Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Beginning Began: Creation GP Response


This is my work, my response, to the lesson.  In both words and pictures.  Mostly photos I took on our property after hearing the lesson.

So we wonder - what is your favorite day?

I love the firmament day.  I love the storytelling wondering of the ancients - that what is above is connected to what is below. We repeat a half truth that everyone in the ancient world thought the world was flat.  Yet the metaphors and wonderings of even the poets and prophets of Judeo-Christian scriptures suggest the fragility of that assertion.  If you get a broad enough perspective, you can see the roundness of the earth.  And the words here - dome - suggest that people saw the roundness of above matching what is below.  And then sky and sea are connected in the cycle of life.  We are a part of that cycle too - water that flows in our tears could be the same as that that washed past Jesus' body.  Lastly I also have a memory - from a day flying between Dallas, Texas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I looked out of the plane and could not tell sky from sea.  Same color, same refraction of light meeting my eyes. It is the same but there is also difference, and rather than dwelling in a planet of swirling gas or liquid, these were brought into their own.

What day is my least favorite - none of them.  Which one am I not so good at: the 7th.  Sabbath.  Resting, holding still.  There was a month or so in early summer where I had developed a much better habit of being still.  Forced by the duty to the well being of all, I learned to do what so often alludes me.  Resting properly, taking my time.  Now that many things are back open and I am less paniced about shopping in a ventilated store with my mask and some hand sanitizer - I am not sitting as still.  I am not very good at the 7th day, and I need to be better.  So my self judgement creates a bit of a cycle of meh about sabbath.  

Where am I in this story?  I marvel at the ways that the sacred storytelling and the science storytelling match, somewhat.  There is a beauty to that - reminding me of our being made in God's image.  That we could even begin to touch the creativity and logic of the One Lord God of the Universe - is stunning.  If you haven't ever seen it, One of my favorite lessons of the Godly Play cousin Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is called something related to the engish word fettuccine.  In the lesson is a long long long ribbon (the noodle part) that is 7 colors and for the first 6 days of creation each grain of ribbon is made to represent millions of years, approximating what we believe we know about the timeline of creation.  The ribbon is supposed to stretch from the altar to the classroom.  In these two stories we have two ways of telling a story about who we are and where we came from, and that it is all in some sort of order, and also chaos, and it is both beyond our imagining and tangible to our understanding.  I hope you have a chance to see that lesson someday.  If you think these two areas are opposed - then please give a listen to this On Being episode with two Jesuit scientists.   And if you are looking for some regular places to intersect the sciency brain with the mysteries of Christian faith then check out the Liturgists podcast (it isn't about worship patterns).

I wonder how you could listen to this lesson and respond - either by art or writing or contemplation or research.  This is my response, a little bit of writing, a little bit of photography.

And some water, not from my yard.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Forgiveness Back to Zero: Darcy, Vader, and Jubilee

from the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a very modern (and awesome) adaptation on youtube.

Over the past 200 years, Pride and Prejudice has never been out of print.  And has sold over 20 million copies around the globe. Early in the classic novel, Mr. Darcy outlines his own character Mr. Darcy who is the “king” of the county where he lives, admits that his temper: 
  • is too little yielding. 
  • that he does not easily forgive others, snd,
  • his good opinion once lost is lost forever. 
Yet by the end of the novel (and I apologize for the spoilers) Mr. Darcy eliminates the debts of the man who has hurt him the most and in so doing - is bound to him, through marriages - forever. I imagine what lays ahead for Mr. Darcy beyond the novel is a lifetime of learning to forgive again and again. 

I recall going to see a more recent blockbuster - Return of the Jedi with my family when I was young and once again, forgive me for the spoiler, but at the end of the movie, Darth Vader has acted for the

light side and against the dark side. an act which cost him his life. Then a few scenes later in the triumphal finale - Anakin - Vaders given name - appears in his glowy ghosty Jedi self the way that all good Jedis appear after death. I was not an attentively religious young person, but I remember thinking something like - really so fast? Why wasn’t there some sort of penitential purgatory? A lifetime of cruelty and enslavement and exploitation and whatever the word would be in the Starwars Universe for dehumanization, Vader’s was a reign of terror and a masterclass in casual murder.. The nearly instant eternal forgiveness, it rubbed my weakly forgiving Darcy like temper the wrong way. 

