A Class Reunion: Memories and Triggers of Memories

I came late to the reunion.  This time it wasn’t my fault.  I waited over an hour in the car rental line.  So I missed the school tour.  But I made it to the “Meet and Greet” where folks quickly filled me in on all the important changes.  Imagine filling in a swimming pool in order to have more space for a school cafeteria.  I’m still shaking my head at that.

I loved that swimming pool and, with an equal passion, hated that school cafeteria.  Not because of the aesthetics of it all or because of the quality of the food or the unimaginative menu but because of all the social challenges a high school cafeteria presents.  A nightmare that haunted me for these many years.  Imagine the comfort I felt when I learned that some of my classmates shared my loathing.

images

That cafeteria, with its highly varnished floors and tables, its wire reinforced windows, its rancid smells and cheery, hair-netted workers was then and still is the antithesis of God’s welcome table.  As my classmates and I compared notes at our fiftieth class reunion, I remembered a sermon I once preached.  The trope was the high school cafeteria.  Here’s the sermon:

Do you remember your high school lunchroom—the smells, the sounds, the layout of the tables?  Do you remember the food they served—the squeaky beans, the watery spaghetti, the crusty Mac and Cheese?  What about the sounds—the clanking of the plates, the loud voices, the constant hum, the sound of the chairs scraping against the floor—Do you remember the sounds?  Do you remember who sat at what table?  How you felt when it came time for you to pick your seat?  Do you remember what informed your choice?

Even to this day—just two days short of forty-six years since I first walked into the lunchroom at Murray Junior-Senior High School in St. Paul, Minnesota—I remember the feel of that lunchroom  and how I felt as I looked for a place to sit down.

I think such memories are seared in our minds and our hearts because they cut to the core of the questions who’s in and who’s out.

I bet those questions of who is in and who is out have been present in human society since the beginning of time.  I know they were important questions in Jesus’ day—questions that had significant impact on peoples’ lives; questions that made a difference in how people lived; questions that had the power to hurt or to heal.  Life and death kind of questions.

Who’s in?  Who’s out?  The Pharisees answered, “Jews who follow the purity codes are in.”  By that answer they excluded the lame, the blind, the infirm and all who could not afford the price of a sacrificial dove.

The Roman overlords and their minions answered, “The wealthy, the propertied, those who own land and can pay their taxes are in.”  By that answer  they excluded day laborers, slaves and those so poor they survived only by begging.

We, too, have answers to those questions—answers that include and answers that exclude.  Around the world today people are including some and excluding others—decisions that can have deadly consequences.  Shia and Sunni each have answers to the question, “Who’s in and who’s out? as do Israelites and Palestinians. In Sudan, the Janjaweed say they are in and black Africans and those who act to help them are out.  Deadly consequences.

But we don’t have to go so far from home to find folks answering questions that include and by their answer also exclude.  Lines are drawn every day for all sorts of reasons.  Who’s in?  Who’s out?  Some folks draw those lines on the basis of politics others on the basis of possessions.

We even find such lines drawn in our own Anglican Communion.  There are those who say the Episcopal Church is out because we have a gay bishop in our midst.

But Jesus has a different answer to that question of who is in and who is out.  Hear what he has to say:

“When you are invited to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host….But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.  For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

What does Jesus see as that which distinguishes a person?  What does Jesus see as the way to exaltation?  It’s not one’s wealth or power; it’s where and with whom one stands or sits.

“…those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  The Greek word for humble means “low in height or status”.  Think of it, Jesus is asking those who follow him, to take their place with the humble ones, the lowly ones, the low in status.   Jesus is asking those who follow him to take their place with those others would cast out.

But I think there’s more to this Gospel call than just to stand in solidarity with the lowly.

I still clearly remember how I felt that day when I first walked into the lunchroom.  I remember standing with my tray in hand—immobilized really—longing for someone to call my name, longing for someone to invite me to their table.  I needed someone else to make that move, to take that initiative.  I needed someone else to invite me to the table.

Hear what else Jesus says that day at dinner.  “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors….But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”  Jesus is calling his disciples, Jesus is calling us to go out and invite into our midst those who have been excluded from the table.  Jesus is calling us to welcome all who are hungry to God’s great welcome table.

