Give Them Some Food Yourselves

breadIt is ironic in a sense that one of the greater divides between Catholic and Protestant is over the issue of the Eucharist. Here, Catholics are most literal, taking the “institution of the Eucharist” to be the actual eating of the blood and flesh of Christ, while most Protestants see it as a symbolic act of remembrance.

To be honest, the Protestants are closer to the mark exegetically. While Matthew relates the story of the Last Supper in a “bread = body” fashion, Luke and Paul frame it as a “remembrance”. Quite frankly it should not matter at all, since if we wish to talk about the mystery of Christ’s presence to us as Christians, the how is singularly not important.

What is important is the stage being set. The table was a place where differences were set aside, weapons left at the door, where people were in a sense forced to confront each others as equals–nourishing the body.

The history of table hospitality in the Middle East is well-known. In such a harsh environment, even enemies broke bread together as a means of survival. It was not all equality of course, there were heads of the tables often, and women and children were separated, eating after the men were through. Food was life at its most basic, and Jesus spared no opportunity to connect food and eating with teaching.

When people are chewing, they can listen.

I see the Eucharist as a time when for a few moments my thoughts are utterly aligned with my God. I choose to believe that God comes to me in some precious way through the bread and wine. I do not examine that process for the process doesn’t actually matter. Is this not why we pause, (those of us who do) at the beginning of a meal to silently or otherwise, give praise to God for what we are about to consume?  We have internalized the importance of meal, of table fellowship, even if that fellowship only includes ourselves and the Lord.

When Jesus has been teaching and the disciples urge him to send people away to find something to eat, he teaches an important lesson: give them some food yourselves. In this salient sentence, Jesus draws us together as community, making us each responsible for all, including feeding each other.

For in the feeding of others, we feed ourselves.

When the disciples answer Jesus’ directive, they say what we are wont to say: “Five loaves and two fishes are all we have.

We rebel. We start by turning inward, counting what we have, and finding we don’t have enough to share. We look about as dumb animals. What to do now?

Do with what you have! Amazing things happen when you just start doing, without fretting about how little you have.

Every revolution starts with the desire of one person to take one step in a new direction.

One in five humans is hungry in the world. One in five children in this country doesn’t get enough to eat. Our food banks are stretched to their limits every week. Men and women sit along our roadsides, along our city streets, hungry. Twenty-five percent of our veterans are homeless, living on the streets, unable to work and dependent upon soup kitchens, garbage receptacles, and the largess of passerby’s.

Food is life. All our actions regarding food can be and should be a Eucharistic event for us. The gardening we so love, the shopping and choosing of just the right melon, the careful preparation, presentation, all these are Eucharistic moments. We can treat these times as Holy deliberately and prayerfully, opening our hearts and minds to God’s presence.  Food can continue to teach us.

With each can of soup, we realize that it would feed another. Is it so much to ask that we save aside a few cans a week and once a month deliver them to a pantry? Is it too much to send a monthly check of a few dollars to your local mission or shelter?

And if I may ask you, please, please, when you do such things, hold them in your own heart. Your God knows, and that is all that need know. Only the Pharisees find the need to tell others of their giving. For no matter how much you give, others give more, and others are prevented from giving as much only because they have even less than you claim to have. You shame them, and yourself when you brag of your offerings.

Give them some food yourselves.




And The Spirit Will Teach You Everything

pentecost-canzianiI spend most of my writing time talking about politics. If you devote any of your time reading about the state of our union, you undoubtedly know that the contentious nature of our politics has never been greater than it is today.

We come to our faith in the hopes of calmer and more peaceful time.

Yet, the same divisions that divide us politically, tend to filter into our faith traditions as well. We are divided there as well.

We divide over doctrine assuredly, and we divide over what constitutes proper obedience to God. We interpret differently about all too many issues, and miss along the way the truth that is offered to us in simple and complex stories, meant not to suffice as some history, but rather to teach important moral truths about us and our relationship to our God.

Yet, time and time again, when we look carefully, we find answers to our differences.

Today, on Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, that mysterious aspect of the Triune God that is in some sense ephemeral to us. Jesus we can “get”, for Jesus took human form, and we relate to Him in that fashion, as a person. We tend of course to do the same with God the Father, fashioning Him a “throne” and giving him a hands to hold us. The Spirit, however,  is wispy and not within our grasp physically.

