Monday, September 15, 2014

Blogging the Lectionary, Sort Of. On Forgiveness. Kinda.

Last time I wrote about the lectionary it was for last Sunday’s gospel and the gospel from about three Sundays before that. Blogging about the lectionary is really struggling with what the Gospels are really saying, especially when I find it hard to understand or implement. 

So when I read today’s Gospel  (Matthew 18:21-35) and Jesus saying we must forgive “seventy times seven” and then his hyperbolic parable about a debt that's impossible to incur let alone repay, perhaps to represent an unforgivable sin? … I struggled with what seemed to me to be an impossible ask laid out in this part of the gospel: to forgive unconditionally — even though that’s more or less what I pray for each time I say The Lord’s Prayer. It's what Christians are supposed to do.

Today’s sermon by Rev. Daniel Pearson helped immensely in this — and I was particularly struck by a story that he told about a friend who referred to Desmond Tutu talking about forgiveness from the heart and then choosing to release or renew that relationship.  What did this mean?

Read this interview with Desmond Tutu.  I have bought the book and will be reading it. 

Um, informal book group anyone? Maybe beginning of October?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Conformity of Love: Blogging the Lectionary

Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15)

That's from the lectionary of three weeks ago that I never got around to writing about. This might end up a bit of a series, personal reflections on these questions. I invite you to join me in them. (Take your time with them. I have.)

  1. Who do I say Jesus is? (And the corollary is: and do my actions reflect that?)
  2. What does the Cross mean to me? 
  3. Why the Church?

Who do I say Jesus is?

And is it different from who I say God  is? (Inasmuch as I know who God is anyway...)

I say Jesus is Beloved and Lover. What I mean is that Jesus as the Son of the living God, is the embodiment of God's unconditional love (chesed - loving kindness). He loves us, he listens to us, he comforts us.

I was going to say more than this, share my history of how my view of Jesus has changed over the years: from this divine guy who pats the heads of children but is distant, to the brief period where I claimed him as mortal prophet only but worth following, and to where I am now, currently. And it’s almost like I know both less and more about Jesus, through study of the Gospels and in my own experiences. But I trust more. (If not completely yet.)

Do I show my belief in Jesus as Beloved and Lover in who I am? In my actions? 

Probably not. Probably more than I think I do. And that’s what today’s gospel from Matthew is about. (Matthew 18:15-20

It has been bothering me all week, this gospel about confronting sinners and gathering the church — because of the stories of ostracism and how victims of abuse are the ones who end up outside their community. 

Not one commentary that I read this past week addressed this. It was all about church conflict and how to handle it, albeit with some recognition that this isn’t a cookie-cutter, or the only, solution. Matthew isn’t talking about how to negotiate the conflict over whether there should be all white flowers or all red flowers for Christmas, or whether the rectory should be kept or sold, or if one’s theology is right or wrong.

He’s talking about relationships. Relationships that make up a community. It’s not the issues, it’s the people.

Last night, my husband and I watched “Divergent”, the movie about a girl who doesn’t fit in to any of the factions and who may end up Factionless, without community, without family, as a result. While watching the movie, I did think that the Factionless are actually a faction and could pull it together. (Maybe I should read the books.) Ultimately, “Divergent” is about the dangers of conformity: don’t look in a mirror, accept your orders, etc.

And I think if Matthew’s community and Jesus’ disciples had a place in this post-apocalyptic world, their conformity would be that of love. Which I very much suspect would put them square with the Factionless and the Divergent, because love is all the virtues of each of the factions rolled into one: kindness, truth-speakers, putting others first, even dauntless with their courage and leaps of faith.

A conformity of love. 

Not a conformity of shaming.

Not a conformity of power-wrangling.

Not a conformity of ostracism.

Not a conformity of fear.

A conformity of love.

In Matthew 18:17, Jesus says: "if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

And how was Jesus with Gentiles and tax collectors? He loved them, he ate with them, he talked with them. Sin is breaking relationship. Jesus is about restoring relationship.

But what do you do about murderers and abusers and … and … ? This is where I get stuck. How do you restore relationship with those who destroy them? 

What this gospel makes clear is that it is not up to you or I alone. There’s a community. God is among us and within us. I think it also helps that relationship is a two-way street and it takes two to agree to a right relationship, but beyond that I just don’t have any answers.

Do you? (Please post in comments if so. I think I have managed to turn threaded comments on which should still work even if you post anonymously. Let me know if you have issues.)

Monday, September 1, 2014

What I Learned in August

Given that I've missed two weeks of blogging the lectionary (sometimes the questions raised take more than a week to untangle--presumably ordained priests work this out in seminary, or before they get there or something), here's something a little light-hearted.

Things I Learned in August:

1) Scones in Australia are biscuits in the U.S. (biscuits in Australia are cookies in the U.S.; scones in the U.S. are pretty close to rock cakes in Australia). How long have I been living in this country before I figured this out?

