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Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

Neither a Rock nor a Scorpion


In Luke 11,: 1-13, there is a discussion about persistence and generosity. People are encouraged to be generous without being coaxed. But if they resist, then persistence is the tactic to use. In a world where getting a deal is a high priority in both buying and selling, it is difficult to prize relationship and generosity over indifference and greed. I was thinking about the inherent delusion of “owning” property, rather than caring for a part of the earth. No one truly owns the plots of the earth. We inhabit various places for a few decades and then we are gone from and back into the earth. We become what we had thought to enslave. In the meantime, the “deals” of the real estate market have benefitted some and set up barriers for others.

This axial time is critical for what life will look like in 50 years from now. I will be, as they say, pushing up daisies by then, but I hope the earth is still cool and not on fire. Our children are begging us to put our enormous influential and economic resources to the task of saving what we can of our planet. And we keep giving them rocks and scorpions.

The world is knocking at the door of the wealthy nations begging for crumbs and safe harbour for the children. When will the impulse of generosity overwhelm the cynicism of power and narcissism/patriotism? Jesus said that for anyone who harms the vulnerable, it would be better if a huge stone were tied around their neck and they were dropped into the depths of the sea. This saying haunts me as I am aware that my financial and social comfort is part of a collusion with oppression, regardless of my intent.

So what can we people privileged with comfort, education, family, community do? The first order is to recognize that others are paying our way: we do not deserve our bounty. Secondly, we need to pray with such a deep spirit of gratitude that generosity becomes our norm. Thirdly, we need to educate ourselves so that we know the difference between crumbs and bread, eggs and scorpions, charity and justice. We need to learn how to listen beyond our fears and defences, opening ourselves to the gift and sacrifice of humility, setting our sight on that frightening cross in the hope of resurrection of vision and faith.

And finally, we need to remember that we walk with Jesus, beyond the limitations of our churches and our traditions. In my garden, as I caress the the soil, the green growing things, an angel whispers in my ear, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” And when I simply cannot bear the violence, hatred and ignorance I see in the news, “ and the earth shall be full of the holiness of God, as the waters cover the sea.” Finally, when I despair and feel powerless, I remember that Jesus too felt abandoned, yet his death brought a taste of life that was new, born out of sacrifice and tears and suffering.

I think the future will be hard for all the children of the world, but perhaps by committing ourselves to loaves and fishes, eggs and freedom, safety and compassion, some of the suffering may be ameliorated. Maybe if we remember that we are the caretakers, not the owners of the earth, we will fall in love with its holiness again. Maybe, some of us will be redeemed, some of us forgiven, and all of us held in the embrace of Life and Holiness, in the Eden that we will then remember.

Mothers and Shepherds

Happy Mother’s Day! I guess. Aside from the emotional minefields produced by that greeting, for many it is a wonderful day. As a person almost totally lacking in sentimentality, I would just forget it except for my great kids who want to remember it. My problem with the idea of the Good Shepherd has similar problems.

On Mother’s Day, we forget the terrible mothers, the tragedies in motherhood, the women separated from their children by incarceration or social stigma. Similarly, the picture of the Good Shepherd is usually that of a kindly, white, clean, handsome man, holding clean lambs in his arms. And we see ourselves as those dear little lambs, being kept in safety from accident, or being lost, or perhaps being butchered. 

What if we adjust the lens on these pictures? What if the pictures of mothers we hold up are those of starving Yemeni women struggling to find food for their kids, of Palestinian mums trying to shield others, of black mothers worrying whether or not their sons will come home safely? What if the picture of the Good Shepherd is our broken church struggling to remember that the lambs we are called to protect are the very people we avoid? What if we, like Judas and Peter, are ourselves broken and confused? What if this is the struggle to transform our world not simply with words, or political rhetoric, but with action, with money, with advocacy?

