Monday, May 20, 2019

Conversion from the Conventional: Buffyverse post 3

(Post 3 of TBD)

There are two reasons for choosing Cordelia as a subject to study conversion. The first is that she begins the series as the most thoroughly privileged conventional main character. Her shift from a conventional worldview to an agent against evil is a dramatic revolution of life. It is, however, the consequences of her subsequent conversions within the mystical worldview that make her case the most extreme of all. She is the icon of the successful conventional world; who eventually accepts becoming a demon herself to continue her vocation in the communal fight. Other characters have changed and evolved and converted, but only Cordy has chosen to holistically sacrifice her conventionality – her human-ness - for the sake of the mystical common redemption. To examine her conversion I will utilize the conversion process explained by Dr. Lewis Rambo in Understanding Religious Conversion, including context, crisis, quest, encounter, interaction, commitment, and consequences. Following the discussion of the process of Cordelia’s initial conversion, I will examine the typology of her 2 subsequent intensifications or further conversions.

“Being this popular is not just my right, but my responsibility”
-Cordelia Chase

The first episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS) establish the foundational themes of the Buffyverse (BV). Particularly vital to the first three seasons is the metaphor of high school is hell. Sunnydale High is a typical upper middle class, Southern California public secondary school – except for its geographical situation on top of a Hellmouth. Students are faced with the everyday pressure of academic achievement and parental transference, confronted with the physical and mental confusion of becoming adults, and perhaps most pervasively, the fearsome social caste system. 

However, in Sunnydale the everyday crises are exaggerated, intensified and incarnated due to the demonic energy beneath. The transformation of a common expression allows the Buffyverse to confront the emotional turmoil of high school more effectively than a run of the mill after school special. The embodied metaphor takes on sacramental qualities – outer signs of inner truths. The concrete usefulness of the classroom objectives vary in later life, but the success, scars, and lessons of the social scheme of high school are crucial formative forces – demonic or not. Academic achievement is approached in Buffy for its emotional and social content – perhaps the most lasting effect of the contemporary curricula. This is the context of Sunnydale High and therefore the context of Cordelia’s initial conversion. 

The formal systems of access and control in this setting are functionally limited to parents, teachers and administrators and practical power rests with a few detested social elites. The upper-middle-class American culture rewards consumerism and achievement relatively regardless of moral merit. The demonic forces and mystical dimension that exist in relationship with the conventional go largely unnoticed rationalized and suppressed. Formal religiousness is shelved, but people and ordained objects and methods have the ability to directly manipulate the mystical and conventional world: crosses and holy water repel vampires regardless of the faith of the wielder. Weird things go bump in the night – but people choose not to make anything of it. This para-normality and its effects on a high school population is the framework of influences and therefore the first phase of experiences that lead Cordelia into conversion.

When we first meet Cordelia Chase she is not only solidly set in the context of the conventional worldview, she is the reigning queen of the high school social order. While not a brainiac, she demonstrates that she is a critical thinking and articulate young woman, even if her point of view is neither egalitarian or politically correct. It is perhaps true that Cordelia is smarter than the average bear on the top of the social scheme. This judgment is confirmed because she can correctly asses the crisis of a situation she does not understand and seek out help from those she realizes do understand and can intervene. It is this capability that leads her away from complete diva-ness, from being the self-absorbed master of her own world order. 

Her particular series of crises comes from her position at the top of the high school social pecking order. Cordy garners as much respect as revilement from her classmates. Given the macro context of Sunnydale High, its literal hellishness exaggerates and perverts the micro context of emotional desperation in the social outcasts. In this context the energy of the Hellmouth disintegrates the boundary between Cordy’s conventional world and the mystical, putting her life in danger and forcing her to step from one into the other. It is a series of crises in the first season that develop the second phase of Cordelia’s conversion. She seeks a practical solution to a concrete threat, rather than an experimental or intellectual frame for conversion.

Converting from the Conventional: Buffyverse (post 2)

(post 2 of tbd)

What does one convert to and from in the ‘Buffyverse’ (BV)? Conversion happens when someone is connected to a community, when they participate in communal rituals for consonant goals, when “the interpretation of life is transformed into a religious frame of reference”, and someone’s role is guided by this interpretation of life, ritual structure and communal commitment. One thread of conversion has been the transformation from evil to good – usually due to some sort of intervention. A character such as Spike entered the epic as a several hundred-year-old vampire, passionately hell-bent, to later become a compatriot in the battle against evil. 

The most dominant thread of conversion in the series’ is from the conventional worldview to the mystical worldview. The mystical worldview resides in the same world as the conventional worldview. The mystical worldview is the acknowledgment of the multidimensional, demonically dominant cosmos in which humanity and others are the incarnation of redeeming grace. Crossing over into the mystical worldview employs soteriological significance when we appreciate that the pursuit of higher purpose is portrayed as a right relationship with the cosmos and the divine. People of the conventional worldview experience the effects of the mystical, however they tend to rationalize and suppress it. It would be fair to state that from the perspective of the mystical worldview people with a conventional worldview are the norm. Conventional people in the BV are not damned for their isolation, even if they are blissfully ignorant of the real danger and salvation that persists in their periphery. 

With the exception of the demon characters, most regular characters in the series’ convert from the conventional to the mystical worldview at some point in their life (or death). It would be difficult to be paranormally evil or fight such evil if you don’t acknowledge its reality. This progression happens for Giles when he is told as a child that he is destined to be a Watcher, and for Buffy as a teen who is informed by a mysterious Watchers Council member that she is the Slayer. A person who is fed on by and then sired by a vampire is forcibly converted. Association converts a few people – for example Buffy’s immediate friends and family cannot stay out of the loop. On one occasion Buffy crashes her own surprise party by smashing through a window and then dusting a vampire. Oz, the newcomer to the immediate circle (on a date with Willow), stands in awe. Xander says to him “I know this is hard to understand but, vampires are real, a lot of them live in Sunnydale.” To which Oz responds – ‘Actually, it explains a lot!” 

The conversion from a conventional worldview is analogous to religious conversion in several ways – communal mediation, sanctified focus, and ritualism. Communities, groups and institutions always mediate conversion. In the Buffyverse an encounter with supernatural evil does not automatically convert; in general even multiple encounters do not convert. It is the involvement with the Scooby Gang of BTVS or the staff of Angel Investigation that mediates the conversion to the mystical worldview and the responsibility of the converts to affect this worldview. 

