Thursday, May 30, 2019

O Clap Your Hands

I love words, especially when they describe things in such detail that I can picture it in my mind. However, I am not much of a fan of poetry. Most of it leaves me somewhat cold, except for Mary Oliver’s poems. Somehow or other, hers speak to me in a way I don’t find in other poets.

Sometimes I have a problem with the Psalms. The poetry doesn’t rhyme, but that’s okay. I grew up listening to the Psalms done in the King James English, the English of Shakespeare’s time, and to me that’s poetry.  Even so, often the psalms start out praising God, among other things but then turn into whining sessions.  Thank you, but I can whine quite well on my own without needing King David.

I was delighted when I ran across Psalm 47 today. I started to read it, and my mind started playing a recording of this Psalm as set by Orlando Gibbons in the early 1600s. Written for eight voices, it is very much like listening to Messiah, but without having to wait for Christmas or Easter to hear it.

There’s been so much glorious music written for the church, some in Latin, some in English, some in German, and other languages. For me, it’s a joy when I run across a piece of Scripture that starts my mind playing and sometimes singing along with a piece of music with which I’m familiar. Somehow it makes the text more accessible, especially those done in the old style and language. Gibbons’ version of “O clap your hands” is a bright, joyous piece of music; there’s a richness to it and, in my mind, it is a beautiful marriage of lyrics and melody. I think that’s one reason I like church music so much, especially from the Baroque period. It’s written to the glory of God and incorporates scripture, parts of the liturgy, and prayers that can be sung by choirs of not just clergy but lay people as well.

I went to church with my husband right after we were married. He was Roman Catholic; I was Episcopalian, so since he wouldn’t go to my church, I went with him. I didn’t attend the Roman Catholic Church in our town for very long. There was little music, and much of it was sung almost listlessly. Even in the Baptist church, music was an important part of the service, and the hymns and anthems sung in the Episcopal church were like deep drafts of oxygen when I was feeling spiritually short of breath.

When I stopped going to church with my husband, he asked me why. I explained that I missed the music. His response was, “You don’t go to church for the music.” Wrong thing to say to a former Southern Baptist turned Episcopalian who was also a music major and lifelong choir singer. Yes, I go to church for the liturgy and the Eucharist, but I also go for the music, the chants and the anthems, and even the hymns. There are hymns with tunes and sometimes words that go back a thousand years or more. How can I compare that to a piece from a contemporary composer I never heard of and to whose music I can’t relate?

There are some great contemporary composers, like Rutter, Vaughan Williams, and others who reach past the banal and into the sublime. They use scriptures, prayers, and they use other religious texts. Yes, I can I like Taizé for its meditative qualities and also its harmonies. I love hearing congregations from the African churches because they also sing in harmony and with joy. It’s not how loud the music is; it’s how joyful, solemn, or even emotive it is.

I was glad to run into “O clap your hands” in the psalm because I hear it in a musical form where different parts are singing polyphonically. It is complex and interesting while also being worshipful.  No one style of music will suit everybody. Still, I’m glad that I can go back in time and hear pieces like “O clap your hands” which help me to feel so many emotions and also to retain texts I wouldn’t be able to remember if I relied simply on documents. I would never miss what I haven’t heard, but having listened to it, I can rejoice that such a setting is still available after 400 years.

I think music is one of God’s greatest gifts to us, and I’m glad that we have so much of it to hear, enjoy, and with which to connect. I’m happy there is music to thank God in such beautiful ways, and I’m glad that psalms, scripture, and other sacred texts are available for us to hear not just is written words but through the ears, voices, and instrumentations of composers who sought to worship God through music.

I think I’ll listen to Gibbons again. I invite you to give it a try. Perhaps you won’t like it, maybe you will. Perhaps you’ll find a new way to praise God in it. 

God bless.

Four Settings of “O Clap Your Hands” (Psalm 47)

Composer: Orlando Gibbons. The Oxford Camerata.

Composer: John Rutter. Choir of Somerville College, Oxford. Conductor: David Crown.

Composer: Ralph Vaughn Williams. Christ Church Cathedral Choir. Conductor: Stephen Darlington.

