Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blue Christmas 2010



For New Year, Posumus, ten years ago,
You sent me four pounds of good silver-plate.
The next year, hoping for a rise in weight
(For gifts should either stay the same or grow),
I got two pounds. The third and fourth produced
Inferior presents, and the fifth year's weighed
Only a pound--Septicus' work, ill-made
Into the bargain. Next I was reduced
To an eight-ounce oblong salad-platter, soon
It was a miniature cup that tipped the scales
At even less. A tiny two-ounce spoon
Was the eighth year's surprise. The ninth, at length,
And grudgingly, disgorged a pick for snails
Lighter than a needle. Now, I note, the tenth
Has come and gone with nothing in its train.
I miss the old four pounds! Let's start again!

Martial, tr. James Michie
I learned an object lesson in this, just before Advent started. A lesson in giving and not giving and especially in not receiving. A friend of mine died. An old friend, so his death was not entirely unexpected. In fact, it wasn't unexpected at all. His son, one of my oldest and dearest friends, was with him. He knew what was coming. I didn't, but that's of no matter, except to me. It caught me by surprise. I hadn't kept up. I didn't know what my friend's father's condition was. I didn't ask, so no one told me. Why should they?

And now it is too late, and we cannot start again. He gave me much over the years, the decades that I knew him. I told my friend that his father had shown me how much bigger the world was than what could be seen from the perch of my hometown, the place he'd come to live in prosper, as my father had done. But my friend's father did that without demeaning where he was, or making me feel he’d come down in the world to be there, or to be with me. It was quite a lesson for a callow and thoughtless youth sure he knew all he needed to know about the world, and his place in it. My friend showed me a world in love and wonder, even as he saw it as it is. It was quite a profound lesson, one I was decades deciphering and discerning.

And now he's gone, and I cannot repay him. I miss the old four pounds. I miss even the snail pick; that would have been more of a gift than the time I gave him, than the attention I gave him. I went back to that town often; my parents still live there. But I never saw my friend, because I was too busy, too scheduled, too burdened with worry and anxiety and my own life; too wrapped up. I diminished the gifts of his time until there wasn't even a letter of regret between us. No matter to him, of course; he had his life, I was a part of it, but not a large part of it. He was a part of mine, but not a large part, either. It is the way of all flesh. It is the sum of things. It is foolishness to say I failed him. But I failed myself, by letting the world take me away from what is most important. I let the world devour me, and time eat up my days. Now I learn, again, that no man is an island; and even one piece of dirt washed away from the main, diminishes me.

The fact is, it's an awakening, this loss. It's a realization that I lost my friend a long time ago, maybe because even then it was time to move on and not look back. I lost him, but now there is no going back. Now that loss is permanent, no hope for starting over again. The calendar tells us, even as we move on year after year, putting one annual behind us, looking ahead to the next one and taking it in it's stride, that we can repeat, start over, clean the slate and make a new try. But we can't; it comes to an end, it peters out to snail picks and regrets about a cycle that wasn't a cycle after all, just a string unwinding, a string that doesn't even have a knot in the end of it large enough to hang onto.

If I live in sure and certain hope of the resurrection, there is a selfish reason why: so I will recover my friends again, so time will be redeemed and not lost forever. If I live in sure and certain hope of the resurrection it is because I believe, even when I fail to act, even when I fail myself. It is because God never fails me. This I know, because I have such friends as this man's son. It is because I have had such friends as the one I have just lost.

First Sunday of Advent, 2010: Time, Time, Time, see what's become of me....



Isaiah 2:1-5
2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2:2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

2:3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

Psalm 122
122:1 I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!"

122:2 Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

122:3 Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together.

122:4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.

122:5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.

122:6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: "May they prosper who love you.

122:7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers."

122:8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, "Peace be within you."

122:9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.

Romans 13:11-14
13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;

13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;

13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.

13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 24:36-44
24:36 "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,

24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

The swords, the plowshares, are provisions for the flesh. They gratify its desires. Have we thought what it would be to give those things up for Advent? To prepare the way of the Lord by renouncing those desires of the flesh, and really, truly, this-time-we-mean-it, ask for peace?

Probably not. But I'll bet we've already thought about what we want for Christmas. And how much it's going to cost this year to satisfy what everybody else wants for Christmas. And none of it involves swords, or plowshares, or peace. All of it, without fail, involves provisions for the flesh.

Which is not to say bodily needs are bad. But what do we do when those have been met? Even Maslow's hierarchy is fairly easily satisfied, and should push us on rather quickly to self-actualization. But all our needs seem to push us toward is more needs. Our houses overflow with goods, and yet we camp out before stores to be first in on Black Friday, or go out shopping Thursday night before the turkey carcass is cold, desperate to buy what we don't need for people who have too much already, and to get it at the best price possible so we have more money left over to buy even more of what we don't need but insatiably want anyway. The night is far gone, the day is near," but we don't "lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light," we just make further provisions for the flesh, for which we seem to need more and more provisions every year. When do we finally start the work of self-fulfillment? When is enough finally enough?

