Thursday, June 30, 2016

Crash Helmets and Sunday Mornings

On Sunday, we arrived between services.  Our pastor saw us as we walked from the parking lot and said, "I have your helmets."

I said, "Is it going to be that kind of service?"  And we both smiled.

He had borrowed one of our motorcycle helmets because he needed to take his wife's scooter up to Ft. Lauderdale to sell it, and he wisely didn't want to do so without a helmet--and hers was too small.  It fits me, though, so now we have an extra helmet.

I thought of the Annie Dillard quote about Sunday mornings, and ladies wearing their beautiful hats to church when they should be wearing their helmets.  I thought of her idea that on Sunday mornings, most of us mindlessly invoke the power of God, and most of us have no idea what we're invoking--and I daresay, many of us don't really believe that God listens or responds.

That quote has been on my mind all week, and this morning, I looked it up--how I love the power of the Internet!  The quote is so much better than I remembered:

"On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."

Annie Dillard Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982

Maybe I'll look for her book and read it this week-end--it sounds like great reading for Independence week-end.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, July 3, 2016:

Complementary Series

Isaiah 66:10–14

Psalm 66:1–9 (4)

Galatians 6:[1–6] 7–16

Luke 10:1–11, 16–20

Semicontinuous Series

2 Kings 5:1–14

Psalm 30 (2)

Galatians 6:[1–6] 7–16

Luke 10:1–11, 16–20

I've seen many Christians and churches returning to this passage recently, wondering if the early mission of the Church should be our mission.  Should we leave our church buildings and go out into our neighborhoods?  Perhaps we should abandon our church buildings altogether and meet in bars or coffee shops, all the better to meet the inhabitants of our communities. 

But what if Jesus wasn't speaking literally?  I know, I know, we have the book of Acts which shows that the early followers took this passage literally.  But we suspect that the early followers often misinterpreted Jesus.  What if we're being too literal here?

English majors know that when a journey appears in a work of literature, it's often a metaphor for the journey of life.  What if Jesus used this metaphor to show us how to move through our lives? 

There's the message of simplicity, which we get in many of our Gospel texts, along with the reminder not to be too attached to worldly goods and worldly acclaim.  And there's the message of community, the value of having some like-minded friends beside you.

If we interpret this passage metaphorically, we're still not able to escape the evangelism message.  We still need to deliver the good news that God loves us, that the perfection of creation has begun, the Kingdom is breaking through. 

I think of this idea each year as I witness Vacation Bible School.  I see children who aren't interested in church as grown ups offer it, but who LOVE Vacation Bible School.  I know more than one parent who goes from church to church so that the child can repeat the wonderful experience of VBS.  I know children who love VBS so much that they bring their closest friends.

What would happen if we felt about our faith the way that children felt about VBS?  Would it be easier to go out into our communities to tell people what's going on behind our church walls?

More than once, I've said, why can't we make regular church more like VBS, so that people want to come year round?
Here, too, I see a variety of Christians wrestling with these questions.  We will see a variety of answers, as we continue to try to discern how to let our lights shine brightly against the darkness.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Music with Strangers, Music with Friends

Last night, we went to see The Music of Strangers, a movie about Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road project.  I expected it to be a sort of travelogue:  on the road with Yo Yo Ma.  Or perhaps it would be an introduction to new instruments, which it was.  But it was so much more.

The movie focuses on a few of the musicians, and we get enough of their stories to understand their journeys.  On the way home, I commented about how many of them have been impacted by revolutions in their countries.  My spouse pointed out that this experience of disruption, dislocation, and the resulting losses is probably more common than not. 

I was also struck by one comment in the film, "Yo Yo Ma is always working for change, and over half the time, he just happens to have a cello in his hand."  Throughout the film, we see these musicians working to make connections--not just with each other, but with various populations.  Along the way, they take their music to the dispossessed, giving lessons, giving instruments, and trying to bring peace through music.

It was a powerful reminder that we can work for social justice through a variety of venues, across a range of mediums, by doing what we love to do and sharing it with others.

It was the kind of movie that both made me want to go home and practice on an instrument, and at the same time, to abandon all thoughts of playing.  Those musicians were so magnificent.  But again, I remember the words of a yoga teacher who gave me great advice long ago, to stop comparing myself to others because it won't help me perfect a pose or hold my balance.  That advice seems applicable here too.

Throughout the movie, I thought of our fledgling ukulele group at church.  Could we become an agent of transformational change?

I also loved this movie for its depiction of artists practicing their craft.  I like that the movie reminds us that each artist works alone, but the group comes together in certain places to become something greater than the sum of its parts.  The movie focuses mostly on musicians, but there's a fascinating segment on a Chinese group that also makes puppets--they look like delicate paper creations which are operated behind a screen and the shadow is magnified on the screen. 

But it's not all hopeful--the Chinese puppet maker said that no one wants to know how create that art form any more:  it's too intricate, and there's no money in it, especially not for the amount of time that it takes.

The film addresses an important point from many angles:  why create art in the first place?  Do we create art to change the world?  to make money?  to preserve our culture?  to make new culture?

The film did not address the spiritual aspect of making art, at least not overtly.  But spiritual aspects undergirded the whole film.

We went to see the film with friends from church, and I feel lucky to have friends who say, "There's this movie we should see.  Can you come on Monday?"  When I told them how lucky I felt, one of them said, "There aren't many friends who would be interested in this kind of movie."  I'm glad to have some friends who are interested in this kind of documentary, friends who would meet us on a Monday night to have some time together.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Taking Worship to Those Who Cannot Come to Us: The Convalescent Home

Yesterday, a group of people from my church went to a convalescent home in Aventura, about 10 miles away from our church.  This convalescent home had gone for 6 months without anyone coming to lead worship services.  So yesterday at 1:30, 6 people went over to pitch in.

I was not among them, but I got to hear about it during our Sunday night fellowship.  The group had to consider many things I might not have thought about.  For example, I was fairly sure that the worship should be ecumenical, but I hadn't thought about some of the logistics of offering Communion--and I'm not talking about possible theological differences.  Some of the patients had problems swallowing, so communion would have been difficult.

Many of the patients had suffered strokes, so even having them participate in the prayers might have been problematic--could they speak?  could they make themselves understood?  did that matter?

From what our team could tell, singing was the activity that was best for the patients.  Our musicians who went along are not like my mom, who can play anything in any key without music.  Our musicians needed music, and so they played what they had brought. 

