Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dem Bones: a work of the meantime.

It is hard to hear the story of the Dry Bones and not think of the spiritual, Dem Bones.  It is almost as hard to hear this story without cartoon images coming up of skeletons dancing.  And after going to Mexico this past fall for the Day of the Dead, these Halloween images were conjured up in my head as I tried to prepare these lessons for today.   

But that is not the point of this very powerful oracle in the book of Ezekiel.  In this story which is paired today with the Raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John we are supposed to acknowledge the subject of Resurrection in these readings.  But the kind
of Resurrection that we find in both of these readings is not the Glorious Resurrection that we identify with Easter.  In both of these stories we find that Resurrection is hard work.  It happens with the greatness of God, but it demands the work not only of the individual, but the work of the community to help God present that new life is the work of us all.
In the story of the Dry Bones, Ezekiel is taken to a valley—it was THE valley where the armies of Judah had been defeated some 50 years before and God asks if the bones lying in the field could be reconstituted.  It is such an impossibility that Ezekiel can only mutter:  “O Lord
God, only you can know.”  In human experience, dry bones cannot be raised from the dead.  But a vision plays out for Ezekiel in which the bones do come together, sinew by sinew, but they have no signs of real life. 

This story is not about raising the dead.  This is a story about reviving the spirit when it has gone out of a community of faith.  Ezekiel is not prophesying to the dead.  He is preaching to a people who have lost their confidence in God to become a unified people again.  The Hebrew word ruach is used nine times in these few verses.  That is the word for breath.  It is also the term for wind and Spirit.  This story is about the renewal of a people—the story of the Spirit of God being rebreathed into a community.  It isn’t resurrection, where the body comes from the tomb.  It is image of people with the gift
of the spirit given a sense of newness by working together, by becoming whole, by being revived by the loving center in God.
This story should be quite familiar to us in this diocese.  When Judy and I came here in 2010, we saw a people who had been liberated from a type of bondage, from their own Babylon.  I remember coming here then and listening to you sharing your faith, excited about learning what the Episcopal Church had been doing for the past 30 years.   The Spirit had caught you up and breathed new life into you. 

But once Ezekiel saw the dried bones formed again, he knew his work was still not done.  As the returnees from Babylon came back to Jerusalem, they wanted to return to the old faith. But that faith had changed.  It had embraced new people.  It had opened its doors to those who had not had the experience of exile.  The reason that we have the book of Ezekiel was because the oracles that Ezekiel had was not just for the specific people who had returned from Persia; they were oracles that were to be heard by the people for all time.  The bones needed to be continually renewed.  The faith needed to be constantly vigilant to be open to the Spirit moving within it.

Stagnation is always a problem with communities of faith. It doesn’t matter what religion or what denomination. All of us come to faith and then we want to stay the
same.  But the Spirit doesn’t work like that.  The spirit stirs us up.  Those of us here in Texas know what the wind does:  it is constantly changing the landscape, even if it is only the landscape of our sinuses.  The Wind of faith, the Holy Spirit, changes the landscape of the Church too. 