Yet for us, the Spirit is perhaps the most approachable of the aspects of the Trinity. It is described in powerful language of wind and fire, things that were life-giving and life-sustaining. Wind moved the fields of grain, helped them to grow strong and thrive. It moved ships at sea, bringing us to safe harbor. Fire provided warmth, safety from wild animals, and the cooking medium for our food.

But I do not try to define the Spirit so much as acknowledge that it was a powerful physical presence to those who felt it that first Pentecost. They were astounded at its power, and perhaps, it was the seminal reason for the success of the early church. It more than anything gave proof to the teachings of the apostles who related stories of this mysterious but now departed “savior.”

And the Spirit is indeed powerful. Many attribute the Spirit for the Second Vatican Council, and its radical realignment of the Church. Many find the Spirit at work in important events of our time, drawing us together, bringing forth an unthought of consensus in our darkest of hours.

Paul said, that “No one can say Jesus Christ is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

That is an amazing statement and should give us serious pause.

What Paul says is that if someone declares themselves to be a Christian, they can only say that because they are filled with the Spirit of God. They have been, in a sense, stamped with approval. Who are we, then, as mere mortals, those who are to be guided by that Spirit, to dispute what the Spirit has decided?

Does not God have the ability and power to move within any person God chooses? Does God have the ability and power to deny a person the Spirit? If the answer is yes, then we must seriously ask ourselves whether it is our place to claim that this person or that person, this group or that, fail to meet some standard we have erected as to what is “Christian” and what is not. We work against the Spirit when we do this. (To say nothing of judging how the Spirit does or does not move within the hearts of other faiths not Christian)

In our drive to “understand” we take upon ourselves the audacious “right” to decide that God would or would not come to “this type of person” or “that type of group”. We not only decide what God would or would not do, based upon our human thinking, but then we “act” for God in refusing such persons or groups the full welcome due them as members of our faith communities.

I was much taken aback when I learned that at the Cathedral home of Cardinal Dolan, the following took place:

After Timothy Cardinal Dolan wrote a column comparing practicing homosexuals and others who approach Holy Communion in a state of serious sin to children who fail to wash their hands before supper, homosexual Catholics and their supporters showed up for Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with filthy hands as a form of protest, and were denied entry.

Joseph Amodeo, the organizer of the protest, said that the act of dirtying their hands was an attempt to tell Cardinal Dolan that those who practice the gay lifestyle should be accepted as they are.

The small group of about ten protesters was intercepted by NYC police, who informed them that the Cathedral would not allow them to protest the Mass. Undaunted, Amodeo and his allies proceeded to St. Patrick’s anyway, where they were informed that they were welcome at Mass, provided they washed their hands.

Amodeo said he was “astounded” by the request.

“What astounded me most was when he said that we could enter the cathedral so long as we washed our hands first,” Amodeo wrote in The Huffington Post. “Even now, writing those words I find myself struggling to understand their meaning, while coming to terms with their exclusionary nature.”

This is taking over what belongs to God in the most awful way to my mind. Surely Jesus can come to those persons Jesus chooses under the bread and wine without the help of the Cardinal or any one for that matter. Surely Jesus can refrain from joining to any person under the bread and win without help of the Cardinal as well.

We do well to remember that we are creature, not mini-gods. None of us, from the laity to the clergy stands in any different place vis-a-vis our Creator.

The Spirit goes where it will, and it affects what It chooses. Let not we poorly understanding humans get in the way.


Are You Coming Home, I Mean Really Coming Home?

Prodigal_Son.jpg.540xThat’s me, over there in the background, to the right. I’m the “good” son, or daughter, as the case may be. Of course that’s only what I “like” to think of myself.  And I suspect that you probably think of yourself that way too if you really think about it.

We of course love the story of the prodigal son, and we nod wisely as we immediately “get” the lesson–God forgives us and we can always come home to our Father again, and again if need be. The saving of a soul is indeed something to rejoice about.