How do we celebrate this day? I think we could begin by agreeing that there are lots of ways of mothering and of being mothered. None of them is easy, but often the reward is in the doing rather than being acknowledged. We are all born within our Mother Earth, the paradise given to us by God. If we are good mothers, we will teach our children not to soil their environment. We will teach justice as the path to peace. We will learn to discriminate not on the basis of class, but of neediness, of solidarity.

As shepherds in the risen body of Christ, we confess our woundedness to each other, so we will be free from judging others. We will know that being a shepherd does not require us to spend time making ourselves look good. Shepherding is a dirty, dangerous business. But the lambs are more important than concern for ourselves. We will see that there is only one flock and its name is humanity, albeit in all the crazy diversity that our Creator seems to love. 

And so let us welcome each other to this day, accepting our narratives as the ground for greater love. Let us mother each other and be mothered into a way of peace. Let us reach out to be rescued, turning to the lamb on the precipice beside us, and dragging them along with us. And so, hand in hand, generation upon generation, we learn how to let our mothering, shepherding God grow in our souls, in our hands and in our minds, so that the world may be re-knit in the loving image in which we were made. 

The Identity of Jesus Mark 8:27-37

In Mark 8:27-37, we read about the struggles in the early church to place Jesus in some kind of traditional context. There are serious questions to be answered. If Jesus was the son of God, why would that God allow him to die a scandalous death? Who really was his father? Was he actually John the Baptist? If he wasn’t the Messiah, then perhaps he was Elijah, who would precede the Messiah. He certainly didn’t fit any of the expectations of a messiah. He wasn’t a king or a fierce warrior. He seemed to have no interest in insurrection or political leadership. In fact, his teaching and his behaviour were inconsistent with the expectations of a messiah

In this narrative, we “overhear”a conversation between Jesus and Peter. We become the disciples who were listening in. Jesus seems exasperated that Peter cannot understand, and therefore cannot correctly transmit Jesus’ teaching. Jesus is not the anticipated messiah, nor is he anyone else but his own unique self. Raised in the spiritual expression of the Judaism of his era, and in the experience of Roman occupation, Jesus is anointed by the suffering and oppression, initially of his own people. That broadens into an awareness of the potential for human liberation, both spiritually and politically.

That is a historical moment that we will always be reliving as his disciples. We each agree to follow a particular expression of Jesus’ mission and vision. To understand that mission and vision, we must learn the stories about him that shape our faith. And we need each other to test our ideas, to develop our shared understanding, to learn how to live out our faith.

Today, we’re going to baptize Noel into this community, this faith. And how will he learn this faith? Will you show him love, understanding, conviction, action in Jesus’ mission? We are promising today that we will never abandon him, we will be his safe harbour until he can choose Jesus’ path for himself. We will continue to be learners with him. And we will grow in discipleship with him.

Fierce and Loving: The Ones who Nurture

What does the feast day of St, Matthias, Mother’s Day and these readings have in common? Maybe nothing, but here is what has been rolling around in my brain.

When I think of mothering, I don’t think particularly of myself, or even of my own lovely mother. Some of us were fortunate to have loving mothers and some of us have or have had very difficult relationships with our mothers. So I don’t think we should let a Hallmark greeting card hold us hostage to a sentiment that is either not enough or too much. I would rather look instead to what the bible tells us about mothering.
In Hebrew scriptures we hear about Deborah. Sarah, Hagar, Hannah, Bathsheba, Huldah, Esther, Judith, Susannah, who prevailed despite opposition. These women were faithful, courageous agents of change. They often spoke tough words and would rarely have matched the sentimental pictures of mothering that passing our world.
In Christian scriptures, there is Mary who calls for social upheaval, for a new and egalitarian way of life. There is Elizabeth who also will find her son executed for speaking the truth. Mary, after Jesus death, with the Magdalene, became not only witnesses to the resurrection, but leaders of the fledgling communities. There is Lydia, an independent woman who adopts Paul’s cause.
These are only a few of the names we could mention, without even speaking of the nuns and mystics of the later church. What these women do have in common is a profound sense of the justice and compassion of God.

