Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chaplain to the pit crew

This blog is not intended to be a record of and forum for commentary on the news in the Anglican Communion or The Episcopal Church. The previous two posts were written as commentary on a post on Mark Harris's Blog, Preludium, which I had found profoundly helpful and moving and courageous, and so I responded through this blog, and accepted the comments which came, most of the posters having found my words helpful.

This post is something entirely different. My Beloved and I have been married for over 27 years. In the first years of our marriage, when I was in my mid thirties, he introduced me to road racing.

Now, I cannot abide watching Nascar type, oval track racing. Not my cup of tea. However, road racing, which was originally run on the streets of towns like Le Mans and Watkins Glen, is absolutely my passion. Formula 1 grand prix racing is the only sport I can endure - and enjoy! - watching on television.

Back more than twenty-five years ago, Newlin took me to the road races at Summit Point West Virginia. We camped in a tent for the weekend, in the woods, and there I fell in love, with the cars, with the track itself, with the drama of an auto race the whole of which no can ever see, except from the air, the thrill of not knowing if your favorite will survive the part of the race you can't see, the canvas-ripping scream of the 12 cylinder Ferrari's, the ground pounding sound of the Can Am V-8's, the sound of a hive of angry bees made by the small bore engines just screaming their little hearts out as they drive down the straight. The magic of the insider language - pit row, the paddocks, the esses, the chicanes, the back straight - oh I can't wait to get up to Lime Rock Park here in Connecticut soon.

There is nothing, for me, like posting myself on the infield hill overlooking the esses at Lime Rock. How many times have I drawn that wonderful curve, and the tree to the left of it, just in the center, and it was there I learned how to capture cars racing around those esses with a little point and shoot camera, with which panning is absolutely impossible and absurd.

But in August, ah August, while I am on vacation, I will spend as much of my time as I can with Newlin at Watkins Glen International Speedway, where with a proper Nikon, I learned that I have a natural gift for panning and shooting race cars. Road racing had its start in Watkins Glen on the streets of the town. You can follow the posted signs today to drive that same course, and have your heart chilled by your imagination as you approach a bridge the crossing of which at race speeds must have been daunting.

Watkins Glen and Lime Rock, my two absolute favorite road race courses. Lime Rock, a short, tight course, a real challenge for drivers used to the longer courses like Watkins Glen. And the mystique of Watkins Glen with its guardrails painted "Watkins Glen Blue". I have had the delight to be a passenger on both tracks, driving at race speed. On Lime Rock, I was driven by a former race driver and instructor for Skip Barber. 110 miles per hour on some of the tightest curves around, he told Newlin, "I kept waiting for her to throw up, but she never did, so I just went faster!"

At Watkins Glen, passenger in a Ferrari, averaging 140 mph, for 7 laps, twenty minutes, on the weekend before my last chemo therapy treatment. Absolute triumph!

Newlin is a free lance photographer. His specialty is photographing high performance cars driving at top performance on road tracks - Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, Pocono, New Hampshire. You can find his website at (hope I've followed my linking instructions correctly! This is an experiment.) Newlin is well respected in the field. Anyway, he is at Watkins Glen this week, and he has been encouraged to ask if I, your humble correspondent, might give the invocation for the vintage festival the weekend after Labor Day. Can you just imagine how thrilled I am? Even to be considered...gosh.

Not to go all theological on you, but I wish, sometimes, that I could get that much passion for God or Jesus as I have when I think of road racing, and Lime Rock, and Watkins Glen, and the people and the cars they drive. I have to believe that this is how I love God, through those things which delight God's creatures. I have to believe that my delight is, to God, as much worship as what I do on a Sunday morning, which I also love and in which I also delight.

God Loves You

In a comment in the thread below, a writer wrote that God loves him too much not to change him. I agree, in theory. However, I do not agree in the general.

I agree that the statement is true for that one person. However, the implication of the statement, in the context of the thread and the comment, was that God loves gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual persons too much not to change them, change being, I assume, into persons affectioned only to those of the opposite sex, and content with the sex/gender in which they were brought up, or, if remaining other than that, into persons content to live a celibate life.