A second similarity is the shared religiousness or sanctity focus. Religion has to do with life experiences and the way in which these experiences are conceived by self and community and the according response. Religious is a suitable description of the BV because it is particularly concerned with the dynamic established between the human being and the phenomenonenal and experiences that surpass the bound of currently dominant rational, mechanical and empirical assessments. This includes emotion, imagination, tradition and particularly in the BV, morality and justice. 

Overall the BV assumes the paranormal reality of the created cosmos as the concern of the mystical worldview. In the logic of the BV it is this mystical dimension that actually comprises the power of defeat and redemption in the conventional world. This is the paradoxical nature of the relationship between these worldviews. It is the phenomenal characteristics and power of the mystical worldview that makes the shift from one to the other a religious conversion. 

This has extraordinary implications for the contemporary ecumenical church; in that it’s organizing principle is by enlarge the same as the mystical worldview. Religions today dwell in the mystical in the context of a global arrangement that is constructed in the rational and commercial worldview. People may experience the phenomenal and demonic in the BV and continue with their conventional lives – so to in our experience. The difference often includes the transformative power of liturgy. A conversion process in the BV takes root if the initiate begins to participate in the Scooby or AI rituals. This ritual is a regular patterning of gathering due to crisis, investigation and reading of ancient texts, dialogue to prepare a response, the gathering of ‘ordained’ instruments and going out to act in light of the research and reflection. If a person remains in relationship with the missions against evil, the process of initiation is extended as well as complicated. It usually involves several phases and cycles of multiple conversions within the mystical worldview. Conversion from an average nominally/non-religious life to a religious life is profoundly demonstrated by conversion to the mystical worldview in the Buffyverse.

It is important to recognize a related facet of the tandem dichotomy for the church with the mystical and the conventional worldviews in regards to the socio-economic associations with these worldviews. The conventional worldview of the BV is primarily consumer driven and individualistic, much like the pervasive ideology of the contemporary 'West'. The mystical worldview is predominantly communitarian and focused on the pursuit of collective redemption and the ultimate good – arguably the consistent emphasis of the Christian and other religious testimony. 

It is often the case in the BV that a character converts from individualism and consumerist pursuits, and the enemy is often a capitalist-style demon or perversion. It takes no great leaps to pick up the radical flavor as one writer observed, “In BTVS and Angel there is a persistent association of capitalist values – among them the accumulation of wealth, the rationalization of production, the commodification of labor – with literal inhumanity.” (I will add the attribution when I find it). He goes on to point out that in the BV unselfishness, compassion, forgiveness, community, love, and self-sacrifice are critical to human freedom and well being. 

It has been suggested that this emphasis represents the feminist spirituality of the Buffyverse, given the immanence of the sacred, personal responsibility in a subjective and relational framework. This liberation ethic does not mean that individualist hierarchies and capitalist ventures are always in the way of redemption. The BV is resolutely postmodern in its approach to good and evil. Neither fit in a typology, the boundaries are not only fuzzy but good can be used for evil and vise versa. There are evil people and good demons, good magic’s gone wrong and so on. Someone of the conventional worldview is not evil per say because of their consumerism, but they are ignorant of the both the evil taint of the capitalist structures and the regular sacrifice committed on their behalf to maintain their lives and conventional worldview. There is a vast difference between being saved by the actions of the Scooby Gang or AI and acknowledging what really happened. However for those who are lifted from this ignorance, an amazing percentage of BV denizens join the fight. Which brings us to the conversion of Cordelia Chase.

Converting from the Conventional: Buffyverse, Conversion, and Progressive Chrisitian mission

(post 1 of tbd)

The title Buffy the Vampire Slayer suggests humor, horror, action and drama all in one phrase. The opening narration suggests this is a story about one girl battling evil – but that is a bait and switch. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its spin-off series Angel, is about the communal pursuit of redemption and safety in the face of intense forces of evil and fragmentation. Buffy is the one Slayer, a bit of a Barbie who saves the world a lot. What is the plural of apocalypse anyways? Contrary to tradition she has attracted a team with whom she turns back the tide of horrific and humorous dark magic’s, demons, vampires and human perversions. It is a love story; an epic of affection for a world that feels like it has gone mad; a questing for holy intervention; a sketching of the necessity of a community; and a striving against violent waves of darkness.

Outside of my professional responsibilities as a Christian pastor I know I have converted people to four other things. 1 – baseball 2 – Todd Snider, no really, check him out, he’s good (a poster for an album decks the outside of the Magic Box at one point), 3- Buffy  4- Craft Beer.  Buffy/Angel are a pair of 20/21st century television shows that were a postmodern-ish playground for the interaction of the daily crisis and otherworldly spiritual forces. This is in stark contrast, if not battle with, the modernist empiricism, materialism and capitalism of the late 20th century. The crises of the people (and other beings) are demonically demonstrated reflections of our own. 

I cannot imagine anyone finding this hashtag who doesn't know the Josh Whedon created shows  - but they both are commonly referred to as the Buffyverse.  Here the heroes of the Buffyverse are creatures constantly in the processes of conversion to their mission and vocation. Conversion is not only a persistent experience within the Buffyverse, but it is also the way many people describe their entry into following the show(s). So it feels  natural to reflect on religious conversion from a progressive religious perspective using the hours of narrative of the most theologically dense shows ever. 

In this blog series I will be adapting an old paper to discuss conversion in the Buffyverse generally – from what to what, the kinds and stages of conversion. At the same time I identify the stages and types of the threefold conversion process of Cordelia Chase, a primary character first on Buffy and then on Angel. Spike might take the prize for the steepest conversions, but I chose Cordelia not only for the extremity of her conversions but because of her initial allegiance with the conventional world that religious institutions can feel in battle with every day.  If high school was hell, conventionality might be worse.  What did CS Lewis say, a world full of nice people being nice is that much harder to save?

There is one further reason for choosing to examine the conversion of Cordelia in the Buffyverse. Given our individualist culture, evil tends to be assigned to individual interactions. The context of these shows provides an alternative narrative: evil is dangerously large and not a one on one phenomenon. This is an attractive and resonant vision for the youngest adults in our society who have felt acutely victimized by their forbearer’s constant scapegoating. To confront persistent systemic evil, the collective courage and appreciation of difference in a multicultural society is demanded. The youngest generations respond to Buffy and friends because they provide a post-modern story to find each other in. It is a vision of how we can meet the ever-present critical challenges that are worth our blood, sweat and tears. 
Furthermore, the concurrent attraction for philosophical, sociological and religious academics suggests that the Buffyverse may be a meeting place between the overeducated and the everyday citizen. Academia of the humanities has consistently struggled to communicate with conventional people effectively regarding the complex but essential issues we study and everyone lives with. These shows portray these topics on a regular basis, sidestepping the sometimes emotionally loaded traditional sources. This makes Buffy an excellent medium to examine the sometimes verboten topic in progressive Christian zones - that is religious conversion. 

