Saturday, October 27, 2018

Frogging and Life

I love fall. The weather has cooled down, at least insofar as the temperature is below 90 in the daytime and reasonably fresh, 70 or so, in the evenings. What deciduous trees we have near where I live are thinking about changing colors, although most of them will not be completely gone from the trees until sometime just before Christmas. It’s been a standing joke that the leaves don’t fall until Christmas Eve.

With the cooler evenings and the earlier twilights, it’s nice to sit in my comfortable rocking chair, with a cat on my lap, either reading or knitting in front of the fake fireplace that’s the best I can do in a tin can for a house that would catch fire in a heartbeat. Still, even the dancing of fake flames makes things seem more cozy, even if I don’t get the scent of burning wood, and who needs extra heat when the air conditioner turns on because the indoor temperature is still above 80 degrees?

As I sat here and knitted this evening, I suddenly discovered that I had committed an egregious error in my knitting some rows back. Drat. I was going along so well. The stitches were even as were the rows,  I was making progress, and then calamity. Complicating the whole situation was that I was knitting with three colors and that makes for another problem. As it turns out, I had to frog at least six rows, including a number that has alternating colors in the row. I hate frogging because it’s a failure. It takes some time to get the stitches pulled out down to the spot where the stitch is wrong, the error needs fixing, and then I have to go back to where I was initially. I wish I were a better knitter.

It made me think about life. I put the knitting down and look at what I’ve gotten done for a moment.  It looks nice now that I’ve gotten the mistake out, but now I’ve got to put all those stitches back in that I had to remove. I think about the times of my life when I have had to go back and try to fix errors that I have made, and if I can’t take them out, I need to try to fix them and learn from them. It’s not easy. It is much harder in life because there’s no real way to frog it like there is in knitting, to take my life back to a point in the past and then relive everything from that point onward.

Scripturally, I recall verses that tell me that if I acknowledge my sin, I will be forgiven. Even if I don’t admit it, I’m forgiven in God’s eyes. In my own, that’s an entirely different story. The error feels like it gets bigger and bigger. I look at it until I wish I could rip out the whole of my life and either start over again or forget the whole thing entirely. It’s difficult to forgive someone who has wronged me, but it’s so much harder to forgive myself for what I’ve done to myself and others. I can apologize, I can try and make amends, but somehow those amends don’t seem to get as far as my own inner workings. Like a botched piece of knitting, it sticks out like a sore thumb, even if I’m the only one who notices it.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul  on Episcopal Café on Saturday, October 27, 2018

I’m sure that the disciples had occasions where they wish they could have gone back and changed things, like the times that they didn’t catch on to what Jesus was trying to teach them,  even though the model was right in front of them. Jesus didn’t use whiteboards or PowerPoint presentations, but they had the example of his life. They were with him every day, so how could they be so dense? How could they miss so many things when he tried to teach them new ways of looking at things, new ways of doing them?

It’s odd. I think of the women in the New Testament, like the woman at the at the well, the one with the hemorrhage, Mary and Martha, the woman who argued with Jesus about the crumbs under the table, and others. Instinctively, they seem to get it when Jesus talked. They weren’t afraid to speak to him, and they weren’t necessarily slow at understanding what he was saying. They didn’t have to frog anything, because their patterns were knit correctly. Just sayin’.

Psalm 13 9:14b speaks of, “…you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Every knitter who is a Bible student knows that one. And, come to think of it, it is a good thing to think about. We don’t just suddenly appear out of our mother's uterus in the same state in which we began. We did a lot of growing in the nine-month period of incubation. Just like knitting and colors, slowly we grew fingers and toes, eyes and a nose, our heart began to beat, and other organs start to work until finally at the end of all those months, we emerge as an entire being.

Of course, there’s heartbreak in there too: babies born with life-threatening conditions, others born with severe diseases, life-altering disabilities, and some who never make it out of the womb. Bad things sometimes happen due to genetics, environmental issues, any one of a number of things. Some of those things we could fix by merely frogging some of our ideas and inventions and redoing them in a cleaner, healthier way, though we are too in love with progress.