The commentor knows very well that men and women all over the world, finding themselves not in the acceptable category of persons affectioned only to those of the opposite sex have, for all time, begged and pleaded with God to make them otherwise so they will fit in, be acceptable before their fellow human beings, and not have to drink the bitter cup of the outcast. Most of those fervent prayers have gone unanswered, if we are to believe the premise in the first paragraph above.

Or, the men and women praying to be made acceptable have not gotten their prayers right enough, or their repentance firmly enough, to warrant a positive response from God.

Or, if it is true that God loves us too much not to change us, then God does not love LGBT men and women, or at least the ones whose prayers for change have not been answered.

There is, of course, another way to understand the apparent silence of God: That those who are praying for change in their affections or the body in which they find themselves are being told by God that they are fine just the way they are, that they are acceptable to God even though scripture seems to say the opposite (in which case, the scriptures that are being used as the warrant for isolating LGBT men and women, having been written by human beings and not God, are just plain wrong, even though the big picture of the scriptures is inspired by God), and that God is drinking that bitter cup with them until the day the rest of the world wakes up.

And, that the change God is making in them is to acceptance of themselves, and acceptance of the love God bears for them just as they are.

This post in no way, however, has anything to do with God trying to change people who are involved in criminal activity, rapists, paedophiles, would-be world emperors, people who act on their hate, and so on. LGBT persons are not in this category of those needing change simply by virtue of being LGBT. Criminal and violent and anti-social actions are equal opportunity actions. They are found in the mixed sex as well as the same sex affectioned alike. That's a whole other story.

And even to these others, God says, I love you. If there is any change to be wrought in any person, it will be within the context of those words from God, I love you.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nothing and No One is Unclean

Over at Mark Harris’s blog, Preludium, he has posted a thread titled “We rise to play a greater part”. I have no idea how to make a link. I will email and ask my webmaster to edit this post in order to add the link to the thread on Preludium. [Link added. The webmaster]

Let me say right up front, Mark has said all I would want to say, and probably better, about why I believe sex between people of the same sex, who are in loving, committed relationships is no more sinful than sex between me and my male spouse.

At this moment, there are sixteen comments, most favorable and supportive of Mark’s article, one obvious troll, and another who may or may not be a troll but who asks for the scriptural warrants for what Mark writes and what I believe. I say may or may not be a troll because we have given these warrants before, ad nauseum to no avail, but maybe the commenter has never seen them before. Maybe she is sincere.

The reason our scriptural warrants carry no weight with those on the other side of the sexuality debate is that we do not read the Bible the same way; we do not have the same purpose when we engage the scriptures.

I read the scriptures as the collected stories of the people of God and their experiences with the one true God. Scripture is not the final word; scripture is the first word. It points to the final Word, which is a “who”, not a “which” – Jesus, a person. When I read scripture, I am often convicted of failing to love enough, my neighbor, my God, myself. I often find the understanding of the ancient people who wrote these things, and their experiences of God, are far different from mine. They cause me to reflect on my understanding and experience, and serve sometimes as a corrective, sometimes as a reminder that I owe my very life – literally – to God as I have experienced God, as the love of Jesus and the breath of the Holy Spirit, and to honor that experience.

The scriptures are full of things that are good for humankind in any era. They are also full of things that are culturally imprisoned in the time in which they were written. Who among you would refrain from wearing fabrics of mixed fibers, or refuse to fight to free a slave today? Yet mixed fiber fabrics are proscribed, and slavery is assumed as a natural state.

Let me take a tiny break here and say that I am not writing this to convince anyone. There is a request for the scriptural warrants for what Mark and I believe. To baldly give them, without stating how I approach scripture, would buy into an alternative way of approaching scripture from mine, a way that mines scripture for proofs, for rules to follow and rules to hold against others. This is not the way I read scripture, so we will be talking at cross purposes, even as I give the warrants that direct me in supporting the same degree of acceptance, appreciation and support of loving same sex couples as is accorded to mixed sex couples.

In short, I read scripture for the big picture; I appreciate the details; I follow Jesus, not words; I use the words to follow him only when necessary. I do not expect to convince anyone who does not agree with me. I write for those who are hungering and thirsting to hear that they are beloved by God, they and those they love, just as they are.

And now, to do exactly what those who disagree with me do.