But we don’t usually think of ourselves as that sinner who squandered so much and came home penniless and humbled, begging to be treated as no better than  a workman on his father’s estate. We don’t see ourselves as being THAT mired in sin.

That is why, when we really think about it, we sympathize with the elder son who stayed home, followed the rules, and was a constant delight to his father. Yet no celebrations are begun for him, no praise comes his way. He feels as we would feel, unnoticed and unappreciated.

Think about it. There is no day when the Church celebrates all us “good” people. We are not honored by feasts and honors for our perfect attendance at mass, or our faithful pledge of money each week.

We think we are pretty darn nice don’t we? And nothing in this story seeks to dispel that notion either. Yet.

Yet the gospel parable of the prodigal son is meant for us. And it takes a lot of prodding and prying for most of us to realize that we have much to ask forgiveness for.

We have been given a most beautiful planet, one filled with riches beyond measure. Yet, we squander than gift every day, with our pollution and our waste. We rip up rain forests and destroy wetlands and coral reefs. And we protest: “I’m not doing that!” But we aren’t doing anything to stop it either.

We have been given the means to construct a world that is just and fair to everyone, one that can feed and house, clothe, educate, protect from disease, every human upon it. Yet we don’t, preferring to live by silly mantras that promote individual initiative which are not really true and result in millions being left out of a place at the table of life. And we protest, “I’m not doing that!” But we allow it to happen as we find ourselves too busy with carpools and basketball games.

We are squandering our birthright as human citizen upon planet Earth. We dirty her air and water and ruin her lands. We hunt her animals to extinction, or push them out of existence by our greed. We disturb the delicate balances that support a full and vibrant co-existence that results in a well-functioning world that supports all of its life.

We in democratic states are offered the means to create a government that is fair for all its citizens, yet we cannot find the time to actually confront those who have made a career of being government and no longer respond to our needs and wishes, but only those who pay them to maintain an unequal distribution of wealth and cater to the needs of the few but exceedingly wealthy.

Our sins put those of the prodigal son to shame. We refuse to internalize the words of Paul, “we implore you on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.” We stand afar off and nod at the obvious sinner, secure in our pretense of goodness, when we are the sinners who should be weeping in the arms of our father, begging to be treated as the worst workman in the field.

Are we ready to come home? Are you? Our God awaits us with open arms. It is time we shouldered our responsibilities and do God’s bidding. For surely justice and fairness are the banner He would have us carry.

Are we ready to really come home?



All We Need is Love

The Beatles - All You Need Is LoveToday we hear the great Pauline statement of love, sometimes called the wedding reading. Although I don’t understand the Beatles to be great spokesmen for formalized religion, they certainly got the message.

Paul, (the saint I mean!) makes it most clear, that above all things love is the key. It is the key to God, it is the very definition and essence of God.

Let us read the words again, and let them sink in:

If I

speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

We are told through the media what love is. It is tied up in sexual yearning and romance. It is surrounded by diamonds and roses and get-away vacations to tropical destinations. It is emotions brought to the boil. It makes one “weak in the knees” and unable to eat, unable to focus on work or daily concerns. We worry about it, we obsess about it. We pick apart every conversation, every word searching for hidden means. We rejoice when the phone rings and we despair when it doesn’t. This is what the media tells us.

But Paul tells us something quite different. He explains what real love is. It is patient, kind, not rude, not jealous. It forgives easily, wishes only the best for the other, rejoices in the others victories and suffers with failings. It is based in faith, hope, and trust. It is an eternal thing.

But Paul is not seeking to explain to us how we are to love each other, even though that is part of it. He is explaining what GOD is. He is telling us that this is what God is to us as beloved. This is what we must be to God.

Yet, it is how we are to be with one another. It is to permeate our very being and form our foundation for being in the world.

Why is this?

Paul explains that we are mere mortals, and given our humanness, we cannot see the true reality of existence or of God. We see as if through a glass darkly as he points out. St. Augustine remarked that most all we think we know about God is in all likelihood wrong.

If this is so, then why do we bother? Why do we bother to try to know God and why do we try to do  what we believe he would have us do? We are doomed to failure it seems.

Paul admits that our prophesies will come to nothing and our knowledge will fail, so why the attempt?

