Friday, July 1, 2011
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.I love this collect. With it I offer to put myself completely into God's hands, trusting God to provide quite independently of my ignorance, blindness, and weakness. It is easy to see what the prayer says about God. When we pray it, what do we say about ourselves?
- We are ignorant.
- We are weak.
- We are unworthy.
- We dare not ask.
- We are blind.
- We have good minds.
- We can become strong in character.
- Christ has made us worthy; God did not make us junk.
- There is no risk in asking.
- God gave us not only eyesight, but also the potential for insight.
Creator God, thank you for giving us good minds. Bless us as we strive to use them well and seek to become wise. Help us to become strong in character. And realizing that you want us to ask, ask we do: please provide that which we do not yet see we need, through Jesus Christ your son and our joint heir of your everlasting kingdomBit too much? Do I need to tone it down a bit? Should the collect encourage an itsy bitsy grovel? I think not. Honesty and candor do not threaten God nearly so much as blind obedience does. Professional liturgists need to smith the draft a bit more, but let's go for it. Genesis 28:10-19a I am sure that Jacob awakened refreshed by his dream. But should we? This same dream is used by many today to close discussion on the bids for a Palestinian state. In property disputes about the Gaza strip or the huge wall to cut off ease of Muslim access to their own holy places, some use Jacob's dream to ratify all Jewish claims. If you must blame anyone, some argue, don't blame the Jews: they're simply following God's orders. What for Jacob is a dream is for Muslims a nightmare. Is God really such a respecter of persons? Might Yaweh and Allah name the same person, seen but darkly through the eyes of Jews and Muslims? My rector The Rev. Dr. Brent Bates pointed out in a recent sermon, we have a choice of what to hear when Jesus says, "I am the way." We may choose to hear "I am THE way"; or we may choose to hear "I am the WAY." Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23 This is one of my favorite psalms. In my spiritual journey, I was very close to God as a child and as a teenager. I accepted the church's indictment of homosexual desire and actions and avoided intimacy and fervently confessed my fearful fantasies. I did everything I could to try to become straight. At age 28, I concluded that my homosexuality was not just a passing phase, that I really am not plumbed as straight. I abandoned God who had, it seemed, so cruelly abandoned me. I embraced the criminal status the law prescribed for me. I furtively sought to make up for lost time in the company of strangers. To protect not only myself, but also my family, I immediately moved to Europe where any arrest would less likely be noticed in my hometown newspaper. Meanwhile, God never stopped loving me. There was no place where I could flee from God's presence. God traced my journeys and my resting-places, and was acquainted with all my ways. Even when I said, "Surely the darkness will cover me and the light around me turn to night," it did not happen. Our darkness is not dark to God; our night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light to God are both alike. After several years of wandering, I came to discover God's light where I least expected to find it, in the arms of Ernest. In Ernest's love for me, just as I am, I glimpsed how much more God loves me, and not me only, but absolutely everybody. God in our time is using lgbtq persons as God has used many of the despised before us, to show that God's love has no limit. The lgbtq Christian movement is not about us, but about God, and about us only as God's servants. Jesus had his first success not with Jews, but with scorned Samaritans; and he was less concerned with their sins than with their thirst for living water. A luta continua. Romans 8:12-25 Looking at this passage with what I imagine "A Straight Eye," we lgbtq persons are at risk. Many straights use us a cookie cutter examples of those who "live according to the flesh." Very few places in the world offer us the alternative of marriage, which straight persons, always the majority, reserve for themselves alone as the way to sanctify sexual intercourse. In this straight division of reality, lgbtqs manifest creation's "bondage to decay." Recently The Rev. Matt Kennedy, a friend on Facebook, lamented that Presbyterians have now approved the ordination of gay people. +Matt proclaimed, "Presbyterians just took a flying leap off a very steep cliff." At one point in the first 82 responses +Matt prompted, I wrote as irenically as I could imagine: "God's property is always to show mercy." My friend replied very much with a "Straight Eye for the Lectionary":
Yes it is. And he has already revealed the basis of his mercy...the life death resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Access to the saving benefits of Christ is open to all through faith--which is personal surrender and commitment to him. Jesus said that those who are his will make that manifest through the fruits of their lives...primarily obedience. "If you love me you will follow my commands" Conversely we are told by Jesus himself: "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8) Those are not my words, but the words of Jesus of Nazareth risen and reigning in heaven and who will one day come again as judge. These words do not mean that if you sin you will not inherit the kingdom. We all sin. It points rather to those whose lives are characterized by unrepentant defiant and proud sin. In other words, Louie, it is not your sexual sin but your unrepentance that is at issue. Unrepentance and defiance reveals