Composer: John Leavitt. Covenant Christian High School Concert Choir.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Storyteller

Summertime is just around the corner, and that means vacations and family trips. One kind of trip that a lot of families enjoy is camping, getting out of the suburbs and out into nature, more or less. Quite often they are accompanied by a travel trailer or an RV that provides many of the conveniences of life, but one thing that seems to stay as a standard is a campfire. Many of us have memories of sitting around fires in the gathering dark, listening to stories, often scary ones, but we also heard family stories and reminiscences, stories that taught us where we came from, who our ancestors were, and how they lived. That particular kind of adventure has been going on since time began.

When a baby is born, they grow up hearing stories and having books read to them. The books are full of pictures because pictures convey ideas that they haven’t the words for yet. It teaches them the words and the concepts of the story, and their love of images in books can help determine how able they are to learn school work. I never could get the hang of math because there weren’t any pictures, plus I’m a dud when it comes to figures. I lapped up the stories in history, English, and literature, though. Those made a great deal of sense to me. Even when I couldn’t see the words or had only the words in front of me, my mind could make them turn into pictures as I read. Now, almost three-quarters of a century later, they still do.

Jesus frequently taught using stories. We call them parables, stories that represent concepts and practices that marked the difference between good and evil, hopefully allowing the listeners to understand the abstract concepts in a more concrete fashion. In today’s reading of the gospel, Jesus told three stories, each one was illustrating something that he wanted his listeners to learn and to understand.

At the end of the passage, Jesus told his disciples that he taught in parables. Those who understood would be like wheat in a field while those who didn’t would be like weeds. Workers couldn’t pull up the weeds while the crop was growing because they would pull up stalks of good grain with them. So the weeds had to remain until it was time to harvest the wheat and then they would be separated.

The storyteller has been an essential figure in communities and rural areas. The storytellers not only brought news from outside the village where he was visiting but had often had a  long apprenticeship under older storytellers, learning the epic stories and tales word by word so they could pass them along to the next generation. That is still found in several cultures around the world, for instance, the Navajo. Their stories and chants must be learned without any deviation before the young man can become a shaman or a medicine man. For the Jews, stories are essential, especially those about the patriarchs and the Exodus. The Passover story is their prime lesson repeated every year without change. For Christians, the stories of Jesus are foundational; the most important of these is that of his resurrection. We still listen to the parables Jesus taught and see them as valuable aids in learning and models for the teaching of younger members in ways that they can comprehend long before they’re able to understand abstract concepts.

Today, we use the Sunday school class curricula and programs like Godly Play, which are ways of presenting Bible stories geared to the individual levels of children’s understanding. I think any person exposed to Christianity in their early years will recall stories like Adam and Eve and Noah’s ark. As they grew older, they learned about Abraham and Isaac, Joshua and the walls of Jericho, and the stories of Saul and David. While many of those stories are not parables, they are tools for learning our religious history. We still look at mythological stories like the Star Wars films and the Harry Potter books. Both of those series are stories of made-up people and places, but incorporate realms somewhat different than we are accustomed to but where many of the lessons that young Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter had to learn to gain in wisdom and ability. I don’t know how many older folks can enjoy such stories, but I know I do. Good stories are ones that can be appreciated by all ages.

When we read the parables of Jesus, we look to see what he is using to make his teaching applicable. We remember the good Samaritan, which is probably one of his best-known parables. While there was never a Samaritan who stopped by the roadside to help an injured Jew, Jesus used that story to point out that we are all neighbors no matter what our differences are and we need to care for those neighbors no matter what. Just because something never really happened doesn’t necessarily mean it’s false; often the best lessons are taught through myths which show truths without being factual.

This week will look I think I will look at the parables again under a microscope, looking to see exactly how Jesus structured his parables, what they pointed out, and how he made them understandable to the people. I know there will be many things that are strange and foreign to me in this modern world, but if I look through the eyes of first-century followers, I will look for the things that just don’t fit or that seem to go against logic and investigate life at that time that the listeners would see and think of. It’s going to be an exciting journey. I hope you’ll join me.

God bless.

Originally published on Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Café  Sunday, May 26, 2019.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Matter of Convenience

The word “Convenience” has been bouncing around my brain. It is generally used to mean that something is suitable or doable with little effort or difficulty. A convenience store is one that is open at hours when people might conceivably need a specific item or items, and other stores are closed. The British frequently call a room with a toilet a “convenience.”  To me, it means being able to do (or not do) things when I choose rather than when I am compelled to do them.