2) I experimented with not liking any post on Facebook for a couple of weeks. My newsfeed reduced the appearance of Pages that I follow (but didn't "like") although there was still sufficient past likeage, I guess that they didn't disappear. So if I wanted to "like" something, I would comment. I would not have said this resulted in deeper conversations, but it felt more connected. If I didn't like anyone's post who likes to count likes, I'm, um, not that sorry. :)

3) Babies aren't as terrified of me as I thought -- and I'm not scared that they'll scream or cry or puke. Witness:

4) I am very patient hand-feeding a dog, more patient than I thought I'd be. Ours is recovering from vestibular syndrome, which means he walks about drunk and has difficulties getting about, etc

5) "The Hebrew letters that comprise the word Elul – aleph, lamed, vav, lamed – are an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” a verse from Song of Songs that means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (from here)

I am participating in chatting at the sky's What I Learned in August.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

God's Love Stories: Inspiration and Reflections on Current Issues

The links collected since last month's link up are many and varied. So much so, that I've divided them into two groups, although it's kind of a fine line.

Reflections on current issues:
My own two posts on current issues:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I am NOT the Canaanite Woman (Blogging the Lectionary)

I wasn’t going to blog the lectionary this week. I declared to my husband last night that it was too hard and I couldn’t find a handle on it. We talked about the events in Ferguson and the first line came. The story is found in this week's gospel, Matthew: 15:21-28.

I am NOT the Canaanite woman
although I roar
with approbation
when she made Jesus see
her humanity.

I am NOT the Canaanite woman
with my skin
the color of privilege.
I do not comprehend 
the depth of her pain.
In the face of it,
I do not know what I can do.

I am NOT the Canaanite woman
who broke centuries
of animosity between two nations
between two genders
between two faiths
who broke ALL the rules
to save her daughter.

I am NOT the Canaanite woman
but I am Jesus (in this story),
and I am sorry I ignored you
and I am sorry your pain
wasn’t as important as mine
and I want you to know
I am with you now,
ask and you shall receive.
You are not alone.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When You're At Loose Ends

Towards the end of my retreat, I started feeling antsy, at loose ends, that perhaps I had done all I could do for this retreat and I still had two nights left.

Of course, I was wrong.

I picked up a couple of books and started reading them and put them back down again. I picked up a "Henri Nouwen Reader" (not the correct title) and within pages came across this quote:
"When we are not afraid to enter into our own center and to concentrate on the stirrings of our own soul, we come to  know that being alive means being loved. this experience tells us that we can love only because we are born out of love, that we can give only because our life is a gift, and that we can make others free only because we are set free by God whose heart is greater than ours." - (Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer)
I read that and realized my loose ends meant I was dodging the gift of acknowledging the presence of God, of sitting with Jesus, like I would with a loved one, close together. I spent some time imagining this.

It was a powerful image, a powerful longing. I asked God that I remember this in everything and in every time. Not just at prayer but almost with every footstep that I take, a new (to me) kind of unceasing prayer.

Now, a few weeks later, after a day of rest, and I realize that I already had forgotten this: that I just have to remember to sit with God. With words or without words, as God knows my innermost self.

Someone remind me of this again sometime?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Blogging the Lectionary: Let's Walk on Water

This Sunday's gospel reading (Matthew 14:22-33) is the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter jumping out of the boat to join him, getting freaked out and Jesus rescues him.

Since I started to blog the lectionary, I've been reading a lot of commentaries and they almost all focus on Peter (in one way or another) or even the disciples in the boat, but not Jesus.

The miracle of walking on water seems to be off limits. Is it because the divinity shines too bright?

My bible study group recently finished a Mark study written by Marcus Borg. His focus was how Jesus illustrates the Way and how He calls us to follow in that Way.

It's probably a huge mistake to take the theme of one Gospel and apply it to another, but why not?

somewhere between Carpenteria and Ventura
If we are called to follow the Way and use Jesus' actions and words as examples, what does this passage tell us? What does Jesus say and do here?

First, that solitary prayer is important, which no doubt delights every introvert I know (including me).

Second, that this alone time with God is transformative, as anyone who was been on a quiet or silent retreat could attest. The time alone gives God space to work on us, free of distractions, like crowds and disciples.

The transformation is illustrated in this passage by Jesus appearing like a ghost to those who knew him.

Imagine yourself in Jesus' place. You've just spent time refilling the well with God in prayer and holy listening. Struggle is followed by epiphany followed by a renewed sense of purpose followed by a deep peace. More or less. You might even receive comments from family, friends or coworkers that you seem a bit different.

Like Moses, like the transfigured Jesus, we too become shining lights. God within us is allowed to shine.

Third, when I imagine this scene I see chaos all around Jesus--in the rough waves and battering wind--but Jesus himself is all calm, an oasis.

When our world is chaotic, don't we, like the disciples, like Peter, want a little bit of that peace and calm that Jesus has in this scene? 

Don’t we really want to believe we can have that calm? And yet have that little bit of doubt? “Lord, if that is you…”

Fourth, imagine having that calm and seeing another claim it too, and then start to lose that peaceful center? Wouldn’t you reach out before they were lost to the chaos again? Jesus shows us the way again. We reach out and rescue.

And when Jesus and Peter gets back into the boat, that calm spreads to the disciples, to the entire Sea. All is peace.

Anxiety is contagious. It can spread like wildfire and everything seems out-of-control and chaotic. My Lamentations earlier this week is a good illustration of that. My freaking out about the High Holy Days in 9 weeks would be another. (Despite folks, including my husband, telling me to breathe and that I’ve got this.) 

What if the meaning of this passage is that deep peace can be just as contagious? That it can start with one person, maybe you or me, then spread to another? 

It might seem perilous to hang onto that calm, but we can encourage each other to keep anxious chaos at bay so that ultimately the entire world would be at peace too, just as the Sea is calmed.