So when we want to speak of mothering, I would ask you to look to those influences that have taught you to be bold, to live not only for yourself, but for others (Romans14:7), that showed you what justice might look like. The influences that picked you up when you were bruised or weary and waited until they could set you on your feet again. The mothering of God is both protective and sacrificial, both in the Divine Self, and as a model of true humanity.

St. Matthias maybe served in Ethiopia, maybe in Jerusalem, maybe in Georgia. He was beheaded and/or stoned to death, or maybe lived to comfortable old age. Nonetheless, we do know he served the church without fanfare or historical accolades. Like many women, his name would be almost unknown despite his courageous work.

And finally, this Gospel in which the model is for us to be in our social networks as agents of change, but also standing outside those networks as we remember we do this because Jesus taught us the grace of mothering communities and people, the grace of mutual service and hope. So please celebrate Mother’s Day today, holding in your heart that we know this is not about sentimentality, but about the fierce, protective determination of God to save us and all creation. I want to end with this incredible poem by Alla Renee Bozarth, one of the first women ordained in-the Episcopal Church.

Bakerwoman God,
I am your living bread.
Strong, brown Bakerwoman God,
I am your low, soft, and being-shaped loaf.

I am your rising bread,
well-kneaded by some divine
and knotty pair of knuckles,
by your warm earth hands.
I am bread well-kneaded.

Put me in fire, Bakerwoman God,
put me in your own bright fire.
I am warm, warm as you from fire.
I am white and gold, soft and hard,
brown and round.
I am so warm from fire.

Break me, Bakerwoman God.
I am broken under your caring Word.
Drop me in your special juice in pieces.
Drop me in your blood.
Drunken me in the great red flood.
Self-giving chalice swallow me.
My skin shines in the divine wine.
My face is cup-covered and I drown.

I fall up
in a red pool
in a gold world
where your warm
sunskin hand
in there to catch
and hold me.
Bakerwoman God,
remake me. Alla Renee Bozarth

From Wompriest: A Personal Odyssey, Paulist Press 1978,

Good Friday is a Cop Out

But Jesus turned to them and said, “Women of Jerusalem, stop crying for me. Instead, cry for yourselves and for your children.
— Luke 23:28 —

I know the title of this blog is shocking, but I must admit to an impatience with an attitude to Holy Week that is either sentimental or an indulgence in horror.

Although the Anglican Book of Common Prayer says piously, ” full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice,” our liturgies tend to revisit Jesus’ crucifixion in ghastly detail, with an unseemly savouring of its details, including encouraging people to shout out a call for his death. I have always hoped that I would be the person who said, “Don’t.”  It seems to me that Jesus’ horrific death millennia ago, has only one purpose in our memory. That purpose is to remind us that we remain complicit in erecting the cross of horror, shame, brutality, and injustice. We do not need to look to history to see the wounds and passion of Christ all around us, in our streets, in our families, in our own limitations that mask as convictions about truth and social status.

The cross is the potent, albeit dreadful sign of the failure of humanity to let the holiness within prevail upon the earth. As we walk through Holy Week, I think we need to focus on the paths we have taken over the last year, since the previous Holy Week. What have we done for the children of the world? What have we done for the planet and its other creatures? How have we stood against war, poverty, lies? Whom have we helped and why? The veneration of the cross is not about glorifying suffering but about an accusation to the Body of Christ. Have we fed the lambs? Have we brought the children to safe harbour?

On Maundy Thursday, in most churches, we are good at showing love for each other, at least superficially, but why are we washing feet that are fat and clean? When Jesus performed this action, it was an act of hospitality, a host, deferring to his guests, the convenor, acting as servant. Food for the journey, sustenance for those who would soon be tested and mostly found wanting. Do we understand that this baptismal act is not so much about cleansing as preparation to walk the way of the cross? To be called to testify to the uncomfortable, unpopular truth about solidarity with poor and the forsaken? The first eucharist celebrated the presence fo Christ at table with those he loved, whomever they might have been. The last supper in Emmaus reminded the disciples to study, to learn, to act, to pray for God’s reign of peace and justice on earth.