“How do you know the other world is any better than this? Because it has to be.”
-Rupert Giles

Navel Gospel: Incarnation in the Middle of our Lives

Current good data on the sociology of religion in the United States shows that about 75% of Americans claim they are affiliated with a religious congregation. It also shows that about 88% of Americans believe in God with varying degrees of certainty. You may know already that people who have no religious affiliation are a growing portion of the religious landscape. However, I suspect that this is less of a new thing and more of a people feel more empowered to be honest about it thing.  Still, it might be interesting to know that among the folks who have no religious affiliation, around 60% of those people claim to believe in God with varying degrees of certainty. 

Now, most of the people who belong to some sort of congregation or religious group in the USA belong to one of the three Abrahamic religions. That means churches that claim themselves as Christian, that means Jewish Synagogues or Temples, and it means Muslim Mosques. All of which share the roots of belief that there is one Lord God of the universe. The survey takes that idea very much for granted. The survey takers are asking about belief in God assuming that means one unified power, They are not asking about multiple lowercase-g gods in any shape or form. But this assumption wouldn’t have flown in the historical context of all of our Scriptures today. All of them that we read: the Acts lesson, the Psalm, the section of Revelation and the Gospel all trust and believe that there is one God of the universe. Yet for their neighbors, that wouldn't have been taken for granted at all. 

The context of this Psalm is one where there was the belief in plenty of lowercase-g gods of all sorts and they were connected to places and people. You could add and subtract like comic book superheroes. Sometimes you see evidence of this in the Old Testament and even in some of the scenes in Acts as the good news mission, the Jesus movement mission moves out into the wider Mediterranean world. Now there may have been people who on their own were inspired to believe that there was one unified highest power that created the universe and loves the universe but it was by no means a majority opinion. 

So this Psalm today Is breathtakingly daring in its scope. The sky is praising Yahweh, the waters are of God, the whales and octopus just the same. All the weather, all the hills, and the deserts, and the trees: they clap their hands in praise of the One divine and all God’s critters have a place in the choir. That's world-changing revelation. We are not alone. We are to be one with each other and God. 

And then you come to the New Testament where the experience of the people around Jesus was that this one Lord God of the Universe is revealed most clearly in the life and death and resurrection of this one person - Jesus. That this God became incarnate as a backwater day laborer, that's a whole other form of stunning. Incarnation is a word you probably hear said and sung only in church circles. The basic definition is something - usually very Other - embodied in a human. In Christianity in particular, if we're hearing about the Incarnation we're hearing about Jesus. We're exploring how we know him and what it means that the material world can bear all the weight of divinity. 

For me one of the distinctive characteristics of the Episcopal church and the Anglican tradition Is its incarnational focus. What do I mean by that - well I mean that we prioritize the Gospels: Matthew Mark Luke and John, the sacred stories of how Jesus lived, what he taught, what he said was most important, how he died and how he rose again and who Jesus meant for us to be when he commissioned us as disciples. We're a tradition where you can see very clearly this priority of the Gospels and how we read it in worship. The other lessons are read from the lectern or the Psalm said altogether, but the Gospel has a special book, sometimes the book is brass covered. 

And we carry the book out into the middle of the congregation into the middle of our lives. There are churches where it is hugged tightly as it is brought out, like it is the most precious thing. And there are churches where the book is kissed and touched by the congregation, however it is more common that some people will bow or cross themselves to set their intentions to truly hear and take in this good news. We are a people who put all the special we can muster into the proclaiming the stories of the Incarnation of the one Lord of All in Jesus of Nazareth. 

Another way in which we are Incarnational is related to that  - it is that we put plenty of time and talent and treasure into our spaces and our accouterments. The practical effect of good incarnationalism is that it matters what we do with our bodies and with our material things and with our spaces. We trust that this attention to the material leads us into the mysteries of faith that words cannot express or explain. Today in our Gospel reading we heard a snippet of something we just heard during Holy Week.  Here in the very center of John, you have the special great (last) supper and the mandates Jesus gives us and the cleansing he offers. 

It might be said that John more than any other gospel is caught up in the whoa of this incarnation experience of this one God of the universe being fully human in Jesus. And today right here at the center of the work of the sacred Storyteller of John, the author reverently invites us into the center of Christology, into what Jesus means in our lives. How does the God of all greet us: with humility. How does God respond to all of our failures and betrayal: with forgiveness What does God ask of us: that we love all as much as God loves all. 

It's right there in the center at this gospel with all its circular layers right here in the center of our proclamation in the center of our nave which is like navel - as in your belly button-  so the center of yourself. And it can be summed up, all our lessons can be summed up with one of Presiding Bishop Curry's most popular quotes: if it isn't about love then it isn't about God. That is the heart of our lessons today. Proclaiming Jesus as our Lord as one and the same as the loving forgiving Lord of all creation and the healing Spirit of God. Whoa. 

Today the lessons are a summons to humility, the letting go of our expectations, and assumptions, and in that new space letting belonging and forgiveness rise up. Perhaps the task before us this week is to listen to our friends and neighbors who are in that -none zone - which here in Pemberton is over half. Listen with love for schedules and stresses, hurts and misunderstandings, goodness and commitments. Listen with love to how God is speaking because God can speak through the wind and the rain, sunshine and sharks (#finsup). God is speaking - are we listening with love? Where we go - we are to be one with the incarnate Lord of all. What we hear - we are to be one with the incarnate Lord of all - Jesus the Christ. 

Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey
May 19th, 2019

Monday, May 6, 2019

Texas or Tatooine: Conversion of Paul and New Landscapes

I still miss the wildflowers in the springtime.
When I was 14 going on 15 We moved from northern Virginia To San Antonio Texas. Moving wasn't that interesting of a thing growing up in the military moving was normal. Maybe you remember the advertising campaign Texas: like a whole other country. From my experience, we might as well have moved to Tatooine. Lizards and live oaks were strange. Fajitas were tasty, but it was my classmates and their lives and their stuff - that blew my mind. There were these expensive leather backpacks with monograms - and not just the girls had them. I think I expected the cowboy hats and the big hair but so much else was alien.