This chapter of the gospel of Matthew has been focused on how a community of disciples of Jesus lives together in faithfulness, not in an imagined universe but in the harsh, complex, and contradictory reality of this one. Jesus has welcomed back the one sheep who did you wrong. Once was hard enough, so you get up the nerve to ask Jesus the question: Um, there's a limit to how many times I have to do this right? 

Jesus replies with a parable about the reign of God that is so straightforward it might be more accurate to call it a fable. The 'king of the county' goes about forgiving all the debts of slaves. Sometimes I notice it's hard for me to really listen when the word slave is used by Jesus, and it is not as an example of sin. Here in the USA, we have never done the truth and reconciliation work we need to do regarding how much of our long term prosperity is built on the cruel enslavement of black and brown people. So the word slave makes me react more than lean in. 

Yet slavery in the Mediterranean in Jesus's lifetime was a different thing. It was not racially assigned or something that was generation after generation. The parable could have said tenants but it says slaves, and when thinking about forgiveness, it's an important detail. It should remind us of the ancient biblical ideal of Jubilee. where every 49 to 50 years all the debts that have been piled up between peoples are zeroed out, and all slaves are set free. How completely this was truly ever practiced is an open question. But that it is the desire of God for what perfected human life together is to be like: this is clearer.  

Jubilee takes everything back to zero. Jubilee is connected with Jesus's response about how much are we to forgive. In the idiom Jesus's day - that number play - it means infinitesimally. The Divine inaccessibility of absolute zero and absolute Infinity are so beyond us, that they're two sides of the same coin. The directive of Jesus to forgive until everything is back to zero: it is a difficult command because most of the time even wholehearted forgiveness, it doesn't eliminate the wound. The terror of Vader's reign didn't evaporate from the universe at his turning. 

Forgiveness it is a skill of community one that should:
  • preserve truth, 
  • enable balance, 
  • and compel generosity.  
Forgiveness is an unbinding of ourselves from all that weighs us down and keeps us stuck in the past. Reconciliation is freedom for holiness that isn't a fictional novel or otherworldy movie plot. Sacred forgiveness compels generosity through responsible action against all forms of enslavement, against all forms of everything in this world of sin and spin that is against the Jubilee of God. 

So what are the skills of forgiveness: 
  • Trust: sometimes that's easy and sometimes that's hard. 
  • Healing speech. it's not enough to just let it go in our minds. And the last skill of forgiveness is
  • Silence.
The silence in which we can listen. Listen for truth,  listen for healing speech. Which of those skills are you best at - Which ones need practice? 

The Star Wars universe doesn’t pretend to be based in the worldview of Christian discipleship,but the answer Jesus offers to my childhood (and continuing) discomfort with the instant forgiveness for Darth Vader is that the forgiveness is God’s to give - and it is already given. We are promised that the God of steadfast love and mercy is ready and waiting infinitely for when we are ready to make amends. 

Our task as disciples of Jesus, and as humans in life together, is much like my imagined post novel life of Mr. Darcy One that can still trace the scars, yet called to live in peace as people commanded to forgive again and again and again. Forgiveness is the start of a journey wherein at the end, we discover ourselves to have become free enough to receive God's endless reconciliation. How many times do we who walk with Christ put it back to zero - Infinitesimally. 

May the Lord be with me - cause I am sure gonna need it.

Christ Church, Ridley Park
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

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ps: if you want to see the best modern adaptation of PnP search for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  A 100 episode interpretation for this era - it is amazing.  

Memories of How the Church Tells Time

There are so many calendars that overlap in our lives.  We have personal calendars of birthdays and anniversaries and memories.  We have the seasonal calendars that are on paper, and then the seasons as the retail world sees them.  The colors of the stores change - even just at Wawa - in anticipation of upcoming holidays.  And then in this church, we have the liturgical calendar.  The round and round progression through the colors and stories. I love having a liturgical calendar.  Some of you who know me I like to play with liturgical colored clothing - especially tights.  That behavior connects the rhythm of the church to the whole of my life, connects it to my thinking first thing in the day.  