a heart that is uncircumcised and unchanged. But there is hope and a future open before you and I pray you take it. The same Lord who pronounced the sentence above also said the following through his apostle John: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10) You are right. His property is always to have mercy to those who seek it. Louie, I pray that you seek it. You are correct that I am no better and in many ways morally worse than you. I would have no hope were it not for the grace of God leading me to repentance for all those things he reveals to be sin in my life. You too have that open door and I pray you will walk through it. [Louie, you wrote:] "I pray that God will not use the same standard in judging you that you so rigorously use in not forgiving lgbtq persons." It's the same standard Louie...the very same. His word, which reveals his holiness, is the measure of us all. And none can stand before him. But, again, that is why Jesus came--to save sinners like you and me. But to avail ourselves of this salvation we must be willing to say that God is right and we are wrong. That his word is true and our pretensions are false. We must be willing to surrender our proud and vain rebellion, cease clinging to our own designs and desires, repent of our sins and cling to Christ in whom, as you say, we are promised mercy, forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus loves you Louie. Imagine what God might do through you even now to rescue those living in the darkness of sexual sin. You could bring such glory to his name and so many people to the gospel. So, again, I pray you repent and I pray that God will move in your mind and heart to hear and receive the truth of his word.From my queer point of view, St. Paul was often wrong about sex. He was wrong to set mind and body, spirit and the flesh at enmity with each other. God made both, and we can live with wholeness (integrity) only when we can integrate spirit and flesh. St. Paul is on dangerous spiritual ground when he allows for marriage only as a form of lust control. ("It is better to marry than to burn" 1 Cor. 7:9) There is much more abundance and generosity to grace than +Matt Kennedy or I have imagined. I honor him for his obvious compassion towards me given his view of God. I am grateful that he has given his permission for me to include this long quotation. Gay Roman Catholic priest and theologian James Alison counsels: "Give someone who is wrong a soft place to land." No matter whether it is +Matt Kennedy or myself who is wrong, we both have the same soft place, safely in the arms of Jesus. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 +Matt Kennedy feels called to invest lots of effort into separating wheat from tares, sheep from goats, the righteous from the unrighteous. He works for laws to support his divisions, both in the culture and in the church. With many others, and at great personal cost to himself, he left the Episcopal Church to affiliate with one of the continuing Anglican groups. Jesus is not naive. He knows full well that there are weeds among the wheat, that there are evil-doers. His disciples ask him: `Then do you want us to go and gather them?" Jesus replied:
No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
Signing offJesus' counsel is an appropriate place to end this blog, with straight and lgbtqs alike watching and waiting. I hope that we do so with great expectations. With this reflection I have completed the full 3-year cycle of the lectionary. Thank you for your interest. I encourage all of you to write your own reflections on the lectionary, especially fellow lay folk like myself, because we don't 'have to.' It is an excellent discipline through which to take Scripture seriously. As the blog name emphasizes, I set out in this series to give a "Queer Eye" to the lectionary. Since that's the only kind of eye I have, I confess that from time to time I have gotten through an entire set of readings without ever saying anything that makes lgbtq experience stand out as distinct. In life, that is true even more so. Although I am coming up on my 75th birthday in December, I confess that I am not altogether sure what gayness/homosexuality/queerdom really is. All human beings are far more complex than any label can adequately describe, and I see no real reason that affectional preferences should make one stand out any more than Ernest and I stand out for being left-handed or for being an interracial couple... Alas, in much of the world we do stand out as interracial, and we do stand out as a gay couple. If the world gives you a leper's bell, use it to make music. I hope I have done so in the series, albeit I am not a musician and some of it is likely discordant. On the Great Gettin Up Morning, to which each of us draws nearer with each breath, I do not expect to plead, 'Let me in because I am right about homosexuality.' I will plead, 'Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.' And She will be. That's who She is. My blessing May God bless you and keep you. Lend your face to God so that in you others may glimpse God. Be about the business of redemption, cleaning up messes with as much delight as you can muster. Love one another, especially those least loved and most difficult to love. Love your enemies as much as God does. Ask God to hold you to the same standard that you yourself use in forgiving them. Hold great expectations because you are a joint heir with Jesus. Fear not. Joy! Amen
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.Many collects ask God to tell us what to think and do. Many of us ask God the same. I suppose it does not hurt to ask, but it is important to excercise extreme caution when I am tempted to take my answers for God's answers. It is all too easy to justify my position by saying, "God made me do it!" God has never promised to think for us or to act in ways that make us God's puppets or automatons. Why should we choose to be God's puppet? God offers instead for us to be God's friend. A Quean Lutibelle alternative:
