Monday, June 10, 2019

Pinwheels for Pentecost

Pinwheels for Pentecost with Fresh Fruits of the Spirit.
I have to confess that I have thought this was super obvious for ages, and am surprised it caused such delight and newness!  Some churches have practices connected to Pentecost involving balloons or kites.  Someone needs to make fireworks happen - but I will let others work on that idea.  I have been serving as an interim minister at a parish without any special Pentecost practices, so this was a chance to make a new one.

For a long long while, I have been adding pinwheels to Godly Play baptism lessons!  Doves are super scriptural imagery, but they don't offer very complex metaphorical teaching. So dove yes, but also a pinwheel.  Pinwheels are colorful and joyful and the basic ruach metaphor is all there - wind or breath move and make energy.  One of the best parts is that sometimes it takes a big breath to move it; other times when outside on a breezy day it just moves.  This pinwheels for Pentecost is teaching about some of the scriptural facets of the Spirit and summery colorful good fun.  I had enough for everyone - and folks took them for people they love.  I also encouraged folks to keep it in a place they will notice it and pray on their word, and even to take it with them on journeys and take photos #flatjesus style.  #pinwheelpentecost ??

Not pinwheels but origami cranes in fire colors on a mobile.
I ordered these multi-colored pinwheels online (Oriental Trading, Amazon...).  Only problem is that the ink on the stems rubbed off easily on hands. There were others that you could assemble yourself.  I also wanted them to be quite colorful (both a statement on diversity and it was Pride weekend (and a purple parish)), but one could order all fire color ones.  There are ways to make them with origami, and you could probably find a way to upcycle something to make them if you planned well enough in advance.  I used to make an origami crane mobile using firey colored magazine pages.

Then using the label function on MSWord I made labels with one word each - various fruits and gifts of the Spirit.  This parish has torch holders on many pews so I used those to hold sets of pinwheels.  Simple, exciting, and theologically complex.  A new way to celebrate and teach Pentecost.  Maybe next year you can try this instead of balloons.

Let's Rumble - Fresh Fruits of the Spirit for Pentecost

I received a message this week from a friend. It was a note of gratefulness and optimism in what for my friend is a time of uncertainty and commotion. One of the things that she said was 'I don't care much for the idea of a puppeteer God', but she is also wondering with awe at some of the unplannable assistance she has recently encountered. I replied that I also didn't care much for the idea of a puppet master God, but I trust deeply in the Spirit of God who is at times luring us forward and other times that same Spirit of God is nudging us from behind, almost always surprising us. 

We invoke the Holy Spirit all the time, but you may have noticed if you've ever bothered to count the lines for each subject in the Nicene Creed, the Spirit of God which is Co-Eternal and co-equal and One with God and Jesus The Holy Spirit gets only one line to itself. In our Gospel lesson today we hear Jesus naming his relationship with the Holy Spirit, which is sometimes translated as Paraclete, and here today in our lesson Advocate. Referring to the Spirit of God in this way is describing the divine activity that is shared with Jesus. Jesus is encouragement and comfort and enlightenment. Both are a companion in times of need but also a radical shaker up of the status quo. The Spirit turns over tables and parties with the ill repute too. 

Just previously in John, Jesus has uttered that sacred poetry speaking of himself as the Way the Truth and the Life. The work of the Spirit of God is to keep the truth of Jesus the Christ present in the community of the believer, and of the barely curious. The Spirit works to make the Good News tangible in ways that might feel like soft rain, or like a bolt of lightning, or occasionally both at the same time. The Spirit is pushing and pulling us, supporting and whispering to us. It is the drive beyond ourselves to become one with the way, truth, and life; and doing so just how Jesus said: love God and your neighbor as much as God loves you. 

I love love love Pentecost and have been thinking lately about Paul’s wonderful lists of fruits and gifts of the Spirit - healing, teaching, speaking... Those are good lists but they are also the quick notes of an author who was often on the run.  There is of course much more that could be said about the multidimensional experiences of the Spirit in community, and voices that were once not as free to speak as they are now about such gifts. So I wondered aloud online: what are some fresh gifts of the Spirit? Through those responses, and some other theological and scriptural and social science exploring, I compiled a list of 100 Fresh Fruits of the Spirit. (It could have been gifts but I serve at the church of the blueberry and close to cranberry bogs - so fruit).  A list of 100 is just a tiny fraction of all the tastes of all the fruits of the Spirit of God. I printed out the list of a hundred and they're on the back table and they're also online on our Facebook page... 