Advent used to be a "little Lent," back when the Church ran the calendar and nobody much cared about the time of year except for what holiday was coming up next, and when holidays were really holidays. Already major chains are open on Thanksgiving Day, having pushed it back from midnight on "Black Friday." It's only a matter of time until stores are open until 9 a.m. on Christmas morning, and offering sales and deals buyers can't refuse to lure them in. Back when it was the Church's calendar, and not the world's, Advent was a season of preparation, and the preparation was not holiday parties that had to start earlier and earlier in December because everyone is busier and busier by December 24th, everyone has more and more to do and less and less time to do it between the 4th Thursday in November and the 25th of December. Advent was a preparation for the coming of the Christ, not for the biggest shopping spree of the year, and the most stressful and unnecessary celebration of excess that modern industry can provide. The unexpected hour almost meant something then; all it means now is the fear that you've forgotten someone, or that what you bought earlier is on sale for even less just before Christmas Day, and you could have used the extra money to buy something else.

Lent, we know, is all about giving something up. Something usually small and conveniently overlooked for six weeks, because it's the thought that counts, right? Advent is not about giving anything up, which is why the idea of Advent as a four week Lent is especially hard to consider. What if we made it about giving up, though? What if we made it about beating swords into plowshares, because plowshares are so much more useful than swords. What if we made Advent about going up to the the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob so that God may teach us God's ways and that we may walk in God's paths? What if we took seriously that the coming of the Son of Man would be when we least expected it, when we were least prepared, and so we must always be ready? How ready can we be if we are worried about which sales to follow, which store to check for the best prices, and how many gifts need to be under the tree or in the mail this year? And if we aren't ready, would we miss it? Would it pass us by, and we'd never know?

Jesus isn't really all that concerned with predicting a day and a time when the eschaton will occur. He doesn't really predict an event we can't help but notice, an apocalypse all humankind will have to acknowledge all over the world and all at once. The time of the Son of Man can be anytime, in any life, at any place. If you weren't ready, if you weren't paying attention, if you were preoccupied with the holiday social calendar and the gift getting and giving lists and the sales fliers and store advertisements, you might miss it as readily as the homeowner who slept through the thief breaking into his house. The homeowner didn't see that one coming, either, and didn't know it was over until it was too late. Maybe that's the lesson for us: not that the time is coming and we can set our calendars by it and plot our shopping days and get the mailing of packages and Christmas cards lined up and everything pulled off by a date certain. Maybe it's not that, but that we were asleep while we were wide awake, and missed the opportunity to take that sword and beat it into a plowshare. We missed the chance to go up on the mountain and learn from the Lord the ways of life, of self-fulfillment, of life into the ages.

We could easily miss Christmas, preparing for Christmas. Not just the "spirit" of the "season," but the very idea of "holiday" itself. We could pass it all by, fritter it all away, prepare so hard for what is expected of us that we aren't prepared at all, that we are asleep at the very time we need to be awake. We could so easily have stolen from us, right from under our noses, what we wouldn't have lost at all had we been awake, had we been paying attention, had we paid attention to what was important. The thief is us. The thief is time. The thief is shopping days and expectations and preparations that prepare us to prepare to begin to prepare. But prepare for what? For spending and getting and unwrapping? Or for what we least expected? And what would that be? An end to the endless cycle? A replacement of the cycle, of the repetition, with purpose? An end to needs only, and a beginning of finding what is valuable, and what is worthwhile? Holidays are good, but we don't spend them anymore: they spend us. Family is good, but we don't see them at Christmas; we see only needs we have to fulfill, gifts we have to give, presents we have to provide. Advent has a purpose; it is meant to stop and wake us up. But we are going to sleep through it again; and our time is going to be stolen from us again; if we don't stop and wonder why we need so many swords, and why we have so very few plowshares. If we don't stop and think about who is robbing us, and what is being stolen, and why it happens again and again every year at this time: at the end of the year, at the beginning of the year, at the end that is the beginning, the beginning that is the end.

We have made provisions for the flesh. We've made them several times over. That job is done. The night is far gone. It's time to wake, and realize that, and think about what we are doing it for. What we are doing all of it for.

It's time to think that the best provision for the flesh is a plowshare, which serves many, rather than a sword, which serves only one. It's time to keep awake. It's time to say with the Psalmist:

Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers."

For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, "Peace be within you."

For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.
And to mean, as the Psalmist did, the good of all.

Amen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Xmas time is here....