God, just checking in, my friend. I hope all goes well for you, and if not, that you re-deploy your love in ways most likely to improve situations. Thank you for giving me a mind and heart of my own. I hope that I too can deploy your love in ways most likely to improve situations. Here are some specifics in central focus for me today...... Love, Lutibelle/LouieGenesis 25:19-34 First Sarah was barren until she was seventy. No wonder that she laughed (in Hebrew, "Yitsak, Yitsak. Yitsak, Yitsak ....." Try it out in a high wide-mouthed, high-pitched cackle!) Pregnant at 70! Whew! Even today we're tempted to share her unbelief. Then her daughter-in-law Rebekah proves barren too! What's going on with this family? How ironic that Abraham, the progenitor of progenitors, heads it. When Rebekah finally becomes pregnant, she does so in spades -- with twins. Esau arrives first, with Jacob right after him, gripping Esau's heel. In Beyond the Fringe, a 1960 British comedy revue, Alan Bennett played a vicar in the routine "Take a Pew". He said with falsetto: "My brother Esau is an hairy man, but I am a smooth man." Some credit this show with the popularity of satire on the British stage for over a decade. Jacob was smooth indeed, and a consummate trickster. The story pits Esau's physical strength (the "skillful hunter, the man of the field") against Jacob's wits, against Jacob's craftiness. Famished, Esau loses control and sells his birthright as the first-born for mere lentil soup with bread. Later in parts of Genesis, Jacob himself falls prey to tricks of Laban, who becomes his father-in-law twice before Jacob gets the bride he wants. Be glad that Hollywood did not get an advance copy of this script. The Bible version does not dress its main characters to please the crowds. The patriachs of Genesis often are less than grand. Psalm 119:105-112 This selection repeats several basic tenets of Hebrew Scriptures. The speaker obeys God's law and expects to be rewarded. The speaker has enemies who set traps for him, but God protects the speaker, because "I have not strayed from your commandments." The contract runs smoothly. God commands; human beings to obey. The speaker claims justification by virtue of the good behavior, and God rewards the obedience. That's radically different from Saint Paul's understanding that we can never be good enough to be justified by the law. That's why, Paul and other apostles argue, we need Jesus to save us. Note the beginning verses of today's passage from Romans: Romans 8:1-11
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.For Saint Paul, the flesh is our great weakness. The flesh makes it impossible for us to obey the law fully. Jesus pays the price for our sins, and it is through our faith in Jesus, not through our own righteousness, that we are justified -- according to Paul. Saint Paul pits the Spirit against the Flesh. He believes that the Spirit alone can save us. Not all early Christians behaved as Paul wanted them to behave. Read his epistles to the Corinthians, in which he becomes quite worked up with some of their sexual behaviors. Paul's view of our creatureliness differs radically from the view propounded in the book of Genesis. When God made each part of creation, God proclaimed, "It is good!" It's hard to imagine that when God came to the genitalia, God said, "It is nasty! Yuck" -- But Saint Paul has led many to come to that conclusion. Elsewhere, Paul says it's best not even to get married and recommends marriage only as a last resort, for lust-control. "It is better to marry than to burn" (1 Corinthians 7:9). Nowhere does Paul even suggest that flesh and spirit can integrate fully. Yet I believe their integration helps define a healthy person. That's another good reason that God gave us minds and trusts us to think for ourselves. One of my first cousins graduated from the highly conservative Dallas Theological Seminary and worked his full adult life as a pastor and counselor in large independent congregations. We were close in growing up, and he valued me immensely as the one who gave him his first bible and, while I was still a Southern Baptist, "led him to the Lord." Years into our ministries, I was in Dallas to speak at an Episcopal service, and we arranged to meet in my hotel room. Each tried hard not to offend the other in the areas of our clear difference. "Louie," he said well into our time together, "I don't know much about gay people, but do you find that they have some of the same problems understanding faithfulness and commitment that I find many of our converts having? I am troubled that some are caught up in promiscuity and seem not to connect their sexual behavior with their spirituality." "Some lgbtq folks have the same disconnect," I replied. See my fuller account of this conversation at Huge Bibles. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Evangelists and teachers, like sowers, are not responsible for the harvest, only for the planting! At 74 I continue to hear from persons whom I taught during my 44 years as a teacher, beginning when I was 21. I am amazed at what some remember. Some credit me with major changes in their lives, yet sometimes I cannot even remember saying the transforming words they attribute to me. I have learned to smile and say, "Thank you. It was a privilege to teach you." And it was. I did not make the seed, nor did I remain to nuture it as they and others have done long after they leave my classes. I am but the sower. God gives the increase.