Being retired, sort of, I am enjoying living life as I want. Well, at least as I can. I can get up when I want to, go to bed when I feel like it, take a nap every day if, as my aunt would have said, “When the Spirit moves me,” clean the house when I feel like it and so forth. I can come and go as I please, at times that are convenient for me, but then there are things where convenience doesn’t always come into play.

When is it convenient? For example, my house needs vacuuming. I’ve got bunches of cat place all over the floor that I could almost weave into a new carpet. But the noise of the vacuum cleaner disturbs the cats. Gandhi doesn’t mind so much, and sometimes even lets me groom him with the upholstery brush, but the noise machine severely disconcerts the other two. I need to find a time when they are inconvenienced as little as possible. That’s my job as a crazy cat lady, convenient for me or not.

I guess I sometimes see God as a kind of convenience store, open when I need something and find that I can get it at the one place in town that’s open at that time of day or night. I like the convenience of not having to drive five or 6 miles to the bank to deposit a check. I appreciate the convenience of having a grocery store about 2 miles down the road where I can order my groceries online and pick them up without having to go into the store. It is convenient to fill out medical forms and submit them before I have to be at the doctor's office. I like the convenience of having fast food places close by that I can duck into if I happen to be out and I get hungry. I enjoy the life of comfort, but I know that, like eating lots of vanilla ice cream or chocolates, it isn’t good for me, especially when it impacts my spiritual life.

There are lots of people who find the time every day to do their meditations. These are people who have busy lives; they work, entertain, participate in community activities, and go to church. They lead full lives, yet they find time for God. It may mean inconveniencing themselves somewhat, but it’s something that they feel they need and that their spiritual life craves at the same time.

A lot of times, I find myself praying at night when I struggle to go to sleep. I don’t always use words, although many times I will lie there and remember people for whom I should be praying and asking for guidance for my own mixed up life. But sometimes just lying there and letting my mind focus on a word, open parentheses my favorite is the word nothing), and wait for the silence to calm my thoughts and put me in a more receptive state than I can usually manage during the day. Lately, a mockingbird has kept me company in my night watches, and as I focus on that, I think about God creating the birds and giving them songs, but gifting the mockingbird with the ability to copy the songs of others. Perhaps he is singing a love song or “stay off my property,” or “I’m looking for a mate, have nest all ready.” But maybe it has some praise to God in it too, the God, who watches over nests and brings male and female birds together, protects their eggs when the parents are away, and subtly guiding the thoughts of the young birds to the need to leave the nest and fly. Those are good thoughts to have at night.

I think I need to be more conscious of what needs to be done versus when I find it convenient. The vacuuming isn’t going to do itself, nor am I going to schedule a prayer time that doesn’t conflict with something else that I want or need to do. But yet I do need to have some time set aside for conversation with God even if neither of us says a word. Sometimes that is the greatest gift of communion, confidence, and trust, that can happen between two beings. It happens with old friends with whom I have had many conversations, and the relationship has reached the point where we can sit in silence and be perfectly comfortable. I feel that way with God now and then, and now I realize that I really need more or of it than I’ve actually physically tried to let happen. But, I will do my best to do those things that allow me to rest in God and give God a chance to talk.  At least, that won’t wake the cats!

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café  Saturday, May 25, 2019.

Mockingbirds and Diversity

It’s a pain to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep. It’s been happening with more and more frequency these days, and I can’t say that I like it. I live in a relatively noisy area, where a several-block-long stretch of asphalt paving and a bit of a distance between stoplights. It appears to be a prime “Let’s see how fast this bucket of bolts will go” area. Yesterday morning, just before dawn, I woke up and I couldn’t get back to sleep, but for once it was quiet outside, unusually blessedly so. All of a sudden, I heard a bird. The bird had several different vocalizations which kept things interesting, and I wondered what (I am presuming) he was trying to say. He chirped, whistled, sang, and then started the whole thing over again. It was rather entertaining until he moved off to another tree further down the road from my house and I could not really hear that clearly. I found myself drifting back to sleep quickly and peacefully.