We are likely to go back, so we strategized about how to best care for these patients:  take song requests in advance?  have a worker in the home write down prayers?

And the larger issue:  who will provide these services when we can't?  Right now, we are going once a month, and they invited us to come twice.  During the summer, when many of our members have time off from their public school jobs, we might be able to do that, but once the school year starts, that will begin to feel like too much, unless we rotate teams.

But the larger issue:  why were we the only church who said yes?  Our pastor told us that the convalescent home had tried a scattershot approach to finding someone/a group to lead worship:  calling every church listed in the yellow pages.  Our church was the only one to call back and say yes.  And we're Trinity Lutheran, not All Saints Lutheran--we're at the end of the list.

In my grandmother's smallish South Carolina town, they'd have never had this problem.  Churches would have fought for the opportunity to go to lead worship.  I suspect, however, that as in many issues, South Florida is an early outlier here too.

One of the things we talked about was how to include other area Lutheran churches in this ministry.  Hopefully, as in the past, when one of us leads, some others will follow.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ukulele Sunday Evenings at the Parsonage

A few years ago, one of our church members got a ukulele for Christmas.  She plays the upright bass, but she had wanted an instrument that was more portable.  She started to teach herself, and then she got hooked up with the ukulele community, and then she played with a small group.  The small group has played at our early Christmas Eve service for several years.

Along the way, other members of our church have gotten ukuleles too, and even more people are interested.  Thus was born our summer ministry of sorts.

For five weeks, we will meet at 6:00 at the parsonage.  We will have 45 minutes of ukulele lessons, followed by a food break, followed by a jam session that include any instruments that people want to bring along.  Last week we had a guitar, a violin, a harmonica, the upright bass, and a mandolin.  Last week was a great time of fellowship and of making all sorts of joyful noises.

We got a grant from Thrivent, which we used to buy some ukuleles to loan to people who want to see if they like the instrument before they commit.  After this series of ukulele Sundays, we will see what ministry might develop:  something with children that grows out of VBS?  Something with a travelling band?

In the past week, I've read several references to music groups that go to people who are dying in the hospital, often to be with them at the moment of death.  That seems like such a joyous way to leave this incarnation of the body.

I've also spent the past week thinking of the Sunday at the parsonage, trying to determine how I would classify it.

Was it worship?  Yes, of a sort.  Was it Word and Sacrament?  Not the way that Lutherans have traditionally understood and celebrated.  But in my non-traditional way of thinking, it was.  We wouldn't have gathered together if we didn't already know each other from church, so our gatherings often take on a sacramental feel.  Last Sunday felt more sacramental than many of our fellowship times.

I wonder what the next 4 weeks will bring--I look forward to finding out.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Esther's Moral Choice and Ours

Tomorrow my church finishes its 3 week consideration of Esther--what an interesting time to be reading her story.

As I think of Esther, I find myself thinking about how humans act when the stakes are high.  Sociologists have been studying human behavior in the face of great catastrophe, and they tell us that most humans will help when people are in terrible trouble.  We've heard stories of the teacher who tries to shield students from bullets, of those during the September 11 attacks who helped the less able-bodied navigate the stairs.  We hear stories of heroes who rush into burning buildings--or in the case of Esther, approach the king unbidden--and we wonder if we could do that.

The danger of the story of Esther is that we read the story, and we say, "Of course, if life is on the line, I, too, would be brave and go before the king."  After all, what choice does Esther have?  If the king has her killed for disobeying the rules and coming to him of her own volition, it will be no worse a fate than waiting to be killed as a Jew.

We assume that we would be brave, if our lives were on the line.  But what if the stakes are not that high?

Are we willing to speak up when a colleague tells an offensive joke?  Are we willing to think about where we spend our hard-earned money and only support those companies that match our values?

I had an interesting series of conversations the other day when my company decided to let a local Chick-Fil-A come to campus to bring box lunches to those who wanted to buy them.  One of my colleagues thought that they shouldn't be allowed on campus at all--the school has an anti-discrimination policy, and Chick-Fil-A has supported some causes that are discriminatory.  One colleague thought that if we didn't want to support the company, that no one was being forced to buy the food.  One colleague wanted us to support more non-chain restaurants, while another thought that supporting a local franchisee was fine.  Some of us thought we should just provide our own lunches.  One colleague wondered why we were having so much conversation about the topic at all.

I said, "One day you're buying from a company that supports causes you don't believe in, and then you're buying clothes made by sweatshop child slaves, and where does it end?  Before you know it, your mortal soul is in danger."

Our choice between ruin and salvation may come in a big challenge like Esther's, one where we recognize the stakes.  But for most of us, the moral choices that we face will have much smaller stakes, and it may be easy to shrug off the seriousness of the choice--or perhaps we won't recognize that we're even making a choice.  But we are.  And once we get off trajectory, it can be very hard to get back on track.

Each day, we should ask ourselves and each other:  "In what ways am I moving the world towards justice and peace?  In what ways am I cohabitating with evil?"

God calls us to a grand vision of a redeemed creation--in what ways are we making that vision a reality?

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Feast Day of John the Baptist

Some months, I’m in the mood for John the Baptist. I’m ready to go into the wilderness. I’ve got a file of recipes for locusts and wild honey. I’m in a daring mood—I’ll speak truth to the King Herods of the world, even if it means my head on a platter.

But much of the time, when John the Baptist shows up in the lectionary or when we celebrate his feast day on June 24 or when we talk about prophets in general, I’m weary. Most of the time, I'm tired of having prophets like John the Baptist call me part of a brood of vipers or comparing me to shrubbery that refuses to behave.

I know, I know, I have all these faults. Don't threaten me with that ax. I try so hard to bear good fruit, but I'm afraid it isn't enough. I'm surrounded by people who are clearly in a more crabby mood than I am, and I'm trying to be sympathetic, but it's hard. This attempt of mine to transform myself into a compassionate person is taking longer than I thought it would. I see people at work having meltdowns, and my response is to hide under my desk, metaphorically, although there are days that the thought of literally curling up under my desk is almost irresistible. I don't go to them to say, "What can I do to help you through this painful time?"

But let me return to the mission of the prophets. God does not send prophets because we’re all already damned. God sends prophets to call us back to the path we should be travelling.