Friday, June 24, 2011
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.Enrollment dwindled a bit in my courses at Rutgers on The Bible as Literature when students learned that the elective was not an easy 'A,' that they had to write original papers, that in a secular setting I was concerned more with their critical thinking skills than with whether they were believers. Often on the first day of class I would take an old bible and baptize it in a bucket of dirty water. I'd go to the window, look out in many directions, and report, "No lightning yet." Then I would retrieve the soggy book, read from its cover, 'Holy Bible," and announce that in this class, the book would have to earn respect in the same way that books in any of their other courses had to earn their respect. Still many returned to take the second course in the sequence, active Christians as well as Muslims, Buddhists, atheists and others. "Why are you back for the Christian scriptures when you know from the class on the Hebrew scriptures that you disagree with me fully?" I asked a member of the Plymouth Brethren. "That's easy," the student replied: "You love the book and you give fair grades when we earn them." Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 Two weeks into the Hebrew scriptures, a young female arrived before class with great excitement about the reading we have in the lectionary today. "The gave her a nose ring!" she exclaimed. "Oh what fun I had in telling my mama that I am not being an upstart by wearing a nose ring: they were doing it in the bible thousands of years ago!" Before she made this discovery, she considered dropping the class, claiming she could not think of any thing original to write for her first critical paper. "Why don't you use this insight as kindling for your paper?" I asked. "How would I do that?" she responded. "What other references to jewelry can you find using the online bible? What purposes does the jewelry serve and what attention do the writers give to it?" She was off and running. Her paper was impressive; for example, she discovered that jewelry came on hard times when prophets tried to explain newly arrived hard times..... Bracelets, amulets, rings, and the like, are easy targets to blame for bad fortune. Consider July 3rd as 'Nose Ring Sunday.' Wear one to church. Celebrate with Rebekah. One of the continuing pleasures of reading Scripture is to focus on details which are not in central focus for the narrators. Psalm 45: 11-18 Not quite up to the pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, but the impulse is the same. The sad note here is that the king's pleasure gets direct attention: the bride is supposed to get her pleasure vicariously through him, by how much she pleases him. No mention is made of his obligation to please her.
The king will have pleasure in your beauty; * he is your master; therefore do him honor.Lutibelle prefers:
You will have pleasure in the king's beauty; * you are his master; and he will do you honor.One telling detail that memorializes the psalmist's patriarchal assumptions is the emphasis in "O king, you shall have sons." Romans 7:15-25 I did not choose to be gay. Until I was 28 (in 1964), I fought it and kept my arousal patterns as a deep dark secret, telling only a few very close friends. During that time I lived in the closet. I disliked myself and I sought to avoid any other gay people. It was a lonely time. By the time I came out, I had had sexual encounters with only six persons, all strangers, when I was drunk and desperate.