One of the questions of the Godly Play lesson is what is your favorite part.  My favorite color is blue, and so I very much love being in a place where blue is the color for Advent.  The lesson remembers the connection to Mary, Jesus' mother (Theotokos/Blessed Virgin) and that is of course important.  More so I admit I think of interstellar space, of Christ being before and beyond time and then being born in human flesh at Christmas.  I also think of the wisdom of the prophets discerning that God was going to do something new: and in those texts we see Jesus.  I don't know why I think of blue as a wisdom color.  Perhaps because it is my favorite color and I would like to be known as wise.  However, my favorite color/season is the red of Pentecost.  I have loved the focus on energy and movement and comfort and knowledge that we celebrate as attributes of the Holy Spirit: which is our focus on Pentecost.  

There are many memories associated with different seasons.  I wonder what memories you might have connected with seasons.  For me, the memory of Pentecost is now that it is that a Pentecost was my first Sunday as a priest.  And the power of God and human ingenuity that was able to get my ordaining

bishop to the church on time for the service the day before (Alleluia!).  I wonder if in the years ahead I will always connect the start of Lent with the start of this pandemic, and practicing church leadership in such trying and isolated circumstances.  A wilderness time to be sure.

What does it look like to respond as an adult learner to a Godly Play reflection?  The wonderful facet of learning for discipleship is it can work through your best gifts and skills.  If you knit - then knit a response.  If you like decorating - what if you began a way to follow the liturgical calendar color changes in decor?  Can you relearn a piece of music for a particular season?  If you work with wood or gardening or writing - respond that way.  Sometimes adult learners need to learn more about something - could some research about the liturgical calendar enable you to know more and find new ways to connect it to your life? If you do can you write it up and share it with the CCRP October newsletter?  For example, if you ask the question are the colors the same in all churches - the answer might be nope.  

God is inviting us into the circle of how God tells time: kairos (hey look that up).  A mystery of wonder and a knowable returning cycle of redemption.  I hope you take the time to respond, in whatever way you desire, to this lesson.  This is my response.  

Stay safe, Jesus loves you, and be so much more than kind.  

ps..Thank you to Sharon for sharing her gifts of Godly Play storytelling.  Thanks be to God for the hands that made that lesson and the technology to share it with you.  Praise be to Jesus for the discerning work of many years of the Godly Play storytellers.  

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Stray Cats, Lost Sheep: Plugged In Together

I am probably one of the oldest persons you will hear say I grew up around computers. A childhood friend once told me that I was the first person she ever heard say “that the computer was on the phone”. Some of us, we grew up with computers and the internet, and there's this unexamined expectation that it's all grown up and mature. When reality is it is a brand new way to communicate and dwell together in community. 

We've had many thousands of years of verbal communication and a few thousand years of written communication and a few hundred years of widespread literacy that was shared via paper and mass-produced books. Therefore - comparatively our relationship with one another over the world wide web is an infant. In some ways, this is like handing a 1-year-old an encyclopedia and expecting them to know what to do with it. 

I've celebrated more than once in the last 6 months how grateful I am for all of the technology that has made this time safer and not feel quite so isolated that tech already existed. The equipment we film this on the digital waves and hardwires that we share videos on these gifts were not only in existence but installed in my life and in many of your lives. Yet I would have had to have had my head deep in the sand to not realize that we don't know how to live together in peace with these methods of connection and communication. 

Our five lines of the Gospel of Matthew are part of a larger chapter of teachings about community life. When you read the whole chapter you will find it is mostly a Jesus’ greatest hits playlist. Teachings about how we are to live wholeheartedly together in complicated communities. If we go back to the beginning of the chapter Jesus starts off with calling us to become like children and welcoming children. Hold on a second though: remember Jesus's audience hears children and thinks about something like we would imagine stray cats. Germy grubby independent creatures who have their uses and but also love to rumble. 