We live in the desert, a sort of semi-civilized desert with subdivisions, some trees, and lots of irrigation systems. We still have birds, different types of birds: little ones, big ones, everything from hummingbirds to red-tailed hawks, burrowing owls to eagles. All of them have a specific song or sound, some which you hear often and some which you don’t. A hummingbird is a small bird, but it makes a rather loud noise when it wishes to converse. The doves of various varieties have their individual sounds. In the orange trees across the street, early in the morning, there is a virtual cacophony of small bird chatter as if everybody were talking all at the same time. Eventually, it disperses for the day and then returns in the evening. I think they are sparrows or possibly wrens. I don’t want to disturb them by going over and asking for ID.

The point is that it’s lovely to hear birds, even mockingbirds. They are great imitators, stealing songs from other varieties of birds and incorporating them into their songs.

Last year my neighbor had a mockingbird in her orange tree. It was a very possessive bird, buzzing her and pecking at her and her dog every time they came out on the porch, about ten feet away from its nest and certainly much higher up than my neighbor or her dogs could reach. The bird didn’t want them outside at all. The male bird started blitzing my cats and eventually me as if to say “I’m the boss and you’re too close to my nest, I don’t care if it is fifty feet or so away.” It got quite annoying, especially since I was many times larger than the mockingbird and I was still trying to feed the cats and water the plants while being bombarded by this possessive feathered kamikaze. Yesterday evening I saw him again, walking on the roof of my truck, casting his eyes around to see what was about, and giving my outdoor cat a very hairy eyeball. He didn’t swoop and peck, but my mind told me that he had that in mind. Still, he was a bird, a bit aggressive, yes, but still obeying the mockingbird imperative.

God must have had a good time creating birds and their different songs, and, come to think of it, dolphins and whales with their own songs, so different from those of the birds. Each animal and bird has its particular sound or song.  It is kind of amusing to think of God, the especially the stern, judging God that many of us were taught ab0out, having fun creating things and then picking out songs and sounds for each of them. House cats certainly don’t sound like lions, but they’re related. Hummingbirds don’t sound like canaries, but they all started in the same way. God created diversity, and that’s something I think a lot of times people forget about, especially when it comes to other people.

 Diversity comes from differences. It comes from a multiplicity of factors, hereditary, cultural, or environmental. 

Thinking of diversity reminds me of the birth of my son. We were in the Philippines, in the military, and when the time came, I went to the military hospital. When my son was born, with his blonde curls and blue eyes, he was put in the nursery with one other blonde-haired blue-eyed baby and several black haired brown-skinned babies of the Filipino wives of members of the armed forces stationed there.  The Filipino nurses could not tell the two blonde babies apart without looking at the name bracelets but were very deft at getting the Filipino-American babies to the right parents without checking the tags. I’d heard people say that certain groups of people (mostly white folks) couldn’t tell individuals of other races apart, but, like a lot of things I learned in the Philippines, I found the same things in different groups. It was a lesson in diversity for me.

So why is it I (and a lot of others) seem to have such trouble with diversity? To me, it feels like we are trying to create, or maybe maintain, differences that give one group superiority over others based on physical characteristics like race or some other variations.

God created diversity. It seems reasonable that God created diversity for the variety of it. I don’t think God created humans and animals to fight among themselves, although they do. And birds and animals, males compete to attract females so they can mate and pass their genes on to the next generation. Humans seem to struggle to prevent acceptance of diversity for somewhat the same reason. It’s a protection mechanism and also a preservation of the status quo. 

I think this week I’m going to be listening to the birds a bit more. I want to watch that cheeky mockingbird and listen to it song just before dawn. I want to think about the coos of the doves that I often hear in the evenings and the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves of my trees. I want to enjoy the diversity of life around me, even the neighborhood kids that sometimes get a little rowdy. I need to learn to see the God-presence in differences, be it bird, animal, or human, and treasure it as a gift from God to keep us all interested, involved, and accepting of all the differences this world (and others) offer us. I’ll just start small, though. 
God bless

Originally published on Speaking to the Soul  on Episcopal Café  Saturday May 18, 2019.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Faces of Mother's Day

It’s Mother’s Day weekend, and everywhere you look are advertisements for flowers, jewelry, fancy dinners, lots of candy, and anything else anyone can think of that a child, adult or otherwise, should give to their mother for Mother’s Day. It’s supposed to be a happy day. It’s probably one of the busiest days for phone calls, restaurants, greeting card companies, and florists that cater to families who want to do something special for Mom.

