Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 20, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Genesis 45:1-15

Psalm: Psalm 67

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 133

Second Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Gospel: Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

I don't like this picture of Jesus that today's Gospel represents. He treats the Canaanite woman rudely, with a complete lack of compassion. What do we make of this vision of Christ?

Part of the answer may depend on your view of Jesus/God. Do you see God as completely formed? Do you see God as never making mistakes?  We see Jesus change his mind in today's reading.  It's an interesting idea of the Divine.

I like the idea of God who allows us to disagree--and a God that sometimes agrees that we are right in our disagreement. I like the idea of a God that is being shaped and changed by creation, just as we are being shaped and changed by creation--and by God.

I know it's not as comforting as what many of us were taught in Sunday School. I know we'd rather believe in an absolute God, a God who has all the answers. We don't want to believe in a God who gets tired. We don't want to believe in a God who doesn't have absolute control. We want a God who can point and make magical changes, even though everything we've experienced about the world doesn't suggest that God does that act very often, if at all.

In today's Gospel, we see a tired, irritable Jesus. It's a terrifying idea (I'd prefer a God of infinite patience), but it's the best support to show that God did indeed become human.

The Canaanite woman is much more Godlike than Jesus in this Gospel. Here's a woman who is desperate to help her child. When Jesus rebukes her, she stands up to him and argues her case. And she persuades him. She demands justice, and because she stands her ground, she wins.

She has much to teach us. We are called to emulate her. When we see injustice, we must cry out to God and demand that creation be put right. Many theologians would tell you that if you want God to be active in this free will world that God has created, that you better start making some demands. God can't be involved unless we demand it (for a further discussion of this concept, see the excellent books of Walter Wink). If God just intervened in the world, that would violate the principle of free will which God instilled in creation. But if we invite God to action, then God has grounds to act.

I would argue that some of the most sweeping social changes of the twentieth century were grounded in this principle of crying out to the wider world and to God to demand that justice be done. Think of Gandhi's India, the repressiveness of the Jim Crow era in the USA, the South African situation decried by Archbishop Tutu, the civil wars in Central America, the Soviet occupied Eastern Europe: these situations horrified the larger world and the movements to rectify them were rooted in the Christian tradition. True, there were often external pressures applied, economic embargoes and the like, but each situation prompted prayer movements throughout the world.

We are in a similar time--perhaps humanity is always in a similar time.  The world is full of injustice that should make us cry out, especially since much of the injustice will not easily be fixed by any one of us.  Cry out to God about the plight of refugees, the racism that has such deep roots, the economy which keeps so many so desperate, the warming of the planet, and the list could go on and on.

 Let the Canaanite woman be your guide towards right behavior. Let the actions of Jesus remind you that even if you're snappy and irritable, you can change course and direct yourself towards grace and compassion. Let your faith give you hope for a creation restored to God's original vision of a just and peaceful Kingdom.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Affirming Life

Yesterday was a good day in many ways, despite the sobering events of the week-end in Charlottesville.  We went to church, where we heard a sermon I would have expected to hear, a sermon that reminded us that we are called to be better, both as individuals and as people. 

I often sketch as the service is happening because I'm often at multiple services on a Sunday.  Yesterday I made this sketch:



Years from now will I remember the context?  Or will there have been events so much more extreme that this week-end's events will seem dwarfed?

We came home and relaxed.  We had delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.  We also made tiramisu.  We were invited to a friend's house for halibut, and I volunteered to bring dessert.  I made tiramisu primarily because I like it, but it's also light in a way, and it doesn't require turning on the stove, a plus in these hot, humid days.

We had a wonderful dinner with our neighborhood friends.  Once again, there was a strange moment when we realized we all had once been at the same school but now no longer had those ties, not any of us.  Happily, we didn't spend much time talking about the politics or the future of the old school.  We also didn't talk about national politics much, although we did briefly talk about North Korea.

It was wonderful to catch up, good to remember why we go to the efforts that we do to live where we do. 

And if you need an easy dessert recipe, this tiramisu couldn't be much easier, although it does require dirtying multiple dishes.

It's from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts.

Tiramisu 

I doubled this recipe because I wanted to be sure we had enough; as is, this recipe serves 5 generously, 6 modestly

8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. cocoa
1/2 c. whipping cream
2-4 c. coffee (you can add in some coffee and/or amaretto liqueur)
12 ladyfingers

Whip the cream in one bowl.  In another bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese, sugar, cocoa, and vanilla together.  Fold the whipped cream into the mixture.

Pour the coffee into a shallow bowl or pan.  Soak the ladyfingers for a minute or two on each side.  You can then create individual bowls or one big bowl.  Put the soaked ladyfingers on the bottom of the bowl (and the sides, if you like).  Add the whipped cream mixture.  You could keep doing this in layers or not.

