do some praying. Sooner or later, though, I have to face the examiners, the test papers and the blue booklets of blank pages and I have to do something about and with them.

But there's a test beyond that exam. What am I going to do with what I've learned and upon which I've just been tested? Like student teaching, I've had a period of study and work under the guidance of teachers and then been evaluated by them. Jesus taught and the disciples learned and did their practical exams and now came the big test beyond their final exam. They either had to go out into the world and put into practice what they'd been taught or they could cower behind closed doors, lost in a flurry of indecision and uncertainty. They knew what they had to do, it was just a matter of getting up the gumption to actually do it.

While mowing the floors and sorting through papers doesn't compare with going out into the world to teach, preach, comfort and heal, it is still the next thing I have to do. The disciples had to go out the door, I have to pick up a tool or a task and physically do it.

"Dang it, he's gone again." But no, he's still here, just not in the same way. The disciples had to learn that, so in essence the end of their apprenticeship under Jesus was the beginning of their post-grad learning, the guidance from an invisible hand and inaudible voice . I have to face that too, in my daily life. It's time to do the next right thing. It's time to go out the door and begin to practice what I've learned. And, just like the disciples, I'll find that I haven't learned all the lessons yet, I just have some distance-learning ahead of me.

"Dang, he's gone again -- but he's still calling the shots!" That's the message Ascension has for me this year. "Not get out there and win one for the Big Guy!"