On Good Friday, when we say our prayers, when we remember Jesus’ act of self-offering, we need to remember also that although he has been resurrected, we have not yet taken down his cross, that it still scars our landscape. I started to weep as I saw the young people rallying against violence in the March for Our Lives — not just against them, but as an acceptable idea in this 21st century. I wept for their beauty and for their hope. As the church we have fought against the resurrection, attempting to keep that hideous cross instead of having faith in the resurrection. We, as the church, have been ingenious at maintaining violence of all kinds, of encouraging people to indulge in self-recrimination and shame instead of declaring their freedom in Christ, the freedom of the resurrection, the freedom to be new.

Jesus is risen and has been alive and with us for centuries. When will we believe it and act on it? When will we decide human evil and selfishness has had its day? I long for the Holy Week in which the cross has become a faint outline, a dim memory of what humanity was before we discovered the incarnation running in and through us, the resurrection of hope and possibility.

Please go to church this week, but go not for the memory of Jesus’ death, but to remember the path to resurrection that will call us to lay down the comforts and assumptions and lies that are blotted out by the reality of suffering. Go to weep for the children who are not yet free. Go to testify, to be present to the pain that exists in our world. Go to present yourselves as an offering, an offering to live out your baptismal promises with weeping, but also with the knowledge that the Resurrected One is with you. Go so that you know how to reveal Jesus’ resurrection that walked through passion and love to a life shared in action and faith.

kenosis?

Kenosis is a theological term that simply means emptying. In Philippians 2, we read:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of humanity. Being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Again, in Hebrews 2, we hear an echo of this idea of Jesus as a divine being, who becomes a creature like other humans are creatures.

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things. . . .
Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.

My problem with kenosis as we have traditionally thought of it, is that separates the spiritual and the material, as if the divine were present only in the one. In 21st century consciousness, we have become aware of the problem of dualisms, up/down, over/under. We are aware that we share the DNA of a planet, not just a species. We know that the earth under our feet is a living organism, populated by untold numbers of other organisms from the microscopic to the gigantic. The so-called butterfly effect is simply a matter of obvious reality now.

I wonder how Jesus could possibly divest himself of the divine without simply disappearing. With many others, I experience the divine not only as an external presence, but also as the that which rushes between the atoms in the life of everything and can be seen in both the grandeur and simplicity of all that is. For our minds now, the question of the dual nature of Christ has ceased to have resonance or it is a matter of intellectual indifference. So what do we do with the idea of kenosis now?

In the temptation story, we read about Jesus divesting himself of human ambition, political power, even the authority of status. In the story of his baptism, he bows to the teaching of another. From the women whom encounters, his theology and his mission shifts. Jesus empties himself of the barriers that stand between people in relationship. For Jesus, this is also true of the Holy One. Jesus walks with confidence in the presence of his God. He seems to be free from the ordinary anxiety of being right, or judged, or needy of affirmation. With other people, Jesus is similarly free to associate, to speak, to interact, without the usual nervous hesitation most of us share.

Jesus divests himself of the bruised ego, allowing himself to be open to each experience as if it were new. Because he seems to be very little concerned about himself in these encounters. He sees others clearly, booth in our grace and in our hypocrisy.