There are also a lot of mothers for whom Mother’s Day is not a happy one. Some have lost mothers due to illness, accident, or even a mother’s choice to leave her child. For the first two, we can sympathize with the mothers and the children they left behind because neither of those situations was the mother’s choice. Child abandonment, however, is a horse of a different color. I would hope that mine abandoned me for a good reason, but the answer is that I simply don’t know and will never know. I had a wonderful adoptive mother whom I miss every day, and I had a lot of substitute mothers, without whose help and guidance have added much to my life. But there’s still a hole in my heart, particularly on Mother’s Day. It isn’t always something you can get over.

On another side to motherhood, much as been made over the birth of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, newborn son of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. It’s a happy occasion, especially for the families and those who have followed royalty, particularly the Sussexes. Much has been made over the Duchess at her first appearance since the birth of the baby and how she still had a pregnancy belly. What’s new about that? If you look at pictures of Princess Diana and Duchess Catherine of Cambridge, they still had pregnancy bellies as they emerged, just a little more concealed. Baby bellies don’t disappear in a few days. They never have. The body has to stretch skin and fat and muscle to accommodate the growing fetus, and that takes months, so it’s impossible that the abdomen is going to just pop back into pre-pregnancy shape in a matter of days. Yet it seems funny to me that so many people make so much of her being real about showing her still gravid-looking figure. It’s not about being real; it's honest. Even the Virgin Mary had a pregnancy belly, and, I imagine Eve did as well, just nobody comments about it.

So then we get down to motherhood. We don’t know a lot about how Mary raised her son, with and without Joseph’s help, although we do like to think of it as something like watching the Duke and Duchess of Sussex smiling at each other and their newborn son. There weren’t any news photographers around for the birth of Jesus, but I would venture to say that almost any mother would look the same when a new baby is laid in her arms. The agonizing pain that she had gone through to bring forth this child is forgotten. The new mother will always remember that it was the worst pain they’ve ever had, but they will have forgotten how the pain felt. Once the new baby is placed in her arms, a whole new part of their lives, together and separate, begins.

 Women have seldom gotten credit for being mothers. For millennia, it has been expected that they will bear children, and that was the reason God created them. The old joke used to be that if men got pregnant and went through labor, the human race would vanish from the earth. Yet women bear their children for several reasons, some out of love, some out of necessity, and some who are forced to carry children as a result of rape or incest and for whom every single day of that pregnancy brings fresh reminders of that horrible experience. Many of those who carry those infants those fetuses, give them up to adoption, trusting that their children will find a home where they are loved and cared for, and for a home to which they will bring joy and not shame to the parents. Unfortunately, many of those children languish in foster care sometimes for months sometimes for years. Many of them suffer abuse, and as a result, go on to live troubled lives for as long as they live. But there are success stories, and for those, I personally give thanks.

On Mother’s Day, I will be thinking of the Virgin Mary, and her cousin Elizabeth, even though Elizabeth gave birth months before Jesus was born. Even so, I also give thanks for Eve, for Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Tamar, and all the other mothers who, without a lot of fanfare, gave birth to children became important figures in the history of their people. They’ve also become essential parts of our history, since Christianity was born of Judaism and with probably as much pain as labor.

So on Mother’s Day, I give thanks for mothers, birth mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, surrogate mothers, and those who open their arms to children who need extra parenting and teaching. They are my heroes.

I’m grateful for my son who has taught me the joys and the anguish of being a parent. I haven’t always been as good as I should, far from it, but I still love my son and, I think, he loves me too. That is the best gift I could get for Mother’s Day.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, May 11, 2019.

Saturday, May 4, 2019


The most recent must-do thing is a decluttering process by Marie Kondo. It seems to equal throwing everything out except the bare essentials and happiness will be yours. Now granted, I’m all for getting rid of things I don’t need or haven’t got a use for right now, but, for one thing, she wants there to be a minimum or maximum of 30 books. I’ve got more than that on my Kindle, and I’ve got another couple of bookcases in the house that are needing a little bit of pruning but getting down to 30 books? And then there are kitchen gadgets. As soon as I get rid of one because I haven’t used it in a year, within two weeks, I’m back at the store buying another one because I need it. So how does this help? I’m just replacing old things that are already paid for with new things that I have to buy again. As the King of Siam said in the Broadway musical, “Is a puzzlement.”