On this day in June when we celebrate John the Baptist, it’s good to be reminded that I'm not my final, improved version of myself. I still have work to do. And I need to hear that message that the prophets bring us. I'm lazy and inclined to coast, and it's good to know that God has a vision for me that is vaster than any I could dream myself.

It’s also good to remind ourselves of who we are. I like the passages when John the Baptist is questioned about his identity. He says, “I am not the Messiah” (John 1:20). He could have hoodwinked people who were willing to believe he was the Messiah. He could have made a power grab. He could have gotten great wealth and women and audiences with powerful rulers.

Those temptations have led more than one religious leader astray.

But John knows who he is. He is not the Messiah. He has been sent to point the way to salvation, not to provide it.

Likewise, we are not called to be the Messiah, That doesn't mean we’re off the hook in terms of behavior. We can't say, "I am not the Messiah," and stay home on our sofas. We can’t decide to watch reruns of The Simpsons and do nothing about injustice in the world.

No, John the Baptist reminds us that we are called to emulate Jesus. Some days, though, I’d rather emulate somebody else. I’m so tired of working so hard to be a light to this fallen world.

When I feel that way, I need to listen to the words of John the Baptist again. I need to listen to God, who often calls to us from the wilderness. Most of us need to be reminded to listen to that call that God makes. Let the words fill our hearts with hope: "The crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3: 5-6). Our salvation is at hand: our grieving hearts will be comforted, our anger and irritation will lift, the planet will heal itself as it always does, God will take care of us and everything we need is on its way, even if we’re not ready for deserts and locusts in our dedication.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Forgiving the One Who Kills While Drunk

I have friends who lost a family member in a horrific car crash.  The family member was travelling on his motorcycle at night on the Interstate, when a woman who was driving the wrong way on that Interstate ploughed into him, killing the family member and severely injuring the driver.

Was she drunk?  Of course she was--sober drivers don't get on the Interstate driving the wrong way--it's hard to do.

The story is full of grim irony.  The man killed had been clean and sober for years, and he had helped countless others to that salvation.  And now, he was dead by a drunk driver?  There was much anger and sorrow.  Forgiveness was not readily apparent.

My friend who was the sister-in-law of the motorcyclist moved towards forgiveness more quickly than the rest of the family.  She continued to remind everyone of the victim's quickness to forgive, and to forgive over and over again.  At the beginning, almost everyone else wanted a swift, harsh justice.

The wheels of the legal system move slowly, sometimes unbearably so.  This case was no different, and this case moved more slowly through the legal system because of the severe injuries of the drunk driver.

These delays gave the family members time to move towards forgiveness and a plea deal.  The DUI driver will have to serve some time in jail, and she will never drive again.  She will have to be a speaker about the danger of drunk driving, along with other responsibilities.  She will have a lifetime of random drug tests.  And she must live with her injuries.  She will never be the same.

I have seen the family members on the local news as they talked about their losses.   Knowing that they have moved from anger to a forgiveness has been inspiring.  They have not couched the experience in spiritual terms, not publically, but I cannot help but think of the various spiritual traditions that command forgiveness as a spiritual duty, a spiritual necessity, a spiritual formation.

Forgiveness cannot erase loss, of course.  But it can transform the loss.  Anger can be transformative too, and not always in a bad way.  But anger nursed deep within us is damaging.  To hold that anger for many years is even worse.  Far better to forgive, although it's much harder.

The DUI driver has a much more difficult road ahead.  She is filled with remorse, and she must rebuild a life from shattered shards.  I hope that the fact that she has received some forgiveness will help her too.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 26, 2016:

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Psalm: Psalm 16

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62

In this Gospel, we see Jesus headed towards Jerusalem. He meets people who want to go with him, and some of them he seems to turn away, by warning of a sort of homelessness, a psychic isolation that comes with nestlessness.

Other people he invites to follow him, and they want to, but they have these responsibilities that they need to attend to first. And just like that, they've lost their chance. Many of us must understand the plight of the man who needs to bury his father. In the time of Jesus, this obligation would have loomed even larger than it does today.

Jesus seems to suggest that we forsake family responsibilities, and this theme recurs periodically throughout the Gospels. Or maybe he's suggesting that we shuck off the things which are already dead.

Our society gives us many rules and regulations that torment us as surely as the demons tormented the man in last Sunday's Gospel. Ask any sociologist, and they'll tell you that socialization binds us more thoroughly than any other aspect of our being. It's socialization that demands that we mop the floors when we'd rather be making music. It's socialization that tells us we must attend to our families, our jobs, our various responsibilities, in certain ways, even when those ways put our souls in danger.

Jesus warns us again and again of the dangers of taking our hands off the spiritual plow. Of course, most of us aren't leading agrarian lives anymore, so the metaphor may not be as powerful. But in our time of increasingly fragmented attention spans, the central message remains: Jesus tells us to keep the focus on him, not on our smart phones, our iPads, our e-mail accounts, our televisions, all the screens which rule our lives.

If we're not willing to forsake those screens for God, perhaps it's time to deepen that faith. If our mission doesn't move us, perhaps it's time to adjust the mission. What would excite you so powerfully that you would never lose your grip on that Gospel plow, that you would never look back? How can you get that excitement into your daily life?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jesus and the Modern Outcast

My church, Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Pembroke Pines, Florida, has passed a final step in becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation.  Last night, our church council unanimously voted to adopt the following statement of welcome:

Who is welcome here at TLC?
At Trinity Lutheran we practice radical hospitality…so
If you are Native American, Asian, Hispanic, Black, White, Bi-Racial or Multi-Racial......
If you are three days old, 30 years old, or 103 years old...
If you’ve never stepped foot in a church; or if you are Catholic or Prostestant, Buddhist or Jain, Jewish or Muslim, Hindu or Sikh, atheist, agnostic, or Christian, a seeker or spiritual or not quite sure...
If you are single, married, divorced, separated, or partnered...
If you are male or female, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer...
If you are a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Socialist, Libertarian or of any or no political persuasion...
If you have, or had, addictions, phobias, regrets, or a criminal record...
If you own your home, rent, live with your parents, or with your children or with your friends, or are homeless...
If you are fully-abled, disabled or a person of differing abilities...
You are welcome here at TLC!

As I reflect on the statement, I think about how far we (by which I mean our local church and our national church) have come in what seems like a very short time.  This statement of inclusion along the spectrum of gender and sexual preference doesn't seem as radical as it once would have.