I'm prouder of this than I should be, so I return it to pride of place as the Christmas season roars out of the station and bears down upon us, we who are trapped on the tracks or have fallen off the subway platform (if you prefer) of Thanksgiving, running as fast as we can to stay ahead of it between now and December 25th. I really agree with Bill McKibben that there are better ways to do this, and every year I try more and more to practice them (about which I have posted far less than I imagined I had; maybe somebody should do something about that, huh?).

But to begin with, let's put Christmas in perspective, something that post from last year was intended to do. The entire series of posts (an inadvertent series, at best) are here, if you want a longer view. That's just on the history of Christmas (which is not the simplistic subject most of us imagine it is. There are no straight lines in history at all; of that much, at least, I am sure.). On the subject of Christmas itself, well; I've said too much already. And if I'd started out with tags from the beginning, I'd point it all out to you now.

None of which will stop me from saying even more in the future, of course. In the meantime, in the words of the old E&R blessing, may it be unto you according to your faith. Whatever faith you have.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010


Deuteronomy 26:1-11
26:1 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,

26:2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.

26:3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us."

26:4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God,

26:5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.

26:6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,

26:7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.

26:8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;

26:9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

26:10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me." You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.

26:11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm 100
100:1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.

100:2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.

100:3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.

100:5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

PRAISE AND HARVEST

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and pefect gift, we call to remembrance thy loving-kindness and the tender mercies which have been ever of old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to thee the voice of our thanksgiving,

For all the gifts which thou hast bestowed upon us; for the life thou hast given us, and the world in which we live,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on toward better things,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the blessings of civilization, wise government and legislation; for education, and all the privileges we enjoy through literature, science, and art; for the help and counsel of those who are wiser and better than ourselves,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all true knowledge of thee and the world in which we live, and the life of truth and righteousness and divine communion to which thou hast called us; for prophets and apostles, and all earnest seekers after truth; for all lovers and helpers of mankind, and all godly and gifted men and women,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the gift of thy Son Jesus Christ, and all the helps and hopes which are ours as his disciples; for the presence and inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, for all the ministries of thy truth and grace,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For communion with thee, the Father of our spirits; for the light and peace that are gained through trust and obedience, and the darkness and disquietude which befall us when we disobey thy laws and follow our lower desires and selfish passions,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the desire and power to help others; for every opportunity of serving our generation according to thy will, and manifesting the grace of Christ to men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the discipline of life; for the tasks and trials by which we are trained to patience, self-knowledge and self-conquest, and brought into closer sympathy with our suffering brethren; for troubles which have lifted us nearer to thee and drawn us into deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the sacred and tender ties which bind us to the unseen world; for the faith which dispels the shadows of earth, and fills the saddest and the last moments of life with the light of an immortal hope.
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

God of all grace and love, we have praised thee with our lips; grant that we may praise thee also in consecrated and faithful lives. And may the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.
AMEN.

THANKSGIVING

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, we call to remembrance they loving-kindness and they tender mercies which have ever been od old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to the the voice of our thanksgiving.

For all the gifts which thou has bestowed upon us; for the life that thou hast given us, and the world in which we life,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on to better things,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the blessings of civilization, wise government and legislation; for education, and all the privileges we enjoy through literature, science, and art; for the help and counsel oj those who are wiser and better than ourselves,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all true knowledge of thee and the world in which we live, and the life of truth and righteousness and divine communion to which thou hast called us; for prophets and apostles, and all earnest seekers after truth; for all lovers and helpers of mankind, and all godly and gifted men and women,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the gift of thy Son Jesus Christ, and all the helps and hopes which are ours as his disciples; for the presence and inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, for all the ministries of thy truth and grace,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For communion with thee, the Father of our spirits; for the light and peace that are gained through trust and obedience, and the darkness and disquietude which befall us when we disobey thy laws and follow our lower desires and selfish passions,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the desire and power to help others; for every opportunity of serving our generation according to thy will, and manifesting the face of Christ to men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the discipline of life; for the tasks and trials by which we are ained to patience, self-knowledge and self-conquest, and brought into closer sympathy with our suffering brethren; for troubles which have lifted us nearer to thee and drawn us into deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the sacred and tender ties which bind us to the unseen world; for the faith which dispels the shadows of earth, and fills the saddest and the last moments of life with the light of an immortal hope,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

God all all grace and love, we have praised thee with our lips; grant that we may praise thee with also in consecrated and faithful lives. And may the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.

AMEN.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Can't buy me love....


I have to say, this is a pretty fair assessment of Sarah Palin:

I never cease to be amazed at what a festering bundle of resentments Palin is. Just a few years ago she was the mayor of a tiny town in Alaska, and today she's one of the most famous people in America. Despite her modest talents, there are millions of people who believe, and tell her constantly, that she ought to be the most powerful person on planet Earth. She's made millions of dollars in the last two years, for the easiest of things -- giving some speeches, having ghost-writers pen a couple of books, doing appearances on Fox, letting cameras trail her around while she goes fishing. And yet she can barely open her mouth without going on and on about how terribly victimized she is, and how everyone has done her wrong.
Of course, maybe it's a variation of "crying all the way to the bank." Maybe it's all schtick, and she doesn't really mean it, she just knows it sells. I don't think so, though. I think this feeling of being a victim goes bone-deep.