I think about things that I hang onto because of sentimental value. I look at the wooden box with a bird on top that my mother had, a stuffed animal my best friend gave me, piece of clothing that I’m particularly fond of, or a couple of Kindle readers (in case one of them, God forbid, should fail). These are all things that I have that maybe I don’t really need, but I am very loath to part with. And then I think about ideas and beliefs, and thoughts. I hang on to those too.

I’m a great fan of tradition. I grew up in an area that was steeped in history, American history anyway, dating back to the Jamestown colony and through the Revolutionary war, not to mention the Civil War. It’s easy to see how things have changed over the centuries. A trip to Williamsburg would be an education for anyone, but for one who grew up there, it’s always a chance to learn more, and to see tradition in action, some of it good, some of it very bad. Still, it makes it easier to see the result of two opposing sides of the issues.

And then there are church traditions. I love the Episcopal Church for its traditions, even though there are some that I cannot wait to change or have changed. The acceptance of African-Americans and women and LGBTI folks as deacons and priests and bishops, to name a few. We need them, and we are blessed to have them in our leadership, but not everyone appreciates the gift of diversity that they can bring.

I love the traditions of the liturgy, but it certainly is good to hear Abraham’s name coupled with Sarah, Jacob’s with Rebecca, and Isaac with Rachel and Leah. It’s nice to listen to women’s stories in both daily readings and actual sermons. I remember when the only time I really heard sermons on a woman would be something to do with the Virgin Mary. Christmas was a big time for her, and then again we hear about her during Holy Week and Easter, and then she pretty much disappears. Now she has several commemorations during the year, we hear about her in various stories along with her forebears, not just those in her bloodline but also other women, named or nameless. We hear their stories; although it may not make a lot of difference to some in the church, it makes a difference to me. I’m glad to know more about women like Junia, Phoebe, Deborah, Mary Magdalene, Tamar (actually both of them,) and other women whose stories are not just thrown in for color but for actual teaching.

So if we are to use the Marie Kondo criteria, we would have to throw out probably most of the Old Testament or a good chunk of the Old Testament and a good bit of the epistles to get it down to 30 books. Think of all we’d miss by losing those chunks.  It sounds crazy to even think about it, and it probably is, but still, it’s what happens quite often. We focus on certain scriptures and individual books whether or not they really have anything to do with how we live today. As cases in point, Numbers, Leviticus, parts of Paul’s epistles, and quite a few others come to mind. Yet we keep them in because we have something to learn from them and they are not books that we can easily replace.

We have changed some traditions in the church like using Marian blue during Advent instead of the penitential purple of Lent. That goes for candles as well as vestments and paraments. It makes a subtle but significant change in our thinking of anticipation and expectation rather than penitence and repentance. We are not afraid to go out on Palm Sunday and march around the block or through the city streets proclaiming our faith and probably attracting some funny looks. But we do it now more than ever, simply because it’s a way of getting people to ask questions and to follow the procession to see what’s going on. Like Ashes to Go on Ash Wednesday, it’s a way of doing evangelism in a new way, out on the streets and among the people, rather than just cooped up behind church building walls.

So what things do we need to change? What do we need to get rid of, and what do we need to replace? Perhaps one thing is the rather totality of paternal references to God in the masculine form. Granted it is a tradition going back to Old Testament times, but we do things like eating shellfish and pork, wearing mixed fibers, and accepting divorce as a legitimate thing now. 

My mind goes off into so many different directions with subjects like this. It’s as if I’m looking for one answer that will bring both clarity and unity into focus and I’m not sure I will be able to find it. Now, I know if I follow the decluttering my house  I will have more room, and I won’t stress so much about not being able to find something I won’t need again. But when it comes to my personal theology, my beliefs, and even some of my practices, there’s where I need to do clutter. I must not be afraid to try new things, but I mustn’t discard something simply because it’s old and traditional. Unlike a citrus peeler for a hand sifter for flour, I can’t go down to the store and buy a new set of beliefs, religion-wise. My theology has changed since I was a child and it’s still evolving. I’m grateful for that. It’s a good thing, but I want to be careful what I throw out because it might leave a gap that nothing else can cross.

