Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Not Yet

Christmas lights up and on
the end of November
as if we’ve had the
Advent ultrasound.
We know the sex,
his name. We call
the baby while still
in the womb of waiting.
I long for sparse nights
dark with the unknown
disturbing what I think
I know.

Have we lost our
capacity for Christmas
surprise? We expect
to see baby Jesus resting
comfortably in the crèche
candles lit, congregation
hushed, humming “Silent Night”.
But have we looked for him
beforehand, with the light
of only a star, in the face of Herod
or magi or angels or poor migrant
shepherds or a cranky woman like
me who wishes
we could wait until after
Solstice to put up the lights
when the days
begin to lengthen again.
We rarely give the darkness
a chance to reveal her
truth which will set us free,
fracturing our safely
constructed lives.
What is Christmas for
if not for this?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Walk on the Left Side

Sometimes it's the little things you remember about a person that speak volumes about their character and personality.

Fifteen years ago, in another lifetime, I was walking down a busy street on a very narrow shoulder with a good friend of mine, Andy, the afore-mentioned "Improbable Bostonian". He made a point of making sure I walked on the inside, near the grass, while he took the more dangerous position on the left. I asked him about this gallant gesture and he replied that his mother told him that a guy ("a gentleman") always puts a girl, "a lady" as his mother put it, on the right when walking on a street.

I could tell several things from this one exchange. One, he listened to his mother and put into practice the things she taught him. Two, he put my safety ahead of his own. Three, this was not merely a gesture but habit. And four, it was one of the rare glimpses of his serious side.

It was one of those small moments when reality is cracked wide open and we see ourselves as cared for, companioned, given hospitality, and we are humbled by it. It doesn't take as much as we think it should to make a difference in someone else's life. A kind word, a touch, an apology or the acceptance thereof, a smile, a hug--all these can become habit when we practice them often enough.

And before I existentially ooze all over the place, Andy is also one of the few persons I can be totally irreverent with and not have to listen to the refrain, "But you're a minister!!!" It's important to have friends who knew you before you became you. He's also one of the few with whom I can wax lyrical about "Star Trek" and all its incarnations without rolling his eyes or letting them glaze over. He's been able to become a grown-up without losing his sense of humor nor the ability to let lose and have fun; in fact, it's become more acute over the years (if you haven't been to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster website, one that Andy directed me to, it is a must, especially if you like Monty Python). Besides all that, he's one of the two or three who actually reads this blog! A true test of friendship if ever there was one.

Live long and prosper, my friend.

(Andy: two points if you can name the movie from whence came the title for this blog entry!)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Intelligent Response

This is directly out of the "Centurymarks" section of The Christian Century (Nov. 15, 2005): "Also testifying in the intelligent design court case in Pennsylvania was John Haught, Georgetown University theology professor, who argued that science asks how whereas religion asks why. He noted that there are different ways of explaining boiling water. One could say that water boils due to rapid vibration of water molecules (the how question). Or one could say that it boils because someone desires a cup of tea. Both are legitimate accounts. But it is a mistake to bring up the subject of wanting tea when studying molecular movement, just as it is wrong to say 'It's the molecular movement' rather than 'I want tea'." (York Daily Record, October 1)

It would seem that if public schools could stick to the "how" of things and faith communities do their job of establishing "why", we would all receive a very well-rounded education. Apparently, for some, the "why" of evolution threatens their "how" and the "how" of evolution threatens the others' "why", the meaning behind evolution. Which would indicate a certain amount of fear on both parts, a powerful force which influences most of us, believer or not. But we're all so busy being passionately gripped by our own point of view (another sign of fear) and poking fun at others (an attempt to assuage the fear) that we're not available to listen compassionately to those whose fears rankle our own.

We're all guilty of fundamentalistic thinking: right and wrong, black and white, "us" and "them", absolutely sure ours is the way. There is a choice that needs to be made but it's the one between loving, forgiving, and not. And I know that on any given day I could do much better at those, that I always fall short, that I am more of a goat than a sheep (all wisecracks, refer yourselves to the gospel of Matthew, ch. 25).

The only intelligent response is not more headgames, more jokes, more expert research or knowledge, but love and forgiveness. And you don't have to believe in God to be capable of that. But you do have to be capable of loving someone or something else more than you love yourself. Anyone can love as much as they are loved in return; some get by with doing less. But if you really want to change things, love more. Henry David Thoreau said, "There is no remedy for love but to love more."

How can I love more and why is that a needful thing for me to do? This is our mission as human beings living in community.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Unchained Gang

God, how I love the seminary I attended!

Joe Hough, President, Union Theological Seminary, and Nick Carter, President, Andover Newton Theological School, have issued a statement condemning the political actions of the IRS against All Saints' Church in Pasadena and are calling upon all persons of faith to join in the demand that the pulpits of this nation remain free and unfettered.

View the Call to Free and Unfettered Pulpits and sign the Call if you feel so moved.

Incidentally, fetters are restraints chained around the ankles or calves to prevent a prisoner (or a slave) from escaping. The apostle Paul in his letters referred to the feet of those who preach the gospel as "beautiful" (Romans 10:15; Isaiah 52:7). The letter to the Hebrews (12:1) likened the journey of faith to a foot race to be run with perseverance. Ironically, the restrictions of the First Amendment are borne by the government, not the Church.