I did not understand my own actions. For I did not do what I wanted, but I did the very thing I hated.... I felt it was no longer I who did it, but sin that dwelt within me. I cried out, "Wretch that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"Like Paul, I felt that the body corrupts, that flesh is sinful in and of itself. I separated mind and body; I separated soul from body. And I strove to reject the body as best I could. For years I fervently asked God to take away all my erotic desire. All my prayers to change my desires failed. At long last, I gave up on God, or so I thought. Yet God delivered me, just not in the way I had asked. God sent a live human being into my life who loved me, and I found it impossible not to love him. Very quickly I found that we were attracted in dozens of ways, not just by sex, though sex was integral to our closeness. We courted for five months and then we married, just the two of us in the presence of the Holy Spirit, using the Book of Common Prayer (1928 version, since it was the only one authorized at the time.) I was not long into the relationship with Ernest before I realized that our love was transforming me. Instead of separating me from God, our love for each other drew me closer to God. Instead of rejecting sex, I integrated it fully with my mind and my soul. I had almost died without this wholeness, this integrity. The church still encourages that kind of violence in many places. When Ernest and I married on February 2, 1974, I did not know another couple who were lesbian or gay, so great was my isolation. It should surprise no one that when I founded an lgbtq ministry in the Episcopal Church, I named it Integrity, to reclaim what the Church had violated. I have booked a long conversation with Saint Paul on this matter. I grieve that he was so fully cut off from his own wholeness. He argued that marriage was for lust control only. He more than any other biblical writer promoted the unhealthy notion: "Sex is dirty; therefore, save it for marriage." Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 Since today is "Nose Ring Sunday," let it also be an occasion to throw away concern for our good reputation. Jesus notes that the crowds call him a drunkard, a glutton, and a friend of sinners. At the great gettin-up morning, we too will be judged by the company we keep. Jesus' practice turns on its head conventional morality. How much time have you spent with drunkards and gluttons? Do you have a wide reputation of being a friend of sinners? I don't know much about the righteous, but I know a lot about sinners, being one myself. The sinners that I know are not likely to invite someone to dine with them for a second time if the person tells them how evil they are and reports to the world on their bad behavior. I doubt that Jesus could have earned friendship status with sinners if he came down on them judgmentally. When he met with my Samaritan ancestor at the well, he expressed far more concern about her thirst than about her sin. For years an Episcopal deacon in Chicago ran a facility for the homeless, and in highly visible gilded gothic script he hung a sign that said, "Love your neighbor today: leave him alone!" From all busybodies and from all who consider themselves better than the rest of us, good lord, deliver us." Make the church a safe space for sinners, and you will pack the congregation much as Jesus did.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Even for sissies like me. Indeed, for absolutely everybody!
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.Matthew 10:40-42 Welcome is contagious, much as unwelcome is. One priest I know liked to tell his parishioners how unimaginative they are. "I find it incredible than anyone, absolutely anyone, has been willing to worship here 10 or more years," he told them frequently. Under that kind of leadership, attendance in the large parish dwindled dramatically. Fortunately he left, and even better, he took his unwelcoming spirit with him. His successor delights in finding new ways to say every Sunday what a great and welcoming and loving parish they are. Her spirit is contagious. Lo and behold, the parish is thriving again, and the people feel good about themselves and their opportunity to serve others through the parish's outreach.
"Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.Psalm 13 This is one of the shorter psalms. (The shortest is Psalm 117, with only 33 words in some English versions, only 16 words in Hebrew.) In Psalm 13 the petitioner manifests a sharp mood swing that occurs in many other psalms as well: he moves from being morose to having great expectations. In the psalm God's actions do not change; the speaker changes assumptions about God's actions. For the first four verses, the petitioner assumes that God has forgotten him. The petitioner asks God to act, but records no action taken by God. Instead, the speaker acts by putting trust in God mercy and saving help. The psalm is almost a showcase for belief in the power of positive thinking. In the final verse, the petitioner no longer protests being neglected. Instead, the petitioner says, "God has dealt with me richly." How often to we take responsibility for our own depression and thereby help to reverse it? How often do we nurture our depression and blame God for it? Romans 6:12-23 Paul insists throughout his witness that good works and right behavior don't change our status with God one bit. We are saved by Jesus' righteousness, not by our own. Yet Paul does not want us to continue in the sin from which Christ has rescued us. He reminds me a bit of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations. Miss Havisham does not in any way encourage spontaneity, delight, and freedom for Pip an Estella, yet she wants the children to behave as she assumes they should, so she commands them, "Play!" That moment is one of Dickens' more memorable captures of perversity. Children's play is not children's play when it is done because it is commanded. Paul wants Christians to be righteous spontaneously, but when they are not, he deploys passive aggression through which he hopes to prompt them rather than coerce them into right behavior. To this end, Paul develops a rhetorical construct, insisting that they are still slaves as they were before Jesus saved them. The difference is that now they are (or Paul at least thinks they ought to be) slaves to God rather than slaves to sin. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life." Note that Paul does not say, "For the wages of sin is death, but the reward for sinlessness is eternal life." As a Gay Christian, I have encountered many who tell me, "God cannot forgive you because you have not left your homosexual relationship. You continue to sin, and your faith in Jesus is null and void until you do." They may be right, but I am not trembling in fear that they may be. I do not believe the bible's case against homosexual behavior trumps Jesus' first and second commandments. I do not believe my marriage to Ernest is sinful, though I do sin within the relationship. I do not feel it wrong that I love him; it is very wrong when I fail to love him enough, namely as much as I love myself. I do not understand marriage as primarily sexual. Sexuality is integral to it, but not definitive of it. That is true of all marriage. Sex does not define it. Sex takes up relatively little time over the decades. Yet sex is not incidental to marriage; it's integral. Much is at stake in our belief about such matters, but not eternal life. When I stand before God my maker, I do not intend to say, "My name is Louie Crew and I am right about sexuality, so please let me in!" Instead, I will say, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." I am not afraid. God's property is always to show mercy. Have heterosexuals struck a better bargain? Genesis 22:1-14 This is one of the most powerful stories in all of literature, and I find it deeply disturbing. No matter how I read it, I do not like it.