The texts.

Mark 2:27.

Jesus is caught letting his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath, because they are hungry. The Pharisees say, see, he lets his disciples break the law! Jesus quotes back to them scriptures where David himself broke the law to feed his companions. Then Jesus says,

“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

The Sabbath is a gift from God, a day of rest when the rest of the world is working their slaves and their animals and themselves relentlessly without thought for spending time with one another and with God. It was made for our good, a counter-cultural, revolutionary act, to stop for one day, do no work, have your slaves and animals do no work, do nothing to create, just bask in the glory of creation and of having been created.

However, the gift of Sabbath as law, something for which we were created to keep and obey, violates the very giftedness of Sabbath. Therefore, law can only kill the spirit both of the law itself and the human being who is compelled to keep it. Whereas, keeping Sabbath out of love for God, humankind, and all creation, is a giving and taking of gift between us and God.

If you are hungry, go ahead and pick grain on the Sabbath. God will not smite you for it.

In the same way, the Levitical laws, and those portions of St. Paul which are read as condemning same sex relationships in all times for all cultures, have become death rather than life to people who the writers of these laws never even considered possible – monogamous, committed, loving partners affectioned one to another who at the same time have rich faith lives before God in Christ.

Luke 10:25 and following: The Good Samaritan

It is better to go through life defiled and unclean than to use the law to make fences that keep out the neighbors to whom you don’t want to have to show unconditional love, fences like “love the sinner, hate the sin”.

A lawyer plays games with Jesus, trying to find out where the boundaries, the fence posts are beyond which he does not have to love one’s neighbor. Jesus tells a story.

A man is beaten up, stripped and robbed. He is left for dead. For all the priest and the levite know, he IS dead. Even if he isn’t, without any clothes to indicate what kind of person he is – God forbid, he might be a shepherd, one of the untouchables! – they will not go near him. They will not risk defilement for the sake of common care for a fellow human being.

The only person who will do so is a Samaritan, himself one of the unclean ones the priest and levite wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole even if he were dying. The unclean do what God would do, the loving thing, better than the righteous, those who keep the law.

The God figure in this story is the unclean Samaritan, God who has made him/herself unclean, in Jesus, to save us from ourselves, our sin of fence-building, our sin of fear of God – fear that God will destroy us, yes, if we don’t keep the rules and get everything right, but even more, fear that God might love my hated enemy just as much as God loves me, without any of the conditions scripture gives us a warrants to say “love the sinner, hate the sin”, which is just another way to hate one another.

Tough love is not love.

And now, the text to which the questioner on Mark’s blog herself alludes when she mentions eating bacon,

Acts 10:1-16 Nothing, and no one, is unclean.

It is so tempting to read this story and say, with a sigh of relief, oh thank God, it’s only about what we eat. But remember, that is not the way I read scripture. Already, I have seen more in the Sabbath passage than just keeping Sabbath or not. I have read in the Good Samaritan story that it is better for me to become defiled and unclean before God, if embracing LGBT relationships will do that, and that, in fact, that is just what Jesus is inviting us to do.

I read scripture, initially, especially if it is a story I know almost by heart, just as it is written, the plain bald words on the paper – in the case of Acts 10:1-16, a story about how Peter was taught that no food is unclean, so he can go and visit Cornelius in his house. I miss the “therefore”: Therefore, Cornelius is not unclean, nor is his family.

One day I was reading this passage, as assigned in the lectionary (the rotation of readings of scripture over a 2-3 year period) and suddenly it was as though scales had fallen from my eyes. I was not reading the Bible looking for warrants abrogating the Levitical code or the passages in the Pauline writings that were being applied to gay and lesbian persons in this day and culture. I was just doing my morning devotions.

Suddenly, this reading became much more than about an old taboo we had long given up in Christianity, the taboo against certain foods. Suddenly the passage became real, and alive, here, and now. NOTHING is unclean! NO ONE is unclean! Jesus has set us free in ways I never even expected.

I was very excited. At about the same time, I started to read of others who had had the same revelation about this passage.

And I also had to endure this truth: Nothing in heaven or in earth, in scripture or experience of God in Christ Jesus, will dissuade those who are convinced, or determined to believe, that loving relationships between persons of the same sex are just as holy as is mine with my husband.

