Wednesday, September 25, 2013

diminished in black and white

The age spots on my hands and forearms are multiplying.  They remind me of our Granny, of her hands and arms.  I am not surprised that this is the place on my body where my age is most evident.  I spent three marvelous weeks sailing in the BVI when I was fifteen; my worst sunburns were on my hands and forearms. These age spots, pale brown blobish marks, they whisper to me my many years.  I have taken great glee from watching so many of my friends cross the 40-year-old threshold before me this year. My unremarkable day is approaching, but there is still time to not be there just yet.

Earlier this week I woke to see on my facebook wall the transcript of a notable interview.  The guest was one of the most famous progressive politicians in the world.  A man of accomplishment for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect.  The interviewing pair included a seemingly well respected, approximately 40-year-old woman (who I happened to graduate high school with).  The interview wasn't as mind blowing as the one with the Bishop of Rome, but it was notable.  The content of the transcript was interesting enough and kept my un-caffeinated attention for many internet paragraphs. Then I stopped.  I couldn't go on.  Neither the question nor the content of the answer mattered.  What struck me cold was the opening line to an answer, 'Well, since before you were born...'.

An accomplished woman, certainly not to be considered a tyke in style or looks.  She was interviewing beside an esteemed and chronologically-advanced gentleman.  The remark hung in front of my eyes, I re-read it.  He brought up her age in a mix of condescension and diminishment.  That intro to the answer was unnecessary, and to me, outrageous.  This wasn't a law school hallway or a journalist out of her league.  A wise priest once told me that ministry is the only business where grey hair is an advantage.  As I strive onward across the boundary of four decades completed: I have to wonder.  Not about the advantage but about the only; and I have to wonder how it may vary across gender.

Is there an age or a stage when such nonsense ends?    I know I make similar quips, but I work with children, tweens, emerging adults and teens.  They are young.  There are things they haven't earned or experienced.  These young people are not accomplished professionals with over 18 years of worldwide credentials.  And while it is no excuse for the times when I have said such things, they also have not been broadcast worldwide.  Still, do my little quips contribute to the acceptability of such age diminishment?  

I don't know if she took offense, I don't know if she felt brushed aside or diminished.   I don't desire to believe that was the intention of the interviewee.  I hope one of the smart women in his life noticed it and called him on it.  Yet, there it is. In black and white (and full living color, but I haven't found the footage). Since before you were born. He showed his golden trump card and then didn't really reply to you. When he had so many options.   At what age and stage does such stuff end?  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Parabolic Point of View

There once was a master who did such unusual things, and said such strange things, that the people who heard him were easily confused. This Master was in command of everything he could see.  From one horizon all the way to the other, everything from the dirt in the ground to the leaves on the trees, everything was his. This master was full of love for everything on his estate.  Yet as much as he loved it, he could not care for it all by himself.  So he invited his friends to help him take care of the estate. One day a child came to him and whispered in his ear, “Master, your friend is wasting the estate.”  The master panicked.  He got upset.  He got angry.  And he himself, he became confused. 

When his friend found out that the master was unhappy, this friend, he did not panic. He went to all the other friends on the estate, who may, or may not, have been also wasting the estate, and said,” What do you owe our master..5? Lets make it 3.  You owe 8?  Let’s make it 4”.  He gave away the master's stuff'; this friend he kept giving it all away. When the master found out about what his friend was doing, what did he do?  The Master did not get mad.  He celebrated.  The Master remembered how much he loved his estate, and how much he wanted to share it with his friends. The Master who said such confusing things and did such surprising things, he celebrated with all his friends who may have been giving his estate away.  And the people have been confused ever since.

Greed, love, passion, want: these feelings make us want to clutch and grab and hold and lock things up.  Greed and passion and want: These feelings lead us into the sins that our friend Amos today was yelling about.  Greed and grab and clutch and panic.  That is not how Jesus lived, and not how he calls his disciples, how he calls you and me to live.  Blessed the bread, broke the bread and he did what?  He shared it with his friends. The gifts of God are for the people of God. 