It's an interesting, perplexing, and finally sad kind of resentment that while not particularly American, certainly seems peculiarly American. Sarah Palin has achieved more in less time than most of us will achieve in a lifetime. I understand she's made $12 million since she left the governorship of Alaska. She's famous. Her tweets and Facebook posting makes national, if not international, news. And still, apparently, she is not happy. Or, at least, she's not content.

That not being content, of course, is what has made her famous. If she was the stereotype of the Buddha, if she was the serene spiritual leader apparently content with the the world and all that is in it, she'd be neither famous nor rich. Which somehow is the point, isn't it?

What does it profit someone to gain the whole world but lose their own soul?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turkey day is comin', turkey day is comin'....!!



Simplest turkey recipe I know.

Bay leaves (8-10)

Olive oil

2 lemons

Salt and pepper

Turkey (how much do you want leftover? That's the size you choose)
Season the turkey cavity (take out the innards, do what you want with 'em). Cut the lemons in half, squeeze 'em into the cavity, and toss 'em in.

Stick bay leaves under the skin around the breast, and under the skin around the cavity. Not easy, but it can be done. Rub the whole bird with olive oil (slippery!). I don't truss it anymore than to tie the legs together.

Tent the turkey with foil, and roast at 350F, about 15 minutes per pound. Take the foil off for the last hour or so, to let it brown. When done, de-glaze the pan with 1 cup of white wine, for the best darned gravy you will EVER eat.

The turkey gumbo recipe for the leftovers will come later. Maybe.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Who's sorry now?


The line from Stalin (which apparently comes to us through Churchill) was: "The Pope! How many divisions has he got?" It was used, in my youth, to point out what a ruthless bastard Stalin was.*

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture told ABC news in Australia:

JUAN MENDEZ: Mr Bush hides behind the fact that he is not a lawyer and he has this folksy you know kind of cute way of say, well the lawyers told me it was legal, as if he didn't know that it's immoral. You know? Immoral and illegal. I mean he can't really hide behind his lawyers.

I mean he was very hypocritical of him to say something like that. I mean it's been so clearly established that those memos were, they don't even deserve the name of legal memos because they are completely flawed from the legal reasoning. But even worse they are morally flawed as well.
I don't think I've heard anyone in America mention the moral problems of torture. Is this another case of American exceptionalism? Or is it because we know the Pope has no military divisions?


*of course, it was also used to point out how ineffective moral reasoning was in the "real world." So maybe I shouldn't be surprised after all.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Every Purpose Under Heaven


Isaiah 65:17-25
65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.

65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well.

65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent--its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

Psalm 98
98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

98:6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.

98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
3:6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.

3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,

3:8 and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.

3:9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.

3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

3:11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.

3:12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

3:13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Luke 21:5-19
21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,

21:6 "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."

21:7 They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"

21:8 And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them.

21:9 "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately."

21:10 Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;

21:11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

21:12 "But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.

21:13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.

21:14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;

21:15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.

21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.

21:17 You will be hated by all because of my name.

21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish.

21:19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

"Pantocrator Christ." That's the name of the painting. It's by El Greco. It represents blessing and judgment: love of humanity, and the failings of humanity. Why can't we take these two together? Why must we always imagine we are the lovable ones, they are the ones worthy of condemnation? And if there is no "they" allowed, then "we" are all lovable, all righteous, or at least all outside of judgment, and so we don't need God, we just need to be left alone.

Well, perhaps that's true. Perhaps we don't need God. We need air; we need water; we need food. We need shelter. What else do we need? Maslow's hierarchy posits the "what keeps mankind alive" school of thought: that lower needs trump higher needs, that needs can fit on a hierarchy, and only when the base is satisfied can the upper needs be addressed. So, except for rare exceptions, the "spiritual" individuals who find their spirituality in asceticism, humanity cannot "need" God until primary needs are met first; until, that is, God fulfills our needs. And if God cannot fulfill our needs, or is not needed to fulfill our needs, then we don't need God.

Perhaps.

Is it even necessary to need God? Is it not sufficient to "be still, and know that I am God"? There's little in scripture to speak of a need for God. The question seldom comes up. Certainly Abraham didn't need God when the unknown God (literally. Abram didn't know God at that time; God was not yet the God of Abraham) said "Come with me." Abram was comfortable where he was; but he believed, and he accepted the promises of God. A truly frightening sign of trust, of faith. Too much for us, and too far away from even the Pantocrator Christ to make any connection possible, to make anything necessary.