- I do not believe that God goes around telling parents to kill their children. Nor do I believe God told Abraham to do that.
- I would report to the police any parent whom I knew to be on a mission to sacrifice a child. Almost any police department in the world would arrest Abraham for attempted murder.
- I resent the patriarchal assumptions throughout this story. Sarah, the boy's mother, is of no account and not consulted by her husband or by her husband's God.
- The boy's "innocence" is tiresome and I take no delight in the irony when he asks, "But where is the lamb for a burn offering?" When he grows up, Isaac is no more impressive. He manifests almost no energy, not even when his parents choose a wife for him. Isaac's twins walk circles around him, and Jacob easily deceives him. There are light-weights aplenty in the world, but as a light-weight, Isaac demonstrates no impressive credentials for being revered as an outstanding spiritual ancestor.
- In A Study in Biblical Psychology of the Sacrifice of Isaac, London 1954, Sigmund Freud impressively explored some of psychological depths that he saw in this narrative. Freud's imagination is richer than that of the father or the son in the narrative.
Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.Can you imagine Jesus asking the thief on the next cross to pray this prayer? Can you imagine Jesus asking the Samaritan woman at the well to pray this prayer? Would he even have suggested it to savvy Nicodemus? Would he have asked it of any of his disciples? “No!” to all of the above. Would he ask Christians today to pray it? What do you think? This prayer is designed to promote an institutional decision made almost 400 years into the Christian era, when the doctrine of the Trinity became official for much of Christendom. I have no problem with the doctrine, and to the extent that I understand it, I believe in it. I grieve that the doctrine has for centuries been a major distraction from the work of ministry which God has assigned to us, work defined in today‘s gospel text, tempered with Saint‘s injunction in the epistle. It makes good sense to maintain an institution well. Given the huge battles -- whether we like them or not -- that did arise, and still potentially divide us, we Trinitarian Christians have something at stake in the institutional endorsement of the doctrine. I am not ready to go to war with Unitarians, however, nor with other groups for whom the doctrine is merely a nice antique. I view the Trinity as a handy metaphor for how God manifests God's self in different guises. God will go on doing that whether or not we formalize God’s behavior as an official doctrine. Note: the authors of this collect would have us "worship the Unity." That's different from worshiping the doctrine itself. They also took care to write “by the confession of a true faith” rather than “by the confession of The True Faith.” For such wiggle room! I am grateful, not for myself, but for those who feel they need it. Genesis 1:1-2:4a Where did you come from? Who were your parents? Who were their parents and who were their parents' parents?... How did we get here as human beings? How did all living creatures have life? Whence come all inanimate things? Does the Genesis narrative trump or otherwise negate in any way what science has to say about the world’s origins or the origin of the species thereon? Many of us asked these questions less inhibitedly when we were children. The author of Genesis gives a set of answer through the creation narrative. Similar narrative proliferated the ancient world. Likely the Israelites first heard this narrative while they were captives in Babylonia and adopted it and adapted it in accord with their own understandings. Try forgetting this familiar creation narrative and write your own. Will God be a part of your narrative? Will you give to male human beings the supremacy explicit and implicit in this narrative? Do you have any changes you would like to see to the human body?