Some of us have a hard time with metaphor.  Perhaps you felt more than a bit uncomfortable when you heard today’s parable.  You may have been uncomfortable, perhaps because Jesus said these strange words.  Or maybe, you felt prickly because we are in church and you expected to hear about safe values and blessed security.  Perhaps you felt distressed because he was talking about valuable, earthly, material stuff.  A popular translation says this guy was ‘Wasting the estate’.  Some of us, for nearly two millennia, have had a hard time with the parables, the living metaphors Jesus offers.  Stories  like today’s where the neither servant, nor master, seem to be ‘properly’ managing the estate.  Good stories, the ones we remember, they rarely are centered in moderation and propriety or meek and mild behavior.  A parable is a story, a created fiction, an imagined verbal skit.  A story within a story.  Parables tell the kinds of truth that facts simply cannot explain.   Jesus is not offering us a peer reviewed study suggesting that fraud is a better for life expectancy.  Nope.  Because it is a metaphor, a parable.

Whatever Jesus said, it was a good story.  And perhaps Luke doesn’t do the story justice.  However it is hard to forget.  Yet only the Lukan community dared to write it down. Luke who is heartily focused on the outcast and the oppressed, Luke who dives into subject of the challenges of wealth like no other gospel.  However most scholars agree that the end of the reading today, the part after the parable, probably was not the original ending.  It seems that almost as soon as this parable was put onto parchment, someone, probably multiple well meaning, inspired someone’s, got so caught in clutch and grab that they inserted the rather confusing interpretations on the end of the confusing parable.  It may be an example of 1st century spin.  Trying to walk back what the superstar said,  even if what the superstar said wasn't wrong. 

Jesus isn't endorsing employee fraud.  It doesn’t take an interpretive somersault to get there.  How?  Because it is a parable!  A holy bit of fiction! Did you enjoy the story of Robin Hood?  or what about Oceans 11?  Did you finish the film and think: stealing millions from a casino looks safe, fun and plausible?  Gosh I hope not.  You seem smarter than that.   Yet clever people have been bent out of shape by this parable, even long, long ago in a region far, far away. 

Over the last few weeks we have watched homes and lives destroyed by astonishing rains.  I watch the status updates of old friends in Colorado and New Mexico with awe and alarm.   Old neighbors who have soaked floors and wet computer cpu’s, and their neighbors who no longer have houses to call home.  In that context what matters is generosity and compassion; self sacrifice and the blessing of life itself.   When push comes to shove, will you leave it all behind and live, or die trying to stay with your estate?   This parable is about what are you going to do,         when everything else is pushed out of view.  This is a kingdom parable; a reign of God parable, a radical invitation to the last things.  There are formal church seasons, like Advent and Easter.  They get colors and festivals. Then there are the informal church fall.  Through which we always hear more lessons about property and stewardship      About what we own and what owns us.  We also hear more about the reign of God, about God’s time that is already, but also not yet.  This will only escalate as the nights lengthen and the baseball season wraps up.  The commercial world is counting the days till Christmas, and so to our lessons, but in a rather oppositional tone.  The jing aling will tell you that you need more stuff,          but God demands that we have turned away from his and his people when we let our stuff be the masters of our lives. 

We are being called by the master to account for how we have taken care of his estate.  It is there in the plain text of the Greek.   This ridiculously wealthy landowner, this fella is called Lord by the servant.  Called master….in the Greek kyrios; in the Greek text of the New Testament this word is used over 700 times!  ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’, the Master, the kyrios.  ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord (Master, kyrios) has made known to us.’  It is the end of the line for the steward, and his master wants to know how he lived.  What if wasting the estate, what if the squandering was that the steward didn't share enough?  What if the waste is hungry neighbors and sick children on the street?

At the end of our days, the master, the Lord, the kyrios, wants to know how we lived.  The true stories about how we lived,  He wants to hear of our passion for his estate, our generosity to his people and he wants to know of our love for the Master in the testimony of how we lived.  It seems like a crooked story about crooked people and crooked lives.  It isn't a real story.  Except when it is our story, told from the Master's point of view.  Our crooked stories from our crooked lives.  What amazing thing has he said for us to do?   Invest in relationships.  Commit to people loving people and the whole creation abundantly.  There once was a master who did such unusual things and said such strange things,  that the people who heard him were easily confused. Don’t be those peopleBe smart. Even be sassy.  Be awesome.  Live our life together in holiness and righteousness, from the Master’s point of view.

Parabolic Point of View
September 22, 2013

Proper 20, Year C, RCL Track2

Jane Alice Gober
St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Walla Walla , Washington

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Point Break

Cast and extras (teens living with cancer),
 and author, from the set of TFIOS
Break.  To swerve suddenly.  Sometimes hitting the brakes is a good thing.  It is the big thing not done badly.  It means that something does not separate into parts with suddenness or violence.  It can be all about reason properly beating adrenaline back into its corner.  Hitting the brakes, to soon, to hard can also be a sign of timidity, inertia; it is life lost in the panic. In the accolade winning nerdfighter novel 'The Fault in Our Stars' the young amputee Augustus has not re-learned how to brake and/or accelerate with his prosthetic right foot.  As the novel's heroine says: "his driving was so astonishingly poor that I could think of nothing else".  The ability to use the brakes properly may be the true test of driving ability, whether the brakes are made of steel and rubber or the soles of your feet.  We strive to teach stop buttons and brake usage (and for some brake un-use) in the young people we serve.  Brakes really matter, but what does data about braking really tell us?   Beep.

Break.  To cause to discontinue a habit. When I moved I had to get a new insurance policy.  The friendly agent on the phone offered me a possible future discount if I signed up for the 'Snapshot' program.  Perhaps you have seen the saccharine commercials for the little silver half capsule: you plug this into the computer port on your car and it tracks your driving.  The friendly agent told me that it would beep when the car starts up, and when you apply the brakes strongly.  What it is most keeping track of is the ratio of driving to hard brake moments.  I have to wonder, how is this new metric arrived at?  Applying the brakes can be caused by a multitude of occasions. Children chasing a ball.  Lost college freshman.  Poor road sign visibility.  Inebriated wine consumers unable to navigate a crosswalk.  Ducks, turkeys, cows, horses, squirrels and/or dogs in the road.  Beep.

Break.  To make tractable or submissive.  Insurance liability is certainly influenced by a multitude of factors that have nothing to do with the driver, with her skill or experience.  The ability of the drivers in her neighborhood, and certainly the general traffic goings on are important information to have if you are an insurance company.  These factors may not officially influence rates, but I can see how they could. What officially influences car insurance rates more closely resemble census statistics.  Age and education, gender and marital status.  Could this new information be adding to the matrix of rates?  Could the new albatross be the fact that I live in a semi-rural town with its interesting in town fauna, that I live in the midst of college students on foot and bicycle, and that this same hometown is sprinkled liberally with winery tourists?  Will this data increase the rates for everyone in my neighborhood because the tempestuous nature of driving in this shire has been revealed?  There is something nefarious lurking in this 'snapshot.'  Yet it may be something beyond the notion that this data may not be helpful or thrifty at all.  Is the boggart that my driving has become attentive to avoiding that hard brake beep?

Break. To achieve success in a striking way.   I know the device is there, and I do not want to hear it beep.   I can see how this could lead to safer driving. Yet I notice myself making more 'california stops' to avoid any hint of a hard brake beep, which isn't really safer at all.   It also reminds me of the BBC miniseries 'The Last Enemy.'  Set in a near-future Britain where every moment of every life is monitored in the name of freedom from terrorism.  Recently returned from abroad the reclusive Dr. Ezard (played by the Cumberbatch man himself) is late for a funeral.  He asks the taxi driver to speed up.  The driver says he cannot, because of 'monitored speed'.  Beep.  I find myself feeling more monitored than thrifty.  Have I been led down the primrose path?  Not in the name of safety, but in the name of saving pennies?  When it comes to the arguments about technology and surveillance I generally depart from many of my closest political allies with the selfish sentiment that 'I have nothing to hide.' A privileged woman of devotion and morality can say that more easily than many others.  Where is the forgiveness in this monitoring?  Where is the freewill?  That series was really frightening, and a little to close to home to be easily forgotten.  What are we willing to give up in the name of safety and savings? If he is for us then we are to be for all people, not just those with our blessings.  Is the albatross here plural?  Is it not only data but monitoring?

I was thinking about the word handle, and all the unholdable things that get handled. -Hazel (TfiOS)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


I bought the shirt.  It was dark blue.

My freshman orientation was over twenty years ago.  I had not met then the women who would remain my friends all these years later.  I do not recall the tables I visited, but I did walk away with at least one blue shirt. From the Episcopal campus ministry table.  On the back it had an imitation wood carving of a devil.  It said 'if all you want out of religion is hellfire and brimstone, burn this shirt.'

At the time I might have told you I was Episcopalian, despite not having attended a liturgy in years, but I would never have claimed to be Christian.  Not after three years in south Texas and three days in the mid-south.  My participation was three semesters in the future then, and this vocation would have been an absurd suggestion.  Yet I bought the shirt.  My mom borrowed it at some point, and I don't recall that it was returned.  Later I learned that it was a borrowed advertisement, but it was a good one.  Provocative and thoughtful, funny and outrageous.  In case you think this was an out of the ordinary rebel offering, I will let you know that both priests at that parish at the time, are now both bishops (in neighboring dioceses no less).

All these years later, I am the person at the table.  No shirts, instead some silly and provocative flyers and home baked cookies.  It was hard not to feel a bit like was in a scene from 'Blue Like Jazz'.  A campus of a similar ilk, liberal arts known for its outdoor education and agnostics.  I heard a lot of 'I am not religious' responses to my inquiry of, 'would you like a homemade cookie?'  I also heard about how pretty our church is.  I met some very nice people, including our table neighbors: classics society (Go Homer!) and the 'trap shooting club' (eavesdropping let me know I was not the only person who didn't know what that is).  It seemed like we were the only church there.  We did manage to give away all the cookies and most of the flyers, running out of the Bilbo meme and the Noah/Ikea cartoon.  I went as much to meet students as to watch part of my new neighborhood at work. 

It was a very good day that makes me recall that blue shirt, and it makes me wonder.  What starts the journey? For my friends who met online, was it when they filled out a profile, or when a match appeared that didn't make one run way screaming?  In my telling that blue shirt was a strange foreshadowing of the lifetime to come.  I know it reminded me that even though I rejected all sorts of varieties of the Christian religion, there was a place, that was beautifully unusual and a good match for my tastes and priorities.  It was an open door that I wouldn't try for a while, but remembered when I needed to.

I was a bit disappointed that the shooting group had more names and emails than we did (my hippie is showing).  Because an explosive power and an almost empty table seem to catch folks attention.  Which also makes me wonder.  (What does non-violent explosiveness look like?) Still, I am glad for the conversations and connections I made.  Not because it might put bums in pews but because God willing we put a gospel face on our pretty and classic church.

Recently an office of the church center put out a series of ad's that I found to be snide, feeble and hardly gospel.  They seemed to me to be more like a 'dead end' sign than a friendly emoticon.    How do we become more like a plate of warm cookies and less like a green jello salad?  How do we do this loudly without seeming self aggrandizing?  Is there such a part of our life together that could be as attractive as gunpowder and a balm in Gilead?

 What began your journey into something brave and worthy?