The council in Jerusalem, in Luke’s time, didn’t get Peter’s experience, either. They right away built a fence around this law-blowing vision. Read Acts 11:1 and following. Peter has to justify to the council why he went to gentiles. He tells them the vision. The council is silenced.

Later, the council has to give up circumcision of the gentiles as a requirement for becoming a follower of Jesus. So they build the fence: anyone who does right is okay; gentiles can become Christians but they must abstain from things that are polluted.

The fence becomes the law. Humans point to the fence in order not to have to live the mind blowing, law blowing vision. It is not because it is in the scriptures that our fellow humans continue to harp on about the sinfulness of gay and lesbian relationships. It is because these fellow Christians don’t want to see anything different. Humans choose the fence over the vision because it suits us to do so.

There is my answer to the questioner on Mark Harris’s blog, Preludium. It will not convince anyone who does not want to be convinced. I know that. Instead, I have given an account of why I am where I am in my faith journey with God in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Do not be afraid.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Give me strength!

This morning after church I received a flurry of printed material. One parishioner had been passing on to me his blog notes on a book called Living your Strengths by Albert, L. Winseman, Donald O. Clifton and Curt Liesveld, Gallup Press. I had asked to see the book and this morning he presented me with my very own brand new copy. I had tried to get this from Borders but it came up "out of print", so I was surprised and delighted to receive this new one.

Then, in the hallway, a woman parishioner gave me the April 2008 Gourmet magazine, with the recipe for a pasta dish pictured on the front, about which she had told me on Wednesday night. It did indeed look delicious and I was glad for the chance to copy the recipe.

She also loaned me a brand new book by Sarah Sentilles, called A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit. Previously the same woman had loaned me The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature by Jonathan Rosen, author of The Talmud and the Internet. My friend did not mind that I was not yet finished with the bird book, which I had received over a month ago, by the way.

I am a voracious reader. I always have been. You can see by just this smattering of titles that I am very catholic (in the "universal" definition of the word "catholic") in my reading. Just last night I had finished an Anne Perry Victorian murder mystery called Buckingham Palace Gardens. The riches I was handed this morning will satisfy me for awhile.

I did two house blessings this afternoon, came home, made some tea, and immediately went online to take the Clifton Strengthsfinder (trademarked), to find out what my strengths are, before beginning to read Living Your Strengths. I can be very obedient, and when a book suggests I take the survey before reading, and my secret code is inside the dust cover, making the whole thing very alluring, I obey.

My Clifton Strengthsfinder Signature Themes are:

In short, I'm inquisitive. I like to think. I am fascinated by ideas. I love to learn. I can sense the emotions of those around me.

So tomorrow I will take the book to work with me and make it part of my Monday office day. Monday is a paperwork day for me, and I don't have much to do this week, so I'll use that time to read, on behalf of my congregation, of course.

The Gourmet magazine, however, I will have to see if I can find for myself and buy, because having paged through to the cover recipe, I passed other recipes I want and found that this particular issue was chock full of recipes I want, which is not always the case. Might as well own it as photocopy nearly the entire thing!

I've read a good deal of the birding book, the first and last chapters and those dealing with the search for the "extinct", but maybe not, nobody knows for sure, ivory billed woodpecker. Those of you who have read my earliest post will know that I have been an avid bird watcher for 27 years now. The book is wonderful. However, it deals with the, what I consider shameful, past of bird identification, the "bird in hand" origins, which was the basis for Audobon's watercolors. Birds were "collected" by the thousands, identified, catalogued, classified, and "collection", by which was meant killing, or catching even if it led to a bird's death, were the only methods accepted for identification. I've avoided much of the book because I already know way too much about that and I'm not sure I want all the details.

However, I just may have to own the Sarah Sentilles book, A Church of Her Own. Ms. Sentilles writes my truth. Read this paragraph from the Introduction:

"Several years ago, I heard Harvard Law School professor Lani Guinier deliver a speech in which she compared the struggles of marginalized groups in institutions to canaries in coal mines. The experiences of marginalized groups alert us to the racism, classism, misogyny, and bigotry in our world, revealing that there is something toxic in our atmosphere. But, Guinier pointed out, unlike the miners who heeded the canaries' warnings, we blame our version of the canaries, not the noxious gases."