I want to draw your attention to three words in particular. The first is making-space If this is a fruit of the Spirit, it is how the love of God expands in our hearts and in our lives and how it creates a feeling of expansive freedom. The kind of letting go that helps us to release our clutch and grab anxieties, it the clears out the noise that we use to protect ourselves from the challenge of change. Making-space is to flip the channel and to listen to the sighs to deep for words. 

I don't think that the big deal wonder in the episode we heard about Pentecost today is that different languages are spoken. I think the startling thing is that strangers and folks with whom we totally disagree with are heard. When I ponder the gift of making-space I think of this Pentecost wonder, and of the hospitality of Abraham who made space for the three strangers. He welcomed them with the best of the best he had, invited them into his tent and heard a blessing and a message completely unexpected and possibly unreasonable. The Spirit of God is a space maker, and is not contained by our rules and assumptions. 

The second of the 100 I want to raise up is rumbling. Rumbling with the middle of our stories, wrestling with the hard parts of our lives where God is moving and it is uncomfortable. In the Book of Ezekiel there's a vision of a valley of dry bones and the Spirit of God moves over these dry bones and puts on muscle and sinews and flesh.  While this is a mystical metaphorical sketch if you've ever gone through the process of regrowing skin or bone: you know that this is not a painless process. I have experienced that one of the gifts of the Spirit is rumbling. It is keeping on keeping on and being candid in the harshness of life and death and remaining in God’s way in that disorientation. 

The 3rd of the fresh fruits of the Spirit list that I want to draw your attention to is one that caused the most conversation online: transgression. Of course, when you hear transgression you may hear buried within it echoes of the word aggression, and therefore violence. You also hear an echo of the older English translation of the Lord's Prayer where trespasses and transgression and sin are the same. However, when I say transgression I mean something else. 

Here I mean a type of divinely empowered righteousness of stepping over the line. Whatever line it is in pursuit of Justice. I'm thinking of people who sat at lunch counters and were beaten. I'm thinking of people who dare to live the full colors and truths of themselves and are bullied and hated for it. Scripturally I'm thinking of Moses. Because everything in the story of the Exodus is this kind of Spirit supported and led transgression of imperial power. The Spirit of God was an encourager with Moses, not as puppetmaster, but empowering him, filling him with valor, and providing the human and spiritual support that he needed to lead the people of God into a space of freedom. A desert space that is hard and took rumbling, and many years of trial and error that we are still working through. The Spirit is still calling you and me to make space and to rumble and at times to transgress because the kingdom hasn’t come yet and there is still so much grief across the earth.

So I wonder how has the Spirit of God been an agent in your life and agent of energy or nerve or deep listening? Is the Spirit of God something that you acknowledge and listen to? Or do you cover your ears and lock the doors? 

One of those words in the Old Testament that could be translated as Spirit of God is the word Hebrew word ruach. Ruach means wind and breath and energy, and so I send you out today asking you to choose a pinwheel. A pinwheel is an active symbol of wind and breath creating energy. They each have their own various gifts of the Spirit on stickers on them. I want you to take one with you today, but don't go around looking for the word you really want. Approach it a little bit more like a fortune cookie and discover the gift that the Spirit the God could be making space in you for this Pentecost. 

Take it home and put it in a place where you will see it and/or if you are a traveler this summer if you have the room take it with you and dare to take a photo of it and send the image out into the world in celebration of the fruits of the Spirit that have nudged or lured or comforted you. Whatever gift you carry, may it make space for God in our hearts and neighborhood so that we may rumble with injustice and act up for the common good through the way the truth and the life of Jesus Christ. 

So let us pray. 

Healing Sovereign God Overmatch our resistant ears with your transforming speech infiltrate our jadedness and our fatigue. Touch our yearning by your words and through your out loudness draw us closer to you. We are ready to listen. in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Prayer adapted from Walter Bruggeman.