Rewritten memory suggests that I had the social awareness to not have spent the whole first month of school with my jaw wide open. Yet I will say that I often wondered if I was dreaming that I was in a movie of what high school in Texas was like. Early moments of a substantial conversion can be like that - hard to comprehend.  There is the desire to retreat, to dismiss it. You thought you knew who you were and where you were going but now your horse is gone and you are walking out of Ananias’ house and you may not feel like you are breathing real air. 

For Paul who was also Saul - everything has changed he was (and remained) a Jewish man, a Roman citizen, a person of privilege and authority. And suddenly the living Jesus comes to him in what bible scholars call a theophany. It changes every sense and thought and duty and aim. Everything must have felt unexplainable flipped upside down - an alien landscape. What Paul is to become is an agent of light, a swashbuckling proclaimer of the God who is nothing but Love; the one God who in Jesus was slain, who rose, who lives. 

All of his life experiences feed into the person he is going to become. Both his Hellenistic life and his pious Jewish expertise. Yet where he was once inwardly focused and resistant to change Paul now takes on an outward and adaptable trajectory. This person of power and esteem becomes a tradesperson, a tent maker which also meant leatherworker. The kind of employment that his home of Tarsus was known for, and the kind of work that can help sustain what matters most - the Mission of Good News for All. 

There is a good little book called something like Saint Paul, the Apostle Everybody loves to Hate. The title is sensational. It is a clear attempt to sell books - both to those who adore Paul, And those who think they don’t. The book resembles my push and pull relationship with Saint Paul. I love him because a little bit of his story feels like my story Early righteousness and a lucid moment and a mission in Jesus’ name to places and duties I would have laughed at in my old ways. I can see that he was trying to do the best he could with this mash-up of an ancient tradition and a new revelation. Paul was trying to shepherd small communities that were feisty and complicated and spread out over wild distances. 

My difficulties with Paul I think have more to do with things he says that are not love God, love neighbor. And I have to remember that my discipleship is imperfect and hope no one is reading my correspondence in worship in a thousand years. My frustration with Pauline things, however, is more about the way at times we manipulate him - pull out single sentences and hurl them at each other. Use his writings to let ourselves off the hook from the parts of being justice making good news people that are tiresome or might turn our world upside down. I don’t expect Paul to be consistent or perfect - he wasn’t and how could he be? Yet still - overall I find his gifts to our mission to be lifegiving again and again. 

Sometimes I say my conversion went from 0 to 60 but that's only part of the story. And while I didn't fall off a horse blinded by Jesus’ light, yet the way in which my path was rerouted and completely changed - yeah - I feel a sense of connection with Paul today. Yet it is the trickle of my story, like I suspect most discipleship stories, it is the everyday nudges and questions asked and patience shared in the community before and after that made this discipleship real, this way with Jesus what it is. The faith isn’t a box to check off it is a building of trust, moments of falling upward and exploring new partnerships so that we may become a people who look and sound and act more like Jesus. 

I believe that the living risen Jesus is present with us in our doubts and anxieties and stubbornness too. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus had been luring Paul for a long time, But it took this push off his high horse to set him free. We are invited to love the past and adapt and change for the mission and the future, and I hope you will step out in courage and candor following the Spirit of God.  I hope you will keep asking questions and digging deeper and loving as Jesus loves. Will you go feed? Will you go tend, go love?

Jesus helps us up from our fallenness- but he does not leave us there standing still. The constant motion and drama of Acts, the otherworldliness of Revelation, the direction of the Gospel of John it is all outward, yet also centered in communities of discipleship like Grace Church. Further out and further in.  

It is the living resurrected Christ that scattered all of Paul’s deadness In the dust on the ground that day. And now - in baptism - God has filled and compelled and sustained this person to foster Good News living communities that are clearly a cast of the imperfect and the misfits - just like you and me. Paul was sent to the people that Jesus invites to his table - all all all. And to tell the good news with such daring and creativity - that the world has absolutely been changed for the better by him. However- he didn't do it alone and he didn't do it by pretending nothing had changed. Let’s go - Jesus is sending us out to do the work he has given us to do.

Easter 3  RCL-C
May 5, 2019
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

Wonder and Trust: the Early Jesus Movement and Forgiveness

That one time, at Golden Road, at FORMA...
Sometimes I wonder I wonder why in the world did the followers of Jesus after his arrest and trial and crucifixion why didn't they flee? If the person that I was following whose teachings about the abundant love of God had reshaped my life and if that person was executed as a revolutionary indicted and put down in a conspiracy of nervous leaders, I would be scared and preoccupied and anxious - ready to run. I understand hiding out for a night I can see sticking around long enough to properly care for this body that has been shamed. But otherwise I have to wonder why didn't they split up why didn't they get out of town? You and I all know plenty of people including possibly ourselves who would have flown the coop. Yet the disciples did stick around. 

From the story that John is offering us today of those days after the crucifixion and the resurrection this set of people who were steadfast - they were probably laying low. Still they need to go out at different times to get provisions to talk to safe acquaintances. On one of those days, it is Thomas who goes out carefully cautiously with a mission. While he's gone Jesus appears to this group of disciples in this room. I think a lot of us have been in a similar situation to Thomas. That fantastic epic day that all of your family or friends experienced and they're telling stories about the day and they're really excited about it And they forget you were not there. You were sick or you had to work. Maybe you've been the other way around where it's you who had the great conversion experience and you keep forgetting that your one friend Toni, she wasn't there. This huge world turning over shift has happened in your lives and you don't necessarily understand it, and your one friend Thomas who you love isn't sure he even can believe what you are going on and on about.  

It was probably an awkward week on top of a scared and confused time. What I love is that they remain in the community even with a difference of experience. It is their commitment to each other in Jesus name which is a way of love and reconciliation that way of life prepares them for the complex mission of the Jesus movement that is ahead of them. Within this story today is a story of finding forgiveness, signs of Easter reconciliation that are rooted in the testimony of the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Jesus who appears to Thomas, this is the holy one who is present with these disciples knows their strengths and their weaknesses is well acquainted with our dreams feels our disappointments, and loves us and forgives us remains with and for us in all of this complexity. 

Our readings also have an interreligious complexity we must pay attention to with the love for all we promise Jesus when we say we will follow him with God’s help. I went to sleep last night with news trickling in of another shooting at a place of worship. A hate crime by a person who attacked a synagogue in southern California because he belived that those people - killed Jesus. We must always remember that in the texts of the New Testament references to the Jews are just like if I were to be quite mad at megachurch pastors. The anger and frustration is with people who were co-religionists who experienced things very differently. Yes! I get frustrated and vitriolic at so-called fellow Christians who claim that if you are perfect and sweet and buy their slick pastors helicopters and mansions that God will fill your pockets just a bit more. That is not the Good News of Jesus. And to me they make the work of union and rescue that much harder.  References to the 'jews' require digging deep and smart contextualizing, and the command that they are our siblings and neighbors who we are called to love as God loves us.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ - his priority is releasing the oppressed and welcoming the last the least and the lost with all we have. Jesus teaches that eternal life isn’t a golden gate in the sky but made real right here by letting go of all our whithering securities and exclusions. Eternal life is seeking union with the love of God and all creation. Pray for the people of this nation and the world. But also speak up when you see and hear hate crime sparking language. The way of Jesus is steadfast love for all, even those I disagree with. 