My local church has been moving to this position for many years, and along the way, I'm sure we've lost some more conservative members--perhaps that's why we have seen less pushback at this particular time.  In 2009, when the ELCA moved towards more inclusivity while also respecting the different views of members, our local church had conversations about what it all meant, and I remember some deep disapproval. 

Some of those members are still with us.  Have their opinions changed or have they decided to mute their disapproval?

As I reflect on this statement of welcome, I think about how easy it seems to welcome LGBTQ members of the community--but to genuinely welcome people with mental issues that are presenting in disruptive ways?  That might be harder.  We say we welcome people with criminal records--but for all crimes?

I think about the ministry of Jesus, his communion with the outcast.  If Jesus came back to live with us today, who would be the outcast?  If I wrote a Gospel today, who would be the demon possessed?  What would we say about a Jesus who broke bread with the child molester?  Would Jesus hang out with a person who planned to bomb a nightclub?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Poetry Monday: Improbable Blessings

Saturday morning I realized that I had written no poems for the week--my goal is to write 2 poems a week, usually on Tuesday and Thursday.  My plan has been to use the week-end to catch up, if necessary.

I was feeling a bit uninspired, a bit blah.  So I did what I normally do: I went to a few websites to see what other poets have been up to.

My favorite is Dave Bonta's Via Negativa site.  There I found Luisa Igloria's "What can you do with day old bread?"  It's so much more than a list of possibilities like feeding birds.  I thought of bread pudding.  I briefly wanted to be distracted from my writing blahs by making dessert.

Her poem was inspired by Dave Bonta's erasure poem, "Inner city" with these lines that felt evocative:

"in the city is a city missing bread
for the swan on the water"

I thought about feeding the birds with bread, and my brain went to our post-worship service practice of dumping consecrated wine in the butterfly garden at church and sprinkling crumbs of consecrated pita bread across the ground.  And finally, a poem was born.

I briefly worried that I'd already written something similar.  If so, I can't find that poem.  I did write a poem about consecrated wine going down the drain (see this post).

I sent the poem to Dave Bonta, and he published it on his site--to read it, go here.

And then, I went on to write another poem--my weekly quota in one day!  The second poem considers our current obsession with culling carbohydrates from our food intake--what does this mean for our sacramental practices?  How does it look to countries that are so parched from drought that nothing will grow in the dehydrated soil?

Here we are, at a new week.  Let me be on the lookout for poetry possibilities!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day and God the Father

 I have fathers on the brain, since it's Father's Day in the U.S. I know how lucky I am to have emerged from an intact family, to have a mom and a dad who continue to love each other, and continue to love my sister and me. I grew up in the 1970's and saw plenty of wrecked families. I've always wondered how people who come out of those wrecked families, especially those with absent or abusive fathers, react to the idea of God as a Father.

Even though I have a good relationship with both of my parents, I'm not crazy about the idea of God as Parent (of either gender). I think that God as Parent is an infantilizing metaphor. If God is a Dad (or so much more rarely, a Mom), then it follows that we're children, and too often, we see that as a reason for inactivity. But God needs us to be active in the world. I'd go further and say that God is counting on us. I much prefer the idea of God as partner. God can be the Senior partner; I'm cool with that.

Of course, I see the value of viewing God as a loving parent, but I'd love for us to expand our metaphors for God. I'd also love us to take our view of God, and see if it could have impact on our own lives. How might our parenting change, if we used God as the parenting model? What if we viewed God as someone who packed our lunch for us? What if we saw God as soccer coach or the one who taught us to sail or program computers?

On this Father's Day, I plan to call my own Dad, to say thanks. I plan to write my father-in-law, to say thanks. I plan to pray for a world where fathers are there to shape their children in positive ways. I plan to pray for fathers everywhere. And in effect, I'll be praying for us all--we are most of us shepherding people from a variety of generations in a variety of ways.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Angel Action Wings

There are many stories that have come out of the Orlando shootings, but I found this one about the angel action wings compelling.

The Orlando shooting story has many religious angles, and most of them distress me.  The idea that people from Westboro Baptist Church will try to disrupt funerals--I have always found this idea abhorrent, and this time is no different.

What theology are these people hearing every week?  Does their Jesus really command this kind of behavior?  Why do we permit these people to disrupt funerals?

I realize that there are many reasons, chief amongst them freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.  I love that people are using these same laws to get counter-protest permits, and I love the creative approach to helping the mourners.

The Orlando Shakespeare Theater has been making huge angel wings (imagine white sheets on long sticks that extend above the wearer's head and beyond the body too) for people to wear as they shield the mourners from the Westboro people.  Those shields could have been in any shape, but making them angel wings makes it even better.

The picture of the man wearing the wings takes me back to every Christmas pageant I've ever seen, and that makes me smile.  The idea that a theater group made these costumes also makes me smile.  But what really makes me smile is the idea of fighting hate this way.

They could have held up signs with counter messages--those would have also served as a shield.  The fact that they're angel wings, not protest signs, is a powerful message.

The leader of the group says that the group's goal is to rise above hatred and to show love and compassion.  Today in Orlando, that love and compassion will be on display in the form of gigantic angel wings.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Visual Art Journal Entries and the March of History

I have been keeping a journal of some sort all of my adult life.  When historic events happen, I want to make a record.

Last week, I wrote about Hillary Clinton's historic campaign, both in blog posts and in a poem.  On Friday, I thought about my visual journal, as I'm calling it, and decided I wanted to make a record.  I started with this:

My spouse added the Trump element.  I got tired of drawing each x, and I decided to start over.  I came up with this:

Is it still a work in progress?  I'm not sure.  I was surprised by how few female political leaders I could name.  I didn't do any searching.  And Esther wasn't exactly a political leader, but I had her on the brain so I put her name down. I thought about doing something more with the background.

Monday night I wanted to do something to commemorate the shooting in Orlando, something that might be hopeful, despite the horror.  I'm old enough to remember when this kind of massacre would not have inspired this outpouring of grief and support for the victims and families.  In fact, in a story on NPR this morning, a reporter (who wrote this story on Slate) reminds us about a 1973 fire in New Orleans, a crime left unsolved, with 30 deaths, which inspired ugly comments about "fruits" on right wing radio.  The fact that so many have responded with dignity, compassion, and grief in the face of this horror--I'm finding that a hopeful sign that our society is changing for the better.