And the Pantocrator Christ who is not yet Pantocrator when he says these words to his disciples, these words from Luke, doesn't make things easier. Why do we need persecution and suffering for his sake? Why do we need to endure and persevere? Why can't we just have it now and enjoy it while we're alive? What perverse Creation is this, that needs a God to straighten us out, but a God who can't straighten us out until we have suffered and held fast and endured? Endured what? Persecution? Endure for what? Our souls? And what is that? A metaphysical conceit, nothing more. No, no, this will not do at all. Better away with all judgment, than have this judgment hanging over us for reasons we cannot fully understand, for a faith we cannot all share. Better no God at all than a God who demands this of us.

But where are the demands, and who is making them? There is no demand in the words of Christ in this passage from Luke. There is warning, and there is comfort, and there is assurance: but no demand. God does not make demands. We are not needed of God. We do not need God. We do not need God anymore than we need love. That is, we don't need love the way we need food; or shelter; or clothing. But is that what life is? First feed me, then shelter me, then clothe me; and then, perhaps, I will find time and space and even the need, for love?

Even the beasts aren't as beastly as that.

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.

65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well.

65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent--its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
Do we need that? Or, hearing of it, do we simply want it? And what is wrong with wanting? What makes want so suspect, and need so basic and authoritative? Are we really simply creatures driven and derided by lust, by our needs, our appetites, our hungers? Do we need the Pantocrator Christ? Or do we have him, regardless of our needs, our wants, our desires? Why is need our standard of measure? Why don't we measure by what is best for humankind? When did we become so selfish that our need was all that really, finally, fundamentally mattered?

3:6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.

3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,

3:8 and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.

3:9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.

3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

3:11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.

3:12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

3:13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
Do we work because we need to eat, or because the work is good? Do we eat because we need to, or because food is good? Is shelter good, or is it just necessity? How sad to reduce the whole of Creation to what is in it for me, right now, at this moment. Even children must learn to be so selfish. How much better to think of Creation this way:

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Do we need justice and equity? Or is the world simply better with it? Perhaps the world doesn't need it; perhaps only we do. What does that say about us, then? How do we get ourselves collectively into this position where we need so much more than the world can give, than we ourselves can provide? If we need a Pantocrator, what did we do to need him? What did we do that we cannot undo? Why were we whole, and made ourselves un-whole?

Maybe we can reach beyond ourselves, reach out to others and do what is right for them; find in their comfort and aid the need we think is so important to us. Maybe we can see beyond ourselves and think first of others, come fully to appreciate how much more important they are than we. Maybe we can stretch ourselves and find in the stretching and the giving and the trying what matters most, what is most important; and even consider that a true need. Maybe, in doing that, we will start to find what we could describe, and understand, and know...as God.

Or at least a Pantocrator.

Whether we need to, or not; we should not. Be weary, that is; in doing what is right.

Amen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?


Matt Taibbi, at the end of a long and excellent article on the foreclosure crisis, puts his finger on it:

When you meet people who are losing their homes in this foreclosure crisis, they almost all have the same look of deep shame and anguish. Nowhere else on the planet is it such a crime to be down on your luck, even if you were put there by some of the world's richest banks, which continue to rake in record profits purely because they got a big fat handout from the government. That's why one banker CEO after another keeps going on TV to explain that despite their own deceptive loans and fraudulent paperwork, the real problem is these deadbeat homeowners who won't pay their fucking bills. And that's why most people in this country are so ready to buy that explanation. Because in America, it's far more shameful to owe money than it is to steal it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Vanity of Vanities....


I know it's really, really not the right thing to say, but honestly: what is new here besides the technology?

Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is. A Mark Zuckerberg Production indeed! We were going to live online. It was going to be extraordinary. Yet what kind of living is this? Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: Doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?

The last defense of every Facebook addict is: but it helps me keep in contact with people who are far away! Well, e-mail and Skype do that, too, and they have the added advantage of not forcing you to interface with the mind of Mark Zuckerberg—but, well, you know. We all know. If we really wanted to write to these faraway people, or see them, we would. What we actually want to do is the bare minimum, just like any nineteen-year-old college boy who’d rather be doing something else, or nothing.

At my screening, when a character in the film mentioned the early blog platform LiveJournal (still popular in Russia), the audience laughed. I can’t imagine life without files but I can just about imagine a time when Facebook will seem as comically obsolete as LiveJournal. In this sense, The Social Network is not a cruel portrait of any particular real-world person called “Mark Zuckerberg.” It’s a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore.
First, I should say I'm not "on" Facebook, and I don't want to be. In terms of this essay, that makes me a Luddite, not even Generation 1.0. Fine. I can live with that. And I have to say my touchstone here is the monastic community Kathleen Norris described in her books Dakota and The Cloister Walk, which is to say a world as virtual to me as the world of Facebook. And yes, I do understand there are enough people on Facebook to constitute a large country of its own; but it isn't a country of its own, is it? And it isn't new and different and alien to all human experience before now. Or is it now? Or now?

