Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sightings at Grace

If you come to Grace at around 8:00 in the morning, you will find a lone Asian woman in the area outside the office entrance. She comes here after her run to do her cool-downs, her tai chi and her stretches. You will see her using the trees as natural gym equipment.

Meanwhile, with school out, sightings of children on the parking lot labyrinth have increased.

In the afternoon, you might just catch a young couple, sitting on a marble bench under the trees.

Grace is surrounded by multiple-unit dwellings - houses turned into apartments - with little privacy and little room for doing the things many of us take for granted - sitting under a tree, doing our exercises, running around, even courting.

While churches with dwindling financial resources are scurrying around trying to find money to stay alive, I still dream of ways to be an integral part of the neighborhood, ways that never will translate into money or survival.

I dream of having the outside doors open all day long, all weather, with access to the bathrooms and refreshments - water, juice, coffee, tea - available to anyone who just wanders onto the property or who stays to enjoy the setting.

What if there was just a cooler with bottles of water on ice, sitting under the trees, all day, every day? "Help yourself!" it would say. What if, while I am away, someone came and unlocked the parking lot entrance, near the green railing where the Asian woman does her exercises, and propped the door open, with a sign that says, "Restrooms here!".

What if I didn't spend my vacation away at all, but made my dream come true? Would anyone join me? I wonder...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Best wishes and congratulations

This blog and its owner is delighted by the reports of gay and lesbian marriages in New York State yesterday, the first of many couples who might just save marriage for heteros with their passion for commitment and constancy. God bless all of you and your unions!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sermon for Pentecost 6


Proper 12, Pentecost 6, July 24, 2011

Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The Reverend Lois Keen

I love this story about Jacob and Laban. Jacob, the sneak, Jacob, the manipulator, the trickster, is out-tricked by Laban!

All through this part of Genesis Jacob and Laban trade trick for trick. And Jacob the Trickster is the one to whom the people of Israel, the Jews, look back on as the father of them all.

In fact, most of the heroes of scripture are at the same time deeply flawed. Yet God loves them and upholds them and works salvation through them.

It says something about a people, in this case the Jews, that they don’t try to clean up their heroes but let the warts show for all the world to see, to the glory of God.

Yes, you heard me. Our flaws, your flaws, give glory to God. The flaws of Jacob and Rahab and Tamar and David and Bathsheba and Solomon and Jonah and the prophets, all their flaws glorify God. For it is God’s love for them, warts and all, that proves to us that God alone saves, God alone reigns, God alone decides the value of a person. And if God wants to value a harlot or a trickster or an adulterer or a cranky, rebellious, disobedient prophet, then God will do so.

And God does do it! Over and over again. It is from within this flawed, sinful, life that God chooses to send the Messiah, the redeemer, the savior of the world.

Look at the parable of the dragnet, at the end of today’s Gospel. There is a tradition reading of this parable, the plain reading, that says that good and bad people will live together until the end of time when they will be sorted out and the bad people will be burned up in eternal fire.

There is a less traditional, but in some places popular reading, that says the good and bad in us will live side by side until we are judged, at which time the dross, the bad, will be burned out of us, we will be refined, and only the good God sees in us will endure.

I see in this parable that the dragnet is the lives of each of us, as well as the life of all of us together, and in that dragnet God takes us, individually and together, as we are, and uses whatever we are to advance the ultimate reign of God. For God alone judges truly. God alone knows the human heart, and the life that has gone into shaping the human soul.

See how much God loves and values each soul. Even the smallest, cramped, shriveled soul can, like a tiny seed of mustard, contribute to the reign of God, and only God knows how. We are left to take it on faith.

Together, even the smallest of souls can, in God’s economy, if God chooses, leaven enough flour to make a loaf of bread the size of this planet.

The tradition reading of the parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price is that we are to see the reign of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, as so great a treasure that we will give our all to obtain it, to be part of it. We are to pray and work for the kingdom, give ourselves away in order to possess it. God’s kingdom is to be prized beyond anything we can possess or imagine. This is one true reading.

The much less traditional reading, which is mine, is that God loves and values us and all creation so much that God has given up and sold everything to possess us just as we are. All of us.

We are so valuable, that, if necessary, God would steal us and hide us until God could purchase us. We are so valuable that God searches all creation until each of us is found and bought. And the price was God’s most precious possession: The only begotten Child of God, the birth, life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, born of a human woman, into a human family, in a specific place and time, to be given away for the sake of us all, and raised from death as the seal on the covenant, the promise that not only this one life, but all life is too precious to be lost in the end.