It is because with the love which is inborn within each of us, we have a chance. Not to understand perfectly for Paul is correct, that can never be in this life. But love guides us to make the better decisions most of the time. We will not always choose as the Spirit would have us do, for we are willful humans with pesky human desires that sometimes overrides the still small voice within.

But if we cultivate love in our lives as our singular goal, we will most surely choose as God would have us more than not. This will enable us to speak truth, and to use our gifts for the betterment of all, and for the glory of God. Love ever before us, brings us to right thoughts, and right action.


Striving to Be One Body

seastarsWe know that Paul did not know Jesus in the flesh. He tells us that, and informs us that he has not received the Gospel from other sources, oral traditions or some writing, but has in fact been privileged to receive the Gospel firsthand as revelation from Christ.

Paul, it seems, takes this knowledge with great respect, and from time to time, he clearly points out when he is talking from his own conclusions, and when he is speaking directly from what he received.

In 1 Cor 12: 12-30, we receive from Paul no sense that his conclusions about the body of Christ are his own ideas. Rather his instruction is clear and precise. We are all of the body, and whatever part we have in the body, we are a necessary part of that whole, and but for us, there can be no wholeness. All parts are of equal value, even though some parts garner more attention than others. All gifts of the Spirit are essential to the full and complete functioning of the organism.

Speaking to the Corinthians, these words must have made much sense, for everyone knows that a body missing a foot or the ability to hear, or a hand or an eye, is dysfunctional to one degree or another. Paul’s larger point, that Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman, we are all part of the essential whole, was no doubt more difficult to digest. . Speaking to either Jews whom he wished to convert to the new movement, or to Gentiles, whom he wished to reassure, Paul’s words (or Jesus’ words if we may be so bold) ring right and true to us today.

We wonder how it was in  Colonial America that these words did not strike deep at the heart of the slave owner, or the Puritan who was all too quick to dismiss as wicked the Catholic or the Quaker. We wonder how they missed the obvious, that ALL are necessary to the proper functioning of the good body.

Surely they themselves, Puritans especially, were most familiar with being shunned for their unfit beliefs and practices? Surely they saw themselves in the stead of slaves or Gentiles whom Paul welcomed as equally important members of the new community of Christ.

Yet, of course, they most certainly did not see the larger point Paul makes, nor do they realize that to the Gentiles of Corinth, the majority no doubt of that city, they were being asked to sit side by side with slaves or former slaves as equals. Were they not being asked to see something so much bigger than we might today? Today, we say, well of course, EVERYBODY knows that there is no rightful distinction between people!

Yet, there is though we are loathe to admit it. We separate people into groups of us and them, every single day. Paul’s listeners were being asked to stretch their minds around a larger concept, a concept that is most obvious to us today.

Yet, we believe that one of the strengths of scripture, is that however you envision it, whether as the actual perfect word of God, or as the inspired word of God, or as the honest, truthful, and thoughtful beliefs inspired by the Spirit of otherwise fallible humans, one of the things we revere most about scripture is its timelessness. Wisdom literature is noted for its ability to inspire us hundreds and thousands of years after the fact, in new and very different circumstances.

We read scripture asking it to speak to us today, in our lives, in our society.

And if we apply that to Paul’s remarks in Corinthians, are we not being asked to stretch ourselves out of our comfort zone as well?

What is the body? If we believe that our God is the God of all peoples in all places, in all circumstances, then the faith tradition is not important, and the social mores are not important, nor the various orientations of our peoples are not important. Atheists, and Muslims, Sikhs, and Transgenders, Native Earth Religions and Pagan belief systems, are not ours to reject, for they too are part of the body, and necessarily part of a well-functioning one. If there is to be rejection, it is far beyond our poor efforts to comprehend, and far beyond our choices to judge.

Is that not the horizon we are asked today to seek? To see all people as God’s people, with gifts to offer us and each other, with each giving an essential something that is necessary if we are to be complete. This is not about actions that are harmful to others–we intuitively realize that we must reject actual harm offered by anyone to others. We are talking about who people ARE as beings.

We reject people for being “different” or for not following the social mores that we deem appropriate at our peril. For we are talking about excising a portion of the body. We are choosing to be less than fully human in our humanness, and in that, we are making the  body dysfunctional.