I don't have a work in progress shot of what I drew.  Here's the finished product:

I drew the gray lines because I thought it looked too festive, too birthday like without them.  I had thought that I would draw 50 lights in various colors around the candle to represent ascending souls of every person killed, but I drew too many before I started counting.  I thought about including the wounded, but I didn't want to stop drawing to look up how many had been wounded.

And so I drew the gray swirls, which represented the smoke that might come from that much gunfire, the smoke from the police response, the way that we can lose our lives so quickly--our lives are like a puff of smoke, here and then a faint whisp and then nothing.

Nothing but the memories that others have, the art we leave behind, the humans we've inspired, the family members, the way we've moved the world away from evil and towards good.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Vigils, with Candles and Prayers

This is not a picture from the candlelight vigil in Pembroke Pines that I attended on Tuesday night:

It's a picture from Christmas Eve service, which is probably the closest I've come to a candlelight vigil.

On Monday morning, I heard about a vigil that was held in Wilton Manors (part of our county with a significant population of gay households) on Sunday--obviously, it was too late to go.  I found myself wishing I had attended.

So, when our pastor posted that a group would carpool to a candlelight vigil at the city of Pembroke Pines on Tuesday night, I said I would be coming.  And that's how I ended up at the City Hall of Pembroke Pines holding a candle.

As I headed over after spin class, I did wonder if we might be arrested.  But we were all on the same side.  We heard all of the city officials offer words of support to those who lost loved ones in Orlando.  We heard reminders of the city's support of inclusivity.  We saw a reminder of that commitment in the speakers:  Christian and likely not (the dark-skinned man in the turban was likely not Christian, but I couldn't hear him, so I'm not sure), male and female, homosexual and not.  I was likewise surrounded by a mix of people, some of us who wore our various identities proudly (clerics and stoles and rainbow sneakers and t-shirts with various proclamations) and some of us in ordinary clothes.

We all lit our candles and held them high, as the clergy spokesperson reminded us of the strength of many candles.  It looked like this:

Photo taken by Keith Spencer

On my way home, I tried to remember if I had attended a candlelight vigil like that one.  Nothing comes to mind.  I've gone to prayer vigils in churches, but that's not quite the same.  I went to a public park to see a release of cranes on one August 6 to commemorate the Hiroshima bombing.  I've gone to rallies and marches, but again, that's a very different experience.

My spouse remembers attending candlelight vigils in college, and he said, "Surely I wouldn't have attended those without you?"  I pointed out that he might have gone in the year before I arrived.

Once I went to a variety of rallies and marches.  I knew people who built shantytowns on the quads of their campuses.  My life is quieter now.

It was good to gather at city hall, to declare that hate cannot conquer us, to light our candles in solidarity.  It was sad that we still have so many opportunities that demand our candlelight vigils, but it's heartening that so many would attend a quickly organized vigil on a Tuesday night.

There are over 50 similar vigils planned around our county this week, and I'm certain there will be many across the country.  I'll light my candle, and I'll continue to hope for a day when we no longer have that need.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 19, 2016:

First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 1 Kings 19:1-4 [5-7] 8-15a

Psalm: Psalm 22:18-27 (Psalm 22:19-28 NRSV)

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 42--43

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-29

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39

I must have read this Gospel lesson over a dozen times through the decades, but this time, the depiction of the demons leaps out at me. These demons who drive the man to distraction--he lives naked by the tombs, he is so distracted. These demons who disturb the neighbors who try to contain the man and his demons by chaining him and guarding him. I recognize these demons!

I also recognize our helplessness in dealing with these demons.  We may be horrified at the idea of this man kept in chains, but I suspect that future generations will be equally appalled at the ways we've dealt with troubling humans, or refused to deal with them.

Now, let me stress that I read the demons as metaphorical. I've met people who believe in literal demon possession, and some of them make a compelling case. But in the end, I agree with those who say that ancient people couldn't explain mental illnesses any other way. I've also met plenty of mentally ill people who would make me believe in demon possession, if I didn't have a medical explanation.

I don't want to spend much time writing about true mental illness, but instead about the demons who possess us all. Who among us hasn't spent an anxious night worrying about things we couldn't control (finances, our loved ones, our health)? Perhaps we fall into a sinister pattern of sleepless nights being haunted by the world's worries. Most of us have probably gone through periods where we come perilously close to wrecking our relationships with our loved ones because of our obsessive worries about them.

If only my inner demons could be driven out into a swine herd, or whatever the modern equivalent would be. If only I could be free from those wretches of worry that wake me at night and won't let me sleep for fear of all that could go wrong.

Perhaps I should try giving these cares to Jesus and let Jesus drive them away.  I've tried doing that.  When I can't sleep at night, I pray. I can't do anything to solve most of the world's ills, but I know a power that can. When I wake up at night and start worrying, I try to remember to turn to prayer. Eventually my mind quiets, and I drift off to sleep.

Christians have thousands of years of thought and practice in dealing with the demons that torment us. For some, it's prayer. For others, it might be working with the poor and the destitute. We might meditate to still our minds. We might need a healing service or a laying on of hands. We also shouldn't discount the powers of modern medicine, which offers us a powerful arsenal in our attempts to manage our minds.

God needs us to allow our demons to be sent into swine. God has creative work and play for us to do, and we don't have time for the hissing of demons to distract us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Thinking about Esther on the Day of the Worst Mass Shooting

As I was writing Sunday, I knew that there had been a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, but there had been a shooting at a nightclub the night before too, and that's what stuck out in my mind.  Why two nights in a row in Orlando?

We didn't realize yet that the shooting at the nightclub Pulse would be the largest mass shooting in the nation's history.

I was the presiding minister at church Sunday because my pastor was away at Synod Assembly, so I left the house much earlier than is usual for a Sunday.  As I drove to church and listened to the news, I realized that the body count was higher than first thought, up to 20, and I thought, we should pray for the victims and their families, and for all of us affected by violence.

I added that to the prayers, but I didn't think to alter my sermon.   I talked about Esther, with some references to Hillary Clinton, and using the advantages we have, since most women across the globe are still constrained, but God can use us where we are to work for God's vision of freedom.  I tried to stay away from the angry feminist angle--I decided that the poem I had gotten was enough. I pointed out that Esther had youth and beauty on her side, but had significant strikes against her: exile, Jew, orphan, female. I kept in mind that there would be children who might not understand what a harem is, and I didn't go into that too much. I got compliments, but I am aware that by bringing in the historic aspect of Hillary's campaign that some might have thought I was inappropriate--but I didn't endorse her, since I know to be careful with that. It is historic, like her or not. Other countries have achieved this milestone long before we did. 