Right before what we heard today is the parable of the lost sheep. Sheep which are the precious backbone ancient Judea. Yet sheep - are dirty and stubborn and unable to think for themselves: and Jesus' first hearers knew that. Maybe it can be helpful to read these five verses using some of the parabolic imagination that Jesus practiced and imagine these recommendations for community life being for a cartoon for an assembly of stray cats and sheep - and you are one of them. 

The Christian assemblies for which the sacred storyteller of Matthew wrote originally were new-ish. Probably a mix of first and second-generation Jesus followers and in this gospel, mostly people who are Jewish and dwelling closely with synagogue famil, and with people with who they have many differences. Which created uncomfortable tensions - at the least. These dynamics are set in the middle of a time of terror and trauma most likely in the context of the war that destroyed the second temple. There was widespread anguish, painful illuminations of our limitations,wounds of heart, wounds of body, wounds of community. 

Jesus is calling us then and now to grow into mature discipleship in the world one that doesn't triangulate - one that empathizes and one that does not turn away from hard conversations but does tap out Of the unhelpful comments section. In our new community of living together in the digital space, we're rumbling with new ways of figuring out what it means to practice healthy relationships when we can't look the other person in the eye Or feel their feelings in the room with us. All you young cats and precious sheep we've just moved in together online. It's all brand new - even 6 months in - and the troubles are as old as humanity itself. 

In this time of challenging connection and so much to fear but also with so much collaborative possibility, Jesus offers us both an ethic and direction and invites us to listen bravely to speak courageously, snd trust that when we live in his way - online and in-person - he is with us.
Christ Church, Ridley Park
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Lists that Help Us: Abhor Evil and Bring Water to Your Enemy

I like a list. When I am anxious and out of sorts, making a list of what needs to be done, it helps. I have a friend who keeps Excel spreadsheets of everything she owns. It brings her peace. I am glad there are people in the world who keep things in such fine order. I am glad she showed me how to use Excel many years ago, And I like lists, but not that much. Some people see a list and it creates anxiety The very judgment of the list seems to foster a stranglehold of panic. Where do you land regarding making a list? For me a list is A breath of order, a vision of possibility beyond the anxiety. 

Our reading from the letter to the Romans could be made into a list. A full-time job description kind of list for the genuine Christian community - both as solo organisms and as a collective. Let us review some of that list. Abhor wickedness. Pursue Hospitality Feed your enemy. Vanquish evil with good. Be at peace with all. Love with fidelity. Provide Rejoice Endure Devote Weep Listen. Paul is diving deeply into what it means to be people of the Way, exploring the attributes of the movement that clings to Jesus as the Messiah. This Romans lesson is a tremendously helpful list. A working active Christian practice should rely on just such a growth and service mindset. Too often people say I like your Jesus, but I am not so sure about your Christians. And when they say that, it is probably because this list is what we are stumbling at living into. 

My guess is that there are some of these that many of us find to be at least reasonably achievable. Cling to the good sounds like coasting downhill. And each of us has different ones that are hardest. Bless those who troll and trample you? Ignore them sure. Not actually try to cause them grief? Yeah. Bless - pray for their well being- give water to those #$%#! ? Oh oh oh that is hard. Both when it is big impersonal evil and when it is the bully next door. Bless and feed my enemies?  It goes against so much in my personality and enculturation. 

So I am returned to the list - and I wonder what if we were to take this list and focus on one a day. Practice it in your life, and go one step further - take the time to reflect on your life and history and identify the name of one person who exemplifies each Christian duty. Hold them in prayer, wherever they might be. The list also can serve us as a mirror, a confessional prompt. Where have we not met this list? I was recently thinking about a different old friend.  She was certainly much more a friend than an enemy, but in my judginess and by silly issues where I thought we were divided, I had turned her into a frenemy in my mind. Sometimes offering water to an enemy is offering water. Sometimes it is having empathy. I  knew enough about her life to have done so. But back then I was much more on board with the do gooder part than the listen and forgive part of Christian-ness. 