While I knit, I think about what I’m doing, but I also think about what I’m learning. I’m practicing patience, something that’s in better supply than it was when I was 10 or 20 years younger. I’m a little more adventurous, trying stitches and patterns that are more complicated than I had tried before, and not being afraid to frog as many rows as I need to fix what I did wrong. Now if I can do that in my life, I would be much better off, wouldn’t I? If I could approach life with the same care and attention, I might come out of this thing with a lovely garment. And if I live the way I should, with constant attention to what I’ve been taught about and by Jesus, then I may get to the end of my earthly garment and find myself queuing up for a place in the heavenly kingdom, were no frogging will ever be needed.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, October 27, 2018. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Psalm to God and Man

Psalms have been considered poetry for millennia. Many of them have been ascribed to David, king of Israel, but there is some doubt as to his authorship of all of them. In fact, some have other authors. Psalm eight for today has no named author, so we don’t know who to thank for this lovely bit of poetry. It’s one of the Psalms that’s easy to read because it captures so many thoughts and emotions that we all share.

The Psalm starts with an exaltation of God as Creator and governor of all that is. It goes back to the Genesis stories of creation, where God put everything in motion.  According to the Psalmist, even infants and children praise God’s majesty.  God is also the protector against those who would seek to overpower or strike back at the people of God.

I love verse four, the one that talks about “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses.” That one verse pops into my mind just about every time I go out at night and look up at the few stars I can see from here. We must have our city lights which blank out most of the stars in the sky, but enough can be seen to remind me of all the others,  Like a little diamonds on a deep plush velvet.

The next verse is a bit touchy, mainly because it is something that I feel can be misconstrued, especially in this day and time. “What is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out?” The problem I have with it is the question “What is man?” Now, I realize that we often think about correctness and use the term human instead of man to be a little more sensitive to the fact that it there are women in this world. Many would possibly use the verse instead to accentuate that power was and is in the hands of men, especially when reading verse seven where it says, “You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet.” There’s also the problem of verse six, “You have made them but a little lower than the angels; you adorn him with glory and honor.”

The part about making man a little lower than the angels part bothers me because, throughout most of my life, power has been the sole property of males. Women were to be subservient, meek, and present only, as the old  German saying goes, for “Kinder, Kuchen, Kirche” (children, kitchen, church.) Even the angels were male. Honestly, it was a man’s world.  Still is, in some places.

Perhaps I am petty about this, but from my experience throughout my life, especially growing up in a very different time than we live in now, I have a somewhat jaundiced outlook on certain things. I remember the first time I heard the Eucharistic prayer that included Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was as if I heard it as a new story, one that included essential people that had never been mentioned in that way before. It was the beginning of my awareness that women indeed had significant parts in Biblical history, whether it was acknowledged or not.

We have had women scientists, astronauts, poet laureates, Nobel prize winners, conductors of major orchestras, artists, and heads of corporations. There are a lot of places we haven’t been yet, but I am sure they will at some point in time. I hope I live long enough to see it.

I have no problem reading this Psalm in the way in which it was written, because I look back at the time of the writing, the context of it, the culture from which it came, and understand that it was a reflection of the way things were. God was male, Father, governor. Men made all the decisions, but when women controlled something, even as small as a tavern or even their own body, it seemed to point to them being prostitutes.  Not very heartening for women at all.

The purpose of the Psalm was to glorify God. It does that very clearly and very poetically. It reminds us of all that God has done and all that has benefited us throughout the millennia. It’s something we forget, though, especially now. We seem to have replaced the God of Psalm eight with the god of money, power, and privilege. No longer is God our governor, or exalted in all the world. Instead, the moguls of industry, the captains of real estate, the lawyers, bankers, corporate CEOs, and politicians have taken the place of God. We hear the teachings of Jesus on Sunday morning, but then it’s off to the links, a nice restaurant, or home to watch a football game, forgetting what we were told in church, sometimes before we even reached the church door. That’s why we have scriptures like the Psalms. They are supposed to be reminders to us of the way things should be. Hopefully, we’ll go back to remembering that. Maybe one day, when the kingdom of God comes, we will see this kingdom of equality and glory under God.