Do you get my point? I'll come in again.

How about now? No, not then, now. Well, that's already past. And so has this. Well, I should say, so will this.

Blogging was going to change the world. It was all going to be different now, all these people connected together into like-minded communities by the wide-open freedom of the World Wide Web. Except it didn't happen. People I used to converse with daily have all gone back to their lives, or gone on with their lives, and it turned out our interests weren't all that much the same, after all. Probably we would have drifted apart had we seen each other every day. I know all the friends I had in Austin, all the friends I had in seminary, are almost all just memories now. Time's moving finger writes and having writ, moves on. I can keep in touch with them just as well by e-mail or snail mail or telephone as I could by any internet access. I don't, very well, in part because the life I live now is not the life I lived then, and so few of them are a part of it. There are other reasons, too; but that's private. I'm not going to go there with you.

This isn't yet the "open internet" that Mark Zuckerberg envisions. Not for me, anyway.

So I keep in touch with people, and I don't, and that hasn't changed because of e-mail or blogging or even because now everyone is on Facebook. Maybe that's why everyone drifted away from blogging; maybe it's not. Either way, the familiar faces are gone, and the new familiar faces are growing tired of me, or I of them. I find myself repeating myself, like talking about everything old being new again, because I don't know what else to talk about. I don't know how not to be the persona I am on-line, when I'm on-line. And it isn't me; even when it is; because I'm more than that. And dragging that "more" on-line to display it, to explain it, to justify who I present myself to be now, is as much trouble as trying to keep up with people I was never that attached to anyway, people I shared work and experiences with, which I don't share anymore.

My true friends, my close friends, my best friends, have survived it all with me. I'm lucky. I have friends I've known since earliest childhood. I'm very lucky. I have new friends I might as well have known since earliest childhood. I hardly talk to them here; most of them I don't talk to here at all. But that's life, it seems to me. I am, as I say, lucky. The Great Transformation is still the Industrial Revolution. That one upended everything we knew about being human, and shook it all about, and tossed it back on the table in a random jumble and said, "There. Now do something with it." The reaction to that was Romanticism. The reaction to the "Computer Revolution"?

Po-Mo? No. What, then?

We're still wandering around in the ruins of Romanticism, though as a literary and philosophical movement we've now decided ("we"="scholars") it ended after only 30 years. Barely a generation. What is a generation now? Am I connected to my brother-in-law, the former Green Beret in Vietnam, over 10 years my senior? To my brother, two years younger? To anybody born between 1946 and 1964? Sometimes I don't feel like it. Sometimes I feel very connected to my daughter's generation, much more so than I ever felt connected to my father's generation (which isn't saying much, upon reflection, since I've never felt connected to my father's generation). But what connects us a culture? 9/11? Vietnam? Woodstock? Disco? Reagan and "Morning in America? "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"

What revolution in technology has changed all of that? The industrial one, which uprooted us from home finally and fully, long after Abraham left his home and family and followed an unknown God to seek out an unseen land? Certainly not computers. They didn't cause us to create ribbons of highway, or race from place to place in mad riot, or to worship money above all things, that most determinedly American of sins and salvations. And it was long before computers and interstate highways and as many cars as there are Americans (1934, to be precise) that Eliot wrote:

And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbour
Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together
But every son would have his motor cycle,
And daughters ride away on casual pillions.
So tell me again how new this all is. Tell me again how this:

What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of God.
Doesn't describe Generation 2.0, and Generation 1.0, and the Lost Generation of Eliot and Fitzgerald and Hemingway, as well. Tell me again what is so different, what has so fundamentally changed.

No, the problem is not technology, and it is not communications, and it is not sociology, and it is not even theology. It is pneumatology. It is spirituality. It is the relentless pursuit of what is desired, against the relentless desire for what is truly needed. It is as old as humanity itself, and as new as the next birth.

Call the satisfaction of the desire, the satiation of the itch, wisdom. And stop ascribing it to things wanted or invented or imagined; and start ascribing it to people, and the human condition.

A condition that really hasn't changed all that much, despite the externalities.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost: New Styles of Architecture


Haggai 1:15b-2:9
1:15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month.

2:1 In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying:

2:2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say,

2:3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?

2:4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts,

2:5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.

2:6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land;

2:7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts.

2:8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts.

2:9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21
145:1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

145:2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.

145:3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.

145:4 One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

145:5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

145:17 The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.

145:18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

145:19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them.

145:20 The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

145:21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

Psalm 98
98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

98:6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.

98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
2:1 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters,

2:2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.

2:3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction.

2:4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.

2:5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?

2:13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

2:14 For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2:15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope,

2:17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Luke 20:27-38
20:27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him

20:28 and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.

20:29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless;

20:30 then the second

20:31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.

20:32 Finally the woman also died.

20:33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

20:34 Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;

20:35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor

are given in marriage. 20:36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.

20:37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

20:38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

It's not that I disagree with Bill Maher, but does he understand or remember that it was "The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."?

"Martin Luther King spoke on that Mall in the capital and he didn't say, 'Remember folks, those southern sheriffs with the fire hoses and the German shepherds, they have a point too.' No, he said I have a dream, they have a nightmare...Liberals, like the ones on that field, must stand up and be counted and not pretend that we're as mean, or greedy, or short-sighted or just plain bat-shit as they are. And if that's too polarizing for you, and you still wanna reach across the aisle...try church"
Mr. Maher has obviously never been to church, either.

But "trying church" is precisely the remedy I would recommend. The problem with Mr. Maher's approach is that it assumes "we" are superior to "them," or at least we aren't as "mean, or greedy, or short-sighted or just plain bat-shit as they are," when the fact is, "we" are. "We" absolutely are. Which is not to say Jon Stewart is closer to the truth because he tried to equate the political left and the political right the way he did. Mr. Stewart makes the same error: "they" are the crazy ones, "we" are the civil ones.

And our civility has landed us in rank insanity:

Some Republican lawmakers — still reveling in Tuesday’s statewide election sweep — are proposing an unprecedented solution to the state’s estimated $25 billion budget shortfall: dropping out of the federal Medicaid program.
Harris County (essentially Houston) recorded the largest number of straight party ballots for the GOP in its history. And this is the result. Now, were "we" civil, or were "we" crazy? Because "we" stayed home in droves. Was that "mean, or greedy, or short-sighted or just plain bat-shit" insane? Because no matter what you call it, the results are the same.

Jesus had a saying about this. When the Pharisees complained that his disciples ate unclean food, Jesus said it isn't what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out. God told Jeremiah that the human heart is devious, beyond all fathoming, and God has to test that heart to find out what is really in it. Did we find out on Tuesday? Did we find out we're all the same under the skin, that the results are the same whether it's us or them that's the crazy ones?

Because standing where I'm standing, I have a hard time seeing the difference in results based on the superiority of one of the parties.

Hard not to think of the events of this past week and not think of those words of Haggai, even as such a comparison seems to diminish the words of the prophet. Then again, someone almost always needs a reason to rejoice, and despite its reputation as being full of blood and thunder, the Hebrew Scriptures are often very good at supplying that reason (far better than at supplying excuses for blood and thunder).

For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts.

The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts.
So what do you lack?

I'm sorry, that's too abrupt a transition; let me try again.

Hard not to think of the events of this past week, and not think of the words of the Psalmist:
98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

98:6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.

98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
No? Still not getting it? Alright, I'll try again.

Hard not to think....well, it is hard not to think of the events of the past week. Hard not to think of them and despair, if only because the GOP in Texas is emboldened to balance the state budget once again on the backs of the poor. Hard not to think of that, and think of the words of Jesus: "Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive." Well, I might have chosen more pointed words, but those are the words chosen by the lectionary, and far be it from my unhallowed hands to disturb the day's Scriptures.

Instead, I'll use them; just as I'll use this quote from Bill Maher, or the planned policy of the Texas GOP, or the words of Haggai. I'll use them to make a point, a particular and pointed and very difficult point: you need a change of heart. You do. You really do. It would do you all the good in the world.

The Saducceess are looking for superiority, in that story from Luke. They want to win the argument about the resurrection, and Jesus won't let them. He redefines the terms, because their terms are too narrow. He forces them to consider a change of heart. They want to challenge his mind. To them, this question of the resurrection is an intellectual puzzle, one that doesn't fit the law of Moses. But their hearts don't fit with the God of Moses. The God of Moses for whom the Psalmist said:

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
There it is again. That tone of judgment. That murmur of the apocalypse, which we think means the "end of time." It means "revealing," actually. And what may be revealed is that we are all mad, and dangerous, and insane. That we are all equal, even as we insist on our superiority based on...well, based on distinctions more frivolous and difficult to identify than skin color or mother tongue. Haggai says "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts," but we insist on acting like it is ours; ours alone, and certainly not theirs. They aren't entitled to it. It is left to us, and we alone know how to use it wisely.

Could there be a greater madness than this? Could there be a clearer need for a change of heart?

