Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Usually I think Luckovich is right on the money but in this particular case we part company. In my opinion I think it is tragic, sad and pathetic that Michael Jackson's death is bringing him more positive attention (if you can call a huge rise in sales of his music, memorabilia, etc. positive) and also more negative attention in cartoons like these. And now we all feel sorry for him, whereas before he was an object of ridicule, scorn and outright banishment. Then there's the media eclipse of the passing of both Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon.
It seems Michael attracted everything corrosive and pandering about human beings, especiallly notwithstanding his untimely death. Reminiscent of Princess Diana.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
******** United Church of Christ
I have a confession to make: I have a fear of talking about money with a congregation. It’s not that I feel inadequate or uncomfortable talking about money. On the contrary, discussing why I give and how much I give is something that gives me joy and that joy adds to the reasons why I give. Last year I recorded some testimonials for WSHU, the public radio station that my family and I listen to and support with a yearly pledge. This is the testimonial, of the six that were recorded, that gets the most air time during a pledge drive: (Play testimonial track 5).
My husband had always been giving, so even when I married him it was just something that he did; so then it was something we did after that. As our income increased, we also decided to increase our gift. So every year we’ve tried to give a little more. It seems as though in our society it’s really easy to receive something and not do anything else. And then we’re just a bunch of individuals that way, but to me it seems that when you give to something, that’s when it becomes a community; when you give support there’s this pool of strength that comes together—and that’s what makes it a community to me. It’s not just listening to it and knowing that there are other people listening to it. It’s also when we all give—that’s when it becomes a community. I’m Cynthia Robinson, I support WSHU public radio and I hope you will too.
But talking about supporting a non-profit like public radio doesn’t cause as much consternation as talking about money in church. I take great care about how a congregation is going to receive a message, a sermon that focuses on money and giving, because more often than not, most folks have had a bad experience with the church asking for money. Perhaps it was or is a difficult time financially: loss of a job, medical bills, or the economy tanked. Perhaps the church asked in such a way as to imply guilt or shame, even linking the price that Jesus paid on the cross with what one should give to the church.
Even Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth, in crafting his call for an offering for the church in Jerusalem, sounds as though he is doing just that: making the sacrifice of Jesus into a transaction, converting an act of extravagant love into a quid pro quo, turning faithful followers of Christ into potential pledging units.
“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8: 9)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist…if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt. 5: 38-39a, 40-42)
The status quo at the church in Corinth was a juxtaposition of conflict, excellent faith, speech and knowledge and eagerness amongst its members, and an obstinate resistance to Paul’s leadership and authority. In short, they thought they knew it all, they knew Paul was right, so they tried to debunk him and his authority to speak. In the face of all this contention, Paul had the audacity to ask the Corinthians to be generous givers to another church that was hurting for money.
Paul’s idea of a fair balance was a give and take where the balance is paid forward to others who have need, casting our bread upon the waters, having faith that it will all wash out in the end.
Giving, even when we don’t feel like it or when we think we can’t afford it, is an act of subversive rebellion against the status quo. When we’re feeling unsure, scared, anxious, or downright angry about our present circumstances, we human beings have a tendency to tighten everything, including not only our purse strings but also our hearts. Giving has the power to transform us and put us back on our conscious journey toward God. That’s why giving, being generous with our money, our time, and our talents, is part of the Christian practice: it’s not to repay any debt we’ve incurred but it is an act of gratitude for “all that we have received and so have yet to share.”
And none of us has too little that we can’t share what we have. When we compare what we have against what we think others have in such a way as to diminish the power of our gift, we diminish the power of God working through us; we diminish the kingdom of God that is in each one of us. Each of us has the ability to heap a grace of some sort upon another who doesn’t deserve it, to forgive those who have taken more than their fair share, to love those who behave like enemies, to give lavishly to one who has spent everything on a reckless life and not count the cost. We have been given that ability through one who though he was rich, became poor so that through his poverty we might be rich. And not only rich but generous. And not only generous but full to the brim with grace.
Without the cost of discipleship there is no real joy; without the joy of discipleship, the cost is merely a burden rather than an opportunity to partake and share in the kingdom of God. You have been called into the church, in this time and place, to excel in a generous undertaking with eager and open hearts. How, in your giving, will you be subversive and rebel against your present circumstances? Amen.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
But we have done such violence to the word "faith" that we must pair it with reason in order to find a balanced view of our lives and of the world. At first glance, having faith could mean 'believe': believe in reason. To believe in something is to not necessarily have knowledge but to have a feeling, an intuitive sense of something. To believe is usually regarded as irrational, as going against reason and a consideration of all the facts. But reason does consider the facts and prizes them quite highly. One does not have to believe in reason but to simply make use of it.