Refrigerate for at least an hour and serve cold.  You can top with grated chocolate or cocoa or raspberries--whatever you'd like.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

How Long Must We Sing This Song?

I have not been following the events in Charlottesville in real time.  I knew that there were protests on Friday night, but I didn't know how terribly wrong the week-end was going.  I knew that there were marches and countermarches yesterday, and I knew that the volatility meant that it could all go terribly wrong--but I was shocked to hear about deaths.

I am not one of those white folks who thinks that racism is a thing of the past.  But I also understand that we all feel, most of us at least, that we have a tenuous grasp on safety and on being a valued part of society.  I've talked to so many people in so many walks of life, and that sense of being abandoned by the larger society and the institutions that are supposed to protect us--that sense undergirds so much of what we say and do and feel.  I understand that many acts of hate and repression are rooted in that sense of abandonment. 

And of course, let me hasten to say, I do not excuse those actions regardless of who is doing them.  We are adults, responsible for our actions.  We can demonstrate peacefully.  We can't hit each other, no matter how we feel.  I would urge caution in the words that make up our chants.  Words can be wounding, and those wounds can last much longer than bruises and broken bones.

The events of the week-end in Charlottesville went even further than I would have anticipated that they could go.  Who drives a car into a gathering of people?  It's a rhetorical question.  At this time in our history, we've seen that plenty of people use vehicles as weapons.

I don't blame the current president and his administration, not exactly.  I've been alive long enough, and I've read about other eras, so I know that this kind of hatred bubbles up this way periodically.  I'd like to see more leadership from certain leaders, but at this point, I'm not surprised when it doesn't come.

I will take comfort from the leaders we might not have known previously.  I found the pictures of clergy with linked arms--and the statements from church officials--to be tremendously inspiring.  I am in awe of the UVa faculty and administration members who went to the Quad on Friday to make sure that their students were O.K.

I will hold onto my hope.  I know that these widely televised events sometimes shock us out of our complacency and move us further along the road towards a time of justice.  That is my prayer this morning.

Today I have a different set of songs in my head.  My brain pulls lines from U2's War:  "How long, how long must we sing this song?"  It's a sentiment that weaves its way through much of the album.  And of course, it comes from a much more ancient lament:  Psalm 40.  It's a good text for today with its promise that we can be lifted from our muck and mire and given a firm place to stand.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Speaking Truth to the Mayor of Hollywood

Yesterday, a group of us from school went to a Hollywood Chamber of Commerce breakfast where the focus would be education.  Our speaker was the superintendent of the Broward County school system, which is one of the largest in the country.  Just hearing about all the programs and buildings that he's in charge of made me tired.

Earlier in the morning, when various important people were introduced, I took note of the fact that the mayor of Hollywood was at the table right next to ours.  Afterwards, we decided that we should speak to him.
 
The head of Admissions and I went over and introduced ourselves and our campus.  I realized that we likely wouldn’t have much time with him, so I came right to the point and told him that we could really use a bus line on Taft Street.
 
He said that it wasn’t only up to the City of Hollywood, that we would have to talk to others, like the Broward Transit people, but he would see what he could do.
 
I said, “We would really appreciate that.  I know that a lot of government attention goes to the beach and the downtown area of Hollywood, and I live in the historic district, so I understand that it’s easier to work for the prettier parts of town.  But the citizens who live out west need government help too.”
 
He said, “I would like to come visit your campus.”
 
We said, “We’d love to have you come visit.”
 
We asked if he had a card, and he didn’t.  I gave him one of mine, and we shook hands and assured him that we’d be in touch.
 
Will we get a busline?  I know it's not that simple.  Will the mayor come to the campus?  I won't be surprised if he doesn't.  Will the poorer residents get some government attention?  Probably not.
 
Still, I feel good, because I could tell he was in the process of brushing us off, and something I said (I think) made him stop and talk about coming to campus.  He's a new mayor, and fairly young, so maybe I planted a seed.  Maybe he'll remember that people like me are paying attention.
 
I also like that my brain is now going in different directions.  I'm thinking of looking up the representative on the Commission that represents the school's zip code.  I'm thinking of a variety of political events and discussions that the school could host.  It's good to start thinking of these things before the next election season goes into full swing.
 
I'm feeling good because I'm remembering that lots could get done at a local level, when it comes to politics.  I can't make Trump quit sending out tweets that bring us to the brink of annihilation, but if I could get a busline to an impoverished area, that would make me feel proud.
 
After we returned to our table, my colleagues looked at me with a mixture of awe and something else.  One of them said, "I didn't know you had it in you."  I think it was said in admiration.
 