In the church, we blame the women for wanting to become ordained persons in the first place. We blame feminism. We blame civil rights. And we do so claiming the warrant of God Almighty Himself.

In the Anglican Communion, those churches who have their roots in the Church of England, two women recently were named bishops in New Zealand and Australia. That raised up once again the firestorm against "women in orders", women like me who have had the audacity to believe ourselves called by God to lead the church as ordained persons. We are intentionally insulted by the presence of "flying bishops", appointed to protect those who are against the ordination of women. We are expected to make allowances for those who will refuse ever to make allowances for us. We endure the accusation that we are not Christians because we have taken ordination vows. We have been told, "A woman's ordination vows don't make her a priest because she is not of the proper substance. You can baptise a horse, but it doesn't make it human." We are expected to accept this state of affairs with equanimity, like good liberal girls.

The church is the only institution which is allowed to be openly racist, homophobic, and sexist. It is exempt from the law, and it takes as its warrant Holy Scripture. God said it. Therefore it is so for all time, never to be changed, infallible from before time began.

As Ms. Sentilles writes, we can try to argue away the scriptures that give the warrant for eternal, suffocating, abusive bigotry, or we can say yes the scripture says these things and we are going to be ordained anyway. When we do the latter, we are calling all of scripture, faith, and relationship with God into question.

Good. These things need to be called into question. In the Episcopal Church, and until recently in the Anglican Communion, scripture was not the final word; it was the first word. Jesus is the final Word, and the working out of the implications of that Word in the faith communities since his life, death and resurrection are the continuing, valid story of that living Word.

Lest you think that women's ordination is what began the unraveling of the old wine skins and the creation of new ones, the challenge to slavery predates women's ordinations. The challenge to racism, after the end of slavery deepened the unraveling. Women's ordinations is not the last word in this continuing creation of new wine skins or the making of new wine, either. We aren't waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with the end of slavery, the death of racism, or the death of sexism. Slavery, racism and sexism are only three of the forms in which the sin of patriarchy manifests itself.

Scripturally bolstered and warranted homophobia, masquerading as "love for the sinner, hate for the sin", is part of that package. I am sworn, and am determined, to see the end of the legalized practice of homophobia in the church in my lifetime. I wish I could say I will live to see hearts and minds changed before I die, but I'm not that optimistic. However, I would like my church, The Episcopal Church International, to stand up and proclaim that whatever the cost, we will no longer deny ordination or marriage or full inclusion to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered persons. Of course, I'm talking about a church which is still dominated by men clergy and bishops, and I'm not sanguine about their desire to stick their necks out. I praise and truly admire the male clergy and bishops who do.

I am a Christian. I am following my Lord, Jesus Christ, to the best of my ability to do so. Regardless of what scriptures say to the contrary, that is what I am doing. There are days I wonder if it is all worth it. But then I remember things like the first day a little girl in a parish church in the Diocese of Easton in Maryland came forward with the collection plates. She was grinning from ear to ear. She had just seen her first woman presider, me, and she couldn't get enough of the sight.

It is for you, child, that I and my sisters and brothers continue on. God willing, I will continue to do so to my dying day.

Monday, April 14, 2008



“What is that she has tucked in her sock?” I wondered.

She was a big woman. She was sitting in an armchair in the cafĂ© at Border’s, reading a Rick Steve’s travel guide of London. If she got out of the chair, she probably stood 5’ 8”. She wasn’t fat, she was what I’d call sturdy.

She was probably closer to my age – in her sixties. Her face was lined along the jowl, belying the short, curly brown hair that didn’t have a single streak of gray in it. Dyed, maybe.

She had the look of a woman who was self contained, forceful, knew what she was about. She was unconcerned that she was in public, often looked out the window on the other side of the room and commented with her companion on whatever it was they were seeing, the two of them observing as though unobserved themselves. If they knew I was taking notes on what I saw in them, they didn’t show it. The woman had the bearing of someone who would have a small dagger tucked in the top of her no-nonsense sock.