- An eye in the back of the head, for example?
- Androgyny for everyone?
- Any changes to the plumbing?
- Any more controls, or any reduction of controls, on how the plumbing might be used?
- Would you design ways to make it easier for surgeons to correct all physical problems when they arise?
- Would you keep the immune system as it is?
A Song of Praise Benedictus es, Domine Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers; * praised and exalted above all for ever. Blessed art thou for the Name of thy Majesty; * praised and exalted above all for ever. Blessed art thou in the temple of thy holiness; * praised and exalted above all for ever. Blessed art thou that beholdest the depths, and dwellest between the Cherubim; * praised and exalted above all for ever. Blessed art thou on the glorious throne of thy kingdom; * praised and exalted above all for ever. Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven; * praised and exalted above all for ever. Blessed art thou, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; * praised and exalted above all for ever.In Welcome to Samara, a sermon which I preached during General Convention 1994, I noted that when I fled the Baptist religion to become an Episcopalian, I was not altogether certain that I believed in God. But Episcopalians provided me a prettier way to pray to God. This Canticle would have come to mind then, even as it does now, as one of many important examples. Enjoy its rich cadence of anapests, tripping off the tongue, especially in the repeated
- "Praised and exalted above all forever"
- Scanned: / v v / v v / v v / v
Agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.When I try to greet my adversaries with a holy kiss, most of them reject the kiss as unholy, alas. Matthew 28:16-20 The Great Commission we all share as Christians is to make disciples throughout the whole world. We are to baptize the new disciples. We are to teach them to obey every commandment Jesus gave, the first and greatest of which he said it to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and the second, which he said is "like unto it," that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Are we also to teach them to reject Buddhism, Islam, Humanism, Hinduism......? Does the Great Commission command or implicitly endorse holy crusades of the murderous sort Christians undertook in the Middle Ages? -- or does it endorse America’s current, often murderous crusade to bring its vision of democracy to all nations? Does the Great Commission endorse confiscation of Arab property to use for new settlements in Israel? This text, as have many others, has been plundered to support religious intolerance and so-called 'holy' wars. Contrast Saint's counsel: "Agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. "
One way I use to help me understand a text is to look at the text writer-to-writer.
- What assignment did this writer receive or give to herself?
- How might I understand the same task in terms of my present time, place, and culture?
For example, in teaching English composition, I have often distributed blank index cards, 10 per student, with these instructions: "Do not put your name on the cards, but on each card put the same 5-digit code, preferably with alphabetical and numeric digits. That will help me get all of your cards back to you even without knowing the identify of the writer.
"Next, on each card, write quickly, and without much reflection, the first 10 things that come to the top of your head when asked to list something you would feel guilty doing. Put a different one of these behaviors on each of your cards."
Once they have completed that part, I ask them to stack their cards in descending order of which behavior would make them feel most guilty, next most guilty.....least guilty. Once they have stacked them in this order, I ask them to assign '1' to the 'most guilty' card, '2' to the "next most guilty..." and '10' to the 'least guilty' card, putting these numbers in the top left corner of each card.
Once they have completed that part, I ask them to stack their cards in descending order of which behavior they find "most tempting" ...."to least tempting".... to "not tempting at all." For example, some might have said they would feel most guilty if they murdered someone but might want to say "not tempting as all" for this and several of their other behaviors.
Once they have stacked the cards in this order, in the top right-hand corner of each card they assign "A" to the "most tempting" card, "B" to the "next most tempting"..... I tell them to use "X" for each card they designate as "not tempting at all."
Then I ask them to put their gender as M or F circled at the bottom of all 10 cards.
Then I ask them to put within a circle at the bottom right-hand corner of each card the number of times they have attended a religious service within the last 30 days.
That done, I collect the cards, shuffling cards from all students together as I gather them.
Only then do I tell them that they have just re-written the Ten Commandments.
Once we sort the class' cards, we can discern the ten commandments they most held in common and compare their list with Moses' (or God's) list.
You will notice that they have given other variables (gender, participation in formal religious worship) that could lead to further revelations for the group, as would study of the number of "X" cards.
Had I begun saying, "Rewrite The Ten Commandments" the results would have been quite different. Behaviors reported through the assignment I give rarely have many matches with Moses. Most do not even think of Moses, yet they are taking the same assignment that Moses undertook.