Pentecost RCL C 
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey
June 9, 2019

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Fresh Fruits of the Spirit

With Pentecost approaching, I have been conversing and posting and preparing and thinking about the gifts of the Spirit of God.  And thinking how wonderful the list from Paul is and how many are the attributes of the rest of Scripture and tradition, yet also how in my experience - some facets overlooked.  So celebrating living between the cranberry bogs - and the people who are so empowered day in day out to persevere, here are 100 Fresh Fruits of the Spirit.  What fruit and gift of the Spirit rises for you?  Comment below.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Austen Clergypeople, the 25th of the 39 and Is that the Way we Do This?

I pester my favorite church historians occasionally with questions about the reality of clerical life for Regency era Anglican vicars.  This isn't a random thing to do,  it always arises from my frequent wandering through Austen-shire.  Jane Austen was the daughter of a clergyman, and it is notable that almost all of her novels have clergy people, or aspirants (men who want to be clergymen) as substantial characters.  Some of these are of course shallow and laughably stupid fellas, but others are upstanding men of duty and compassion.

There are of course innumerable changes to the life of a parish priest in the 180 years since that time.  However, as a church professional turned clergyperson, I am drawn to ponder the differences. There is at least one diocese funding post-seminary formation in the way of sending new clergy to non-profit business management school. I both see the point and hope it is optional so that other areas of daily importance that are not strictly theological could be nurtured - basic digital communications, a primer in oncology, family systems, plumbing 101.  Our demands are eternally evolving - as is our discernment and understanding.  The work of the vicar of Grantchester is not the same as the Austen clerics, nor the same as mine.  I do wonder how the Reverend Chambers has time to solve the murder mysteries of Grantchester.  And how does Syndey pastorally care for the people who must be traumatized by their extraordinary scandalous murder rate?   Yet even his mid-20th-century fictional pastorate, with its cars and mass transit, it doesn't have the diocesan 'take your part in the councils of the church' time demands that we do today. 

This question about how the earlier generations of Anglican clergy were trained and questions provoked me more frequently when I was 'going through the process.'  Hard to imagine the vapid Mr. Collins writing essays on his relationship with Jesus, or even the bookish Edward Ferrars answering questions about Eucharistic theology.  What would a real life man seeking 'orders' be asked?  If I understand correctly all that was required was the 'college degree' and in that time one could matriculate without actually attending classes or reading anything (where was the scandal then?!?).  So general knowledge would have varied widely.  It seems that the studious were learned, the rest of them were not so much, and there may have been a few in-betweeners (and let us admit that this is true now as well). 

There were not commissions on ministry nor ordination exams 'back then'.  It was mostly up to the decisions of the Bishop and the financing of the local landowner.  And due to the interrelatedness of academia and the Church of England sometimes academics were ordained clergy whether or not they were focused on religious topics or pastoring a parish. What they had to do was agree to the 39 Articles, and I would assume they had some education about these 39 Articles, but how much and how deep - I hope some historian works on this sometime (for more on the 39 Articles check out what Dr. Crusty has to say as part of the #39articlesblog).  Do I imagine that the imaginary Mr. Collins could remember much less explain any of the 39 Articles? Well, not unless Lady Catherine suggested it. What about Mr. Elton, or Mr. Ferrars?  Mr. Charles Hater is an underdeveloped clergyman character, but I imagine him more scholarly, so let us say yes he could. He might have even been pedantic about them. I should perhaps not abuse the dopey fictional clergy of Austen-shire quite so cruelly, as I didn't have to answer any questions about the 39 Articles - at least not directly - in my ordination process. 

I recently joined a blog-throng of people ( writing about the 39 Articles, with the hope that the project can be useful to folks exploring and deepening their knowledge of the Anglican and Episcopal Church.  What struck me most is what might nudge some of you when watching the historically accurate adaptations with church scenes.  There are familiar patterns and styles but the church of the Regency its  orthopraxy of the church was much much more 'Calvinistic-iny' in sense and sensibility (if you like to divide things up in such a way) than nearly any current Episcopal church. As for the wider communion, I cannot say for sure, but the same is likely to be generally true. 