We cannot go back 30 years to catch up with the Episcopal Church that has changed around us.  We can’t just remake the church on the principles of even 5 years ago.  We must be willing to breathe into the life of what the
Church is and is becoming.  Now I know I am preaching to the choir here.  You have taken the ball and run with it here at St. Alban’s.  But there are still those who long for a time when it will ‘calm down’---when things will get back to ‘normal’—when we get our parish buildings back. But I would like to suggest to you that that time will never come.  (That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the property that belongs to TEC.)
I know.  I would like that Church back too.  It is familiar, warm and comforting to me.  But that Church no longer exists.  That Church has moved on.  We are a Church now that is trying to put past conservative/liberal fights aside.  We are a Church that is saying that it is more that an ideology.  We are a church that has taken some important stands, such as being a church where people CAN have differing opinions about theology and politics and still come to the same altar.  We are a church where we can support people who are
different from us.  We have said to those who have come to us that you are welcome, not because our old, dried bones have been given life, but because we have breathed the Spirit of freedom, have known the touch of the Divine and found in the community of united hearts that God does meet us in this place despite our scenery, our ‘unchurchy’ music, our wanderings in the desert.  God has breathed life into us even when we would rather have kneelers and solemn liturgies.  That is what the story of the Dried Bones tells us today.
And the story of Lazarus is the same.  Resurrection is not for sissies!  So be prepared for Easter!  Resurrection is not for the faint of heart.  Resurrection takes not only faith but it takes a community for it to happen in.  Lazarus can’t get out of his funereal bindings without help.  It takes the whole community to free him from his tomb-wear.  It takes a community which is willing to remove the stone, to be willing to put up with the smell so that Lazarus can come forth.  Newness isn’t magic.  It is hard work and it requires a willingness to find life where it is.  New life is not always visible at first.  Anybody here have perennials in your yard?  You aren’t always sure they are going to come back each year.  You have to go looking for the new life, under a leaf, or in the corner of the garden. 
We already are that resurrected church.  We already are living into what it means to be Spirit filled.  But there is a temptation to say—this is just the meantime. 
All of life is the Meantime.  We all live in the meantime as Christians.  We are always being breathed into new life—the new life of faith, the new life of a changing world and God gives us the breath to carry on loving, supporting, changing, and embracing the new.  AMEN.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Five: Trips

One of the Revgals, Jan, posted this Friday Five:

Last week and this week, I am driving long distances in Texas, first to Houston and today to Austin from Corpus Christi: both times to meet relatives from Canada flying here. This makes me think of trips taken in my life: vacation, moving, visiting relatives, visiting friends, seeking a new home, going away to school, and probably many more.
 For today’s Friday Five, tell about five different trips you have made in your life due to different reasons, modes of travel, or whatever category you choose!
Please link to your post in the comments below. Since I will be traveling, I will check in on your “travels” when I reach my destination.
Happy and safe travels!

  1. Mexico:  In the early '70's when I was in my 20's I went to Mexico.  I fell in love with the country and the people.  There was so much color, so much history, such beauty and
    so much more to the nation that gave Texas its beginnings than I was teaching in my Texas History classes.  I finally ended up spending some time there doing mission work.  I learned a smattering of Spanish, how to manage outside my own culture and a type of humility that visiting other countries should provide for those who travel, but so often doesn't.  I worked in the states of Morelia and Guerrero. I broke my hip there and that was a trip in itself, but it ended my missionary career.
  2.  In 1983 I went to my first General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  I was newly ordained.  J. was in charge of the Women's Caucus booth so we decided to borrow my brother's camper van and drive to Anaheim from TX.  We camped and drove, saw Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon and various other sites along the way.  I loved New Mexico.  I fished the Rio Grand and the King in CA.  We visited the northern part of NM into the mountains near Chalma.  When we were in the Grand Canyon, that night the harvest moon rose up over the canyon.  It was one of the loveliest sights I have ever seen.
  3. In 1995, I took sabbatical and went to the UK.  From there a group made the Pilgrimage to Santiago Compostella from Canterbury.  We didn't walk, but did it on a tour bus.  We traveled
    to the monastery at Bec
    , the abbey from which many of the early Archbishops of Canterbury would come.  We visited many cathedrals of the Romanesque period.  We stayed at Silos in Spain where all those Chant records were recorded.  On the way home, J met me in Paris and we drove to Beaunne for the Beaujolais festival and then to Cluny and Taize

  1.  In 2009 on Easter morning just after my final service, I got a call from my brother that my
    mother was dying.  She was 97 and in an assisted living facility in Fort Worth.  I was living in southern NY state.  Of course over the holiday it was difficult to get flights, but I will always be indebted to American Airlines who was able to get me on a flight on Mon. night.  I got in about 3 am and went straight to the facility.  Mom was in a coma, but I sat on her bed and talked to her for a long while.  I thanked her for waiting for me.  I knew she would hang on as long as I was there so I told her that the whole family was home. Even my eldest niece had come in.  I told her I was going to go home and get some lunch.  By the time I got back to my brother's house, we got the call that she had died.  It was a special trip.  Hard, but holy.  
  2. This October, I went back to Mexico for the first time since my youth.  We went with friends who have a sister who lives in Guanajuato.  We spent a week in Mexico City and then a
    week and a half in Guanajuato and various other cities
    We were there for the Day of the Dead, a great festival of memorials and family in central Mexico.  We visited the Templo Major which had not even been discovered when I was there in the '70's.  We visited the city where Mexican Independence began.  We attended the Episcopal Church in Mexico City which was wonderful.  They were celebrating the Armistice Day, and most of the English ex-pat community was in attendance.  We were even treated to a Mexican bag pipe band, kilts and all as well as the British Ambassador and various military personages and a number of WWII vets with all their ribbons.  Mexico has grown tremendously in the 40 years I have been gone.  We saw nothing of the 'narco-terrorists' there.  We were safer there than we would have been here in TX. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Happy Lent