Paul calls us to consider again the Body before we reject those who seem for whatever reason, different, alien, or wrong-thinking.


God Invites

One of many great lessons I learned in the Episcopal Church has to do with the table of the Lord. Again and again, the priest intoned, “it is the Lord who calls us to the table, not the church.” My own church would do well to heed this advice.

Sadly of course, we know that so far it has not. It continues to pick and choose, based on often flimsy biblical evidence, who may approach the communion table. And the scriptures today, do point to this fallacy it seems to me.

In Ezekiel 17: 22-24, God speaks through the prophet:

I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit,
and become a majestic cedar.
Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it,
every winged thing in the shade of its boughs.

Now I would be the first to tell you that exegetically speaking, this passage probably has nothing at all to do with Jesus. Just as assuredly, all Christians look to the Hebrew Scriptures as speaking to the coming of Christ. So in the passage above, the tender shoot is Jesus, who will put forth his Church, bearing branches and fruit. Note that it further says, “birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, . . .” Now this may in fact be stretching a point, but I don’t think it unfair to suggest that the passage doesn’t limit those who will find a home there to only some chosen group or groups.

While there is no direct statement in Ezekiel, we are further advised in 2 Corinthians, that we, as believers, “walk by faith, not by sight.” In other words, we as followers in Jesus must do our best to understand his teachings and then live by them, trusting in faith that God, through the great Spirit of Wisdom will guide us aright.

Of even more importance, we must recognize that as members of the body, we are all individually responsible for living up to our baptismal promises. We cannot, much as we might like, rely on the Church to advise us on what is good and proper. Paul tells us:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense,
according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor. 5: 6-10)

Surely we must always give due respect to the official teaching of the Church, and we must do everything in our power to understand and reconcile our own beliefs with those of the Church. But in the end, it is our own conscience which must lead us forth, and we cannot stand behind the curtain of the Church on judgment day, however you might define that for yourself. We are each solely responsible for our living up to our promises to do good.

It is always a bit amusing to me how the more conservative members of the Christian community tend to rely most heavily on Saint Paul to the exclusion often times of Jesus himself.

Jesus was noted, throughout his entire ministry for inclusion rather than exclusion. He went out of his way to point this out, in the people he ate with and in the people he healed. Many of his “friends” were scandalous. They were non-Jews, gentiles and Samaritans, unclean persons, tax collectors, and all manner of reprobates. And he treated them all with the same welcome. He healed, he broke bread, he spoke with them.

He at no time ever advised his followers to reject anyone as unworthy.

Yet the Church does.

Is our Lord powerful enough to deny his presence to any of us if he deems us unworthy to meet him at the table?

If so, then it would seem prudent to allow him to make his own choices. The Church should in every way, welcome, soothe, and minister to the all God’s people.

But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mk 4:26-34)


Going Forth to Serve

Today’s gospel brings forth a passage that has disturbed many, especially in today when we view women’s struggle for full equality as a given.

Many commentators and not a few biblical experts are dismayed at the opening section of Mark 1:29-39:

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

Here we go again, they sigh, Simon’s mother-in-law is made well only so that she can get up from her sickbed and take care of the men!

But such analysis misses a very salient and valuable point. The term “waited on them” is not akin to our definition. It is not like being a waitress at a bar or restaurant. No, this is a word that is used of deacons. It is a phrase that denotes ministry. Thus, we see that the first deacon recorded in the bible involving this new “movement” was a woman!

We are placed on notice immediately, that this ministry (that of Jesus) will be like no other.

Looking to the first reading from Job (Job 7: 1-4, 6-7) we see the deep pain and suffering that living is. Albeit, Job’s suffering is caused rather than merely encountered, the point is the same. We cannot ask of the world any “easy ride”. There is no bargain, no amount of pleading or working that will insulate us from the travails of normal life. We cannot make the night end more quickly, or avoid the aging process.

Life, real life is encountered only through faith in God. Paul claims that this sort of living is so wonderful that he cares not at all what he must endure to live it.

To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.