Truth be told, I didn't know that I was going to say what I did until the words were flowing out of my mouth.  But I feel like I've been trained through decades of social justice work, both in church groups and secular groups.  One must seize the opportunity to speak to politicians who might be able to make a difference.  One must be polite, direct, and forceful--it's a delicate balance, and one I think I achieved yesterday.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Feast Day of Saint Clare

Today we celebrate the life of St. Clare of Assisi, one of the first followers of St. Francis, and founder of the Order of the Poor Ladies (more commonly called the Poor Clares).  She wrote their Rule of Life, the first woman to have created such a thing, a set of rules for the life of a monastic order.

The Poor Clares lived a life committed to poverty, what St. Clare called a "joyous poverty."  Why joyous?  Because they felt they were following Christ in a much more authentic way and because they more vividly felt the presence of Jesus because of their lifestyle.  Throughout her life she faced pressure from church officials to abandon or weaken this commitment to poverty, and she resisted.  The order still exists today, which tells me much about her accomplishment.

She was also instrumental in assisting St. Francis of Assisi, and many give her credit as one of his earliest followers.  Her order was based on his intentional community, and again, Franciscan strains of spirituality not only exist but are strong today--a testament to their work.

In these days of increased tensions of all sorts, the life of St. Clare seems to take on fresh importance.  Let us take a moment to say a prayer of gratitude for her.  Let us remember the poor.  Let us vow to be joyous about reduced circumstances, should we be facing them.  Let us meet our savior as we minister to each other.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Peace on Our Borders

Yesterday was one of those surreal days, wanting to check the news to see if anyone has fired any missiles that we can't take back, being swamped in the daily tasks of meetings, and wondering if I should be doing any prep work in advance of a possible nuclear exchange.

But what prep work would that be exactly?  Should we start digging a hole for a fallout shelter?
 
Oh, wait, we're only 20 inches above sea level--we're doomed if survival means we need to go underground.
 
This morning I was reading the morning prayers in Phyllis Tickle's prayer book, The Divine Hours.  Part of the prayers for this morning came from Psalm 147, and I was struck by this language:  "He grants peace to your borders."
 
It's interesting to read this language in the context of our modern geopolitics.  We need peace on everyone's borders, because conflict so easily splashes over to affect everyone.
 
I felt such a yearning well up when I read that passage.  I said a prayer of my own:  "Yes, come Lord Jesus and grant peace to our borders."
 
What will today bring?  Will we really go to war over Guam?  I am hoping that we will all do as we have done in the past:  walk back from the brink.  I am not sure that the leader of the U.S. and the leader of North Korea are actually capable of backing down.  This is not a situation that makes me rest easy.

And yet, as I look back over history that has happened during my lifetime, I know that God can use the most unlikely people to bring about peace we never would have believed possible.  Let it be true this time too.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for August 13, 2017:

1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
I will listen to what the LORD God is saying. (Ps. 85:8)
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

This week’s Gospel reading reinforces the themes we found in last week’s lesson. The disciples are in the boat and Jesus walks across the water to them. They don’t recognize him; indeed, they’re terrified. When they realize who it is, Peter, always enthusiastic, asks Jesus to bid him to come, which he does. Peter walks across the water with no problem, until he realizes what he’s doing and starts to sink.

Now, most of us probably haven’t had experiences where we’ve suspended the laws of nature, but most of us can probably relate to what Peter experiences. When I first learned to type, I got to the point where I could type at a very fast speed—until I thought about what I was doing. If I just let my fingers go and didn’t look at them, if I did what I knew I could do, I’d be fine. I’ve had similar experiences in learning foreign languages and in learning to play the mandolin; if I play the notes without double checking both my fingers and the chord charts and music books, I find out that I really can play—still more haltingly than I would like, alas.

This story is also about God’s presence and our inability to recognize the Divine all around us, as well as our trouble accepting the miraculous. One of the narrative arcs the Bible is God’s desire to be with God’s creation, to know everybody, to be fully present in our day-to-day lives--to the extent of becoming human. And God has to go to great lengths to get our attention—bushes burst into flame, oppressive governments release the captives, loaves and fishes feed thousands, people rise from the dead, God goes so far as to take on human form—miracle after miracle, and still humans don’t understand and don’t want to accept God’s daily presence.

Even when we do let ourselves glimpse the sacred and divine, even when we experience the miraculous, how quickly we forget and let the mundane swamp us. Psychologists would probably tell us that our approach is a coping mechanism, that if we let ourselves be that open to God, we’d go insane, or at least we’d look insane to our fellow humans. I’m not sure I agree. Maybe we’d be better witnesses, better disciples.

Be on the lookout for God in your daily life. Maybe it will just be a wink from the Creator, like a tree full of butterflies. Maybe you’ll be in the presence of the full-blown miraculous, and all doubts will vanish—the tumor shrinks, the passengers escape the burning plane, the hurricane curves out to sea. Watch for God, listen for God, be alert. God is there, by your side, both during the times of the miraculous as well as the mundane.