In the last year I have found myself at a rural bar among fabulous clergy friends having a loud but loving argument regarding the catholic-ness vs protestantness of our church.  This isn't a historical issue - it is a piece of our identity that we need to grow better at naming.   We are both/and people and we were more protestant-y for most of our history and the last 100 years have seen an external and sacramental swing towards something that might be called catholic-y.  Yet even the widespreadness of this in orthodoxy and orthopraxy would be much diminished in 1900 compared to 1950.   The history of the faith is one of change, otherwise, there wouldn't be a history to have.

I don't really put vast stock in such p and c binaries, but dualistic thinking isn't a battle we are going to resolve anytime soon either.  We are both/and people and we can love each other and pray together and serve together and think quite differently about core matters - Christology and Ecclesiology to name two.  However, we also need more clarity in our senses and understandings, that for all our liturgical science retro-innovations, the practice of the previous 400 years was much different - and you can see that in the very architecture of our Regency era naves across the world.  We follow Jesus the Christ who was always in motion proclaiming and healing, so to has been the interpretation of the Scriptures and the practice of the churches until we find ourselves in the finale.  Yes it was different, and it was good in some ways and unfaithful in others, and yes it has changed, and it also both holy and flawed.  We invite you into the #39Articles blog project as a letter from the past to help us reflect on the path of discipleship and formation that is demanded of all our lay and ordained leaders today.

I am looking forward to the reading of all those posts in the #39ArticlesBlog project.  I hope to learn more about who we are and where we are leaning, and I hope that from this examination rise mostly pride and only prejudice for the lifegiving liberating Good News.  I hope you read them too. Stay tuned - you get to hear from me at number 25 - the Sacraments; I will post the link when it happens.  In the meanwhile, stay sassy, smart, radical and holy.

The Deep Revealed Magic: Further Out and In

Julie had stopped by the church office to drop something off. She stuck her head in my door and said oh- I'm so glad you're here I'm worried about Tommy. In my head, I quickly ran through all of the mid-90’s teenage boy problems that this could be, the kind that cause slightly frantic worry in a mother's voice and reaching out to the youth pastor. Julie continued, 'a few days ago he told me that his favorite book of the Bible is Revelation. What should I DO about that?' I didn't dive into what her concerns were about the Book of Revelation, I assumed I pretty much knew them. 

Luther didn't think it should be in the Bible (at first). Thomas Paine referred to Revelation as 'a book of riddles that requires a revelation to explain it.' And it has been described in various ways as 'curiously trippy'. At the time when this mother Julie put her head in my office, the trouble in Waco at the Branch Davidian complex was not that far back. She was a mild-mannered Episcopalian who loves Jesus, classical music, regular study, and loving service as a core of her discipleship. NOOOOOO soapbox brimstone whatever. We love the mystery and the sacraments and organized processions; and we really like a solid dose of reason and clarity. We like way less firey judgy speculation, and so the book of Revelation, well, we tend to read with oven mitts on. 

I suggested that a few exploratory questions (basically conversational Lectio) so she could try to learn more. The next Sunday Julie came up to me and said, 'I talked to Tommy. The reason he likes the book of Revelation is that it reminds him of the book The Last Battle' in the CS Lewis Narnia series. And I have to tell you she was completely calmed down by that reason. Book of Revelation - yikes. CS Lewis children's Christian fantasy novel - jolly good and alrighty.  I have thought about that conversation a lot over the years, mostly because of how right Tommy was. 

If you don't know the Narnia series it is absolutely a young person’s fantasy series intended to invite the hesitant of all ages into the 'deep magic' of the Christian witness. And there's a phrase in the Last Battle - which is supposed to be rather like a last chapter of the last book - like what we heard bits of today. The Last Battle has an echoed phrase about the journey with Aslan (absolutely a Christ figure) is further out and further in all at the same time. (Actual quote is: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”)That is the same big picture that the Revelator is trying to show us.

We are at the beginning of the last chapter of the last book of the Christian Bible. And it's reveling in the symphonic sacred conclusion of the God in Christ being further out and further in: Alpha and Omega, from the tiniest grain of sand to the furthest Morning Star.  It is all radiating with the same good news that we know in Jesus Christ. That's really what Revelation seems to be about, however, I will not deny that its intent may remain Until kingdom come, its own mystery. 