Paul tells us that sharing in this new life is worth being weak and being a slave to all. It is worth ridicule and hardship. All is worth it to “have a share in it.” And Paul here, I would argue is not talking about his “ultimate salvation”. He is not saying that I endure all this so that I may be taken to heaven as a good soldier when I die. Rather he means, that by doing what he does, he is living heaven right now! This is the point. This is what is driven by faith, and what drives faith. One supports and enhances and furthers the other.

Mark shows us that this life is about healing. It is about driving out the demons that possess us, and curing our sicknesses, physical or otherwise. This is life–to seek out and help those who are in need, to show them the way to life.

Jesus finds what he needs in his retreat to prayer, where he is nourished anew. Yet, when found, he transitions back to the world:

He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”

It is our purpose to. Not to necessarily preach, as Paul did, though some are called to that. For most of us, living means to be in synch each moment with who we are, and who we are called to be. As Carlo Carretto suggested, we live on the vertical and horizontal at the same time.

(on leaving the desert) And so I found myself back in the world, in the midst of all the confusions, surrounded by my fellow men and women. …Humanity too is an absolute, and you must seek, love, and serve human beings just as you seek, love, and serve God. Jesus let us in no doubt about this inexorable and simultaneous movement into the two dimensions, the horizontal and the vertical.
The closer you come to God as you ascend the slopes of contemplation, the greater grows your craving to love human beings on the level of action. The perfection of men and women on earth consists in the integration, vital and authentic, of or love for God and our love for human beings. ~Carlo Carretto, In Search of the Beyond

It is living authentically.



To The Watch Towers!

As an adult, Thanksgiving has come to be my favorite of holidays. Although I spend hours and hours buying food, preparing it, and setting up the table, finally the moment arrives and we sit down to a feast.

But more glorious to me, is the fact that I have no cooking to do for the next three days. When we feast, we feast. We eat Thanksgiving dinner for four days, enjoying it anew each time, and leaving little in the way of leftovers.

But I admit, that around Saturday, I start to lose my contentment. It has nothing to do with the cooking. It has everything to do with the looming specter of the holidays to come and all the work that that entails.

There is of course more buying and cooking of food, but there is the addition of decorating, holiday cards, gifts, and all the sundry events and parties and so forth. And it seems overwhelming.

In my thirties, it seemed nearly impossible. I seem to never have a moment when I wasn’t shopping, decorating, baking, or obsessing. As I’ve aged, and our lives have settled down, frankly little of this troubles me now. But I remember it quite well.

Advent comes as an island in the chaos. It tells us to slow down, stop our obsessing about things that don’t matter much at all, and to concentrate on what truly is. The LORD IS COMING!

And we are reminded that instead of all this unnecessary busy work, we should be concentrating on what is truly valuable–doing our best to usher in the kingdom that we so long for.

Believe me, we can be at our worst during the hustle and bustle of holiday times. We can be rude and pushy, arrogant, and down right mean to those who we see as getting in our way or obstructing our plans. And Advent reminds us, that that is not what we should be about at all.

It is a time of shared love and charity. It is a time of community, and caring for each other. It is a time when we join together in our hope for the future that we know to be ours.

Mark reminds us: “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'”

And Paul tells us that we have been given all we need to be at the watch: “in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,. . . ”

We take a pause in our busyness, and contemplate these things.

We realize that we get caught up in the Madison Avenue of it all, and we lose sight of our need. Our need is great. It is the need for our God:

 “Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.

We need with a deep yearning to recall that we are fashioned as God would have us. We are not consumers. We are not Italians, or Irish, or Puerto Ricans. We are not Presbyterians or Catholics, Baptists or Lutherans. We are not lawyers, or mechanics, teachers or real estate agents. We are not parents, children, aunts, or cousins. We are not old or young, rich or poor.

We are God’s creation. We are gifted with love and compassion and humility. We are awaiting our Savior’s return to bring glory to God in the Kingdom. We wait. We watch. We hope.

Is. 63:16b-17, 19b, 64: 2-7
Ps 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1Cor 1: 3-9
Mk 13: 33-37

An Offering of Peace

We live in an information era in case you missed it. That’s both good and bad. Good in that we can share information with disparate people and save ourselves a lot of duplication and research time.