Today we begin Lent, that season in which we as Church recognize how we have fallen short of what we are called to be by God and our Baptismal vows.  These 40 days that we observe are mindful of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before he began his ministry.  It is also mindful of the 40 years that Israel spent in the wilderness before coming into the Promised Land.

Forty is a magical number in the Bible.  It really means many, but when applied to days or years, it often has to do with a test.  Noah, Moses, Elijah, all went through 40 days of testing in order to be confident in the faith that resided in them.

The custom of fasting and doing penitence is quite old. It was part of Middle Eastern culture by at least 1500 years before Christ.  It is already a fixed part of the life of the Church by about 150 AD.  The Eastern churches celebrate a longer Lent than we in the West.  The fasting was either an abstinence of certain foods, or a day-long fast like Ramadan depending upon which group of Christianity one belonged.  And it was also the period that those wishing to be baptized prepared for that event at the Vigil of Easter. During the Middle Ages, this practice fell into disuse, but with the changes in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960’s, this period of preparation for Baptism was re-established.  And many churches today take this period to instruct adult converts to the Faith.

Our readings point us not to fasting, however, but to the test that both Adam and Eve and Jesus must face.  The primal couple is placed in the garden of
God with all things provided for them save one:  They were not to eat of the tree of good and evil—or the tree of knowledge.  All too often we hear stories about the Fall of humanity due to Eve’s actions.  It is interesting that the concept of ‘forever fallen’ does not exist in Judaism.  In Genesis, God has created humanity in God’s likeness—holy and good.  Many Christian traditions claim that Eve’s disobedience brought damnation for humanity for all time, but that is a belief system that develops much later in Christianity. 

I prefer to understand the story of Adam and Eve (and remember, you guys, that Adam was there all along) is a matter of trying to usurp the power of God.  Satan entices them not merely to eat fruit.  But to aspire to divine knowledge, to depend upon themselves rather than the Creator that had molded them from the dust.  What Adam and Eve succumb to goes beyond their humanity.  They aspire to equality with God.  And when we think about it, most of our own sinfulness is rooted in the desire to go it alone, or to ignore the Holy in our lives.

Paralleled with the story is the temptation of Jesus.  This story is different from the beginning:  Following Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel of Matthew, the Spirit
leads him into the wilderness.  And after fasting, Jesus is confronted by an Accuser or a Tester. That is how the word Satan translates in Hebrew. Like any good rabbi, he had to undergo his ordination exams.  The tests are on very basic human desires:  Food, Safety and Power.   Satan quotes the prophets and the psalms.  But Jesus responds to each of the tests with a quote from Torah—the Law.  And they are all from the part of Deuteronomy that reminds the people of Israel how they are to live after their 40 years in the desert and while entering the Promised Land.

Jesus does not respond to the devil with his divine power.  He manifests his faith in God from his own humanity.  He speaks from the knowledge that any good Jew would know—what it means to be a good man, a good person.  Jesus models, not a superhuman faith;  he shows each of us that when we know Who runs the universe, we don’t have to resort to God-like knowledge or even God-like power.  He signs for us that we can depend upon a holy faith because it is given by God.

Temptation is not a sign of weakness.  It is part of life.  What we do with it, is
our responsibility.  We all hunger after food, safety and power.  But if we have walked with God, if we have come into the presence of the Holy One in our lives, we know Truth when we hear it.  We know of goodness when we see it.  We know how to depend upon God in the face of temptation.  That is what Jesus models for us in this passage.