Jesus Christ is always leading his disciples toward New life - one that turns everything upside-down and towards union with God and all others. The disciples and the apostles are our elders and they passed on their experience they didn't stay in that room They didn’t ignore the complexity Keep it to themselves or get stuck in nostalgia - because that is the way of death. The way of life of Easter people is one of trust and courage, a way of wonder and paying it forward. I trust that God has a mission prepared for Grace Church and that Easter life will not leave you where it found you. Alleluia, Christ is risen!  

We are supposed to be Easter people and we are being led out of our tombs and toward being the Jesus movement of today. The sacred Storyteller of John is telling us a story about the first days of the Jesus movement, about a time of uncertainty that could barely imagine the reality that John's community was living in at least 60 years later. AND that storyteller told this Good News to us so that that this community of disciples could trust and serve and love as Jesus said. God calls us to trust the signs, trust each other, trust the Spirit. Doubts are fine. Questions are good. Lying in our graves, refusing to rise to the mission of lifegiving liberating love is not. Trust, share, welcome, go, and forgive in Jesus name. 

April 28, 2019
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

A week later the amazing author and blogger Rachel Held Evans died at a young age.  She did so much for so many and in her memory my commitment is to post more sermons and write more blogs for a world that is searching for Easter.  Thank you Rachel, we needed you and hear your love for us from the further shore.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Way of Light! Walk the Way of Love!

Easter is here!!!   Christ is risen.
We are nowhere near done with our discipleship, worship, study or prayer life. 

This Easter season I invite you to walk the Way of Light.  This path follows the same 14 spots as the Way of the Cross, however now the readings are focused on 'what's next' and being people of the resurrection. 

The Way of Light stations approved by General Convention last summer are here.  We have printed copies and a Bible in the bucket.  You could also use your smart device to google each passage. 

OR follow this link to 200+ passages focused on the word STEADFAST.    Choose 14 passages - but always click the 'in context' link for the full slice of text.

Or here are 15 passages from the Gospel of Luke with the word Light.  Click on the 'in context link' below each passage.

There are a handful of books in the bucket of light marked with 14 tabs.  Read a selection at each station. 

It would be interesting to choose an Easter themed podcast and listen to 5 minutes or so each station.

You could walk with hymns, and sing or listen to a verse at each station.  Here are 4 Easter hymns/songs on You Tube. 

Lastly here is a link to Easter poems.

What other ideas do you have for walking the way of light and resurrection?  What about a way of delight and energy after Pentecost?  What would you include?

Be the mission of love in the world.  Take the time to breathe and pray.  Christ is risen, Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Self Directed Way of the Cross Collection

At Grace Church in Pemberton, we have set up 14 stations around our property so that in the season of Lent one might walk the Way of the Cross, and then come Easter, the Way of Light.  This is an ancient way of spiritual growth, and we offer it with a few options. 

This journey can be for all people, those who know Christ's passion well, and those for whom the whole church thing is a mystery.

It can be done silently or reading aloud; it can be done on your own or with others.

We only suggest that you take your time.  Breathe deeply.  Reflect on the questions of how we are so deeply broken and how this Passion changes how we see and respond to cruelty and deathliness.

The stations start with a bucket of booklets and the printed options.

The bucket of options is by the 'back door' of the office on the Rectory (so within sight of the Peace Pole).  Here you will find:

· The folded Way of the Cross booklets are the most classic approach to this journey.

· The Bonhoeffer sets are 14 biblical stations paired with writings by theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It finishes with a short set of prayers.

· The Bearing our Sorrows book has 14 chapters with many choices. At each stop choose one reading (or more) from each chapter.

· The New Stations book could be used by reading the scripture at each stop and a paragraph or two from each chapter. It is a good book and worth the read.

· There is also a wonderful children’s book that only has 12 readings and includes Easter, but perhaps you could use it and make two stops be for silent contemplation.

· There are two sets of 14 art images. Take this along with you to contemplate.

· There is one set of 14 ‘quotes’ to contemplate.

Then this being the modern age there are several publicly available digital options.

Busted Halo is a terrific young source of digital content for smart and honest faithfulness.  A Catholic 'Way' to be sure, but worth a watch of these 'Virtual Way of the Cross' videos, all available on YouTube.

Here is a PDF of a thoughtful and profound version of the Way of the Cross offered by the Reverend Frank Louge.  This is what is printed and put in the bucket. My only complaint is the Roman numerals.  I really hate that we make it hard for people to count.  The language of the people includes numerals!!!

This is a link to a pdf of the typical Episcopal texts of the Way of the Cross with images from Episcopal Relief and Development. 

This is a podcast explanation of the stations more than a prayerful way through, but might be what you desire. 

This is a podcast of a set of biblical stations of the cross.  Some of the traditional stations come from tradition and not a specific scriptural moment. 

May this be a blessing to your journey and may we find ourselves in union with all who suffer at the foot of Jesus' cross.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Gather the Lost: Coins, Sons, A Rancher, A Samaritan and some Green Green Grass

Imagine a lovely open field of fresh green grass, beside a clear flowing stream. In the middle of this field, stand two able-bodied men and their aged father. A few steps away, yet within easy hearing distance is a woman and many of her friends: and they are in a good mood. Also a few steps to the other side of the father and sons, there is a rancher and his sheep, a few wooly ones by his side and one across his shoulders. A bit further away beside the stream, is a Samaritan man, you know it by looking at him, and beside him sits a weak stranger, bruises on his face and his arm is in a sling. There is heartbreak and recovery, panicked despair and reckless happy abandon, and people trying to do the right thing. Why do they stand in this field at this moment? Because Jesus heard his detractors grumbling and trying to slander him by mentioning again that this man Jesus - he FEASTS with the most low life traitorous pirates of ill repute - how could he be of God? 