Bad in that, well. Consider this:

There is a commercial the subject of which escapes me (that is fairly normal, many ads grab your attention but never quite tie their message to the product). Anyway this particular one is about the linking problem.

The daughter says, “I need to get new shoes for the dance,” and the mother, repeats, “shoes? Menolas, designer pumps,” and the father repeats, “pumps? gasoline pumps, need to refill the car.” And this goes on and on as people finally go into a loop and just stand there mesmerized, their brains in lockdown.

That’s what can happen in our information craze. Go to read a post, and start following the links, and follow those links, and soon you are 42 subjects from where you started, and none the wiser usually.

My mind seems a constant whirl of thoughts, but I guess the Internet has nothing to do with that. It’s the way we are. If you are a meditator, you certainly appreciate what I’m saying. How to clear the mind, and remain simply present?

Our readings today reflect advice that most of us should take to heart. Stop thinking so much!

Isaiah reminds us that we need not spend time worrying about whether God is and will remain faithful. That is like asking a woman to forget her baby. It’s just not gonna happen. (Isa 49:14-15)

Paul reminds us in 1Cor 4:1-5 that we shouldn’t be worrying about whether other folks are doing what they should either. It’s not up to us to judge, so why spend the time even thinking about such things. If you’ve ever sat in church and looked around, and casually thought, “my but that person seems interested in everything but worship today” you know what I mean. Of course, I guess we weren’t thinking much about worship either, but somehow that thought seems to escape us.

Jesus, really makes this very clear in MT 6:24-34. He reminds us that the  birds of the air do absolutely nothing to warrant their food, yet God takes care of them. And why should we worry about what to wear? The flowers of the field are made resplendent, with nary a lifted leaf to warrant their beauty.

The readings today tell us, in total, to stop worrying about ourselves and others. God will take care of all. And it’s good advice, for the most part. Again, anyone who meditates knows this. If you pay attention to the thoughts that float across your mind when you are sitting in silence, you will find that mostly ninety percent of them have to do with worrying about things past or fears of what may come. We simply don’t live much in the moment.

In the moment. So easy to say, so very hard to do. To stay present to our loved ones, to the activity at hand. No doubt most “accidents” are caused by inattention to what is at hand. We’re busy texting, or talking, or thinking of something else.

Reflect back to something twenty, thirty years ago. Remember a time when your hours were filled with worry about X. Remember the emotional agony you endured. Painful hours spent worrying. And X never happened. If you are like most of us, you’ve done this enumerable times throughout your life. We all have.

If we only knew the value of the present moment, that ephemeral moment that as soon as you recognize it, is past. The ever-changing moment. Yet it is here that God is. It is here we meet the transcendent. It is here we live and have our being. It is the only thing that we can claim as “ours.”

Yet, as important as this is. There is need to think of the future. It would be imprudent to not make plans. I mean is it not intelligent to save money for our old age? Is it not prudent to study hard with a view to good grades and better college prospects? Do we not plan for vacations, our children’s health, and myriads of other things?

Yes, as Shakespeare would say, “there’s the rub.” Some thinking about the future is essential to live practical lives. We have to plan shopping trips lest there be no food in the house. Prudence dictates a certain amount of forethought.

So, where is the dividing line? For Jesus suggests that we need not worry about our food or clothing, God will take care of us. Well, perhaps we take that too literally. Perhaps what Jesus was saying is that we should not spend our time worrying about such things. Worrying and planning are not the same. Peter and Andrew and the others planned for their livelihood by going out to fish. They didn’t expect the fish to beach themselves on shore for them to scoop up.

Jesus’ admonition seems more along the lines of our tendency to obsess about the future. When we read further into the passage, he reminds us to:

Set your heart on  his Kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well.

In other words, do your normal jobs of life, but do them with an eye to living as God would have you. Good things come when  we love God, and our neighbor. Being present to God enables us to do that “good job” and grace results. We are fed.

Love, It’s Just About Love

I’ve been mulling over something I read on a blog all week long. I knew I wanted to write a reply of sorts, but wasn’t sure exactly what I should say.

I’m still not sure.

But today’s readings and something else I’ve been working on, all, as God perhaps intends, come together to suggest answers, or at least a profitable way of looking at it.