So, I think I will tackle the drawers in the kitchen, just to see what I can really live without and what I can’t. And I think when I meditate and pray this week, I’m going to be thinking of what I need to declutter so that I have serenity, peace, and clarity in my faith. It’s going to be a busy week.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, May 4, 2019.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Who should we invite?

I had a birthday party yesterday with a few good friends, most of whom I don’t see very often if at all. We got together and laughed and talked and enjoyed a lovely English tea. I thought it was a very classy birthday party and I enjoyed it. The neat thing was I didn’t have to worry about an extensive guest list.

There’s always a question of “Who do we invite?” when we're having a social event. Of course, there’s always the family, but then there are events with friends, coworkers, people from church, or the people we feel we owe an invitation to because they have been gracious enough to invite us. Each category is its own brand of intimacy or congeniality. So who we invite seems to be a matter of with whom we feel comfortable.

We talk a lot about evangelism in the Episcopal Church. Yes, our numbers are down a bit, and we have people scratching their heads as to why. Growing up in a more evangelical church, it was not uncommon for people to invite guests or people that they knew to come to church with them and then come over to the house for lunch, which in the South, meant a full-blown dinner with a lot of food. The point was that you invited folks. Episcopalians are noted for their politeness, their beautiful liturgies, and often hospitality to people who find their way into the doors of their churches. Yet if you mention inviting people to come to church, it’s like the suddenly the collective jaws drop and someone will often remind the others of the old saying, “But we’ve never done it that way.”

But now it’s a new day, and now we're being advised to invite people to church. After all, how are they going to get to know us if they haven’t been invited into our churches and congregations.? And how does this fit in with the commemoration today of the martyrs of the Reformation era?

Wars have been waged, often over religion, since Cain and Abel. After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples in Jerusalem had disagreements with Paul and the Greek Christians. As the movement spread, differences appeared, and schisms took place. While not actual warfare per se, the stresses between factions grew. Christianity spread throughout Europe, northern Africa, and as far as India. The church in Rome considered itself the true church, which they still claim today. In the British Isles, Celtic Christianity existed before the Romans invaded and the Roman church began to exert its power, but finally made some compromises that at least allowed for some religious flexibility, but the struggle continued for centuries.

Eventually, another schism took place in several areas that changed the religious landscape. Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses on the door of Wittenburg Cathedral in an attempt to purify the church. Anabaptists, Calvinists, and other groups began in Europe, while in England, Henry VIII sought approval for his divorce from Katharine of Aragon. Thus it began—first Roman Catholics killing Anglican heretics, and then when the Anglicans came into power, they began killing the Roman Catholics. Sadly, that warfare continued in Ireland until a few decades ago. There are still tensions between the two, although armed conflict has lessened considerably.

The Roman Catholics celebrated the forth martyrs for the faith between the years 1535 and 1679 for centuries. Much more recently, the Church of England began the commemoration of the martyrs of the Reformation era, including the Roman Catholics and Anglicans. Going one step further, they included fellow Christians such as the Anabaptists and the Quakers who also died for their faith. In a sense, the Anglicans invited others who had suffered to join with them not necessarily join them but to worship with them to remember how hard it can be to be a Christian accepted by everyone.

All this brings to mind the talk of the 2020 Lambeth conference in Canterbury, where the Archbishop invites all active Anglican and Episcopal bishops to category every ten years to work together for unity and focus on ministries. Invitations have been sent out to the Roman Catholics and several other denominations to send observers to listen to the sessions and talk to the bishops and archbishops to create a sense of collegiality among them all despite their differences. It’s an opportunity to find where common ground exists and where divisiveness is still present.

I think it’s a good thing to hold such a conference. It gives a level of transparency and the way the Anglican Community functions, a much different process than many of those in the observer churches and denominations. But the Archbishop of Canterbury has thrown a cat among the pigeons by refusing hospitality to spouses of LGBTI clergy in attendance. They have not been invited because the Church of England feels it might be divisive and unsettling to other denominations which do not accept either LGBTI ministry or marriage. If you welcome non-Christians as well as Christians of different understandings to a conference but exclude certain spouses who are baptized support the work of the church but who are LGBTI,  how can you express any sort of unity within your own gates?