His response is first to tell about the rancher - well - shepherd, who loves and cares for his sheep.  Just the other day he is counting them, And whoa - one is missing. So he goes and searches over hill and dale to find that lost and poky sheep and bring it home where the rancher rejoices. Next, Jesus tells of the woman who is checking her change purse and discovers that a coin is missing. So she lifts every bit of furniture and shakes out the rug and lights a lamp to search high and low, so that she might find the coin that she has lost. When she finds it she calls all her friends and throws a party to celebrate. The point of the sheep tale is that the sheep was found and there was rejoicing. The point of the coin tale is that the coin was found and there was rejoicing. And to me lost and found should be understood as teachings about death and resurrection and eternal life. 

In today’s selection, Jesus continues the lost and found, death and resurrection series. There were two sons. Two sons of a man who has given over his life to his sons. The word that is used to speak of inheritance isn’t the bank account - the word it is substance - it can be his assets, but it can also be heard as his life. And since this is about death and resurrection - let's go with life. This man, this father, is at this point, all but dead having given away his life. The crucial point is not the division of assets or pig sty. The point is that the second son gets lost. So lost that he too might as well be dead. 

One scholar suggests that this parable should be called 'the father that forgot to count.' The rancher counted. The woman counted. The father had two sons. The older son, who stayed home and did his duty, may have been just as lost as his playboy brother, but it was harder to notice. Being responsible and sticking to the estate are good things, but not if we forget we belong to something greater than the task in front of us. And so while rejoicing that the younger son was found, the father forgot t o look around the estate and seek out and find and celebrate his older son too. 

So why you might wonder, why are the stranger and the Good Samaritan are in this field with us. It is because of the all but deadness of the lost sheep and the all but wasted of the lost coin and the all but gone father and the lost sons. The Good Samaritan is about a man who is all but dead and the entirely outcast savior - it is another lost and found story. The Samaritan goes out of his way to rescue this stranger who was left in a ditch. The question that that parable began with was who is my neighbor - which of these people do I have to love and how much do I have to love them. The answer is there is no us and them, and how do you love - you lift the lowly and safeguard the vulnerable. 

So if you gather together this whole field of lost and found things and creatures and you ask what is God’s reign like and how show we live into it - What answer do you discover? In all of the gospels, none of the stories where Jesus encounters all but dead things does he ignore it. There is judgment here, but it isn’t about lives of ill repute or numbness, the judgment here is whether or not we accept that God is raising us from all the deadness we can concoct. 

For Lent, I have been preaching through the five job descriptions of the baptized life. Continue Return Proclaim Serve Strive. This week we are on the fourth - serve.  The promise to love and serve is not just saying will be good scouts and will tolerate others because it is nice and polite. We are invited by Jesus to be making our lives an example of the love and forgiveness that is already given in his life, death and resurrection. It is a celebration of how God loves us and will send people like you and me to find all the lost. Loving service to all neighbors is the grateful response, it is the greatest command. Our loving practices and actions and attitudes for all neighbors and therefore serving Christ in all persons responds to real human needs, not just with small change, or kind thoughts.  It is instead like a rancher seeking a sheep and a woman finding a coin and a father rejoicing when his lost sons return. 

It is love that persists in following Jesus by belonging to his community and growing in Jesus by serving with his community. Imagine a field of soft green grass And clear flowing water Where all the countless lostness becomes foundness. Who and where are you in this field of lost and found, Death and resurrection? What might move you from fragmented loss to connected wholeness? 

Holy Week is coming - I invite you to come face to face with all our lostness. Easter will follow- Jesus is Sending us out To love and serve. How and with whom will you go? God’s soft green field is one of unearned foundness, selfless forgiveness, and resurrecting love. All of those stories, Good Sam and the Found Sheep and the Found Coin and the Two Sons, they are pictures of who we are supposed to be as people who follow Jesus into the lostness of the cross, and who we are to be as we go where he sends us beyond the empty tomb. Go be found by Jesus, the good shepherd. Go, Find, love, serve, and gather.  What is lost can be found.

March 31, 2019
Grace Episcopal Church

-the one where i had to offer it from memory cause i pushed the wrong buttons on the tablet

Monday, March 11, 2019

Infinite Ways to Pray: Pi, Promises, and Lent

If you were stuck in the middle of the ocean on a lifeboat with an animal, what animal would you choose? It is the life of pi question. A book about a young man who finds himself stranded in a lifeboat in the wilderness of Pacific ocean with a Bengal tiger in the same small boat. The part of the story I want to offer today is that what undergirds the boy in the face the danger and temptations of the 227 days in the wilderness of the ocean was his life of prayer.

Back at his home in India Pi had a childhood a lot like mine we were free-range children, and what he was doing during the day his parents had almost no idea. Pi had a deep curiosity about God and in his part of India, he was able to practice Roman Catholic Christianity and Islam and Hinduism quite freely. They all have different holy days so nobody knew about his holy hobby for a while. Pi’s bravery saves his life on the boat with the tiger in the middle of the ocean. Pi’s creativity was absolutely the tool that provided sustenance in his wilderness trial. But it is the practice of prayer that keeps him going and anchors his sanity in his extraordinary passage.

The season of Lent was originally shaped to prepare people who'd been on a journey to baptism. Each Sunday this Lent I will focus on one of the five active baptismal promises, promises that we have prayed and committed ourselves to. The renewal of baptismal vows begins with a renunciation of evil and renaming the ideas and concepts that we trust in when we say we believe in God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This is followed up with five questions that are the word pictures which fill in what it means for us, as a community of people who trust in the things we just declared. It is easy to remember in five words: continue return proclaim serve strive.

The 1st of the 1st promise is will you continue in the apostle's teaching and fellowship and breaking of bread, and in the prayers. Continuing the apostle's teaching and fellowship means that you keep diving into the learning and reflection of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason in a community that is a community across time. The breaking of bread is clearly gathering for communion constantly and consistently. And the last part of the first promises is prayer.

The regular daily active life of prayer. The easiest and simplest way to think of what prayer should be is it is you and god looking at each other face-to-face it is, it is intimacy, it is candor, it is love, it is challenging, it is a relationship. Now our friend Pi the boy on the boat with the tiger in the wilderness of the ocean his relationship with God was so complex that he used 3 completely distinct traditions of religion and prayer to satisfy his longing to look at God face-to-face.

In the Christian tradition, we have dozens and dozens of ways that are real and true and holy methods of prayer. Some of them involve body movements, some of them involve reading and/or listening. Some of them working in the soil or the kitchen and some others are focused on sitting still and some of them involve lots of silence and some of them involve singing and lots of noise. If for some reason you've always thought of prayer as ___ and that fill in the blank has not held you in a regular relationship, has not invited you into that experience where you regularly look at God and God looks at you, then this Lent I challenge you to try a new kind of prayer.