I will give the quote in full:

…For most of us, our religious community seems far more important than our religious community’s theology.   That is, people attend church largely to socialize with their friends and acquaintances in the congregation; somewhat less to worship their  god; much less to learn about their god; and almost never to think critically about their god.  Yet, many proselytizing atheists focus on critical thinking.  That might be like trying to use a carpenter’s pencil to lever a house off its foundation.  On the other hand, if I ever want to convert people to atheism, I’ll first hold a social.

Painful statement, yet there is truth in it. Yet, I feel no need to defend against it. Much. I’m aware of polling that suggests that atheists know more about the contents of the bible than do believers. And I have no reason to quarrel with it. Yet, I know that that should  not be very comforting, to atheists,  because what most atheists “know” about the bible is seen through the lens of  fundamentalism. The point out all the errors, the contradictions, but they really don’t understand anything about how it was gathered together into the distinctive writings that eventually found their way into a canon. Much of their error finding is irrelevant to scholars, and explainable.

I’m a good deal less troubled by the idea that going to church is mostly a social event. You hear that a lot from atheists. But that’s not something to defend against, but rather something to embrace.

We do socialize in church, and that’s a good thing. For in that action, we enlarge our circle of “neighbor” if indeed it is not limitless to begin with. For practical reasons we only have time for so many neighbors, those to whom we are beholden to offer our help even when it is awfully inconvenient. Church socializing forms those new friendships and  ties. It brings into the circle those we care for and about. It helps us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s a good thing.

The rest? About critical thinking arguments being wasted on the believer. Well that’s just plain mean, untrue and not worth further comment.

Today’s readings are:

Lev 19:1-2, 17-18
1Cor 3:16-23
Mt 5:38-48

In Leviticus, Moses listens to God who tells him to tell the people to be holy as I am holy.  You must love your neighbor as yourself.

Similarly,  Paul reminds us that we are God’s temple, and that we must respect God’s temple, both ourselves and others.

Jesus speaks in Matthew and he tells us that we must not hate, we must love our neighbor, even when our neighbor is unkind, hurtful,  or worse to us. We must give to whomever asks (something extreme right-wing religious might make note of as they argue that universe health care is wrong since it gives to some who are not worthy to receive).

Jesus reminds us that God makes the rain fall on the righteous and the wicked equally. Again,  perhaps we might remember that before we are so quick to claim that hell awaits those whom we find evil.

But the over-riding point Jesus attempts to make is one of love. Love conquers all, hate never can. It but creates more hate, distrust, fear. All negative. All cutting against the neighbor concept.

I’m reading a wonderful book about Mary Magdalene. It draws heavily on the so-called gnostic gospels of Thomas, Mary, Peter, and the Gospel of John. It requires a lot of reading between the lines, a fair amount of reordering one’s thinking. It suggests that Jesus, along “his way” diverted from the Nazarite path, the aesthetic path he began, and ended in a more Eastern approach. More Buddhist, yet not.

His was the way of self-emptying. A concept well-known to anyone who is a believer. Paul talks of this in Philippians 2:9-16. He understood Jesus, perhaps better than did the writers of Mark, Matthew or Luke.

It’s all about kenosis, self giving. Similar to the Buddhist way, of letting be, giving up, but not, the denial of all as transitory. Rather it’s  the giving all, and in that very process, receiving all, being all, being totally, wholly human.

Having never been an inerrantist, I have difficulty understanding the former fundamentalist. They accept that the bible is not inerrant, but they now have trouble seeing it as having any value. It is no longer trustworthy as conveyor of God’s “WORD.”

The bible, remains to me, (as other sacred texts do as well) as repositors of man’s highest achievement in enlightenment. We are able, as we progress, to tease out sometimes those things that point to a greater truth, one they didn’t even realize they spoke of.

Everything I read and study, helps me to see Jesus, and God more clearly. It all, to me resolves itself into love. Love was the vehicle Jesus pointed to as the means to the Kingdom. As Cynthia Bourgeault suggests, it is the vertical axis connecting ourselves to the infinite. It is what, she theorizes forever connected Mary Magdalene to Jesus in a way far superior to any of the other apostles.

She got it, and many others have followed in her footsteps and His. It’s just about love.

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