It was probably written a good 60 years after Jesus's life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It is written to the second and third generation Christians of a rapidly expanding and often threatened young church, or more accurately networked Jesus movement. Revelation is a kind of performance art, Imax before Imax, a mixtape extravaganza dance through the Hebrew scriptures. Here is a creative expression of how in Jesus so much more is revealed than just what happened in the human life. Such a truth is not explained in a simple equation or an outline. It takes art to share and open hearts to whisper -  yeah. 

Part of the way that the Revelator does this is by an massive layered and twisting and turning sampling,  mostly from the book of Psalms, as well as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and much the Book of Daniel. Over half of the 400 something verses in the entire text of Revelation have at least one if not multiple Hebrew Scripture allusions. For the Revelator the good news of Jesus is the good news of Jesus, but it is so much more than what is in the Gospels. It is so much older and so much more forever. 

There are three things I would like you to leave here today understanding about the text of Revelation. One - it is a text to be heard not read word by word. It has of course been translated from its not so great Greek into English, and so some of the word portraits that it's trying to cast are going to get lost in translation. Just as importantly, like most of the Bible, it was written for people in times when most people had no reason to know how to read.  Therefore most of the Bible is written to be read aloud in community. This spoken intention also means that it is certainly not a code with secret final answers.

Secondly, the Revelators primary method is not analogy it's not this equals that. The primary mode is metaphor. Over and over the equivalent of the words like or as appear, playful words we use when we're making a metaphor or a simile. This is the language that the Revelator is crafting with - it is parabolic language it means that it is literary art. Made not for the surface meaning but to pull us further out and further in into a 'deeper magic' and meaning. 

The third and final thing I hope you remember about the text of Revelation is that it is intended as wisdom and assurance for people living through fiercely troubled times. These feel like troubled times, but there are ways in which this isn't trouble that all compared to the daily trials of our neighbors who we share this globe with. Our blessing of easy-going mild-mannered security does not dismiss our responsibility to the people Jesus has solidarity with. The people for whom this revelation art is crafted were and are people whose life and death struggle with vicious adversaries and tremendous violence are all the time. They strive in the hope of Jesus who is our morning star and they persist in faithfulness through the terrible for the sake of his final call to our eternal home. 

So I wonder how is the Holy Trinity: Father Son and Holy Spirit, how are they drawing you further out of yourself into bravery you didn't know you had, and/or into solidarity and belonging that is beyond the rational or everyday? And how is the same Holy Trinity leading you further into the heart of God into glad centeredness and servant listening for every tear that is cried? If you haven’t ever responded to the call of Jesus to go further out and further in, is now not the time to try something just so brave? 

The call from the Revelator throughout the nearly two thousand years is a summons to to see and feel and know Jesus the Christ as the love of all in all. Today the Revelator pushes us to remain faithful to God, and to resist abetting the cruelty of the powers-that-be. We are to be a Jesus focused community that controls our fears and sustains our mission with the hope of the Morning Star. If that's not a story you easily find when you listen to the performance art of the text of Revelation then let me suggest to you for your summer listening or reading pleasure the accidental suggestion of my young friend Tommy (although I suppose he's not so young anymore.) 

Maybe it is time to open the Narnian doorway found in a wardrobe in a spare room - again, or for the first time. Their motives - the Revelator and CS Lewis - their intentions and approaches are very much the same - however, I am also not saying that Narnia is the same thing as studying the Scriptures. Both are a creative invitation into the life-changing love and challenge we know in the freedom of Jesus Christ.  

This Christ-event is something that is more than just that concrete life way back whenever. It is a spiritual journey for you now - our union with God in Christ will not be earned by coloring within the lines or being nice and keeping our heads down. Union with God who is Alpha and Omega it is a gift an undeserved gift due to his boundless commitment to us. The Revelator is holding open the gate, leading us further into the peace of God that is within us all; and pushing us on a path further out into the mission of Jesus that is to All All all. Further out, and further in.   Where we go in the world, what we do in the world, what we say in the world, in the name of Christ.

Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey
June 2, 2019