I could have talked about the nightclub shooting when I talked about Esther's marginalized status--but my sermon was already treading a careful line between being prophetic and being too political, so maybe it's better that I didn't.  I asked my spouse if he thought I had been too political, and he said, "You came close, but you saved yourself by saying, 'Let's turn our attention back to Esther.'"

But he also pointed out that several rows of older women were nodding and smiling; he had a clear view of the congregation from his seat in the choir.  That made me happy.

I'm pleased with the way that the three services went Sunday.  Even though I wasn't aware that the nightclub shooting was as bad as it was, I wouldn't change much about the services if I could travel back in time.  I'm glad that I had presence of mind to add a reference to the shooting in the prayers.  We didn't have time to organize a blood drive, or to do anything more concrete.

I'm reminded of a conversation with a friend when we heard about a colleague's dreadful health news--the friend reminded me that prayer was our best response to most situations.  But I'm also sympathetic to those who want a bit more action.

There will be time for all these responses in the week to come.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Call and Response

I don't have as much time to write this morning--I am preaching this Sunday, which means I need to leave for church in about 30 minutes.

Often when I don't have time, posting a poem is the way to go.  I wanted a poem that talked about Sunday morning in church--but I don't have as many of those as you might think.

I wrote the poem below long ago--my computer records show that I typed it in to the machine in 2004, which means I probably wrote it a year or two earlier.

I don't remember much about writing it, but I do remember the incident.  I've been a member of two small churches in South Florida, and they've both been remarkably tolerant/nonchalant about behavior that's out of the ordinary, whether it's screaming children or the outcries of the sick/elderly or the mumblings of the less sane.  I should clarify that the churches are tolerant/nonchalant while being aware of the risks.  After one former military man showed up to shout verses from Revelation, our pastor confessed that he had 911 on speed dial and he was ready to hit that button, if needed.  Luckily the man agreed to leave when quietly asked.

The incident described in the poem really happened.  I also remember the woman slipping communion wafers into her pocket, a moment which I thought would make a great poem, but I have yet to write it.

Call and Response

Her plea serves as our steady
backbeat. She sits
in the back and beseeches
her nurse, “I want to go home. Please
Take me home.”

We sing hymns and listen to the sacred
texts with her keening as a subtext.
We confess our creed to her mounting insistence:
“After this one, we’ll go home. Promise
me we’ll go home.”

It should annoy me, but I am moved
beyond belief at her naked
plea; that yearning for home
is what brings many of us back to this sanctuary.

Some weeks, the liturgy, memorized
through childhood years of steady attendance,
makes me weep. I quake at the thought that I repeat
words that have sustained more generations
of my hard-boned ancestors than I can count.

Other times, it is the story behind
the liturgy that moves me, the consistent
narrative thread of a creator
who never leaves, who never shares
our disbelief in our worth—a parent
who loves this disoriented woman, even though
she no longer remembers the proper liturgical response,
sees her as valuable long after everyone else lets her slide
alone into senility.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Visions of the Trinity at Mepkin Abbey

As I walk around the Abbey grounds, I sometimes see groups of three that might be intentional:

Some visions of the Trinity I only see later, as I look at pictures; look at the azaleas:

Perhaps it's not a grouping of three, but a reflection in the water:

Which elements of the Trinity are represented by the tree, by the bank above, by the ground below?

Which set of rocks represents which aspect of the Trinity?

One thing we know:  our Triune God glows wherever we glance:

Friday, June 10, 2016

The New Traditionalism of David Brooks

In a recent essay in The New York Times, David Brooks calls for a new culture war.  And he's got a compelling vision.

In a world that's ripping itself to shreds over issues that come to feel ridiculous, no matter which side you're on, his vision is refreshing.  He says, "The larger culture itself needs to be revived in four distinct ways: We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic; we need to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian; we need to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic; and we need to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive."

He calls us to create a new traditionalism, a mindset that would remind us that there's more to us than our mindset or our physical selves.  He uses the word "soul."  He says, "If public life were truly infused with the sense that people have souls, we would educate young people to have vocations and not just careers. We would comfortably tell them that sex is a fusion of loving souls and not just a physical act. We’d celebrate marriage as a covenantal bond. We’d understand that citizenship is a covenant, too, and we have a duty to feel connected to those who disagree with us."

He reminds us that the stakes are high:  "The soul can be elevated and degraded at every second, even when you’re alone not hurting anybody. Each thought or act etches a new line into the core piece of oneself."

This is true of individuals and true of governments.  If we believed in that truth, we'd be making very different decisions these days.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Esther and Modern Women

This week, I am preaching at my church, while my pastor is away at Synod Assembly.  We are off-lectionary, and this Sunday begins a three week study of Esther.

It's interesting to think of Esther in this week where we've seen Hillary Clinton clinch the Democratic nomination--say what you want about unpledged delegates, I'm still willing to bet that they'll support Clinton. Unpledged delegates are long-term Democrats, and through the years, Sanders has done much to alienate them.  In so many ways 21st century women have more options than Esther.

It's interesting to think about Esther in this week where the Stanford rapist got only 6 months of jail time for doing horrid actions to an unconscious woman.  In so many ways 21st century women have more options than Esther, and yet, we still face the same dangers.

The Bible gives readers so few stories where women are the main characters.  The ones that we get are often problematic.  Esther achieves her power because of her youth and her looks.  I want to think that much has changed for 21st century women, but I'm also aware of the critiques of Hillary Clinton's clothes--this week, something about a jacket that costs $12,000.

Wow--does that jacket vacuum the floor too?

But my larger point--I haven't seen any articles that talk about the expense of the clothes of any of the other candidates.  Only women face that scrutiny--it was true for Esther, and it's true thousands of years later.

Will I talk about these things in my sermon?  Yes, I will.

But I will also point out that Esther had severe disadvantages.  She was an orphan and an exile and a female.  Yet she was pivotal in saving her people from doom. 