I hope it’s not too much to wish for.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, October 20, 2018.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

When a Woman Speaks

The lectionary for the Daily Office sometimes amazes me. There is a list of readings for each day, morning and evening plus Eucharistic readings, and possibly additional readings for commemorations of holy people and saints or holy days or the eves before them.  It makes for a lot of choices, but the usual option is for the morning and evening of the day.  This time, though, it was the gospel for the Eucharist that struck me.

I wonder who selected which readings to go with which times of which days. The texts are always timely, but sometimes they are like a baseball bat between the eyes. They seem to say something about our modern life just as much as they do the continuing story of what happened next through the Bible. Looking at the past few weeks, the gospel for today for the Eucharist hits the nail on the head.

Jesus had been giving a series of teachings which included the Lord’s prayer and then several other lessons. This short passage we have today interrupts the instructions with a woman making a statement and Jesus dismissing her verbally. Two verses that sort of sum up what we’ve been hearing a lot about over the past few weeks in the news. A woman says something, and a man redirects or shuts her down. It’s hard to say that about Jesus, but that’s how I feel about this particular passage

The woman in the crowd made a statement that blessed the woman who bore Jesus and nursed him. Without mentioning Mary’s name, the woman seemed to express that Mary was blessed through bearing this Rabbi. Most women would probably be delighted to have something like that said about them because it recognizes one of the roles of women. But Jesus had something else to say: “…[B]lessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” In short, it seems that he exalts the people who did the same thing that his mother did, namely hearing the word brought from God and obeying it. It makes me wonder.

Over the past few weeks, the news is then overflowing with episodes of women coming forward with stories of abuse of all kinds including sexual harassment. Many have spoken out who had never done so before. They were afraid no one would believe them. Even those who had reported a crime and had spoken about it had undergone additional trauma of not being believed, being accused of asking for it,  received more abusive treatment, or hearing that it probably was their fault the situation happened. It seems to give a pass to boys, young men, and even older men to do as they will with women as if the women and girls were under their control to take or leave as they chose.

Women face a lot of negativity by speaking out. People, even family members, may shun them, call them by degrading names or disbelieve them. All this for enduring something over which they had no control and no say in the matter.

These past few weeks have been especially difficult, especially for women, because it has been brought so forcefully to our attention that despite the progress women have made regarding equality, we are still seen as most probably liars and manipulators. And why? Because some dared to speak out against the wrong done to them but which others referred to as “letting boys be boys.”

I’m a little taken aback by the way Jesus spoke to the woman in today’s passage, but I have to allow him to express himself as a human and sometimes say unpopular things that I find it hard to believe he would say. Still, he was a man of his time. I think about his visits to Mary and Martha, speaking to the woman at the well, healing of Jairus's daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage, and even his gentleness with the woman taken in adultery. So many of his stories and miracles were involving women whether they were named or not. So why would he say something like this to a woman who sought to bless his mother?

I think I’m going to have to think about this for a while. There are so many good men in this world, men who treat women fairly, as equals, with respect, and who defend them in troublesome times. Yet more and more we’re hearing powerful men making offensive statements about women as if the women were property to be spoken to and treated in whatever way they want. Some of these speak or present themselves as followers of Jesus although their actions make that presentation questionable. It makes me wonder what Jesus thinks about all that.

Yes, Jesus wants us to bless those who hear the word and do it. I can understand that. Praising his mother might be putting her above others, but I don’t think that was what Jesus meant. Jesus was pointing to one fact that we should all hear the word of God and obey it, and those who follow it show it in their actions.

Be careful. God is always watching, and so are the neighbors.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, October 13, 2018.

Unrecognized Tribes

I ran across an article online a couple of days ago that piqued my interest. It was a welcome diversion from what has become the usual fare of finger-pointing, name-calling, blame, shame, and incivility. It also made me think of my history – bound in the history of the place I called and still call home.

The article, dated January of 2018, was distributed by the National Park Service. It introduced some tribes of Native Americans as newly state-recognized tribes in the State of Virginia. As I read the list, I saw familiar names like Chickahominy and East Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Pamunkey, Rappahannock, Nansemond, and a few that were new to me: Nottoway, Patawomeck, and Monacan. All of these tribes had existed since long before the English had touched land at Jamestown in 1607. They were among the first to encounter the English, trade with them, and teach them to grow new and unfamiliar foodstuffs. There were also struggles and battles. The English pushed to extend the land and resources that they saw as theirs, and the Natives pushed back. And so it went.  