She wore a pea soup green wool jacket over a v necked red wool sweater, black jeans, black boot shoes, the kind of boot that ends at the ankle, and ankle socks in wide bands of black and gray.

As she sat with her feet planted on the floor, there was a gap between the hem of her jeans and the top of her sock. There, poking out of the outside of her right sock, nearest me, was something with a thin, silver metal edge. What was it? A change purse? A tiny dagger? There was no way to know. I could only guess.

But wait – what was that peeking out from under the hem of her jeans? A tattoo! Not one of those really old ones that has faded to shades of washed out blue. This one still had some vibrancy left to the reds in the design. So, not a remnant of college from forty years ago. One more bit of evidence of a woman who made her own choices based on what she wanted for herself. I could not make out the design. It was only the end of a decorative curve.

There she sat in Borders, reading a tour guide, comfortably resting one hand on her thigh, the other with a finger marking her place in the drooping book, while she and her friend, gazed purposefully out the window, making occasional observations. A woman not to be messed with, who sported a tattoo, and a secret of silver tucked in her sock.


Man and woman each
created in the image and likeness of God.
The creation found by God to be good
becomes, to man, something spoiled,
something soiled.
The belief becomes law.
The fall is required.
The Demon owns our souls.
Only blood, the blood of the spotless one,
will satisfy Him.
The belief is required.
The atonement becomes law.
The man who loved
beyond law
beyond requirement
becomes divine.
The Deity/Man becomes law.
The belief is required.

What if –
God still sees creation good,
man unsoiled,
even by our worst sins
against God, and creation, and
one another.
What if –
there is, really, nothing that
can separate us from the love
of God.
Not tough love.
Suffering love,
that will not punish
but instead, raise us from the dead,
from the death we wish on ourselves,
on one another.
What if –
there is no vengeance
there is no judgment
there is only justice,
and mercy,
and their Name is Love.

But no –
that can’t be.
The evil must suffer
for the suffering they cause.
But who of us has not caused suffering?
Who, then, can escape this justice,
an eye for an eye?

Even the spotless one
was held accountable by the law,
to the law,
and he broke it to pieces,
shattered the gates of Hell,
set everyone free,
made that place uninhabitable,
even for the Demon,
who now has no home,
no place to hold our souls in thrall.
We are set free even before we are born.

And still we are afraid –
what if it is not true?
(Thursday, February 21, 2008)


The gardens are no longer fallow, at least two of them aren’t. In the front garden, in a corner of the yard, against the fence, I planted a hydrangea.

This hydrangea is a homage to one I left behind in Pennsylvania. We had gone to Pennsylvania to help Jesus raise a dying congregation from the dead. We arrived on Easter weekend. I bought a potted white hydrangea from a garden stand near the church. I was very happy to be in that place, called to serve that tiny congregation.

I placed the hydrangea on the front porch of the rectory, which itself stood in the front yard of the church, to the left of it, down a little hill, under a tall maple tree. I remembered to water the hydrangea a few times. But I soon forgot. The next time I remembered the plant, it had dried up. I watered it again, hoping maybe it was still alive under the dirt, but no, it was well and truly dead.

I’ve never been able to throw dead plants in the garbage. This one I dropped, pot and all, into a shallow well made in front of one of the backyard basement windows, and I forgot it.

May was rainy. I think it rained every day in May that year. Eventually the weather broke. I was in the back yard on a sunny day when something green caught the corner of my eye, in a place where there should be nothing growing. I looked, and it was the hydrangea. Its leaves were big, and green, and lush, and I’ll be damned, that plant was alive!

When the ground was able to be dug up, I planted that hydrangea in the center of the garden. The next spring, it bloomed, big white blooms. I left it behind, when the church closed and Newlin and I moved to Connecticut to serve another church. For all I know, it’s still there in the middle of what was once my garden. A white hydrangea.

The hydrangea in our current front yard is blue. I planted pansies around it, and I sowed larkspur seeds to take over when the pansies are gone.

In the back yard, where last year there were zinnias, I planted out two kinds of lettuce seedlings, and seeded in rocket (arugula) and radishes. I have herb plants to go in that patch when it gets warmer – thyme, and two rosemary plants to replace the one that died over the winter. There will also be a compact bush cucumber, a jalapeno plant or two, maybe some other peppers, and some big, Italian borlotto beans – yum! But no tomatoes this year. I still can’t stand tomatoes, post chemo. (If IT reads this, maybe she can explain?)