The last thing I want to point out about our lesson and prayer today is that if you notice it is the spirit of God that leads Jesus out into the wilderness. And it is the Spirit of God that is calling us and leading us into challenges and the prayerful encounter with the great unknown paths that lay around of us. Prayer that is a conversation with the Lord of life will be about living more lovingly, more freely and not being stuck in temptations or selfishness or loneliness. Prayer is a deep breath of God when we are paralyzed by anxiety and fear of the future. Prayer can be the life of Jesus coming alive in you. Prayer is about living a life together in humility and reconciliation and mercy not only for yourself and others but for time and reality itself.

We promise to stick to prayer not because we get it not because we understand how it works but because we experience it as a deepening of the promises of our pledges to be with God who is here for us. Whatever your wilderness is God is with us. Whatever your ocean is, there is a practice of authentic prayer that can sustain you. Whatever the tiger in your lifeboat is, God calls us to live together in peace, whatever that takes. Continue return proclaim serve strive. Our promises are responded to with the promise of God: that we will live into this way of love with God's help forever and ever. Amen.

Grace Episcopal Church

Pemberton, New Jersey

March 10, 2019

RCL Lent 1C

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Flour to Flour: Sin and the true Center

In the late 80’s I went to one of the largest schools in the country. 7th - 12th graders in one ¼ mile long school in a rapidly developing part of Fairfax County. If every student, staff, and teacher was in the building it would have been nearly 10k people. That is bigger than most colleges. When I was in 7th grade the half of the 9th-grade biology students were given a 2-week long assignment. They had to carry around a 5lb sack of flour and attend to it as if it was a child. You had to have the sack of flour with you at all times. The sack had to make it through the two weeks mostly intact and holding most of its original contents.

Some of the students decorated their bags or drew faces on them, which you could do, but you couldn’t just put it in bubble wrap. The other half of the class were given an empty real eggshell. The rules were the same. An eggshell has slightly different challenges. Where the flour was heavy and bulky, the egg is small and forgettable. Both of which are intended to highlight the difficulties of parenting. 14-year-olds sometimes need a strong reminder that they are powerful and creative, but that they are not the center of the universe.

Self-centeredness is an important developmental stage - but it is intended to be a stage. We are not supposed to stay there. ON the last day Of the assignment In a moment of adolescent merriment and jubilance, Some of the 9th graders hurled their bags of flour or eggshells at the floor of the hallways. It was quite the mess of shell and flour and paper bag shreds. It became an utter unbelievable mess. Suffice to say we didn't get any version of this assignment two years later.

Sin is a rather misunderstood word. We are quite accomplished at it, yet we don’t quite understand what it really means. We tend to think of it as little slights and large cruelties, we may have heard that sin is about perfectionism or the letter of the law. Yet in the Old Testament sin isn’t as simple as a list of don’ts. Sin is an act or attitude that betrays God’s intentions for life together. Sin is a turning away from the covenant promises - the big ones - Love God, Love all neighbors as much as God loves you. There are a million acts and attitudes that betray God’s intentions, that rebel against God. Crookedness and abuse and gluttony and isolationism. When we say that Jesus did not sin we are not saying that he never did x y or z specifically. What we are saying is that he never turned his back on God and he never turned his back on being fully human - of practicing humanity as it was intended. It is Jesus’ life and death that exposes our unfaithfulness and sinfulness.

The sin of my older classmates wasn’t the jubilant silliness of smashing egg shells and bags of flour. It was forgetting that someone had to clean that mess up. That people put their whole lives into growing and harvesting that wheat - and it was wasted. Love all others as much as God loves you. The judgment of sin isn’t a lash It is a mirror that demands our humility That we are the creature, we are not the center, that God is God. And the well being of all is the intended center. To repent and return means we turn around from the worst of our self-centeredness And embrace the humility of putting our promises of fidelity to God and therefore neighbor at the center of our lives.

We mark our foreheads with ashes of mourning and death and destruction, But we mark them in a cross. Not the cross of cruel empire But the empty cross of Easter Because ash and sin and destruction is not the end of the story. The mess is overcome by the victory of God over death and selfishness at Easter. Our hallways are a mess of broken shells and tattered sacks and dust and dirt and muck of self-centered death and destruction.

If you feel like you are the smashed bag, the flour being walked over, or the shell that will never go back together again - your message today is that God loves you and the healing presence of the Spirit is with you, and Jesus is beside you in your grief. If you feel more like the people who made the mess The call of Ash Wednesday and Lent isn’t to wallow in the worst or shame and blame, But to see the whole picture of the goodness and to confess our personal role in the messes, pursue forgiveness and to grab a broom and a mop it up with Jesus - he is here with us, for us, in the middle of the mess.

The opposite of sin is loving God and loving all neighbors with heart and mind and soul and muscle and voices. Ashes to ashes. Flour to flour. Egg shells to egg shells. Dust and messes are not the end of the story. Eternal life turning toward the center, The love of God is the center and the start and the end of the story. God’s grace is more powerful than any mess we can make.

Ash Wednesday


Grace Episcopal Church

Pemberton, New Jersey

Monday, February 4, 2019

Past is not the Past: Hometowns and theoretical astrophysics and Jesus

Current theoretical astrophysics strongly suggests that time is not linear. That past and present and future are not separate, they are not in a line, they are adjacent and overlapping events That while distinct they are also not distinct. There is an Irish saying that suggests the same thing. The past is not the past is right here in the room with you right now. 

In our gospel lesson today we have layers of past present and future All living together in a vulnerable conversation That expresses deep connection and alienation and fear. Let's start with the past that is in the room. Jesus’ past. The majority of his life that we know nothing about. Unlike holiday hymns that sing of a meek and mild young Jesus, I believe that the adult we know in the gospels is much the same as the child. 

Jesus has returned to his hometown and home neighborhood. Where people have a deep love for him, and perhaps a whole set of other feelings too. Most of us know something like this scene today. When we are with our family of origin or place of origin We are there with the memories and experiences of who we once were, who they once were. The past is not the past. It is right there in the room with you. 

The present is of course there with Jesus and his neighbors and his friends and family. And the scene starts out positive. We tend to read the line about ‘isn’t that Joseph’s son’ in the doubting mode, but it could be read more in the whoa - hey - that’s Joseph’s son! way. The scene starts out warm and welcoming and it is Jesus in his upending the status quo self who riles things up. You might notice all the wonders he is known for are alluded to in his teaching here healing, cleansing - which is the free forgiveness of sins, and feeding. This is good news that isn’t heard as good news if you are trying to just keep your head down. It is Jesus’ aggressiveness with these announcements that get him run out on a rail. 