It is tempting to think that the merchant, searching for fine pearls, is God seeking only those souls fine enough and good enough to buy. That puts us back in the place of judge. We are not qualified to make that judgment. And we will continue to make those judgments because we are not God, we are human, with all sorts of good and not so good and even bad things mixed up in us, even the best of us, until God sorts it all out.

This is why, in our Prayer Book, in the rite of reconciliation of a penitent, sometimes called confession, the priest always acknowledges to the penitent one her own sinfulness and asks the penitent to pray for her.

There are, of course, huge holes in my reading an din my reasoning. I know it. None of this explains away the evil in the world, and the evil that humans do to one another and to all that God created.

I preach this morning against the backdrop of my own continual evolution of trying to know God, to understand God’s absence, God’s apparent failure to fix things that are wrong; against the backdrop of people I know losing their jobs and still jobless. Against the backdrop of six senior staff people being laid off at Diocesan House in Hartford, people I know and for whom I grieve and fear. I speak today against the backdrop of my own anxiety for Grace and Betania churches and the people I serve, and for myself. I preach profoundly from the depths of grief for the terrible murders in Norway, the land of my grandfather. I preach having fallen asleep Wednesday night saying to God, “Who are you, really, God? What are you? What are you really about?”

There is no explanation, in God’s love, for a whole lot of things. Occasionally you hear of the survivor of some horrible crime forgiving, truly forgiving, the perpetrator. That is rare. The normal response is anger, hatred, desire for revenge, even depression. These responses can come up even in picky things, like being cut off by a driver on the highway. In those times, it is almost impossible to imagine that the person who has wronged us is equal to us in God’s eyes.

I could not in safety speak these things, these contradictions, out loud without the assurance of the story of Jacob the Trickster, the assurance of Jesus’s parable of the pearl of great price, and of the verses from today’s reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Paul writes, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought…” while I pray – dear God, strike my enemy dead – “…but that very Spirit” Paul says, “intercedes with signs too deep for words…” – dear God, says the Spirit, your servant is in trouble. Help. – “And God, who searches the heart…” – Lois is really angry! – “…knows what is the mind of the Spirit…” – She needs my love, and some perspective – “…because the Spirit intercedes for [all people] according to the will of God” and God’s will is only, always, love.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, not angels, nor rulers, not things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And that goes for everyone who is, and ever was, and ever will be, in the name of Jesus Christ.

Hamilton wins!

...taking victory in the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes
Fernando Alonso, Ferrari
Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing-Renault

It was a brilliant race all-round, marked by excellent driving, lots of passing and place switches, and as much won in the pits as on the track - it was the battle of the McLaren/Red Bull/Ferrari pit crews all race, with tire changes made in seconds, shaving off milliseconds time after time. A great day for Forumla 1 Grand Prix racing.

Thank you, Lewis!

Prayers please

My grandfather was a Norwegian immigrant. He came to this country on April 3, 1906. He adopted this country fully, fighting in the U.S. Army in WW I. And he rarely let a day go by when he wouldn't sing for us, in Norwegian, Ja, vi elsker dette landet, the Norwegian national anthem - which he loosely translated as "Yes we love this land with fond devotion".

Embedding from YouTube has been disabled, but maybe this link will get you there. This is for my Grandpa (bestefar) and the people of Norway, at this time of grief, terror, and need.

God bless Norway and keep her and her people in loving care.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Black Wednesday, as it is being called

On Wednesday we in the Diocese of Connecticut received the notice that in order to balance the diocesan budget, six people were being laid off at Diocesan House in Hartford. I am terribly sad for friends who are losing their jobs. At the same time, I was surprised the find myself feeling I should check my pockets, as it were, to make sure I still had a job, even though I am not hired or paid by the diocese. I was relieved to find that a shrink I know had done the same thing.

That same evening a "white paper" was published by International Episcopal Church Central (TEC, or 815, to most) about the necessity of churches making wide use of social media or die.

Of course, it doesn't say, "or die". That's how I read it. It left me feeling left out, again, my livelihood threatened, for a second time in one day. I serve a church in which 33% of parishioners are online, a tiny portion of them engaged in "social media". Only one of whom - our webmaster - is willing and able to take on our internet presence - blogs and facebook. So from whence are to come the people to do the research and discernment and work required by this "white paper"?