O God, thy table now is spread,

Thy cup with love doth overflow;

Be all thy children thither led,

And let them thy sweet mercies know.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Things Done and Things Left Undone

Rev Julie, host of today’s Friday Five, asks about unfinished things–those things you start and then put aside.

Quilts and bowls and skirts left unhemmed,

My life is filled with unfinished things                          

A stack of magazines waiting for me, and a pile of letters yet to be written-Some dating back to 2010!

There’s filing and stacking and ironing too

Thousands–really–thousands of slides that must be sorted through;                                          

So they can be digitalized, though why I’m not sure!

 

Every so often I get the right prompt:

A deadline I’d be embarrassed to miss

Or maybe a question on Rev Gals’ Friday Five

A nudge that gets me to work

As Rev Julie’s nudge did today

It’s not even 1:00 and look what’s been done:

IMG_2423.jpg

French tarragon and garlic chives now planted in Guadalupe’s garden

She’ll have a mighty tasty feast long before her feast day rolls around.

IMG_2425.jpg

Apples dusted, glass balls clean and gleaming

The cardinal can take a rest.

IMG_2431.jpg

But I can’t yet rest

Those projects have stacked up for months

It’s time to start on a quilt

Or maybe start to finish the book on my bed

It hasn’t been opened since before Advent One!

FullSizeRender                                                                                                                                      

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Resurrection Happens

We’ve all had them.  Both in our individual lives and in our shared life.  Moments of fear, confusion, doubt, deep sadness, frustration.  Times when we’ve been at sixes and sevens.  Times when we’ve not known what to do or even if we could do.  We’ve all been in that place, that space the disciples were living in following Jesus’ death.

Mary Magdalene in her deep sadness asking “What have you done with my Lord?”

The disciples—well ten of them—huddled behind doors locked by fear.

Thomas saying to himself and the others too, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Peter, at sixes and sevens, feeling cooped up, caged in, saying to the others, “I’m going fishing”

We’ve all had them—moments when we wonder “What will become of us?’  “Where is my place in all of this?”  “Where do I fit?”  Sometimes it feels like being stuck in a deep fog; at other times it feels like your flesh will pop out from your skin.  Moments when all you can do is shake your hands in the air.  Moments when you desperately want to wind back the clock.

Like those disciples of long ago, you and I—we, too—are living in just such a moment.  We, too—we as the part of the body of Christ known as Live at Five—are facing a loss; we, too, are staggering in the news that our life together as a Eucharistic community will soon end.

Like those disciples of long ago, we, too, wonder “What will become of us?”  “Where will we go?”  “Where do we fit in the community of St. Michael and All Angels?”  We are all asking these questions.  I bet everyone of us here has asked at least one of these questions.  I surely have.

Perhaps some of us will huddle behind locked doors—like the disciples who didn’t go to Galilee.  Saying to ourselves and to those who ask, “I’m just going wait and see where the Spirit calls.”  And that is a faithful response.  Listening to the voice of the Spirit ought not be sneezed at.

Maybe others will join Peter, saying to themselves and to those who might ask “I’m going fishing” as they return to the place and time they worshipped before they joined this little community gathered around the table.  “You can find me at 9:00 or 11:15 or even 7:30 or maybe Thursday morning.”  That, too, is a faithful response, for following Jesus is not a walk we do alone.

But remember what happens on that early morning by the Sea of Galilee.  After a night of fishing, a night of empty nets—just after daybreak–the disciples look up and see a man standing on the shore. About a football field away from them.  They hear him ask, “Have you no fish?”  “No” they reply.  And then he suggests they try the other side of the boat.

Imagine that.  Imagine fishermen with years of experience, with the kind of body knowledge that comes from long experience, casting their nets in a different way.  It couldn’t have easy for them.  Yet they did it.

They caught a net full of really big fish.  So many big fish that they couldn’t even haul them into the boat.  More than they could ask or imagine!