 It disappoints me greatly that once again LGBT I brothers and sisters who are in stable and loving marriages cannot be accepted as a couple because it makes others uncomfortable. Isn’t one of the points of being a Christian is to follow the Jesus who gave clear instructions about so many things that we seem to ignore but using the Bible as a cudgel over something Jesus never mentioned?

So who do we invite? Are we inviting people into our churches and our conferences to make them comfortable or are we doing it to expand their understanding to know better why we are doing what we do? Are we planning to live a Christlike life or are we planning to have a nice get together with peace and harmony and love feast going on all over the place? Or are we there to, as someone once said, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Who should we invite? Who would Jesus have on the guest list and why or why not? Think about it.

God bless. 

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Sunday, April 28, 2019.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

To Whom Do We Listen

Acts 4:13-21

Reading from the book of Acts this morning, it occurred to me that the reading seems to be about tests. Then I thought about all the tests I have gone through in my life, both in school and in life. I concluded that God didn’t send these tests, being human did. No one gets out of this life without having to pass or fail lessons that come upon us as we grow, learn, age, and experience what life has to offer.

Peter and John faced a test when they went before the Council, and it was a test for them. They had already tested Peter and John, and it concluded that they were not educated and were quite ordinary men. They were totally unlike those who felt they needed to stand in judgment of them, yet here’s where another test came in. Peter and John had healed a man, a person who stood with them before this Council. He had been cured, and the Council could not perform that miracle. So what were they to do with Peter and John preaching, teaching, and healing?

So they did what many committees and councils do when they can’t quite figure out what they are supposed to do. They closed the Council and told Peter and John to wait outside while they discussed the matter. Here they could face the problem without having to do it in public. The problem was that the people were aware that the disciples had been able to perform miraculous healings through Jesus, and Jerusalem was abuzz with the news of this. The Council was really in a pickle--how to keep this infection from spreading, because to them, this new kind of faith ran contrary to their own, and they were uncomfortable with it.

They went back in and suggested rather strongly that the disciples not speak or teach about Jesus or in the name of Jesus. It was God’s decision as to how they should proceed, whether following the Council or obeying God. They had seen and heard many things, and these were things that people wanted to know about. So they refused to stop preaching and teaching. The Council had no alternative but to let them go. They couldn’t punish them for their beliefs, and besides, the people would be angry at such treatment of Jesus own people, especially since they were accompanied by one who had experienced the miracle of healing from Jesus through them.

I keep thinking about people in positions of real or perceived authority, like committees in Congress, who pepper witnesses with questions and then have to withdraw into their chamber to discuss how they’re going to handle this. Unfortunately, it happens rather often. There are always at least two sides.

The idea of the public hearing is so that the people will hear the truth — whether it is the real truth, perceived truth, or a partisan truth. The committee is composed of members elected by the people and then selected to serve on a particular committee.  Still, people expect their representatives to follow the majority rules. It doesn’t always work that way.

Matthew 6:24e states, “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” (NRSV). We are allowing human beings to tell us what we should think, what we should believe, and whom we should obey. What if these beliefs are contrary to what we ourselves believe? Then it becomes a moral and ethical as well as spiritual problem. We're told in the Bible that we should love God, love our neighbors, and do good. What is good? What’s right for one is not always proper for another. Many sides have talking heads trying to convince a majority of people that they are right and that they, the representatives of each side, are being honest and truthful. They’re cutting God out of the equation, and for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, it’s painfully obvious.

The high-priestly family, rulers, scribes, and elders were probably frustrated not to be able to stifle these followers of Jesus who were spreading the word and the teachings of Christ all over Israel, Judah, and points beyond. It was like watching a stone roll downhill; once put in motion, it was going to be almost impossible to stop.

So how do we respond to this rolling stone that we face today? As Christians, we are supposed to be listening to God and taking the words and teachings of the Bible not as literal commandments but as ethical and moral ones. We should dig deep to understand what those words meant at the time they were spoken and written, and not try to impose a modern degree of literalness to something that wasn’t meant to be literal. We must do our praying, and listening, and then making a judgment for ourselves as to where is God in what we are hearing and seeing. That’s the important thing.

Here Peter and John got it right; they said that they could not obey that demand. We are to have eyes that see and ears that hear, but also minds and hearts that are set on God and lenses through which we can observe the world as God intends for it to be. Too many Christians have died trying to do that, so now it’s time for us to move in God’s direction for the good of all.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 27, 2019.