We should remember her story when we feel too disadvantaged to be effectual.  We all have advantages of one sort or another.  God calls on us to use these advantages to bend the arc of history towards justice.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 12, 2016:

First Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26--12:10, 13-15

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 1 Kings 21:1-10 [11-14] 15-21a

Psalm: Psalm 32

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 5:1-8

Second Reading: Galatians 2:15-21

Gospel: Luke 7:36--8:3

In our day, Pharisees have come to have a bad name as the rigid, judgmental Jews who didn't recognize the greatness of Jesus. It's important to realize that in many ways, they were the most devout of the Jews, not just religious officials who kept rigidly to hollow rules and restrictions, as Christians often paint them. In his book, The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson notes, "They had the best track record in Palestine. They had historically proven their sincerity and loyalty to the demands and promises of God wonderfully. They were the strongest and most determined party of resistance to the ways of the world, represented in Herod. . . . There was much to admire in the Pharisees. Every Jew owed a debt of gratitude to the Pharisees for keeping Jewish identity alive" (212).

It's important to remember that the Pharisees were rigid about rules and regulations because they thought the way to God led them to follow that route. They weren't being judgmental and exclusionary out of meanness. No, they thought the future of the faithful depended on right action. It might be worth examining our own individual behavior and the behavior of the church both as an individual group and a larger institution--where do we see ourselves? How might we be the Pharisee in the story?

Those of us who have grown up in the church or who have been attending church for many decades forget the radical nature of this story. We have this vision of Jesus that no matter where he went, people were swept away by his message and washed his feet or poured oil on his head.

This woman was an outcast, marginalized in so many ways. We don't know the nature of her sin (the fact that she was a woman in a deeply patriarchal society would have been damning enough), but we know the fact that Jesus allowed her to touch him was profoundly shocking to the Pharisee. Jesus uses this encounter to teach about love and forgiveness.

Today's Gospel also reminds us of how religious people can be so blind to the sacred as it appears in our midst. We religious people forget that the God of our Judaic-Christian scripture is most often found in communities of the poor, destitute, and outcast. We prefer to stay in our sanitary structures, to not let the poor and destitute trespass in our hearts. In doing so, we're likely to miss out on a deeper relationship with God.

People who are part of institutionalized religious structure face dangers that we often forget to understand. We lose ourselves in rules and regulations; we create a rigid hierarchy to help us determine who is holy and who is a sinner. It's so easy to forget that our central task is to love deeply and widely. Jesus comes to tell us strange parables so that we'll remember. Jesus comes to show us a way to live that will be a way of love and far-flung community. Jesus comes to give his life, to show us that the way of love is such a threat to the larger culture of empire and conquest that we can expect the same. But God incarnate in Jesus comes to show us that the risks are worth the reward.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Last Days of Guinea Worm

Yesterday as I was driving home from work, I heard this story about Jimmy Carter's efforts to eradicate Guinea worm followed by an interview with Carter.  Once again, I was struck by what an amazing man Jimmy Carter is.

I was too young to vote in the 1976 or 1980 elections, so I can't say I've always thought that Carter was amazing.  During those years, I agreed with the adults around me who saw him as ineffectual--and as president, we could make the argument that he was.  He's been a much more forceful agent for change as a former president.  He's made the work of Habitat for Humanity much more visible, for example.

The work to eliminate Guinea worm may seem like a strange choice for a former president.  It's been a huge task, as Carter explains:  "We had 203,600 villages that we had to contact and teach each one of them how to [filter their water and avoid going in water to ease the pain when a Guinea worm emerges]. And that's what's taking 30 years."

And today, there are just two cases left compared to 3.5 million a year when Carter started his work.  With luck, we could see this parasite vanquished in the next year or two. 

I like these reminders that change is possible, that painful parasites can be wiped out, that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

We might argue that Carter has resources that ordinary people don't have, and that's correct.  I'm still heartened when people with extra resources use those resources to improve the world, especially the impoverished parts of the world.

And most of us who live in the first world have far more resources, even if they're not presidential resources, than much of the rest of the world.  How can we use some of our resources to help those who are less fortunate?

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Walk in the Everglades and Ensuing Art

Two weeks ago, we'd have been headed out to the Everglades with a group of church to take pictures and enjoy the natural vistas.  This shot was my favorite from the day:

When I took it, I thought that I'd try to transform it into a drawing.  But so far, my attempts haven't gone as planned.  Here's my first attempt:

After I drew (in blue) the swirls and trunk that I thought might represent the tree at the bottom of the photograph, I realized I didn't have enough room for the red and green "wings" at the top, so I just let my brain go in whatever direction it wanted.

Here's my second attempt:

I'm a bit happier with it, although I still didn't leave myself enough room, either for the trunks on either side of the knobbier tree in the photo or for the wings at the top.  But I carried on anyway. 

I tried to make swirls that would create the hidden face that I saw at the top of that knob.  I decided to fill in the white space on either side of the tree with the greens and browns that I saw in the Everglades.

It's not at all what I had in mind when I first started sketching, but if I don't think about what I intended, I'm pleased with it.

What's even more intriguing to me is how different the multiple attempts are--and how they preserve my memories of that day.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali as Social Justice Warrior

In the hours after most of us realized that Muhammad Ali had died, I was struck by how many people mentioned his social justice work--although they might not have seen it as social justice work. 

I'm thinking in particular about his stand against the Vietnam War, and how much of a personal sacrifice it was, in terms of lost titles and lost income.  From 1967 to 1970, he couldn't fight, and he made it clear that he refused to be drafted for intensely moral reasons, not just in a desire to save his life.  He said, "My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape or kill my mother and father.... How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail."

Ali's stance inspired many--some believe that his stand was responsible for Martin Luther King's shift on the war and gave him the courage to speak out against it, to set aside the worries of alienating the Johnson administration, who had made such gains in the Civil Rights arena.

I heard a clip of Bernie Sanders speaking and reminding us of Ali's Muslim beliefs, and I had a vision of Ali bringing us together in ecumenical solidarity in death--and of course, my hope would be that it would lead to more peace, more recognition of similarities, even in our differences--as he did throughout much of his life.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Trinity in Two Takes

Two weeks ago, on Trinity Sunday, I wanted to sketch something that commemorated the day.  I decided on three circles--not exactly original, but I went ahead.  I came up with this image, before I ran out of time:

I hadn't thought that I would return to it.  When my spouse recognized it as the Trinity, I thought that maybe I had been too quick to dismiss it.  He suggested that I use the colors to do something with the background, the white space.