Of note, one of the objectives of the colony was to Christianize the Native Americans.  There were converts, like Pocahontas (of the Powhatan tribe), but many did not. The English used the same tactics on the Native Americans that was used on countless other expeditions: if the opponent wasn’t compliant, they could be compelled – or exterminated. It happened, from both sides.

What surprised me is how little I knew about the tribes that lived near me. In school, I don’t remember reading much about the Native Americans after the pre-Revolutionary period. Maybe there was an occasional mention, but nothing significant enough to remember. Looking back, it is as if they just disappeared. I know now that most of the remaining numbers of each tribe are small, with only two tribes living on their reservations. The others have small villages where they may offer roadside stands where travelers can buy local produce and crafts.  The second thing that surprised me was that the tribes that had lived in the same areas, sometimes for thousands of years, were not officially recognized by the state as existing. How can people be overlooked this way? And what difference does it make?

To answer the second question first, in some states it doesn’t matter a lot. There aren’t a lot of benefits like assistance programs, education aid, and the like. What difference does it make? In many places, it can be the difference between life and death, something most of us don’t spare a moment thinking or worrying about. As for how can people be overlooked, sometimes the answer can be so simple it’s almost laughable. It boils down to economics and privilege. The Haves want to keep what they’ve got and acquire more. The Have Nots have neither the money or the opportunity to push for recognition and assistance. Thus it has been for millennia as it is today.

As Christians, what should be our response to these unrecognized tribes? What about the homeless, the hungry, the children deprived of educational opportunity, the poor, those lacking medical care, those who see no other way to cope other than to end their own lives to stop the pain? Where do they go for help? Perhaps that is the real question.

Jesus gave us some clues we are to pay attention to unless all we have been taught is nothing but nice words. That sounds shocking to me, and it came out of my head. I certainly don’t believe it, but I look around and see a lot of demonstrations of precisely that.  When was the last time I saw something about the people living on shoestrings in Appalachia?  How about Native tribes in the Southwest forced to relocate to areas where their usual foods do not grow?  How about those same people developing large populations of overweight members with an extremely high rate of diabetes as a result?  How about those who are still trying to repair hurricane damage from years ago? Then there are the veterans living under bridges because they can’t forget what their dedication to this country cost them in terms of what they saw, heard, and did while following the orders of that country. What of them?

Jesus’s “clues” were directed to all Christians. All Christians were and are advised to love one another, to care for the people who needed care.  Historically, those same rules were common to the Jews and before them the Hebrews, who were the roots of Christianity. They were still in the Bible when the English landed at Jamestown, the Spaniards took over Mexico and Florida, the French set up their colonies, and any other “Christian” country used a strong-arm kind of evangelism and privilege. 

Who benefits from obeying the things Jesus told us to do?  Well, it depends.  State recognition of Native American tribes may or may not gain them release from any of the problems that plague them now, but acceptance of them as God’s children, in need of help as instructed by Jesus might give them a real sense of what that recognition means. John F. Kennedy said at his inauguration in 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”  That quote inspired a couple of generations to put the welfare of others ahead of their own.  Jesus has inspired millions throughout the millennia to do the same.  Perhaps we need a revival of those lessons.

The kingdom of God will never come to fruition on earth as long as there are unrecognized tribes, no matter where or what they are.  And who are we Christians to deny others the benefits recognition gives, far more than just physical, economic, and educational benefits?  Who are we to deny their personhood by making them invisible?  Is that showing what the kingdom of God is about?

I’m happy Virginia finally recognized the tribes in my home state. I’m glad several of them are now seeking Federal recognition, which will make them more eligible for aid and programs that will help them improve their standard of living. I’m still ashamed of how little I know of these tribes who breathed the same air and in some cases, walked the same ground I did. Right now, though, I think I need to find the unrecognized tribes, Native and Non-Native, that surround me and help them to a better life in the kingdom of God on earth.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café   Saturday, October 5, 2018.