Like the bright light of a new day, it dawns on one of them that that’s Jesus standing on the shore.  The Risen Lord.  “It is the Lord,” he says to Peter.  “Of course,” the others say to themselves as Peter girds up his loins (and the rest of him too) and swims to shore.  “It is the Lord.”    Off they go.  To the shore.  Trolling a net filled with really big fish.  A net so full they worry if it will hold.

When they get to shore what do they find?  A fire, some fish grilling, and bread baking on the coals.  “Come and eat,” their Lord says to them.”  Resurrection at work.  Right before their very eyes.

Here’s the truth.  The truth about Resurrection.  A truth you and I know from our own lives.  The truth about resurrection at work in human lives.  We know from our own moments of despair and sorrow the sorrow Mary Magdalene felt as she approached the tomb that Easter morning; we know from our own moments of fear like the fear the disciples felt as they huddled behind locked doors; from our moments of doubt and our moments of confusion we know that resurrection happens.  Right before our very eyes.  In our very lives.  Resurrection turning us from sadness into joy.

Almost exactly eleven years ago, I got a rumbling sense in my gut that I had to get home.  I had to be with my mom.  Just ten days before, Tim and I had been there together.  But I needed to get back home.  She had lung cancer.  We’d just gotten her on hospice, but she needed meals brought in.  Amazingly, her neighbors, friends and church folks each took a day.  Thirty days of hot meals and someone checking on her.  When I told her what folks were doing, she said to me, “Really—they’re doing that for me?”

Jesus said, “My peace I give you.  My peace I leave with you.”  You could feel the peace descending on my Mom.  It enveloped her—and me as well.  Resurrection happening right before our very eyes.

The next day she died.  But that’s not the end of the story.  I flew home and returned to work the following Monday—two days before my birthday.  I have never been so sad in all my life.  After work that Monday, I found a package on our porch.  My Mom’s handwriting in the address.  “Happy Birthday!  Love, Mom” the card inside read.  Resurrection happening before my very eyes.

We know it.  Resurrection.  New life.  A brush with the living God.  It happens in your life, in my life and in our life together.  Resurrection happens.  Even now.  In this moment.

Live at Five is being transformed.  We’re on the cusp of something new.  God is at work in our midst turning our tears into laughter, our mourning into joy.  Resurrection happening in our very midst.  Morning breaking on a new day.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Friday Five: Gladdening My Heart

Rev. Julie at Rev Gal Blog Pals writes, “On this, Friday before Holy Week – when our lives will get very busy (more busy…) what are the things which gladden your heart? Which give you strength and sustain you when the going gets tough?”  She goes on to include some things that gladden her heart–a book, a movie, a person, a song, a poem, .

A book that’s gladdening my heart right now–Desiree.  I read it as a teenager and still remember the description of the Stockholm she encountered when she moved to Stockholm with her husband Count Bernadotte.  I wonder if I’ll  see the same Stockholm when I go this summer?

It’s not exactly a heart-gladdening movie but one I really liked–Spotlight.  So glad it got best picture.

Well here’s a song for today.  A song to gladden hearts:    (And here’s a scene to match the words.  A New Mexico morning)IMG_0484

The person who gladdens my heart–the man who just walked through the door and said to me as I was talking to an old friend, “I’ll walk the dogs.”  I do so love my man Tim.

IMG_0875Today, as I look out on Holy Week, I’m finding myself turning back to Ash Wednesday–maybe because I am just finishing my lenten project–a fiber piece inspired by Walter Brueggemann’s poem “Marked by Ashes.”  Today that is my favorite poem.  Here it is:

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.

This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.

This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.

This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home

halfway back to committees and memos,

halfway back to calls and appointments,

halfway on to next Sunday,

halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,

half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,

but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —

we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:

of failed hope and broken promises,

of forgotten children and frightened women,

we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;

we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with

some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes

anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —

you Easter parade of newness.

Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,

Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;

Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.

Come here and Easter our Wednesday with

mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

 

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

 

Taken from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), pp. 27-28.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Habit of Newness

images

The prophet Isaiah says to the people of Israel exiled in Babylon,

“Thus says the Lord…Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing….”

I wonder how the people of Israel uprooted from their homes and homeland, taken captive, and carried off to a foreign land where people worshiped different gods heard those words.