And yet we still see it as an arms race, as a multi-lateral negotiation: you disarm, and then perhaps, I will disarm. But I will never disarm before you, because...well, we all know what "because" is. So when the sea roars and all the floods clap their hands, we will not fear, because we know we've kept the silver and gold of the Lord in safe hands, in safekeeping, we have preserved it against the day of judgment, to show how righteous we are, how very very unrighteous "they" are. Oh, yes, we are wise. Momma didn't raise no fools.

Is that how it will be? Do we imagine a day when our righteousness prevails and theirs fails, because ours is good and theirs is bad, and evil must always be fought, and evil is always "out there" and never in here among us, never looking out through our eyes and telling us everything we do is right, and everything "they" do is wrong? Is there no evil in that? How can there be? Well, maybe just a little, but their evil is greater! They have the sheriffs and the firehoses and the German shepherds and the majority in the Texas Legislature and in the Congress and EVIL MUST BE FOUGHT!

Do we ever feel our hand around our own throat when we say that? No? Then we aren't doing it right; because we should. Yes, evil must be fought. But where is evil, except in the human heart? And how do you remove it, except with a change of heart?

Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?
Is it not in your sight as dead? And yet is it dead, if in God's sight all are living, and God is the God of the living, and not the dead? If the distinction we make are not the distinctions God makes, are we wise to insist on our distinctions? If all of the silver and gold is God's, are we smart to insist on ownership of any of it? If we insist they change first, before we have to, are we pursuing change, or obstructing it?

Without a change of heart, is any real change possible? With a change of heart, is any other change necessary?

One last work about what Mr. Maher said. It's true, Dr. King never said 'Remember folks, those southern sheriffs with the fire hoses and the German shepherds, they have a point too.' But neither did he ever say his fiercest opponents were "mean, or greedy, or short-sighted or just plain bat-shit". Indeed, he saved his fiercest words for those who would be his friends, but who only wanted him to stop leading the movement he was leading. But he knew if he was going to overcome his most ferocious enemies, the sheriffs with the fire hoses and the German shepherds, and all the hateful people they represented, he was going to have to do it by changing their hearts.

It was probably something he learned in church.

Amen.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Well, yeah, I guess



Jon Stewart:

If we amplify everything we hear nothing. There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate--just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe not more. The press is our immune system. If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker--and perhaps eczema.


In the old days, we used to distinguish between "prejudice" and "racism." "We," of course, meaning "white people." We carefully distinguished simply "bad" comments about race (for blacks or Jews, because for reasons I've never understood, Judaism is a race and a religion) from truly bad comments about race. The latter were "racist" and made only by "bigots," bigots being distinguished from the merely prejudiced because they were unapologetic about their views. The merely prejudiced could always be counted on to say they had nothing against other races, or some of their best friends were of that race, but still....

And like the U.S. military saying we don't intend to kill civilians, but in making omelets eggs must be broken and in conducting air raids on terrorists, civilians must die, somehow the qualification was supposed to make it all better.

Now, as someone who declared Juan Williams' provocative comments to Bill O'Reilly "racist," I'm not backing down from what I said when I say I can see Stewart's point: sort of. We do have a problem of overreacting to everything, and the press should be our national immune system. But Rick Sanchez and Juan Williams were fired because they overstepped the boundaries of their public positions. Sanchez has pretty consistently portrayed a journalist, and Williams has insisted, and been presented, as one on NPR (although he's never there except as a commentator). You can actually be a racist and say outrageously racist things and stay on the air. The prime example is Pat Buchanan. But you can't do those things if you are perceived, or portray yourself, as a journalist.

Ask Helen Thomas.

Monday, November 01, 2010

"The Silent Majority"--All Saint's Day 2010



Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
7:1 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream:

7:2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea,

7:3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.

7:15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me.

7:16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter:

7:17 "As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth.

7:18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever--forever and ever."

Psalm 149
149:1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.

149:2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.

149:3 Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.

149:4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.

149:5 Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.

149:6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands,

149:7 to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples,

149:8 to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron,

149:9 to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD!

Ephesians 1:11-23
1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Luke 6:20-31
6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

6:21 "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

6:22 "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

6:23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

6:24 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

6:25 "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

6:26 "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

6:27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

6:29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

I wrote a quick (and brilliant!) post on the subject of All Saint's this morning, and Blogger somehow managed to eat it. It's gonna be that kind of day, apparently.

From the wreckage let me just note that, per Gore Vidal (I haven't checked it myself), "Silent majority" was Homer's metaphor for the dead. It seems an apt reference for today, if only to remind us of the clouds of witness which surround us and from which, in the spirit of Samhain, we can draw comfort and joy, not fear and loathing (we really need to get over our obsessive fear of death, even as we use death as the centerpiece of so much of our entertainment. Funny how the new Harry Potter movie will end up reminding us of that again.)

I'm going to go try to draw comfort from the loss of what was obviously going to be an excellent post (the lost ones are always the best of the lot.) And end this where I did before:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
Amen.