Angels -- Heavenly and Otherwise

I remember a television show called “Touched by an Angel.” Della Reese played a senior angel who mentored and assisted a younger angel portrayed by Roma Downey. They went around the country finding things that were wrong and helping those involved to make things right. The angels didn’t do the work; they indirectly and sometimes directly guided the troubled into a path that would lead to the restoration of wholeness. It was a good series, but one that I have a feeling wouldn’t fly today, if you pardon the pun. It seems we are busier looking for the opportunity to sin than for angels (unless you’re from Los Angeles!).

Today we commemorate Saint Michael and all Angels. That’s a pretty big cast of characters. All angels and archangels were considered to be messengers from God, although some Archangels are less well known than the big two, Michael and Gabriel.

Michael was considered the chief of the celestial armies, the fighter, the defender. Michael appears in the books of Daniel, Jude, and Revelation. His name means “Who is like God?”  He is also known as the patron of paramedics, soldiers, police officers, and security workers.

We also remember the Archangel Gabriel who is known as a messenger. The name Gabriel means “God is my champion.” Mary and Elizabeth had visitations from Gabriel who announced the impending births of exceptional children who would change the world. He appears in Daniel and Luke. Particular groups over which he has oversight are broadcasters, communications workers, postal workers, messengers, and 911 dispatchers.

The third Archangel is Rafael, who is mentioned only in the apocryphal book of Tobit. He appears disguised as a man who assists the young man Tobias on a quest. His name means “God heals.” Those who are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, travelers, shepherds, and matchmakers consider him to be their patron

The fourth Archangel is Uriel and is also mentioned in the Apocrypha, in the book called 4 Esdras. His name translates as “God is my light.” He alone of the four named archangels has only psychologists to call him their patron, but he is also known for being a keeper of light and wisdom, and so may be thought of as one who may whisper into the ears of those in discernment.

Some consider the total number of Archangels to be seven, representing the seven seals in the book of Revelation. Each of the seven was also sometimes set as representing a planet in the sky. 

Angels appear throughout Scripture from the angel who blocked the gates of Eden to prevent Adam and Eve from returning after they were cast out to the person/angel with whom Jacob wrestled. They also appear, sometimes disguised as humans, in various encounters with people at turning points in the lives of Israel and the Jewish people.

Angels come in ranks, which seems a bit strange since we believe that all of us are children of God and should practice equality. Still, like so many kingdoms on earth, heaven had ranks of various callings including archangels, angels, seraphim, cherubim, principalities, powers, etc. Each group has a particular duty, yet all gather around the throne and continually praise God. We’ve also heard them called the heavenly host, and we feature them at Christmas as they sang to the shepherds by praising God.

We don’t always think about angels these days, although it’s not uncommon for us to name someone who has been particularly kind or helpful as an angel. We use that title for nurses since they help to bring the gift of healing when we are ill and cannot assist ourselves. We sometimes call friends angels, when they to help us in times of joy and in times of sorrow. Best friends are many times considered angels because we feel close to them, trust them, and allow them to tell us things that we would not accept from other people. I know this because I have best friends, and they frequently tell me when I’m about to mess up royally. They tell me the truth, something I usually don’t want to hear but need to very badly. I consider them angels because they can advise me in ways that make me listen and take note but without making the advice seem adversarial.  That in itself is a help and a very great blessing.

We see cherubs at Valentine’s Day. They are considered one of the ranks of heaven, but cherubs are not the plump baby angels with tiny wings and little bows and arrows. Cherubim guarded the gates of heaven. They are represented on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, spreading their wings toward each other as if in protection for the ark and God’s seat of mercy between them. They also are mentioned in Revelation.

There is so much that I could say about angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. Indeed, entire books are based on the topic and go into great detail with citations of locations in the Bible as well as references and their meanings. That’s not my purpose here. To me, it feels as if this day is made for me not to remember the mighty, the company of heaven, so much as the unknown angels in this world, those who work quietly and almost invisibly to help others and to advance the kingdom of God, no matter how hard and how dangerous that particular ministry is.

So, for today, I will thank God for those unnamed and unknown angels, as well as for those whom I consider angels, whether they are in heaven or still walking the face of the earth. They are essential, and I take up the challenge of remembering as well as looking to see and recognize these angels.

I hope you’ll join me in this particular quest.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café  Saturday, September 29, 2018.