I wonder if they even heard those words at all living as they did in the land of their conquerors. How could they not remember their homeland left in ruins, their loved ones lying dead, their temple destroyed. I imagine that the distant past—the past before the siege and fall of Jerusalem—was one place where they could find peace. I suspect they often found themselves considering the things of old—the good old days.

You and I—we are kin with the people of the exile, the people to whom Isaiah spoke the words of God.

Who among us has not found themselves in exile—cut off from that which we know, that which we love, that which gives us comfort?

Who among us has not found themselves stumbling in a wilderness of the unfamiliar and therefore threatening?

Who among us has not stood in the place of the people of the exile, the Israelites hauled off to Babylon?

Who among us has not, at one time or another in their life, shared their despair and turned back to the glory days of home for comfort and for peace?

I imagine that each of us in this room can look back and remember a time in our lives when we did not believe that God would ever create something new—a time when we saw no way out of the darkness of our days. Maybe a long stretch of unemployment or a hurtful divorce or the loss of a loved one or the aftermath a feared diagnosis delivered.

I suspect that most of us gathered around the altar this evening have a fair acquaintance with that crippling darkness.—either in our own life or in the lives of communities in which we have lived.

I know that here at St. Michael’s there have been more than a few such moments in our shared life—a fire that destroyed the old sacristy and what was then the parish hall; the day we learned that the then Bishop had denied our loan even as this very building was going up. Closer to our shared home—the moment we as a worshipping community learned that Father Daniel—the founder of Live at Five—was leaving St. Michael’s. I can still remember over-hearing a person leaving worship that night saying, “I don’t know what I’ll do.”   I won’t soon forget the feeling of that blanket of despair that draped itself on this community.

And yet….

And yet we know from our own lives, the lives of those we love and the lives of communities in which we have lived, that there is always something new at work far beneath the topsoil of our lives.

Today, on this fifth and last Sunday of Lent,

Today, still reeling from the ugliness and meanness and only lightly-veiled tilt                towards violence that seem to be a part of our current round of elections,

Today, perhaps remembering the sadness that marks the life of someone we love,

we hear the prophet known as Isaiah say to the people of Israel, the people of the exile, the people who sat down by the waters of Babylon and wept, people who despaired of ever regaining their bearings–“Behold, I am doing a new thing, Even now it is springing to light. Do you not perceive it?”

We hear the psalmist sing the promises of God:

Those who sowed with tears/will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed/

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

We hear those words and we wonder, “Can they be true? Dare we hope?”

That’s the thing about God’s newness at work in a human life—often you don’t see it until you look in your rearview mirror.

And yet the newness is there, “being born in us, just when we least believe in it.”1

When I look in my own rearview mirror, I sometimes catch a glimpse of moments of newness of life just when I thought things had fallen apart for good—disasters that seemed to lead to light and new life. I suspect such moments are a part of every life.

I know that St. Michael’s has had such moments— the way the community came together in the aftermath of that fire, the amazing vitality springing up from the necessity of bringing in the money to pay for this house of worship,   and surely not least, the way this community of Live at Five has lived into its ministry of bringing St. Michael’s out into the larger community and bringing the larger community into the worshipping core of St. Michael’s. Who would have thunk it in the dark moments of our life together.

But God has a habit of doing a new thing. The Bible is full of God’s startling acts of newness—it’s bookended by acts of newness—starting with creation and ending with the new Jerusalem. Why would we not expect to find God’s acts of newness in our own lives, in our common life, and in the world in which we live. God is about a new thing.

Like the green blade of grass rising from the wintry soil, God is always at work Eastering our ashen world and our ashen lives . The light of the open tomb overcoming the darkness of the cross.

“Behold,” God says to God’s people, “I am doing a new thing, even now it is springing to light.”

It’s our job to greet that Eastering newness with hopeful hearts and arms wide open to receive God’s next new thing.

1 “Behold, I am Doing a New Thing,” Paul Tillich, from The Shaking of the Foundations, 1955.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors–Or So They Say

A Reflection on Galatians 5: 1-6

(With apologies to Robert Frost)

 

“Good fences make good neighbors,”

or so the saying goes.

