Sunday, February 26, 2012

New Monastics?

Reflection at Morning Prayer: First week of Lent, 2012

At the Household of God Conference today at the Cathedral in Detroit, we heard from cutting-edge innovators from the U.K. and West Coast how they have come to describe themselves as “new monastics” because their ministries resemble monastic styles of worship and ministry more than they do the usual models of congregational life.

Interesting: when we gather in St. Paul’s Chapel at 8:30am on weekday mornings it feels to me like a monastic community assembling for one of their frequent prayer services. The resemblance is short-lived, because we do not require “vows” of any sort, and quickly scatter to our various vocational activities once our brief time of worship is over. It is interesting, however, to find that, without any intention of doing so, we may have placed ourselves squarely within the mainstream of a major trend in Anglicanism.

So we do our bit to make the gospel come alive for a disenchanted world. Maybe.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reflections from Morning Prayer: The Household Gods

The 31st Chapter of Genesis reveals another, and wildly significant, episode in the drama of Jacob’s relationship with his relative, Laban. After having lived with Laban and married both of his daughters, Jacob slips away at night, along with both wives and a lot of other people and livestock. Unbeknownst to Jacob, his wife Rachel also took with her Laban’s prized collection of household gods.

Household gods? Are we sure this story is in our Bible? Strange as it may seem, Rachel could not bear the thought of leaving home without these familiar religious objects from her father’s house, so she stole them. Laban pursues and catches up to the fugitives, and demands that his household gods be returned. Jacob, for once, is innocent, and encourages Laban to conduct a thorough search of the camp. When Laban enters Rachel’s tent, she conceals the gods by sitting on them, and excuses herself from standing up by saying to her father, “the way of women is upon me.”

When Laban fails to discover the stolen items, he apologizes to Jacob, and the two men proceed to hold an elaborate ceremony to celebrate their reconciliation.

What is the message for us, hearing this tale of deception read to us at Morning Prayer in Christ Church Cranbrook, many thousands of years after the fact? I think it is two-fold, and profound:

1. God wants reconciliation, and it is going to happen, whether we like it or not.

2. Reconciliation is accomplished behind the scenes, through the agency of the least powerful and most vulnerable, even while the big powerful men are busy congratulating themselves and taking all the credit.

The Bible invites us to step behind the scenes, and to become privy to the ancient and redemptive trick God is pulling on chiefs, kings, and patriarchs. But shhhh…they still think they are the ones in charge….


PS. I perfectly well that I, by virtue of gender, race, class, and profession, am welded into the patriarchal patrimony of Jacob and Laban and their ilk. I wonder what sort of beatitudinous trickery God is pulling on me this very minute, even as I compose witty words about wily ways of Yahweh?

Friday, February 10, 2012

This past week at Morning Prayer we were led deeper into the murky family dynamics that lie at the heart of our spiritual tradition. Esau and Jacob are twins, always at odds. Their mother Rebekah, connives shamelessly on behalf of her favorite, Jacob, with the eventual result that Jacob has to go into hiding to escape the Esau’s fratricidal wrath.

Jacob is a conniving hustler, yet the Bible, while sympathetic to Esau, clearly represents Jacob as the chosen Man of God, the heir of Abraham’s vision and namesake of Israel. In the coming weeks we will hear how Jacob, in one of the Bible’s most powerfully moving episodes, came to be reconciled with Esau.

I suppose some people might be scandalized to learn that the roots of our faith lie in stories of tribal politics and sibling rivalries. For me, it is just the opposite. To me, it suggests that our own family dynamics and histories can also become part of God’s project of redemption and reconciliation. If Jacob and Esau can be reconciled, so can we.

It might also be reassuring for us as Anglicans to know that Henry the Eighth was not the first conniving politician to serve as an instrument of God’s saving activity.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Horrendous Readings at Morning Prayer


Wow. All week long at Morning Prayer we have been subjected to a flood of deeply moving and disconcerting stories from the oldest layers of the Old Testament. To mention just one, on Monday we heard about the infamous city of Sodom, where “the men of Sodom, both young and old”, surrounded the house of Lot, Abraham’s brother, with the intention of raping the two mysterious male visitors whom he had invited to spend the night. This presents an appalling and disgraceful scene, and has been used as a primary proof-text by those who regard homosexuality as an abomination in the eyes of God.

The most shocking element in this story, however, is one that ancient scribes and story-tellers may not even have noticed, because of their assumptions regarding the subservience of women. It occurs when Lot “went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” (Italics mine). (Genesis 19:6)

I also have two daughters. Given that Lot is as close to being a “good” man as there is in this story, hearing it makes me feel ashamed to be a male.

I hear this as a story about the horrendous evil of sexual violence, whoever perpetrates it. I also hear it as an early example of how God identifies with those who, like Lot’s daughters, are the most vulnerable and powerless.

In The Book of Genesis the path to redemption involves Angels who use divine power to strike their would-be rapists blind, and then proceed to nuke the City and everyone in it (even the women who had no part in the perverse shenanigans at Lot’s house). These ancient stories need Christ to complete them, and Christ needs us to complete his story. How do we do that?

For me, it means

1) taking advantage of every opportunity to hug my daughters;

2) do what I can to assure that no one’s daughter (or son) is victimized, commodified, brutalized, or exploited;

3) do what I can to ensure that the sacred text of the Bible not be used by those in power to dominate and abuse those who have less of it.

Other thoughts…?