I looked up the word "faith" and discovered that its primary meaning is loyalty: allegiance to duty or a person, or fidelity to one's promises. So in order to have faith in reason, one must remain loyal to the principles of reason: intelligence, rational thought, clarity, logic, attainment of truth and knowledge by conversation, discussion or argument as in "Come, let us reason together" - Isaiah 1: 18.
So yes, I can and do have faith in reason, I endeavor to be loyal to its principles but I also need to balance that with a loyalty to that which I cannot see, that which cannot be proven, that which is illogical, irrational, and completely mysterious. Without one, we would be heartless automatons. Without the other, brainless. It's the dance between reason and mystery, not reason and faith, that makes living so interesting, challenging, and fun.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
"It is trust and loyalty that transform us. Beliefs may precede them or follow them or remain quite unconnected to them. But beliefs do not save us, do not transform us. Trust and loyalty do. This combination of trust and loyalty is the centering in God that is the primary meaning of faith. This centering is the purpose of Christian life: centering in God and centering in God's passion for the world. This is the vision at the heart of a transformation-centered Christianity. Indeed, it is the heart of Christianity."
This is the church I want to be a part of, the Christian life I want to live, the purpose I want to help guide others toward: transformation.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
******** United Church of Christ
June 21, 2009
I want to begin by telling you three stories about being small. Once upon a time there was a boy, a boy who was small. All the other boys were bigger than this boy, whose name was Tim. Tim would always be getting into a fight. Out of a hundred fights he was in, his record was one and 99: one win, 99 losses. He was what folks would call scrappy—you know, hot-headed, with lots of bravado, rushing in where angels and many others fear to tread. You’d have thought his size would have kept him out of the fight, that after the first few times his nose got bloodied, suffered assorted bruises and a black-eye or two, he would have thrown in the towel. But Tim just didn’t know when to quit.
You see, Tim was Irish and Polish. He would joke and say that it was his Irish blood that got him into the fight but it was his Polish blood that kept him from knowing when to quit.
Being a small church can sometimes feel like that, like a small boy fighting the big guys and always getting pushed down. But a small church also doesn’t throw in the towel when the going gets rough. Instead it digs in its heels and keeps on going, even where angels fear to tread. And it is the blood of Christ pulsing within each of you that makes it possible.
In the year 500 BCE in India, Prince Siddhartha meditated in a cave for 40 days, eating only the food he could find in the forest, drinking only rainwater, searching for a way to end suffering. At the end of the forty days he was nearly dead from hunger and dehydration. A young girl from a nearby village saw him stumble out of the cave and gave him some milk and rice pudding. From this simple gift Siddhartha realized that he must find the middle way to reach balance and be released from suffering. He then went to meditate under the famous tree where he then attained enlightenment. He became the Buddha or ‘awakened one’.
Being a small church can often be the simple gift of a meal to someone who is hungry or being a place where everyone is spiritually nourished. And you never know who it is you are serving or where they are on their journey toward God. In the letter to the Hebrews it reads “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hospitality is key to a thriving small church.
And then there’s the story about an entire family in Calcutta, India that was suffering from malnourishment, nearly on the brink of starvation. Mother Theresa put some rice into a sack, a few handfuls—all that she could spare—and delivered it to this desperately hungry family. The mother was so thankful and joyous, she instantly took the bag of rice into their small cooking and living space. In a few moments she came out with half of the rice in a container and rushed down a small alley. Puzzled, Mother Theresa called after her, “Where are you going with that rice?” The poor mother replied, “I know another family who has nothing to eat, who also needs rice.”
Being a small church means you know what it is to do without but you also know how rich you are compared to others and so you share what you have. And amazingly it is always enough. When we celebrate Communion and give thanks we’ve been saying these words by Ted Loder: “As we have been drawn to this table and to you, O Lord, make us aware not so much of what we’ve given as of all we have received and so have yet to share. Send us forth in power and gladness and with great courage to live out in the world what we pray and profess, that in sharing, we may do justice, make peace, and grow in love.”
These stories are not to promote violence, or Buddhism or giving away half your budget to the poor. Rather they illustrate that small does not equal inadequacy or insignificance or weakness or scarcity. In short (no pun intended), being a small church means you know the power of small. And the power of small is the power of God.
In this morning’s scripture lesson we read the old familiar story about David and Goliath. Usually the part we remember is the end, how David slew the Philistine giant with a sling and one of five smooth stones. What we may not remember is that before King Saul sent him out into battle, he outfitted David with his own heavy armor, helmet and sword, overpowering this young boy with weapons meant for a grown man. Saul thought that if you’re going to do a big job like facing a giant, then you need the best equipment that money can buy.
In its mission to be Christ’s body in the world, the small church doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, all the high tech stuff, the ‘heavy armor, helmet and sword’, that some big churches have. Small churches realize that the abundance of resources that they do have, that they come from God, and so put their confidence in the power of God to help them face their giants with the simplicity of a sling, five smooth stones, and a gutsy faith.
But it is a power to be reckoned with: it’s the power of compassion that moved a young girl to feed a hungry stranger. It’s the power of sacrifice that inspired a poor woman to share with her neighbor. It’s the power of stubborn courage that kept a small boy from backing down.
It’s the power of justice that spurred this church in the sixties to welcome people of color though it was widely unpopular, the power of justice that moved this church to be a part of the Open and Affirming resolution within the Connecticut Conference, that inspired this church to form a town-wide anti-hate task force in the face of hurtful discrimination against gays and lesbians or anyone else. It’s the power of hospitality that welcomes the homeless for a home-cooked meal and the nourishment of being treated like a human being. It’s the power of community that motivated a handful of summer residents to form a church almost 125 years ago, the power of community that surrounds each person who walks through those doors with love, prayer and acceptance.
Thanks be to God for small churches with generous hearts, deep faith, and powerful dreams, who do big things for God’s kingdom! Amen.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
But then I saw This I Believe, a collection of essays from the NPR series of the same name, hosted by Jay Allison. Inside its cover is an array of viewpoints, from Newt Gingrich to Penn Jillette. The title of Jillette's essay is particularly grabbing: "There Is No God". He goes on to say that he is beyond atheism. Saying that one doesn't believe in God actually says by negation that indeed there is a God, but you choose not to believe in God, and therefore, must come up with arguments as to why believing in God is not your thing.
Believing that there is no God eliminates all of that, says Jillette. For him it also eliminates a lot of the mental gymnastics of religious belief. I love this quote:
"I don't travel in circles where people say, 'I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith.' That's just a long-winded religious way to say, 'shut up' or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, 'How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do.' So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something."
But for me, saying "there is no God" is like saying "there is no mystery" or "there is no transcendence", as in the Campbell quote on the sidebar. And as Marcus Borg has been known to say as well, the God that most atheists denounce, I don't believe in either. Jillette names the God of religious belief as omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent but as most folks who don't believe in God or believe there isn't one, he doesn't go any further to try to conceive of a God who isn't any of those things--because if God isn't any of that, then it is argued, God isn't God. Just who gets to decide what or who God is? It's all of us, not just church fathers or seminary professors or theologians. Does that mean the mystery disappears? Of course not. How could the mystery of being and breathing and living and dying just disappear because someone believes there is no God? That's just one way of defining the mystery amongst countless others. And when you think about it, it's not very original.
As it is, Jillette is a faithful person--he believes there is no God, which when you think of it, is just as much of a faith stance as believing there is a God. The difference is, he would enjoy being proved wrong.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Sunday, June 07, 2009
******** United Church of Christ
June 7, 2009 (Trinity Sunday)
Most of us at one time or another has wished we could be someone else. I’m 5’2”—I’ve sometimes wished I could be taller. Or maybe we want a different nose, hair color, eye color, or higher cheekbones, most of which can be achieved with a few dollars at the drug store or a few thousand dollars at the plastic surgeon. In our wildest dreams maybe we want to be a rock star or a pageant queen or a superhero or a world-class athlete or a dancer or actor. Maybe we want to be younger. Or healthier. Or maybe not wealthier but earn more money than we do right now. Or have passed through whatever stress we’re living through. Inside each of us is our healthier, thinner, trimmer, more energetic, organized, grown-up self, just waiting to get out, so Oprah says.
I once heard a line in a movie that said, “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna; never will.” We all have dreams of a better life, perhaps even an extraordinary life, but most of us try to live in the real world, the one with responsibilities and work and bills and family and friends and simple pleasures.
But if you really want to be a rock star, you can be one by going online at a virtual world website called “Second Life”. You can choose the characteristics, employment, housing and appearance of your avatar, or online digital persona. You can literally, or virtually, live a second life. You can shop, go to church (!), meet friends—other residents of this virtual world, hang out in a nightclub, start a business, fight a dragon, fly, explore undersea worlds with no fear of harm, buy virtual land and build a skyscraper on it—whatever you wish to make of your virtual world, the shape and content are up to you.