Lines we humans draw to separate us from them

and theirs from ours

 

Lines of color

class

and kin

 

“Good fences make good neighbors”

So we keep drawing lines:

lines marking borders between those we like

and those we’d rather just avoid

 

Some as new as yesterday

and

Some going back two thousand years or more

Jew or Greek

slave or free

male or female

circumcised or not

 

Lines demarking who is in

and who is out

whom to trust and

whom to fear

 

Because, we are assured,

“Good fences make good neighbors.”

 

First we draw the lines

and then

we throw up walls—

that keep us safe and keep them in their place.

 

But “something there is that does not like a wall”

Forces of nature conspire

to remove the divides we humans like to build and keep

 

Posts decay, boards rot, stones crumble

the ground remains

unencumbered

and undivided

 

There underneath the detritus of collapsing walls and decaying fences:

The ground in which “we live and move and have our being.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Question of Citizenship

Foxes and hens and enemies of the cross. A question of citizenship—citizenship claimed; citizenship renounced. Sometimes scripture has an uncanny way of shedding light on the looming questions of the day. Such is the case today.

Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who would call it to accounts, defies the powers and principalities of his day and refuses to bow to the lords of fear.

Paul, in a letter to the church in Philippi, reminds those followers of Christ that they are citizens of heaven not subjects of Caesar.  Perhaps raising in their minds the questions that have floated around in my mind this week as I sat with scripture and this weird world in which you and I find ourselves.

Another week of primaries and caucuses and debates and town halls and editorials and sound bites and terrifying tweets as the volume goes up day after day–in almost a direct correspondence to the vituperativeness register.

The apostle Paul pointing out from the sidelines, “Their end is destruction; their god is in their belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things” as the political class—candidates, managers and fans—hurl barbs at one another and at those who would question their behavior.

You and I, we hear all this at a distance. We aren’t bombarded by robocalls and TV ads.   At least not yet. Imagine what it is like to live in an early primary state! Nonetheless the noise is deafening.

There have been times in the last several months when I’ve wanted to step into that Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream”, clasp my hands on my ears and just let out a loud scream or maybe just go back to bed, pull up the covers, and put a pillow over my head..

But the apostle Paul reminds us that screaming is not the way of Christ. Duck and cover is not a faithful Christian response. We are citizens of another realm—citizens of heaven. We follow different laws; we speak a different language; we trade in a different currency; we worship a different God.

The prophet Micah once urged those within earshot to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Laws of living both for the people of Israel and for us, their descendents. When asked about the law and the commandments, Jesus of Nazareth replied, “The greatest commandment is this: love God. The second is like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself.”   Those are the laws of our land—justice, mercy and love of God and neighbor.

In this season of bullying and bombast we are called to speak in a different language—the language of love, for that is our native tongue. Remember what Paul had to say about that language—“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth….”

Ours is the currency of kindness and connection. Citizens of heaven don’t trade in the currency of put downs or insults or stinging barbs. Ours is not a currency backed by hatred or isolation. We don’t build walls; we build bridges!

Ours is not the God of consumption or fear or power over others. Ours is the God of love. We don’t trade in fear. We have no truck with it. Remember “Perfect love casts out fear.”

And yet you and I live in the United States—a country that includes an amendment to its Constitution that provides that “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”   We as citizens of heaven and as citizens of the United States again and again grapple with just what is the role of our faith in our life—our public life and our private life.

Isn’t that the challenge citizens of heaven face wherever they live?

Isn’t that the challenge that surfaced this week in the controversy surrounding Pope Francis’ comment that “a person who thinks only about building walls, whatever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Then again I wonder if all this brouhaha, this dust up over Pope Francis’ comments, isn’t really a false dilemma. You and I and Pope Francis, too, are citizens of heaven. That’s our primary identity. It’s as citizens of heaven that we live and move and have our being. Our Christian vocation includes hearing and seeing and speaking and voting as citizens of heaven. It is our business to live according to those mandates. It is our business to articulate boldly and clearly the laws we follow as citizens of heaven.   As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

As citizens of heaven, we are called to speak out for justice, to speak out for mercy. To speak out in love. To speak out with God.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment