Monday, February 19, 2018

Transparent Noah and Unnatural Disasters: We are All In This Together

Ashes to Go offered at Whitman College
Sometimes I think I would like a deeper Noah. The person we meet in Genesis is almost transparent. So little of a whole character that we can see whatever we choose without much resistance. We have all seen the illustrations and the figurines where it is hard to tell Noah from Santa. I want a deeper Noah. I want him to give a concrete reply of any kind. I want him to ask questions like Abraham does - what if there is one good person out there, will you not turn back from this forecast? I want Noah’s spouse to have the nerve to raise objections - shouldn’t there be a medium place for medium people - a swamp of some kind? Despite all the attempts to make this story a sweet zoo cruise, it is not. Before the rainbow appears, this is a difficult tragedy for everyone, including God.

I wish I had taken a picture in children’s chapel that day. We had a dry wipe easel that sat on ground level in front of the children who were gathered in a circle. On this board every week we would record the prayer topics the children offered. That morning they named every natural disaster they had ever heard of. Prayed for people in Tornados Earthquakes Mudslides Avalanches Floods Hurricanes. Those things probably happened somewhere that week, but I don’t think they knew that. It was April 1999 in the Denver suburbs. The older children had spent several school days in lockdown. The coverage was nonstop and worldwide. It was the Sunday after the Columbine massacre. My church was about five miles away, when I stepped outside I could see the helicopters circling. We didn’t have any congregants at the school, it was the next school district to the west. But there were children of colleagues of parishioners, And friends of parishioners. We could barely comprehend it. So the children prayed for natural disasters Sought a shape and a story to contain the news that kept coming at us in waves. Flood epics are common in the sacred and folk stories of many cultures across the world. People experience natural disasters, everywhere. They also have experienced the brutal destruction of warring tribes and empires. The rubble looks much the same.

I was at the Reid Center on the Whitman Campus on Wednesday. It was Ash Wednesday. Marking friends and strangers with signs and words of our brokenness and immortality. And I looked up and noticed Someone had changed the channel on the lounge tv. I didn’t have to read any scrawl to know what type of image I was seeing. Again. I would tell you I am numb to it by now But the flood of gloom that has found me says that is not true. Maybe you asked what I asked this week. Why is this blight of un-natural disaster coming at us again and again? All the pain and grief and lost and lonely raging humanity unable to find balance or peace or the nerve to change. Sometimes I think that the Noah epic isn’t about God but it is about us. Our isolation and cruelty and ego and shame and dreadful capacity for lashing out. Other times I hope it is about both us and God, Because God changes. There are people who feel God to be changeless, but in a universe that is constantly in motion that would make God separate and apart and the only thing not in motion. My hope is that God is both - changeless in love and favor while also changing as any being in a relationship would change.

When I first looked at the lessons on Monday I thought it was the most lighthearted selection of First Sunday in Lent readings. Now Noah and the flood is much of what is on my my mind. If you feel like the devastation of the flood was wrong, which God seems to feel, Then we need to dive in and admit that our willful ignorance and failure of nerve is a repeat of the same story. Again. I am not sure right now if I have seen the rainbow and the assurance of never again. I am not so sure I can hear the voice of God saying we are his beloved. It is hard to hear over the torrent of cries and anger. Again. I do and I do not hear it. So I pray. When Jesus comes out of the waters of the Jordan river, Usually I picture the water as a few feet deep and calm. A pleasant sunny day at a festival down by the riverside. This week I need it to be a deep muddy and raging river. Our machinery is too powerful and our frustrations are too lonely, I fear we are being set up to wipe ourselves out. I need my savior rising from terrible waters and hearing all of you are my beloved and I need to feel it in every inch of my body. I imagine myself holding onto him, clinging to his back for dear life.

Nowhere in the Good News is it suggested that we are only with Jesus when he is the good shepherd. We are with him when he is under the raging waters of this trial and crucifixion. We are with him in the temptations of the powers that be. We are with him as he weeps. We are all in all of this together. I want a rainbow because the temptations and brokenness are so rampant. But I cannot grasp a rainbow. So we practice the sacraments because I need tangible outward and visible reminders of our deep connections with God and each other. The church begins each Lent as we did today with the Great Litany. Deliver us from pride and hypocrisy and malice. Maybe we should pray this Litany more often. Maybe we should pray it beyond the confines of our tiny ark. Prayer isn’t meant to be wishful thinking or pious pushy ineffectiveness. Prayer is relationship. Prayer is becoming open to possibilities we cannot discover on our own. If we are true and centered, what we pray to God should echo in our lives. Prayer is an opening through which God fills us with intention that is more than ours, while also blessing us with the freedom to act as free beings. In what ways could we translate the litany we prayed today into action? Is it by being open to being turned around, and ready to make real and reasonable changes to stem the tide?

The thinness of Noah gives us ample room to find ourselves in his story. The questions he doesn’t ask, we must ask. The feelings of being in the tumult of the storm, we need to know that we are not alone. And it is also the reminder that we have the resources to build the ark, or adjust the forecast and not be paralyzed. May we go out from our little ark, from breaking bread and offering whole body prayers not perfected, or shielded from tragedy, but bound to grieve with shattered neighbors and called by God to leave our complacency behind. We are all in this, all of this, together. Show us your ways o Lord, and teach us your paths. Echo in us the justice and mercy that we pray for. We are all in this, all of this, together.


February 18, 2018
Walla Walla, Washington

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ch Ch Cha Chia.

Superfoods and wonder diet's come and go. 10 years ago I didn't know how to say quinoa, but I knew how to say pomegranate and sun dried tomato and green tea. When I was very young I remember grapefruit diet, and the grapefruit supplements sold on TV advertisements between my steady diet of afternoon reruns. There were also ads for a chia pet. A little packet of seeds you would soak and then apply across water soaked grooved pottery shaped like a rabbit. It would sprout and you couldn’t do anything with it, and it would eventually wilt, but we thought it was cool. Never would I have dreamed that I would be eating chia seeds frequently. Urged by my doctor to do so,I throw them on all sorts of things, because I want to believe that granola and chia seeds on a bowl of ice cream makes it health food.

Chia seeds are recommended because of my fragile and lazy digestive system. So many of us have ailments and issues, we are so scarred and scared and so hopeful that something else is possible. Thank goodness I read somewhere that fermented foods are good for digestion. So many are worried and hurting and frustrated some of it inside, some of it is the turbulence all around. I will buy the turmeric and avocado oil coated baked coconut chips because I'm hopeful that it will do something that I can't seem to do on my own. Our gospel today suggests that this behavior isn't all new. The people are flocking to Jesus rushing to him because they have heard that his very presence offers healing from illness and release from hurts: huge ones and tiny ones.

The book of Isaiah comes to us canonically as one book with one title. However in its composition is more like how all the Star Wars movies are called Star Wars even when each film has different writers and directors- think of Isaiah as a little like a boxed set. They belong together in the wisdom & inspiration, but the distinctions can be enlightening. Today we come in with Isaiah 4, it is the first 5 minutes of the 2nd film in a 3 film series (or maybe a 4 film series depending upon which scholar you ask). The last chapter, chapter 39, is believed to be over a century and a half older. It was naming an apocalyptic vision that warfare and breakdown and decay were imminent. There was an overriding conviction that our failure to love God and love all others was the cause of the coming devastation. The new setting of this chapter is a radically evolved understanding of God’s connectivity and relationship with us. One that experiences a God who knows the pain and misery of the world and wants for us a sweetwater reign.

The experience of the wretched exile of the Hebrew people is now in the rear view mirror,but its memory is alive and well. And alienation and confusion are not something of the past. So the chapter begins:

Comfort o Comfort my people. The Lord God is coming with strength like a shepherd, he will tend his flock, he will gather lambs in his arms. 

God is not removed and unconcerned, God has not left us all on our own in our pain and fear and confusion, God lifts us out of the pits and carries us like we are soaring through the skies.

We don’t know if Simon's mother in law asked for Jesus to come over.She had a fever, but apparently, she was not so drastically ill that she was avoided, which was a common practice in that era. I have to say if I had a fever and someone in my life decided to bring over all their friends my initial response would not be kind. She's not one of these people in the crowds who rushed to Jesus surround him at every side in hope of relief. But she does have people in her life who love her and bring healing to her door. There are none of the occasions of other episodes where it is said that her faith or the faith of her friends has made her well. Jesus touches her and the fever ends and she gets up. What does it mean that her response to the experience of the healing presence of Jesus is to get up and to serve? It's easy to jump to gender roles and householding arguments, but that's not the intention here. The word used is diakonaeo, in which we can hear a related term, Deacon. This woman sets the example of the faithful response to being set free is to set others free. Love as you are loved by God.

She could of stayed in bed. She could have mistrusted her senses or come up with another explanation. A healing on the small scale is no different than the cosmic comfort God offers on a large scale. We are a part of a divine movement that is both as immediate as a woman being relieved of a fever and as historic as a people being set free from Exile. Sacred texts went from spoken word to written word because ancient prophets and caregivers and community experienced new life in the deep comfort and healing power of God and they wanted to share it. How is this Jesus a way of life and not just a dash of this week's superfood on our cheese fries? How could your mysterious affection for him be a life-giving diet not only for ourselves but for others?  What needs to change to live into that call?

From the section but not the text of Isaiah that we read today is the very idea of good news.Good news goes from just being nice information to a holy concept of divine rescue, words that find themselves expressed in the Greek text with the word we know as gospel - which means big deal message. Good news is a big deal message of comfort and liberation from the cruelty of the powers that be and it is rescue from a fever or emotional turmoil and bitter dysfunction. We have the option to believe this Good News or to try and ignore it and find other solutions. Yet it is alive and working to heal us with or without our comprehension of it.

If you have a fever, or someone in your life has a fever, then I believe Jesus would say to take care of yourself or that other person, eat wholesome foods, whether they are super healing or not. Jesus would say to take care of whoever has a fever just as medical science has shown, and God will hold us in his arms while we do. If your fever is of a different sort, heartache or loss or the frightening stream of ridiculous absurdity that surrounds us, then Jesus comes to us in word and community and sacrament and lifts us up as if we were soaring through the skies on the back of a broad-winged bird.

This is the feeling that people had when they met Jesus, when they followed him and told others about him.This life of resurrection is the good news that started the Jesus movement the new life that God continues to raise us into. Good News. He who is so much more than a viral superfood miracle diet is with us.The Savior Shepherd Lord Friend Neighbor Healer is already here.

Let us pray.
We gather and make a pause amid many voices
Some innocent and some coercive,
Some genuine, and some not.
Amid this noisy flow that pulls us in many directions,
We have this Good News 
That you are fierce and generous and surprising and abiding.
Give us good ears to hear your Good News 
In our lives and in our neighborhoods.
Give us grace and courage to listen, to answer, to care,
And to rise and serve,
That we may be more truly your people.
(prayer adapted from Wa
lter Bruggemann)

Epiphany 5 Year B RCL
February 2018
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington

Friday, February 9, 2018

say goodbye say hello

I heard it said by a wise woman that how you say goodbye is how you say hello.  That isn't really what she said, and it may also be exactly what she said.  It is rather hard to do both in the same manner.  Saying goodbye to friends is more complex.  There is the desire that no goodbye is actually a goodbye.  We say, see you later.  And I do believe I will, however, that is more of an existential subject than the motions of even this nomadic church lady intends.

Spokane, Washington, is a much-underappreciated city full of tasty nooks and brag-worthy bar stools and nice people.  I first visited Spokane just under five years ago and I must say there are few cities I have never lived in that I have so much appreciation for.  Now I should probably add a caveat that I have slept here for what must total over two months of nights, so this isn't a pass-through place for me.  For a while, it seemed like I was running an Expedia review series of downtown hotels (Montvale is my favorite; followed by the new RL).   Our regional headquarters and therefore one-quarter of my job was centered here.  So too were meetings of huge importance and friendships of long standing.  I had no idea how well I would know this city, with its large chunks of rock in random spots, steep streets, and darling vaguely craftsman houses.  I wonder about the bold ambition to build the Cathedral of St John on that steep slope and the sheer volume of raw materials of life that pass through the rails and roads of this city.

This week was supposed to be a retreat but I don't usually find dozens of colleagues gathered in winter at a less than cozy site to be the most retreat-full.  I know this could be a goodbye time and I am moved to say goodbye the way I like to say hello.  Meetings and beverages across the various treasures of the city.  Some have been here for a while, and a few are quite new.  Glistening jewels of hops and coffee craft sprouting on the hard brick of this old city.  I have had tea with a young woman growing and a long-term saint continuing.  Beers with myself and this computer and beer with one of my unexpected besties.  We never say so long, only see you later.  It is not goodbye even if it is goodbye, but instead, it is a chance to celebrate our lives and share in what makes us us.  This is rather different from all the original awkward cafe conversations and will always be.  I adore you, each of you.  The coffee shops and breweries, the dancers, the administrators, the deacons, the priests.  Thank you for welcoming me into your journey.  Clank the virtual glasses and raise a toast to the mysteries of the Spirit that draw us to each other.