The future is also in this lesson. This Jesus movement was massively unsuccessful in Jesus’ home territory. Nazareth, Galilee, Capernaum - all missional failures. Every gospel is written in the context of and for immediate local Jesus movement communities. And it could be that this lesson is naming that heartbreaking disappointment, of failure in Jesus’ own hometown. Yet it is also a warning - that the synagogues were becoming places of confrontation and danger. These two groups were not distinct yet, but they were also deep in the pain of a growing sense different visions of what God is doing in the world. Which leads to animosity towards each other - often involving families and friends and neighbors. 

The good news here is that Jesus’ mission what we have committed ourselves to in baptism and Eucharist is one of feeding and healing and resurrection life. Be the golden rule, strength for the weak, joy for the joyful, ears for the grief. But mostly this lesson today is a bit of an ouch and oops. It hits close to home because it is about how we are not very good at living together in the context of changes and differences. That the past is always with us and the future too It is all in motion together and this makes us anxious and dizzy. We struggle to make sense of the vulnerabilities and heartaches that such interwovenness of time and experience In the context of constant change can create. 

Grace Church is certainly in one of these strange spaces of multilayered time. Feeling vulnerable about the now and what comes next and always experiencing The hope and heartaches of the past. A number of you have lived here and been near here for your entire lives. The buildings and farmlands carry memories of the past that is right here in the room with us. But it is also a basket of ways that this place may not experience again. The future is also right here in the room with us In our works of healing and feeding and discipleship. It is in the hopes we nurture and the anxieties that we are stifled by. 

The future has come home, it is right here in the room with the past and the present. Like Jesus in his old neighborhood. We cannot bury our heads in the sand We should not rush to quick fixes nor just sit on our hands and wait to see what happens. Our hard question is how do we equip the future to be a creative and compelling witness to the love of God? It may not look like the past or the present, But it can be good news. We can listen. learn. lean in to the daring flexible Grace that this parish is named for. We will be changed so…. Let this assurance of the certain love of Jesus be our motivation to meet the challenges of the whole basket of time that we are in. 

God Loves this place and all the people of this parish and neighborhood, loves your past, present and future, Whatever shape it takes. The past is right here in the room. So to is the future. And God already loves it, and so can you.  Amen.

February 3 2019
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

Monday, January 14, 2019

Listen to the Other: Baptism and Old Turtle

Jesus was lived, loved, died and rose again - Jewish. All we know of his everyday life was embedded in a Mediterranean world that was a wild rumpus of religious and ideological groups. It has been for as long As there have been people and culture. There is a theory that the changes in the depiction of angels in Judaism is evidence of this cross-fertilization. The angels of prophetic and apocalyptic texts Certainly seem to more closely resemble Hindu deities than the humanoid messages that come to Abraham and Sarah. Complex religiosity is as old as trade and empire. 

Traveling preachers and activists similar to John the Baptizer and Jesus were a dime a dozen. The gospels make an effort to show us that they - John and Jesus - were not rivals And that John’s ministry wasn’t taped over but intended to be a prelude. They are closely related, cousins in life as Luke states And related in the proclamation of salvation the invitation to live in God’s way. 

The gospel of John says that two of Jesus’ disciples were originally followers of John the Baptizer. So it may be interesting for you to learn that followers of John the Baptizer still exist. Mandaeans are a distinct religious group that are ancestrally Jewish, and they believe that John was the Messiah, and that Jesus was well, a fake. Recently decimated by Isis they have survived thousands of years of religious change and political revolutions and persecutions. The very existence of the group makes me ponder religious motivation and steadfastness And what it means to live faithfully in a pluralistic religious reality where your way is sustaining but not dominant. How have you learned to share what motivates you to practice this faith so that it is deep and true and full of purpose and it isn’t just more trivia and noise? 

Every somewhat organized religion and I would argue every denomination believe two core things. Something is wrong with the world and this is the way to fix it. We believe that the creation was made in splendor and goodness and that human sin has blasted huge holes in the sculpture. The way to fix it is our returning to union with God and each other in Christ. Said another way salvation for the whole creation is made real by living together within God’s intention, like it or not. And we trust that the way to do this is to attach ourselves to the whole story of Jesus in the waters of baptism and the refreshing of our commitment in bread and wine. 

The active promises of Baptism are the instruction manual for this deep practice of belonging to God’s purposes. Continue return proclaim serve strive. It does not pretend that everything in a life of faithfulness will always be all sunshine and palm trees. It does not say we will never disagree or argue or be called to examine our shadows And change our ways. 20th-century martyr, pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says That ‘God’s love for us is shown by lending us God’s ear, and we do God’s work when we listen to strangers, others, people who hold onto a vision of how the world is fixed that is not ours.’

The children's book Old Turtle begins in a time beyond time when all the elements of the earth could speak to each other and understand each other. And unlike our current dislike for discussing politics or religion in polite company, the elements argued about God. They expressed ideas about the ultimate that were very much like their most established selves. The mountain believed God to be firm and unmoving The water said God could take many forms and was always in motion. The snail replied no - God is slow but steady and God’s home is always with him. And so it went - a blistering cacophony of argument. 

And then the prophetic preacher divine-ish creature, the Old Turtle says stop. She doesn’t yell or demand or stay in her shell. With a voice like butterfly kisses, she says - Listen. And after a long hard time, the elements learned to listen, learned how to be a ‘we’. The rock learned to hear God’s intention in the movement of the wind, and the snail learned to see God’s will in the speed of the eagle. People who cannot listen to each other may no longer be listening to God either. Our own prerogatives and biases and perspectives: rock hard, snail steady, may have overwhelmed our promises to follow God and love all people. 

We live in rapidly changing times with Immense challenges. The baptismal promises of continue return proclaim serve strive Are not idle chatter but promises that intend to redeem the world to save all To return all to harmony with God. As the Old Turtle says - Listen. We are to be a message from God to the earth, and a prayer from the earth back to God. May we hear God’s neverending intention For us to let go of our selfish waring ways and listen for holy voices whispering through the other, whether they be river, rock, goose, squirrel. In the preparations of John in a time of wild change and fragility, may we listen and point and perhaps even let go. In a time of noise of overwhelming cruelty, may we listen to Jesus with our whole heart when he says Come and follow me. May we listen to God’s still small strong voice as he draws us into the eternal we.  Amen.

January 13, 2019
Grace Episcopal Church