Wednesday, January 18, 2017

St. Peter's Confession and Ours

On January 18, we celebrate the confession of Peter, a lesser feast day in many traditions. Peter also plays a part in several other feast days, but here we celebrate one act. If you want to refresh your memory, turn to Matthew 16:13-19. We so rarely have a feast day that celebrates one event in a life that it’s worth considering why it’s so important.

Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter is the one who replies, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Peter recognizes Jesus as the one for whom they’ve been waiting. 

But why, of all of the moments in Peter’s life, is this one so important that it gets its own feast day?

The standard answer might be that the Church gets its start here. We might throw in some discussion of apostolic succession that is so firmly rooted in this confession. And indeed, these facts might be why the early church decided to devote a feast day to this event. These facts alone might make the church historians happy. But it may puzzle the rest of us.

What does Peter’s confessions mean for us, the believers living so many centuries after the event?

I’m keenly aware that this confessing Simon Peter is the same one who will deny Jesus not many chapters later in Matthew. This feast day is a good one to do some self-assessment. In what ways do we let the world know that Christ is the Messiah? In what ways do we deny Christ?

How could Peter be so sure that Jesus was the Messiah? By the way Christ behaves. How do we travel through the world? Do our travels bear witness to God’s Good News or does our life in the world undercut the Good News?

On this day that celebrates Peter’s confession, let’s look at our attitudes. Are we gloomy people? Or do we bring brightness into the world? Do we focus on the bad news that comes our way? Or do we trust in God’s goodness? Do we live in a fear-based economy or a world drenched in love and generosity?

How do we treat others? Or think of it this way. You may be the only Christian that many people ever meet. What assumptions about Christians will people make based on the way that you behave? Obviously, a mean-spirited Christian isn’t going to make people want to know more about this Savior we call Jesus.

We might look at our finances. What are our priorities? We can tell, and the world can tell, by the way we spend our money. Are we giving enough to the poor and the dispossessed? Do we help fund social justice to the same extent that we fund our retirement accounts?

Many good Lutherans I know would recoil at this idea that our actions are important. They might remind us that we’re completely unable to save ourselves and that God’s grace is the only way to redemption.

True, but we need to consider our post-redemption lives. God saves us, but not so that we can sit on the sofa and feel satisfied. God saves us so that we can help with the ongoing resurrection of creation.

We might think of confession in an old-fashioned way, that we go around witnessing to people about how much we love Jesus. But a much more compelling confession is the way we live our lives. We don’t want stranger to say, “Ugh. One of those Christian types. I can’t stand those people precisely because of that way that behavior.” We want bystanders to say, “What’s her secret?” 

It’s no secret; it’s simply Good News that’s several centuries old. Let our very lives sing out in praise of the Messiah. Let our path be a living confession of which the Church will be proud for the next two thousand years.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Poetry Tuesday: "Eschatology"

I am dreaming of mushroom clouds again.  I really did have a nuclear war dream, a looming threat and time to get indoors kind of dream.  We were in a wintry landscape, not snowy, but dead.  My college roommate was there, along with younger versions of my parents, and some little children travelling with my college roommate.  We were trying to get the children inside before the nuclear strike happened.  We were filling up the water bottles while we still had water.

No mystery about where that dream comes from.  The update of North Korea's progress on making a nuclear weapon seemed more dire last week.  The new administration seems like one that might blunder into nuclear trouble before it can pull back.

Well we've been here before--perhaps in a worse space, in past decades.  And here we are, no apocalypse come to solve the problem of choosing a major.  I remember telling a class of students about my college era nuclear fears, and they looked at me as if I was deranged.  I said, "Never count on the apocalypse"--and later, while they worked on their essays, I worked on a poem, which later was published in The Powhatan Review.

And before I leave us with the poem, can I just remember how much I once loved this word?  I still do, but it's like a college roommate, with whom I once had daily tea and conversation, but we've now moved to different parts of the continent (which is true of the college roommate who is coming to visit on her way back from the women's march on Washington).

I loved it in its modern, dystopian connotation and its more ancient, Greek connotation.  I love those passages of the Bible that warn us of the end, although Revelation is my least favorite book.

But it's been awhile since I used that word.  I fear it may be coming back to live with me now.