I wanted something that suggested movement and breath for the background.  I think I did that, but I'm not crazy about the colors--they look too much like festive picnicware--but maybe that's not such a bad image for God.

We had a baptism on Trinity Sunday.  I much prefer that image that I sketched.

Does this baptism image tell us about the Trinity?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Poetry Friday: "One Intentional Mistake"

In mid-April, I was feeling a bit frazzled with all I had to do:  put the finishing touches on retreat planning, packing, getting the guest room ready, and of course, all the tasks of the work I do for pay.

I thought of the ways I would like to make the guest room (and the house) perfect.  I soothed myself by saying  "It won't be perfect, but that's O.K. because I am realistic enough to know I don't have time (or space or money or . . .) to make it perfect."

In that vein, I wrote this poem:

One Intentional Mistake

"how for years I was taught:
fly low under the radar."
                    Luisa Igloria, “Only
Amish quilters made intentional mistakes
because only God can craft
items of perfection.

I make mistakes without precision,
scattering them across my work
with great abandon, as if to ward
off evil spirits.

Those spirits will move
on to haunt those who are too proud
of their precise stitches, their perfect
children, their houses ready to grace
the cover of glossy magazines.

I fly under the radar
of every evil spirit with my chaotic
collection of art supplies spread
out across every surface, children frolicking
in paint or mud.

But my children get their nightly baths
before being tucked into beds with bright
quilts with crooked seams. I will tell
them one last story
about the woman who abandoned
the neatness of numbered columns
for the spatter of paint and the magic
of fairy cakes in the overgrown garden.

You may notice it was inspired by Luisa Igloria, and her poem appeared on the Via Negativa site, a site I love because a variety of poets show up here each day, and most of the poems link in a way to some other poem on the site. 

It's a modern call and response.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Morality of the Zoo and a Brief Discourse on Cruelty and Captivity

I've been watching the outrage that came in the aftermath of the child leaping/falling into the gorilla pen, which led to the gorilla's death.  I've seen all sorts of calls for punishment for the mother, as well as an interesting discussion, in many places, about the morality of zoos.

Should we have zoos?  Should we abolish zoos in favor of wildlife preserves?  Is a preserve just another type of zoo?

If a species will die out without human intervention, should humans allow extinction?  I do realize that with many species, we do just that.  And many species go extinct before we even realize they're in danger.  We are in the time of the Holocene Extinction, the 6th great die out (that we know of) on this planet.

It's an interesting discussion, one which leads me back to God.  Just as humans wrestle with the question of whether or not to intervene in extinction, and if so, what should the action be--does God have the same wrestling?  If we believe in a God of free will, is it even conceivable that God would intervene?

If we didn't have zoos, if we couldn't see these creatures live and up close, would we care at all?  The answer probably differs according to the human.

Yesterday, a colleague showed me a picture of a small dog that had a tiara on its head and some sort of clothing.  She asked, "Is this animal cruelty?"

I said no, but then I clarified, "Of course, I'm not going to see animal cruelty in a picture unless there's some part of the animal that's bleeding."

Do we see the same dynamic in the zoo?  I don't see it as cruel to keep animals in modern zoos, where efforts have been made to create a habitat close to the one they would inhabit in the wild, where they get food, where there are places for animal privacy, should the animal want it.

And the whole idea that animals are better in the wild is a false one too.  Many of these zoo animals would be in great danger from predators--and worse, from hunters and poachers.  So it's hard for me to see the zoo as a form of animal cruelty.

Still, I am uncomfortable with this kind of animal captivity for our viewing entertainment.  I think of that case in Yellowstone National Park, where the tourists took a bison calf to a ranger because they thought it was cold.  They put a wild animal in their car--what on earth made them think that would be O.K.?

I'm not sure I'd blame zoos, so much as I might blame Disney movies.  Or maybe as a species, we tend to anthropomorphize every creature--even God.  We assume that all creatures are just like us.

You might argue that God has called us to care for creation, and I would agree with you.  The nature of that care is where we might all differ--and I have no easy answers.

I am glad to see so many people wrestling with the ethical questions of what it means to be good stewards--even as I shudder at the vitriol aimed at that poor mother at the zoo.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 5, 2016:

First Reading: 1 Kings 17:17-24

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 1 Kings 17:8-16 [17-24]

Psalm: Psalm 30

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 146

Second Reading: Galatians 1:11-24

Gospel: Luke 7:11-17

Today's Gospel gives us the kind of miracle that's hardest to explain away (if we're in the mood to explain away). Other miracles, like the one of multiplying loaves and fishes, we understand: maybe one act of generosity inspired other people to share their food; maybe the disciples miscounted the loaves. After all, we see this kind of miracle all the time: one person is assigned to bring the main dish for potluck, and other people decide they'll bring a main dish too, and pretty soon, we've got enough food to feed all the hungry people on the block.

But bringing a man back from the dead, now that's a miracle. Even in our modern time of all sorts of medical possibility, we're still amazed when people beat their cancer, when people who were dead for several minutes are saved, when the body rallies and defeats death. We know it's just temporary. We're all headed towards the grave, and medical intervention can only hold that off for so long.

Why is it so hard for us to accept the miraculous? We are part of a religious tradition that tells stories of the miraculous week after week. We worship a God who rescues humanity again and again: from the degradation of slavery, from the oppression of societal structures, from the very grave itself.

We often forget how very often we see miracles on a daily basis. Even the non-religious have been known to comment on the miraculous nature of hurricane ravaged foliage that regenerates, of cancerous cells that shrink or vanish, of the wayward child who returns to sensible behavior, of the relationships that regenerate into a deeper love. And if we think about the even larger picture, if we consider how unlikely it is throughout the universe that carbon combines with other elements to create life forms, it becomes harder to think that miracles don't exist on our own planet. Think about our own planet, and how life manages to adapt and thrive under the most adverse conditions (like in volcanic vents under the ocean).

Wendell Barry said it best: "Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine--which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes" ("Christianity and the Survival of Creation" in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, page 103).

Most of us have probably already abandoned our New Year's resolutions, so perhaps it's time to make a mid-year resolution. Let this be the summer that we take note of the miraculous on a daily basis. We live in a world that delights in delivering bad news; let this be the season that we train ourselves to recognize all the good news that God sends us each and every day.