I am a proud member of the class of '91, Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, MA.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

An Inconvenient Woman

Remember "Church Lady" and the way she would twist her lips, tilt her head, look directly at the camera and declare "Well, isn't that convenient?" Where is Church Lady when you need her?

All Saints' Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA investigated by IRS

The former rector of the church preached a sermon two days before the 2004 election criticizing not only Bush, his tax cuts, and the war in Iraq but also John Kerry as a candidate for president. He urged congregants to vote their conscience in light of their faith and the teachings of Jesus. He did not specifically endorse one candidate or the other. Now the church is in danger of losing its tax-exempt status, and it's not the first time they've gotten into trouble.

According to the government it's okay for the Church to be prophetic as long as it doesn't criticize the current administration. It's okay for the Church to have faith-based initiatives so long as they don't challenge current social structures. It's okay for priests and ministers to preach the gospel as long as it doesn't apply to the current political scene.

Isn't that special?!

The Church is at its best when it is inconvenient to the status quo. It was the Congregational church that led the way in the abolitionist movement right here in Connecticut during the trial of slaves aboard the Amistad. Antoinette Brown Blackwell was the first woman ordained in 1853, in a small Congregational church in South Butler, NY. William Johnson was the first openly gay man ordained in 1972, in the United Church of Christ, of which the Congregational church has been a part since 1957. The Episcopal Church has its own rich rebellious history with the "Philadelphia 11", the ordination of Barbara Harris as the first female bishop, having the good sense and wisdom to ordain my college friend, Anne, and most recently ordaining the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

It's not very PC anymore but there was a time when the Church was called the Bride of Christ. Though the terminology may be distasteful to some, the relationship is right on. We are wed to Christ, bound by a covenant in which we are Christ's body in the world. When FDR became relegated to a wheelchair, his wife Eleanor said that she would be her husband's legs, and she went into the coal mines to see for herself what a miner's life was like. We, the Church, are the hands and feet and mind and heart and yes, the voice of Christ in the world, speaking as best as we are able, the truth of justice, peace, and love that is so desperately needed.

Finley Peter Dunne said about a hundred years ago "The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable". Journalists today may disagree with that but whenever the truth is proclaimed, comfort and discomfort arise. Most of us have been comfortable for too long.

So to All Saints' Church in Pasadena: You go, girl!

Now, isn't that inconvenient!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Rebel with a cause?

Well done, good and faithful knight! I might have known Andy Peterson (a.k.a., the Improbable Bostonian) would not only know the correct answer but also have a plethora of details (see comment for Nov. 5 entry). As promised, I will write a blog in honor of said blogger, the title and subject of which is yet to be determined.

And yes, I will be kind.

I just had to devote a blog to dear old Guy Fawkes because it was the 400th anniversary of his
thwarted plot. The only reason I know of him was because of some friends of friends in college, Westfield State ("Wastefield State", Camp Westy) in Westfield, MA. I was invited to a Guy Fawkes party off-campus, complete with an effigy of Guy doused with lighter fluid and set aflame while he hung from a baseball backstop. The only reason I went was because one of these friends of my friends was cute...and interested in me. The only reason they had the party was to have an excuse to drink beer, invite girls over, and burn something. Heck, they were Jewish.

But now Sir Andrew informs me that there may be more myth than fact in the "Gunpowder Plot". Historical figures in nearly every culture have been given almost godlike status, usually with disastrous after-effects, i.e., we don't get their story straight, we don't learn from their mistakes, and as an ancilliary benefit, at least in our own country, we view current leaders through the same rose-colored glasses. What I find interesting is that we Americans revile and barely remember the names of treasonous traitors who tried to destroy our way of life; the Brits have holidays in honor of such efforts. Such light-hearted treatment of national criminals (after they've been adequately punished) is surely a product of farsightedness, having a longer history and a keener memory of it.

But who knows? Perhaps a few centuries from now our nation will celebrate "Scooter Libby and Karl Rove Day", "Michael Brown Day", (fill in your own nominee).

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A man of his time

Now I have a game for you.

Who is this man? What is his signifigance in history, bearing in mind today's date? And it's a big anniversary for him too.

The first one (out of the two or three who read this) who answers correctly will gain my high esteem as a blog-renown historian and yes, a blog written in their honor.

Hint: The piece of architecture in the background is highly pertinent.

Good luck!

Friday, November 04, 2005

A real life

(Yeah, I write poetry too.)

There are times I question the whole thing
Is there a God
Was there ever
a real life
in which God was clothed
all earthly, vulnerable
in our human aloneness of being
What if Jesus never was

On the edge of that precipice
I am humbled
by one thought
I would rather be a fool
A companioned
voluntary fool

Thanks be to God
for this life within a life
that Word made flesh
mundane and fragile
for which I am indeed
happily foolish

Even though faith is a gift, it is also a choice. Most days I choose to hang full weight with the apparent insanity of faith. Like love I must choose, I must decide whether or not I will believe, whether or not I will love, forgive, serve, be the Word in flesh as best as I am able. Madeleine L'Engle once said, "I dare you to believe" because most people settle for religiosity. Having Jesus as your best friend is like inviting Gandhi over for a black tie steak dinner: you're going to have difficulty changing some things that you really don't want to, no matter how much you love the guy. At a young age my imagination was captured by stories of Jesus, and what can I say? He just got under my skin in such a way that now I feel his claim upon my life, a life that he saved in a very real way, by giving me a life within this life.