Do not fear the apocalypse.
There are worse things than to be consumed
by the conflagration that claims
a generation. At least you know your part in history.

Do not count on the apocalypse.
You may be one of the lucky ones,
escaping genocide, only to face the oblivion
of old age, the greatest war criminal of all.

Do not embrace the apocalypse.
Cling stubbornly to the promise of resurrection.
Believe that even after nuclear winter,
Spring will thaw the ground.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Steps on the Staircase

What a strange week this is likely to be, bookended by this MLK day and the inauguration of Donald Trump.  It's a good week to remind myself of my favorite quote by King:

"The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." 

I want to remember times when it seemed like no progress could ever be made, and then, voila, history changed in what seemed like a flash:  the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, for example, or Nelson Mandela being set free.

I want to believe that even if an administration makes changes I don't always agree with (like the changes to the welfare system in the 90's), it may work out in ways I don't expect.  And even disastrous policies aren't forever.  They may point us in a way we'd rather go.

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”  MLK

Over the week-end, we had a lovely Sunday lunch--we compared notes on when and where we were born.  Two of them were born in different places than their hometowns because the hometown didn't have a local hospital.  Two of them were born in different places than their hometowns because their hometown hospitals didn't have the capacity to deliver "colored babies."

We have seen enormous changes happen during our lifetimes.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  MLK

Four of us had seen the movie Hidden Figures, but two had not, so we couldn't discuss it thoroughly.  Still, we agreed that what we liked best about the movie was how uplifting it was.  No one was blown up.  The racist southerners were capable of change--maybe not huge changes, but change enough to open the door to more.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”  MLK

Today is a day to dream big and bold visions. We could change our society. We could make it better. What would that society look like?

We have to dream that dream before we can achieve it. We have to find the courage to hold tightly to our visions. We have to face down all the fire hoses, both those of our minds which inform us of the impossibility of our dreams and those of our society, that tells us to move more slowly.

But first we have to dream. Dream boldly, today of all days.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Hidden Figures" and the Aspects of Religion

Yesterday we went to see Hidden Figures--what a great movie!

I know that some people might see this kind of movie as homework--but it's not, despite its rootedness in history, in recovering a history that's been lost.  I've heard it referred to as a movie made the way that movies used to be made, and that's a compliment:  there are fully formed characters (more than one!), attention to detail, a narrative arc, and oddly, a lot of suspense, even though I knew how it all turned out.

For a traditional movie review, see this blog post on my creativity blog.  Here I want to think about the religious aspects of the movie.  Let me specify that the religious aspects are quiet--but they're there.

Early in the movie, we see a scene set in church.  A different viewer might see this scene as one that explains a romance that we see played out in the movie.  How many viewers have lost or never knew the idea that religious practices were a major part of people's lives not too long ago?

Because the characters are religious, we don't see them wrestle with sexual issues--or maybe it's because it's the early 60's.  Or maybe because there are children.  I found it refreshing.  There's an idea that the kisses that come early in a relationship are a big deal--not something done on the first date.

We see characters say grace--I found this as refreshing a change as seeing women do math and make the computers work.

Like I said, it's a quiet aspect of the movie--not quite hidden, but quiet.  But it's there, and if I had more time, I might explore how the religious aspects help keep the characters rooted--and civilized--and ready to stand up for themselves--if, indeed, we can give religion the credit.  Maybe it's the friendship of the women.  It's not an aspect we see in the movie, that idea that religion keeps us ready for fights for social justice, or at least it's not there openly, the way it is in Selma, for example.

Perhaps the quiet aspect is more realistic, in the way that so much of the movie is realistic--and refreshing.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Self Care and Other Types of Care

I have spent the past week eating some of the soups that I stashed in the freezer just after Christmas.  The week before Christmas, my spouse made a wonderful soup out of the ham bone (with lots of ham too!) that we brought home with us over Thanksgiving, and on the morning of Christmas Eve, I made a veggie soup.  I thought that people might want soup on Christmas Eve, so I took them to church. 

We had lots of leftovers, and we already had a full fridge.  So I put them away for later.  It's wonderful to have food in the freezer for later.