Jesus offers us a picture of how that freedom might look. True freedom is neither harsh, nor judgemental, neither grasping, nor self concerned. Not many of us, even with a lot of spiritual direction and/or therapy will find ourselves as whole as Jesus. In our communities, however, we can begin to start thinking in wholistic terms. Instead of acting out of self interest, we can divest ourselves of institutional anxieties and ask instead what we are doing for the vulnerable, for the needy, the hungry, the refugees, and so on. We can begin to think about the earth as the first garden and choose the task of restoration. We can turn from the lure of power and privilege and adopt the kenotic quality of Jesus who counted nothing for himself and everything for the task of healing, of justice, of protection.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote about how it feels to live in the light of Christ.
The kind of unself-consciousness I’m thinking about becomes clearer to me when I turn to a different discipline: for instance, that of playing a Bach fugue at the piano, precisely because I will never be a good enough pianist to play a Bach fugue as it should be played. But when I am actually sitting at the piano, all there is for me is the music. I am wholly in it, unless I fumble so badly that I perforce become self-conscious. Mostly, no matter how inadequate my playing, the music is all that matters: I am outside time, outside self, in play, in joy. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love. (Glimpses of Grace)

A New Teaching?

Let’s think about religion and spirituality. I know what religion is. My favourite definition comes from dictinary.com:

“a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

Spirituality, by contrast is not concerned with externally created observances. it tends to be more individualistic and idiosyncratic. It may have a moral component, but not necessarily.

So what is Christianity? I think Jesus had no interest in creating another set of ritual practices or a theology or even a morality. I think he said that we already had all those tings that we could apply to our lives whenever we chose. What Jesus offered was the idea of deep, intentional relationship that had nothing to do with moral behaviour or belief. It remained endlessly perplexing for his followers, and continues to be so right until now.

For Christians of our era, this is a time of repentance, and by that I mean turning to a different insight. As a lifelong Anglican, I love our rituals and the possibility of the mystical wonder of life that interrupts the mundane. I just don’t think that has much to do with the particular faith that is Christ-centred.

The faith that is Christ-centred has I now think, a sense of holinesss, whole-in-us, in-relationship. That relationship usually begins with other humans. As children, we learn to trust or fear life through those early experiences. No matter how wonderful our families, however, we all enter adulthood with scars and self doubt and caution about others. Jesus teaches us to begin by letting it all go, or finding the way to let our fears about ourselves go. It begins with believing that the Spirit of the Divine, of Holiness that was present at the beginning of creation, resides still within the creation. Within us, despite our fears. Jesus has very little interest in people’s worthiness, but a lot of interest in their yearning to be whole, in their willingness to reach out, and to trust in the power of relationship to change them. The stories are there for the reading and the consideration.

About Jesus, the elders remark, “Is this a new teaching?” Well, yes and no. In the Genesis story, we read about God in relationship with the creation. In the stories of the prophets, God speaks in relationship. The stories about Jesus, speak of voices and a blessing that calls Jesus beloved. Over time, however, the Divine became entombed in codes and rituals, remembered history, a set of mutual expectations resembling that of human contracts. Quid pro quo. So the teaching of humanity in relationship with the Divine and with each other is ancient, but it is a radical teaching by the time of Jesus.

Jesus, however, simply does not deal with any of that institutional or moralistic piety. He says to get on with whatever you believe to be good and right, but in the meantime, look closely at the life that is before you and let it dominate your vision and your thoughts and then you will know how to act, how to feel. What you believe is secondary to the web of relationship into which you weave yourself.

Jesus could be quite intimidating in his refusal to debate, in his insistence that people deal with his person, not the rumours about him. How would it look for us to insist that relationship is the highest calling, that being in concert as friends is the defining characteristic of the faithful life?

It would mean we would have to discover each other, not as cardboard figures of our own creation, but with humility and a willingness to put our assumptions aside. In terms of the natural order, we would have to cease seeing the reaction as a commodity but as life with its own integrity and processes. Even in terms of the other creatures, we would have to allow that they have their own thoughts, their own constructions of reality. We do not even know how alien they are from ours, because we have always used them for our own needs.

Christian faith, not a morality, not a doctrine, not a prescribed set of rituals, but people in community doing what we need to do to realize the holiness in each other and in our world, and the Spirit of God leaping up in our hearts and the blessing of Jesus who draws us to each other and to his resurrected life.