But though we KNOW the difference between good and evil, we don’t always rely on God’s power to avoid the evil.  We participate in it.  And sometimes we participate in it without doing anything at all.  Adam and Eve strove to become God.  Jesus, who was God, strove to be human.  At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus understood his place in the Universe;  his work was to show us God. 

Lent is the time when we can touch our own divinity and our own humanity in the wildernesses of our lives.  We have survived the winter.  The hope of a new season is upon us.  But there is a greater hope for all of us:  It is the hope that we can change.  No matter how young or how old, we are called to that transformation to live truly into the life of Christ.  

Lent is the time when we can practice, with the help of others, to be just a bit more than we were.  As a community of faith we all know our sinfulness.  In
Lent we don’t have to pretend that we are sinless.  We come together as Church, as community, as family—all looking for the holiness to which we have been called.  We walk this journey with Christ together, all knowing that our issues are different, but our efforts are much the same.  It is a time to reconcile, to remember, to offer, to embrace in the name of Jesus.  Not for ourselves—not that we individually might become holier, But that we might create a better world. 

All too often Christianity becomes a personal religion.  It becomes a Jesus-and-me type of thing.  For me, that isn’t faith; that is just self-improvement. Jesus invites people to live together in harmony, in Shalom.  His message was to bring God into that incredibly complex thing called community.  And while we can only change ourselves, the change in each and every one of us changes the whole.  That is why Lent is important.  We are about changing the world during Lent.  We are about our own transformation, but that transformation changes us all.  Lent is the time when we are conscious that those changes are about loving one another. 

 So I invite you to these weeks of transformation as a way to change yourself, to change your family, the parish, the Church, as a way to change the world in the name of the God who loves us more than life.  AMEN

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I cannot NOT be priest...

I am constantly being aware that even in retirement I am a priest.  I am told that I can’t be a part of a parish calling a new rector.  I would rather not wear my collar but I am challenged by younger clergy to do so.  I thought that I was going to have some respite and yet, and yet….  I don’t think I can NOT be a priest. 

I never have swallowed the theological idea that there is an ontological change with the sacraments.  Yes, I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the blessed bread and wine.  I haven’t the foggiest how it happens.  Perhaps Thomas Aquinus got a word from God, but I just know that that sign makes Christ tactile and real for me through grace.  Yes, I believe in the sign of God’s healing in the laying on of hands.  And yes, I believe through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that something very special happens when we name our sinfulness that leads to transformation.  But I guess I never wanted to be different by being a priest.  I hated the image of the priest being placed upon a pedestal.
Coming from the Roman Catholic tradition, I saw the ‘elevation’ to the ordained ministry used

by both clergy and laity to separate those whose call was to serve.  And consequently the servant minister was often made the one who expected service.  Consequently there was a major disconnect in what the clergy were doing and what the people needed.  Vatican II tried to change that image, but it was rejected by those who wanted to maintain that distance.


And after over thirty years of ordained ministry, I am still grappling with what it means to be priest.  It has certainly changed in those years, and not necessarily for the best.  So I am back to the question what does it
mean to be priest today?  Do we need them?  Should we need them?  What can an ordained person do for society that humanity cannot, with God’s grace, do for
themselves?  I am sure that in different times and different eras, this question has been answered in different ways.  Certainly during the Reformation some of the break away groups opted out of an ordained priesthood raising up those who could pastor without the sacramental signs.  But the Church being what it is, seems to need leaders.  So how does society confirm those leaders without making them priests?
What I am discovering about myself is that by being a priest, with God’s grace, I can no longer NOT be a priest.  I may not celebrate the Mass, or absolve sins, but that doesn’t stop me from being what I have been called to do.  I am not a priest by my own
account, or even the laying on of hands by the bishop.  I am a priest simply because I have been molded by God’s grace into the sign that God has made me.  And I am beginning to understand the sacramentality of the sign.  I don’t think I understood this at first.
I remember when I was first ordained; I wanted to have a day off in the little town where I served.  If I went to the Post Office or the grocery, I would get ‘button holed’ by people (often people I didn’t even know) who had ‘religious’ questions.  If I was working in the garden of my rectory, I would get hailed as the ‘Parson’ even when I was in my jeans and t-shirt.  In small towns you were the priest of the whole community even for the Baptists.  I had to leave town to have any invisibility at all. It was difficult to be “on” all the time.
Now, I have heard psychologists tell people not to confuse their work with who they are.  But that isn’t the case with the sacrament of ordination.  The sacrament does not make us different because we are still the numbskulls after the laying on the hands than before.  But what we have is the grace to evolve into what it means to be a sign of God’s presence in the world.  I don’t want to say that there aren’t those signs in many different things.  But I do believe that the transformation that comes with opening one’s self to the sacrament of ordination changes one forever.  And I believe that even if someone were to renounce their ordination, the sacrament has still changed their lives.
One of my Methodist colleagues wears her collar during Lent (not a Methodist custom)