I was not always this way.  Once we had a full-size, standing freezer.  I would routinely make casseroles in double and triple amounts and freeze the extra, only to find that I never wanted them again.  I wanted to cook something new.

Those days are these days--these days, I love being able to pull something out of the freezer during these weeks when I'm not home much.  I love having soup for lunch--a soup that reminds me of both Thanksgiving and Christmas, no less.

It's important self-care.

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I heard a story on "The World" (can't find a link, though) about the British journalist who released a dossier on Trump and the Russians.  He's gone underground, but before leaving, he made arrangements for someone to take care of his cats.  There was some chuckling about a James Bond type spy making arrangements for his cat, but I found it touching.

Today, my spouse and I will do some marriage self-care.  We are going to see Hidden Figures.  He was the first to hear about it, and he said, "I'd really like to see that movie."  He only feels this way about once every three years, so I made note of it.  I'd like to see it too, for many reasons, but mainly because I want these kinds of movies to be made, and thus, I feel like I should support them.

Awhile ago, my spouse and I realized that we too seldom get out and do anything out of the ordinary, unless we have out of town visitors.  We wanted to show ourselves the same kind of care and attention that we do our out of town guests.  We're not always good at that, but we try to be aware.

Is it sad that going to a movie qualifies?  I don't think so.  We very seldom go to movies.  Today's outing feels more like a special occasion than Thursday's outing to the Irish pub, although that felt special too.

It's certainly more special than the alternative:  house care, although that needs to be done too.  For weeks, we had more food in the house than I could figure out how we would eat--but we've eaten most of it.  We need to do some grocery shopping.  The pool doesn't get our attention as much during January as it does in the summer--thus, it's got more leaves in it than I like to see.  We've got weeds coming up in our decorative areas that have river rock.

But today we will go see a movie.  We will celebrate people of vision.  It's a good way to start our MLK week-end.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Blooming Seasonally

In the dead of winter, let us think of the azaleas of spring:

Let us remember the first daffodils of February:

We could force the flowers open, the way our female relatives used to do with Christmas cactus and amaryllis:

But for those of us with eyes to see, let us appreciate the spare beauty of winter, with its stripped branches and bare flower beds:

Even in a winter landscape, there are bursts of color:

And we can rest assured that Spring will come again, with its riotous explosion of flowers:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Poor in Spirit

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The Gospel reading for Sunday, January 15, 2017:

Matthew 5:  1-3

This Sunday my pastor begins a multi-week study of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes.  Some have said that if you were choosing the most important passages of the Gospels, we'd do well to choose this text.  Some have called it a guidebook to the proper behavior of Christians.  Is this text an updating of the Ten Commandments or the replacing?  Or something else altogether?

This morning, I've been thinking about what it means to be poor in spirit.  I've been trying to see the text with new eyes, to listen to these passages as the weeks go on with ears that haven't ever heard these nuggets of wisdom.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Let me list some possibilities that come to mind:


--prone to depression

--a poverty of the pocketbook

--non-believer, someone who can't believe

--a person who is toxic to others

--someone who doesn't tell us how they really feel

--angry mindset


On and on I could go--what does Jesus really mean when he talks about people who are poor in spirit?  Many interpreters come to the idea that poor in spirit means someone who realizes how lacking they are in a spiritual outlook, and thus need God even more.  But as we sit and ponder all the possibilities, we see that this small passage could mean many things.

For those of us assuming that the Sermon on the Mount isn't about us, perhaps Jesus begins with this calling of the poor in spirit blessed, because who amongst us can't relate?  We've all had moments when we're impoverished that way.  Jesus calls us blessed, which may not be what we'd expect.

For those of us who see the Bible as a guidebook for moral behavior, we might see ourselves challenged to approach the text in a new way.  For those who see moral behavior as our ticket to Heaven, we might also be challenged to think differently.

Christ came to announce that God's plan for redeeming the world had begun. That plan involves our pre-death world, which is not just a place where we wait around until it's our turn to go to Heaven. No, this world is the one that God wants to redeem. Christ comes to invite us to be part of the redemptive plan.

The Sermon on the Mount might be the essential teachings of Jesus, distilled into several pages.  In this early part of the text, we see an inclusive message.  We may not be spiritually gifted, but we are blessed too.