Against the fence, there will be nasturtiums. In the cracks of the walk, I'll tuck in creeping thyme.

Lest you think I have forgotten the zinnias, they will be in the garden along the driveway. Just zinnias. Nothing else. A narrow, long plot that will make it easier for me to get to the blooms for cutting.

Before things start to take off in the gardens, I hope to find out how to post photos so you can see for yourself. But maybe, just maybe you can let your imagination paint pictures of gardens on the walls of your mind. Maybe that will be better than any photos I might post in the weeks to come.

Christ is risen; Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Your face, Adonai, will I seek" II - an Explication or Midrash

I have been asked to explain what I mean when I say I am seeking the face of God. I use this phrase frequently and it's only fair that I should be asked about it and that I should explain myself.

But before you read on, you must read Psalm 27, preferably in the Episcopal Church's 1977 Book of Common Prayer, for it is this version which captured me oh so many years ago now. However, holding this against the NRSV translation will be intriguing as well.

In the first verse, we read (in the BCP version) "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?"

It has to be over twenty years ago now when I first started to unpack certain parts of my early life. In others like me, similar events had driven them to give up God completely: for them, there is no God, for it is not possible that there should be such a God as would allow the unwarranted horrors that life and humans can visit on a person.

But me, I knew that God was real. Why, I don't know, but that knowledge drove me to wrestle with God. I could do that because I believed and believe verse 1 of Psalm 27: Adonai is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? Adonai is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

Whom shall I fear? No one, not even the most high God Almighty. And so, I took my anger and my complaint and the abandonment felt by my brothers and sisters to the source.

Verses 5-6 of Psalm 27 read: One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life; To behold the fair beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

I wanted the struggle. I also wanted the reward: Peace. The Peace which passes understanding. I want, at the end of it all, to dwell in the heart of God all the days of my life. I want to be able to gaze on the very face of God even though the Hebrew Scriptures tell us that to do so is certain death. (However, for a refutation of this threat, find for yourself and read the story of St. Seraphim and his disciple, who together saw the face of God in one another through the power of the Holy Spirit. For she who wonders if my search for Jesus in the faces of those I meet every day is different from seeking the face of God, the answer is, No, it is all part and parcel.)

So, I wanted, and want, a real life relationship with the otherwise cardboard God I encounter in religion. Not the pat phrases, like "God has a purpose for everything," or, "God has a plan". None of that, please. But real life: God, you are responsible for the evil on earth for you permit it. Now what are you going to do about it and how shall you and I relate, given that assumption? I want the struggle and the joy, the peace and the restlessness.

And, God help me, I have gotten what I desired, or at least I have begun to see that I am at the beginning of what I desired so many years ago. But I digress. ( ! )

My complaint against God is this: Verse 7-8 of Psalm 27 read, "For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock. Even now he lifts up my head above my enemies round about me."

I said, God, you lie. You did not keep me and my brothers and sisters safe. To this day you do not. Instead, you appear to leave it up to us humans to do the right thing by each other, but you know we don't. So you leave Jesus, who hangs on the cross in our terrors and pain as well as being raised to our joy and delight, screaming on the cross into eternity, "Why have you forsaken me?" even though he has been raised from the dead. I do not understand this. And I will not buy the, "It is too hard for me. I leave it to you" bit. You didn't create me that way.

And so, I began my quest, which I describe this way: I am tracking down God, tracking God to his lair, and when I find him I will drag him out by the collar and shake him and say to him, face to face, "What the hell do you think you're doing here? Don't you know these are people's lives you're ****ing aroung with?"

"Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call" (Psalm 27:10a) And God did. With my whole being I felt, heard, sensed, that this is my charge; that it is this for which I was made. "You speak in my heart and say, 'Seek my face.' Your face, LORD, will I seek." But not a gentle seeking; rather, one that honors the totality of God, the whole God, the triune God.

I am not looking for proof of the existence of God. I already know, with a depth that is almost terrible, that God is. I am seeking a whole, and holy, real relationship. One in which I stand, not grovel; one from which I fear no retribution for my effrontery; a face to face, honest relationship.