And the best part is, if someone annoys you in this digital world, you can simply ‘mute’ him or her and ignore that person. And you will never die or grow old in Second Life. You can never lose your avatar. It will always be the same, just as the day you designed it.
Websites like these can be dangerous to those with addictive tendencies or those who are inclined to isolate themselves from the real world. It can be tempting to act out in the digital world what would be harmful or abusive in this reality. What would happen if we all led double lives? Which would be the true self and which the false?
In our gospel lesson today we read about Nicodemus leading a double life, using the only avatar available to him: the cover of night. By day he is a Pharisee and a keeper of God’s holy Law; by night he is Nicodemus, child of God, curious about this Jesus who has performed signs that could only be explained by the very real presence of God.
Interestingly enough, the word avatar is from Hindu mythology and it means “the incarnation of a god”. Often Jesus himself has been described as a counterculture avatar, the continuing presence of God in human form. But today the use of the word avatar is more akin to ‘alter ego’, and Jesus is certainly not the alter ego of God. If anything, Jesus can be just as much a mystery as God is, as is the Spirit. And yet, what we know of Jesus is that he is a whole person who lives an undivided life, the intent of his soul and his actions being one.
Author and educator Parker Palmer, in his book A Hidden Wholeness, describes the divided life, in part, as “[concealing] our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned, or attacked.” Many of us can probably relate to that. By coming to Jesus at night, Nicodemus is living a divided life, fearing that if his fellow Pharisees knew what he was thinking and doing, they would criticize, shun and attack him.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that if he wants to live an undivided life, a life lived in the kingdom of God, that he must be born anew, be born from above, from water and the Spirit. Essentially Jesus tells him he must live from his soul, born of the Spirit rather than solely from the worldly concerns of the flesh, that it is his inner life as a child of God that gives life and joy to his earthly role of Pharisee.
Again, Parker Palmer: “The soul is generous: it takes in the needs of the world. The soul is wise: it suffers without shutting down. The soul is hopeful: it engages the world in ways that keep opening our hearts. The soul is creative: it finds its way between realities that might defeat us and fantasies that are mere escapes. All we need to do is to bring down the wall that separates us from our own souls and deprives the world of the soul’s regenerative powers.” Living from the soul, that which is born of the Spirit, is how we are born anew, how we are born from above. It is the kingdom of God within us. But the wall that separates us from it cannot be taken down by force of our own will. For that we need God’s help. We need to place our lives in God’s transformative power of grace.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” We need God’s mercy, shown to us in Jesus, to take down the wall between our souls and the life we lead in the world. We need the church, this community of faithful folks who are struggling just like we are. We need this sacred meal, to remind us of the One who loved extravagantly, who lived a whole and undivided life, and who calls us to do likewise.
What Parker Palmer writes about the soul, it is also true about the church. It is the church that is to be generous, taking in the needs of the world. It is the church that is to be wise, suffering without shutting down. The church is to be hopeful, engaging the world in ways that keep opening our hearts. The church is to be creative, finding ways between realities that might defeat us and fantasies that are mere escapes.
Jesus never said, “Virtually I tell you”; he said “Very truly I tell you”, that is, “trust me”. Jesus spoke from the truth, from the heart of God. He does not offer us a second life but a second chance at life, a life undivided. This interim time is yet another chance in a long line of second chances, that this church may live an undivided life, that it may live from its soul rather than from any fear or confusion or pain or feelings of being lost. This is yet another opportunity to be a whole church, one that lives life in the Spirit, one that depends on God’s power to help put the world right again. Woodmont United Church of Christ, you can be born anew, born from above, as residents not of a second life, but as residents of the kingdom of God, in eternal life. Thanks be to God!
 Palmer, Parker, A Hidden Wholeness (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004), pg. 184.
 Peterson, Eugene, The Message (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), John 3: 16-17, pg. 1921.
Friday, June 05, 2009
Sotomayor's Judicial History: Racially Biased?
I can't believe this is still news, except for the fact that a bunch of uptight, privileged, white-haired white men are charged with advise and consent for the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. And another two members at large of this elite club (Rush and Newt) have very big . . .
. . . microphones.
What really galls me is that she is backing down, calling her remarks in some previous speeches 'poorly worded'. I don't think they were poorly worded at all. Of course a Latina woman with her experience would make better decisions than a white male judge. Our judicial system is about justice, not just about being 'right'. Who better to mete out justice than someone who has some experience with injustice, someone who is a woman and an ethnic minority?