Thursday, April 28, 2016

More islands and rivers...

When I was growing up my family spent summers on an island in the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. Although we lived most of the year in Chicago, it always seemed to me that life by the River was our “true” life, and the Island constituted the “real world.” On the Island it seemed that even the trees and rocks were our cousins, and the River a grandmother to us all. The summer days flowed by slowly, like the current that carried us downstream to our favorite fishing holes. On the Island things were as they should be, and people were at their best.   
When Eucharistic Prayer C in the Book of Common Prayer speaks of “this fragile earth, our island home,” I think at once of the Delaware, and “our” Island, except we share this fragile earth with 7 billion of our human cousins, and, in place of the Delaware, we are blasting outward through an ocean of darkness. Is the space around us in any sense a grandmother? Is this earthly hunk of rock in any sense a relative? Given our self-destructive bent, how can human beings hope to restore things “as they should be”? How can we create conditions where “people are at their best”?
At every Eucharist we are invited, and even urgently called to cross the threshold of an Alternate Reality, a Universe Under Construction, a New Creation. To enter, we need not, ought not, go in search of better planets or unspoiled islands, but rather “open our eyes to see [God’s] hand at work in the world around us” (Prayer C again). The “real” world is the one we are already inhabiting, but to perceive it we have to develop our capacity to see with “sacramental eyes.”
In 1955, Hurricane Diane caused the Delaware River to rise in catastrophic flood, inundating our island and washing away the cabin which, a short time earlier, we had evacuated in a rowboat. But, for me, that drowned Island still reassembles itself at every Eucharist, and rocks and trees resume the shape of cousins, and interstellar space wraps our island home in a grandmotherly embrace, and, in that Eucharistic moment, things are as they should be, and people are at their best.    

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Omitted from last Sunday's sermon for reasons of brevity...

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. John 13:34

I OMITTED ABOUT 1/3 of what I had intended to say in last Sunday’s sermon. The sermon was plenty long as it was, but I liked what I had prepared, so here it is…
NANCY and I watch network TV shows like NCIS, Hawaii 5/0, and Criminal Minds. The shows are formulaic, violent, and (in the case of Criminal Minds) depict sadistic cruelty to an extent that can’t be healthy to watch. So why do we watch it? In our case it is because we are drawn by the relationships among the principle characters, and in all of these action/crime dramas there is a “team” that routinely places its collective self in harm’s way in defense of the common good. The characters have damaged or nonexistent personal lives, and are living examples of John 15:13, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” When one of the regular cast members leaves a series, it causes us grief, and connects us to the experiences of loss that have marked our own lives.  We miss Ziva and Warrick, and regret (and resent) Gil’s resistance to intimacy.  
OF AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SORT is the British drama shown on PBS, “Call the Midwife.”  There is no gun play in this series, but it is more realistic, gritty, and believable than those aforementioned programs. The stories are set in a poor part of London in the 1950’s and 60’s, and involve a community of Anglican nuns and their lay associates. The nuns are devout but flawed: one is plain crazy; another is plain grouchy; and another, their leader, fits my definition of a saint. The many crises, tragedies, and reconciliations that occur are depicted with an accompanying soundtrack of the sisters in their chapel, chanting the (to me) familiar psalms of the monastic office. “Whosoever dwells under the defense of the most high * abides under the shadow of the almighty.”
For these nuns, the “shadow” under which they abide is a love that motivates all they do, and even more all that they find themselves unable to do. Love is the alpha and omega of their lives: love for the innocent and helpless; love for the unloved and unloveable. They are deeply traditional, yet reluctant to judge and open to change. In other words, Anglican, at least in the forms I have encountered in 60 years as an Episcopalian.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Women in the Bible...some new stuff

At clergy conference with colleagues from the Diocese of Michigan...topic is "Bible Women", led by The Rev. Lindsay Hardin Freeman. She points out out that 93 women speak 14,056 words in the Bible. A small fraction of the air time given to men, but still greater than what appears in the source books of other most other world religions, and what women do contribute is essential to the development of Judeo-Christian tradition.
     Here are some of her conclusions:
1. When woman in the Bible do speak, it is with a startling boldness;
2. Biblical women push against patriarchal restraints (a consistent pattern, which I find remarkable given the patriarchal bias prevailing in both Jewish and Christian scriptures...why were these proto-feminist voices not edited out of the tradition by vigilant male scribes? True, they may have been blind to the implications of what they were transcribing...but I see the hand of God at work nonetheless.)
3. Biblical women "climb out over the transom" to serve as God's agents, subverting social norms and outsmarting the duly constituted authorities charged with keeping them in line.
4. Many are unmarried, widows, or in some way outside the structures of social control.
5. They suffer horrible loss and are treated like pawns on a chessboard yet appear in scripture as bright lights in sacred history;
6. Are occasionally found in scripture as occupying positions of power ordinarily assigned to men, without any note of explanation or acknowledgment within the text that this represents anything unusual. What's up with that?
 Lindsay Hardin Freeman and her husband, The Rev. Len Freeman, assert that, as a group, the outspoken women of the Bible functioned as the "social media" of their day, which I take to mean that they carried on a sort of unofficial, grassroots counter-narrative to what the "mainstream" media has passed on to us. In any case, this presentation has demonstrated, once again, that you are never too old to learn something new about the Bible. A fine day.