simply to proclaim that there is a Christian leader in her neighborhood.  In our part of the country, women’s ministry is still relatively rare.  It isn’t uncommon for someone
to ask questions while I eat in a restaurant, or wait for friends at the bus stop.  The Parson is one who becomes the ‘safe person’ in the community to share faith with, whether it is with someone who stops to change your tire, or a mother who wants her child baptized by a woman. 
The signs of Christianity have been eroded over the past 20 years. I am not talking about crosses or little fish on the back of the car.  I am talking about the incarnated signs. When I was first ordained, the ministry was a respected profession with all the accoutrements thereof.  But society has changed.  Church scandals, the hijacking of Jesus by the neo-conservatives, warring denominations over whatever issue have often placed a burden on those who have committed there lives to be signs of Christ’s presence to the world.  For a while after the pedophilic scandals of the 80’s and 90’s I didn’t want to wear a collar in public.  The media and movies have made Christian leadership look either dummer than dirt or satanic.  And some of our ilk have done awful things.  But I daresay that there have always been those few in the Church universal who abused their office for personal gain, but the majority of us do try to live into that transformative grace that comes with the sacrament of ordination.  And by it we are changed each moment by the One who calls us to serve.
The priesthood of all believers acts the same way.  The sacrament of Baptism enriches
us with the grace to be just as much of a sign of Christ’s presence.  My ordination does not separate me from that grace I was given in Baptism.  It is my baptism that is the root of my ordination; therefore I am the same as every other person in the Church.  My ordination calls me to serve differently, but that is all.  It calls me to a different type of servanthood but it does not ‘elevate’.  If anything it makes life more hazardous by its temptation to not be transformed.  Ordination merely defines where that servanthood is lived out.  The authority it gives is only the authority that is conferred by the community that I serve.  And if I fail that community in serving it, that authority means nothing. 
Now, as I am retired from holding authority of the Church, I work with those who are in authority.  I serve at the direction of others.  That’s fine with me.  At least I don’t have to go to all those $%**% meetings anymore.  But I cannot NOT be a sign of Christ’ presence.  It is an indelible sign.  For good or ill, I still am a sign.  And it is that redeeming grace that still calls me to serve to my dying breath. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

What's Love Got to Do With It?: Friday Five--Valentine Edition

RevKarla has come up with a very random Valentine's Day Friday Five:  Whatever we love.

1.  My colleague J. with whom I have lived with for 36 years.  We are not lovers (as most suspect and I wish) but we are now two old ladies who love the Church and each other and try to love others the best we can.

2.  The Church--not only the denomination but the Universal Church.  It is

more of a love/hate relationship at times, but it is a passionate love that we might be what we say that we are and Christ calls us to be.

3.  My beasties:  Bit and Tyke.

4.  I spent much of my youth playing french horn in band and orchestra.  I studied music and even played professionally for some years before Christ got me.  Now I am blessed with being able to listen to band and wind ensemble music on Pandora while working at my computer.  I am also back near my alma mater so now I can attend concerts and remember the joy.  Music still is the place where the Holy touches me most readily. 

5.  Friends and Colleagues who have the courage to kick me in the butt when I have been acting like an ass.  They are the best.