"What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!" (verse 17) Ah yes, that is the question. I have no answer for you yet. I see occasions of God's goodness, but it resolves nothing; it just makes the "Why?" even greater, although it gives me occasions of rest from my quest.

"O tarry and await the LORD's pleasure; be strong and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the LORD." (verse 18) Well, I am not waiting patiently, but I am waiting, faithfully. I believe the promise, that my heart shall find comfort. But it will not be comfort as we have understood it. Rather, it shall be the true meaning of the word "comfort": a strengthening, a fortifying, for the continued wrestling, and the quest for the face of God. Adonai is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"Your face, Adonai, will I seek"

My first post on this blog was about the sighting of a hawk in my back yard, an immature red shouldered hawk from about 30 feet away, consuming a sparrow it had just killed. The hawk returned a few days later, but was frightened away by the arrival of Newlin, my life partner.

Now hawk sightings in the sky over our house are not uncommon. Usually they are red tailed hawks, which are adapting nicely, thank you very much, to urban life, and sharpies (sharp shinned hawks). The over abundance of sparrows in our yard makes for good feeding.

However, it is not so common to see a northern goshawk. In fact, I've only seen goshawks once in my life, on a birding trip, in Millington, Michigan on May 25th, 1990. There was a nest in Arthur Latham Memorial Park there and our guide knew where to find it. We observed two baby goshawks, and, briefly, the parents. Not a good idea to hang around a long time, the guide said. To be attacked from behind by an angry goshawk parent is like being hit in the back of the head with a bowling ball.

Well, since the sightings of the red shouldered hawk I have seen a northern goshawk twice. The first time it was flying over the house liesurely enough for me to be certain it was not a really large cooper's hawk (like a sharp shinned but larger). But five days ago, it perched in the tall tree in a neighbor's back yard, overlooking mine. I saw it fly in. I saw it perch. And it sat there for several minutes.

Newlin and I were in the car. We watched for some time. Then I slowly got out of the car to be able to see it without the windshield in the way. I thought, maybe it will stay there long enough for me to get the field glasses and really look at it, gaze on it, close up. But no. It let me stand there for a few moments, then, taking its own good time, it lifted off and I was able to watch it fly - beat, beat, glide - over and behind the houses, and down Ohio toward Main St.

I used the first sighting of the red shouldered hawk as the framework for a sermon. The sermon wasn't about hawks. In fact it was about wishing I could gaze on Jesus in the same way I gazed on that hawk, and on my failure to follow my own preaching by seeing Jesus in the faces of the people around me. But that was a challenging sermon, so the people heard, instead, that the sermon was about the hawk.

And that was not a bad thing. It gave the people an opportunity to share their own joyous and wondrous experiences of birds. In fact, they were commenting even weeks later. One such person told me about an article in the local newspaper about a goshawk hanging around the Route 7 connector. That was when I knew for certain that really large accipiter I'd seen in the air (accipiters are the hawk family in which the sharpies, coopers and goshawks belong) was a goshawk. The tree sighting last week clinched it. (These things are important in the birding world, a world in which originally the only trustworthy identifications were from those birds one harvested by killing and collecting.)

For a very long time now I have been on a quest; I am seeking the face of God. I desire to see God face to face. I have a few bones to pick with God, about which I'll write later. I go through earnest times of prayer, hoping to conjur up the diety and have it give an account of its failures with humankind. I also go through times when I don't feel like praying, or even just plain refuse to pray, but I still desire, in those times, for God to come out of hiding and give an account.

But as I write this, and recall that earlier sermon "about the hawk", I am reminded that I see God when I see hawks. God's presence is recalled to me in every hawk sighting. There is no accounting, except the life and power and freedom of those great birds, and their cousins the eagles. Maybe that's enough. Maybe that's all the glimpse of God I'm ever going to get. I may fail miserably in my desire to be able to see Jesus in the faces of the people I serve, and in the grocery store check out when I am frustrated by delays, and in the car when I am consumed by road rage.

But in this one thing I do not fail: I see the face of God in hawks, and the more hawks I see, the more I see of, and know, God.