Part of why the struggles of the early Jesus movement speak to us Is that we are still wrestling with what they struggled with. And some of our burdens are not that this way of life is new, but that it has over a thousand years of crud collected on it- what a friend calls the Constintinian hangover. In some ways even for some of us who have always been church people, we are meeting Jesus again for the first time. In the beginning, sometimes it is good to have a list. Pursue Hospitality Feed your enemy. Vanquish evil with good. Listen. Learn. Share. Follow Jesus, the Christ, the one Lord God of the Universe, who loved and served and died and rose again. We strive to live this list, we check it off, and fail to check it off, and we try again. 

This is the way Jesus loves & saves. This very list. What is the job description of those who love God? This very list.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Not a Feeling Question: Who Do You Say that I Am

In our prayer for the pandemic era - Jesus stills stormy frantic hearts. Many of us connect who Jesus is with feelings - experiences of relief, connection, challenge. I am not sure that the sacred storyteller of Matthew is having Jesus ask us a feeling question. Nor is it a why do you like me question, but the life saving invitation of: who do you say that I am? 

Simon Peter excitedly answers - You are the Messiah, You are the big deal chosen hero who is gonna fix this chaotic storm of death and anxiety. Please do it now. This is Christ Church. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew and Aramaic word we heard transliterated as Messiah. Saying Christ Jesus is like saying Queen Elizabeth - it is a role and a title, not a surname (or a curse word). Messiah, and therefore Christ, It sort of means oily head - as in one who has been anointed on their forehead by an ancient sacred rite One that marks an individual’s loyalty to God. Usually this is with olive oils steeped in resins and essential oils - what we would think of as chrism. This anointing is something you could see and smell. 

The Hebrew people hardly ever were a safe and sovereign nation. Their biblical history is one of constant threat and entanglement with the cruel grind Of this empire and that. Exploitation, despotic manipulation, humiliation, lies, death and destruction were constant. So too were the various hopes for a fix, a change, a messiah, a superhero to rise up and powerfully save the day. Powers that be don’t like messiahs. It was a dangerous nametag to be marked with. Some imagined a savior who would return everything to self-governing sacred order and conservation. Others dreamed of the One who would push us into a moral reckoning and the establishment of a just society for absolutely everyone. Messianic hopes were as varied and intense as the pandemic ending visions and conspiracy theories and strategies that circulate these days. Even the denials of the pandemic are in their own way a hear no-see- no evil shade of messianic hope. 

There is almost no part of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that matched any concoction of what his contemporaries were expecting in a messiah. So, of course, there were questions, and we are still wrestling with them. The paradox of Jesus being salvific through less violence, and his requiring our dutiful way of love for all to participate in this rescue - it isn’t the easy bake recipe we were searching for. 'Who do you say that I am?' is an invitation to consider:  how does Jesus change everything? How does he save? Plenty of people have been radical revolutionaries, or sacred healers, or sage prophets, or controversial rabbi’s. But I don’t know any of them by name or in my heart. 

It is the holy self-sacrificial servanthood of Jesus is his messiah-ship. It is the love That holds fast even as it is crushed by the weight of the falsehoods of the powerful and shamed by the bullying terror of the cross. So the question 'Who do you say that I am?' isn’t about memorized answers, it isn’t about our wish list so much as it is a challenging invitation. Do you get that this is not about a superhero swooping in and making everything easy? Jesus is your Christ - your messiah - not because he is yours, but because you are his. 

He gives us not blindfolds or battle plans but his way, truth, and life. I wonder - who do you say that Jesus is? If you haven’t ever been asked that before - give it some time…. But spend some time with the question. Journal or craft or research your response. 

Furthermore, what does it mean that the name of this congregation is Christ - that our name is ‘’Expectations-turned-upsidedown- Healing-feeding-learning-servant-leadership- Marked-by-God Church”? Christ Church, Ridley Park is many things but all of them should be one with Christ Jesus. The best of them should be informed hopeful and lifechanging for the last, least and lost. What does the name of Christ - Messiah Jesus - say about who we are called to be in this pandemic era? 