Again, that same shrink acquaintance, having read the same paper, said it assumes parishes with people, plural, willing and able to take on this work. That is how I read this paper - hence the "or die" read.

So, fighting off the hound (those at OCICBW... will know of what I write) became a little harder this week. Yet today, having gone to bed last night in hopelessness, I woke, trying to find that hopelessness, like probing for a bad tooth, and could not, and cannot, find it. Strange, that leaves me feeling let down, because hope for a future of the one Episcopal church in town with a charism of radical welcome toward and equality of Hispanic/Latino people, is what has kept me going, and I don't know how that can continue, so from whence cometh this respite? I am confused rather than grateful.

Hence, my prayer on Wednesday night and since: Who are you, really, God? What are you about?

A sad day

Borders will close entirely. No reorganization, no buyout, just completely going out of business. I will miss them. The ambience of their stores inspired me. There are other bookstores out there, but none that made me feel welcome, as Borders did. So, goodbye, good friend.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On the edge of my seat

All right, I confess, I played hooky this afternoon for two hours at dinnertime to see Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part II. It - was - brilliant.

True, it was filmed for a much younger audience, the generations that now expect loud, sudden, explosive noises and dizzying panning shots that leave the viewer feeling off balance, and, having been filmed for 3-D (I went to the 2-D version) those effects were even more chaotic. At the same time, I'm not sure it wasn't the right thing to do, since this last part of the saga is the armageddon-or-second-coming sequence - end of the world destruction on a huge scale.

The acting was perfect. I think I shall have to see it again on Friday just to see the adult support actors casting the spells that will buy Harry time to find the diadem of Ravencroft.

I surprised myself, too. Halfway through the death of Snape, I realized I was crying. Alan Rickman did such a wonderful job that I didn't realize I was seeing it as something real. And, from that point, there were more such crying events, some for sadness, some for relief, some for joy.

I am not going to even stoop to allegorize or get teachy about the story. I'll save that for Sunday. I didn't go to see the movie for that purpose. I went to see a story that still captivates me acted out on the big screen, and I was not disappointed. If you see nothing else of the movie, the sudden freedom given a dragon, chained underground for decades to guard a vault, all color washed out of it, even its eyes, the first glimpse of light far above, towards which it climbs, not even knowing or caring that three escaping heroes are hitching a ride, its breaking through the glassed cupola of Gringots bank, its stumbling first attempts at flight, and its final soaring to freedom leaving the London "ferris wheel" Thameside far below were alone worth the price of admission for me.

A fitting end to a wonderful series of books.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Japan wins

...and why not? We don't have to win every time. I feel sometimes that our need to win is the need to show our superiority over the rest of the world. In a country that claims itself to be Christian, or at least grounded in Christianity, we follow a Lord and God who claims we are to sit at the foot of the table and not the head.

To the women of the World Cup Football ( Soccer ) Team, congratulations! A game well played by both sides.

Fingernail hanger

This Women's World Cup game between Japan and U.S.A. is a real nail biter. I'd love to see the U.S.A. win. I'd also like Japan be able to go home with a victory. Fifteen minutes more of OT and I'm off to dinner.

In mentoring young people, it's always helpful not to know everything. Let them teach you something or bring you up to date on some important world event. Parish ministry is the same. I don't have to know everything. It's far more important to listen to what interests the people I serve and let them be the expert.

She's back!

I have been on vacation. It was a wonderful, restful week, aside from the light flea infestation in the trailer, no air conditioning and only one window that opens. But the location was beautiful, for which I give thanks to God.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day - from what?

From the Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church International, headquartered in New York City:

For July 4
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

For the Nation
Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance*, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
*forbearance: Tolerance and restraint in the face of provocation; patience. In law, the act of a creditor who refrains from enforcing a debt when it falls due.

For the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggel and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Gospel appointed for Independence Day, from Saint Matthew
Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect [meaning: whole, holy], therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

For our Enemies
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I believe in God. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to make real this teaching of Jesus. I think that we would see a difference in the world if we Christians took Jesus's command to love and pray, without prejudice, unconditionally, for our enemies and persecutors. I pray that I can be one who prays thus, beginning with the people who cut me off while driving. I'm starting small and working my way up.