To hold to Jesus as messiah - the christ means to find ourselves in the company he would keep, the love he lived into, the servanthood he practiced. What if the rescue someone is looking for is the ways of Jesus they encounter in you? Jesus stills the storms, Jesus rocks the boat. Hear him ask your whole life The question once more: Who do you say that I am?

CCRP  #diopalove

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Brought to you by the Number 3: Egypt and Joseph and Holy Mercy

Egypt. Pyramids and the mighty Nile river. Early innovators Of centralized governance and writing and organized religion. The people, the lands, they are a crossroads of humanity with a long tangled history with every tribe and empire to ever set foot in the region. Usually in scripture, Egypt is either the big bad, or the neighboring power offering “help” against mutual enemies, an offer with more than questionable motives.  

Sometimes Egypt is Egypt (1). Sometimes it is metaphor: metaphor for any human power structure, in any age, human power structures that operate contrary to God’s intentions(2). Sometimes Egypt is a kind of euphemism, it might say Cairo, what it is referring to is Babylon or Rome (3). It can be all three in one paragraph of the Bible. Regardless, the reference isn’t usually a delight. When the holy family flee from Judea to Egypt it isn’t something that the knowledgeable hearer understands as a good thing. It is leaping from the fire to the frying pan. 

The story of Joseph is the longest and perhaps most detailed of all the sagas of Genesis. That 2-hour musical barely scratched the surface. The coat of stellar beauty and value stokes his brothers’ jealousy so fiercely that while they are deciding which sin to commit against him, Joseph is abducted and sold into enslavement in Egypt. Most of the story isn’t much of a virtuous example, that is why it made a good musical. God does not speak from a bush or come to anyone in a dream. God is only given a few directly attributed actions in the whole saga. Yet this is sacred scripture, a story given lots of precious parchment. Why? 

Part of the story it is telling is ‘how we became refugees’. Jacob and Leah and Rachel and Joseph and his brothers dwell somewhere in what today we know as Syria and Israel and Palestine. The twelve tribes of Israel - Jacob’s sacred renaming - are from there - so how did the primordial story of faith become their liberation from enslavement in Egypt? What the saga of Joseph tells us is that it is because of a mixture of soul-selling misbehavior topped off with natural disasters of drought and famine.  1. Some of that is a straightforward morality tale. 2. Some of that is metaphor. 3. Some of that is geo-politics;  some of that is all three at the same time. 

Here today in this critical slice of the Joseph saga we have a deeply sacred story about the easy path of wrong choices that lead to disaster, and the long journey of truth and reconciliation: both on earth with each other, and in eternity with God. Has there ever been a moment in your life where you were stunned by a reconciliation as Joseph and his brothers were? How do you notice God leading you and your neighbor towards such mercy? 

This week I hope you find a bible, or a children’s bible and revisit the saga. I hope you notice and reflect on something unusual about Joseph. 1. He is spoken of as Abba -like when Jesus says Abba - that friendly name for fathers and God.  2. He is referred to as lord - one who is in charge of the activities of an area.  3. He is even called a ruler, because he is one. Father, Lord, Ruler: lets say FLR. FLR should remind you a bit of the way scripture describes the one God of the Universe. 

The brother's relationship with this FLR was dismissive and dysfunctional, and at the start, consistently turned away from love and fidelity towards FLR. And here now - this FLR stands in tremendous earthly authority: and forgives. This FLR is overcome with emotion, he cries. Joseph - this FLR - acts toward reconciliation and acts toward feeding and acts directly to welcome his wayward brothers. 

Perhaps this drama-dey saga of Joseph is also a type of sacred contemplation about God and his mercy. In this wondering, God acts with and through everyday means and encounters: dreams opportunities failures droughts and motivations. God keeps working and leading the family of humanity even when our choices are contrary to what God intends. God’s frustration with his people is not without warrant, yet God’s steadfast love for humanity, the tears of mercy and compassion, the delights of reunion and reconciliation those have no end.

August 16, 2020