Once I take them to Moses' list, they are ready to be actively engaged by it. That's one of the great benefits of giving ourselves the same assignment the writers of scripture gave themselves.
Assignments parallel to the writing assignments the authors of today's lections undertook:
Today commemorates the original appearance of the Holy Spirit. Write a prayer for a group or an individual to pray that either talks directly to the Holy Spirit or talks to God about the Holy Spirit and what you want God to make possible through the Holy Spirit and you. What are your top priorities? What is your major wish-list of gifts you want from the Holy Spirit? Do you want to compliment God with some verbal bowing, or do you want to talk to God as your friend?
Write as if you are competing to write a prayer that of all prayers produced by the class will be only one to be published in a prayer book. What will make your prayer stand out?
How specific can you become before your prayer works only for you but not for others who might want to use the prayer?
How general can you become before you are so bland and imprecise that the prayer says nothing of substance?
Only after you have written your collect, look at the collect assigned for this day and compare.
Do not be to quick to give top score to the collect in the Prayer Book. What in your collect would make the collect in the BCP better? What in the BCP version might make yours better?
O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Humorist Mark Twain was asked "Do you believe in infant baptism?" Twain responded, "I not only believe in it; I have seen it happen!"
Obviously Twain was fudging, entertaining both those who practice infant baptism and those who eschew infant baptism. By "believe in" the questioner means, "Do you hold a theological position that supports infant baptism?"; but Twain answers taking a different and equally valid meaning of "believe in," namely "does it ever happen?"
Today we are celebrating the Holy Spirit. Maybe it's too easy for us to say, as we will in the Creed just after the sermon, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life....."
Show what is at stake if we believe in the Holy Spirit. Show the Holy Spirit happen.
We are not Luke, the author of Acts, and we were not present at the original Day of Pentecost, so our details will not seem initially to bear much resemblance to Luke's narrative.
In 150 words or less write a narrative about human beings that coherently leads up to the otherwise surprise final sentence: "I not only believe in the Holy Spirit; I have seen the Holy Spirit happen."
In other words, use that as your last sentence and make sure that it is a convincing conclusion to your narrative.
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Do not look at this text until you have written your own psalm.
Your psalm will have at least 6 verses. The first and the last of your verses should be these from today's reading:
O LORD, how manifold are your works! * in wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
[in this second verse and in all the other verses that you add, illustrate God's creativity by describing several specific creatures that God has made. Freely show how God interacts with the creatures. Have some fun here. God is having some fun with them.]
[This one word is to be your last verse. Obviously the verses you create should lead up to this word as a fitting conclusion.]
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Obviously we are not all alike, nor does God expect us to be.
Don't read Paul's text until you have written your own, giving yourself the same assignment:
In a passage about as long at Paul's (207 words) describe in detail the different spiritual gifts of 4-8 friends of yours, especially as those different gifts enrich not only you but also others within the group. End your text with Paul's phrase "All these are activated by one and the same Spirit."
Take a peek this time. Unlike the earlier exercises, this time read the text before you write your own. It's shorter than most readings:
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Your assignment is to write a narrative about this same length (121 words) in which you describe how you or someone else literally breathed on someone else in a transforming way.
You might have been administering or receiving artificial respiration. Or it might have been the first time you kissed someone with your mouths open. Or it might have been heavy breathing after a rescue mission.....
If you have never had such an experience, make one up. If an experience you had holds no power for you or for others, add convincing details that will give it power.
Use your imagination. Seek to give a deeper truth than mere factual accuracy. That's what the writers of the Bible did as well.
Your narrative does not need an explicit relationship to John's. Although his text is your prompt, no reader of yours needs to know that.
Monday, May 23, 2011
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Word has it that God is too busy spending time with real folks in real need to take time out for kingship. God wants us as friends, not as vassals. Nor need we keep an eye out for God to "exalt us."
I prefer Quean Lutibelle's reVision: "God, send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and prepare us for that place where our Savior Christ has gone before. Amen"
"Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
Small wonder indeed that the disciples, after hearing Jesus' challenge, retreated to a room upstairs in their place of lodging, "constantly devoting themselves to prayer."
If I imagine a video of my life as I expected to live it when I was growing up, it bears no resemblance to the life I have been blessed to live. Observe the young redhead with his heavy bible in front of his mother's azalea's just before heading off to church, where later he became a licensed Baptist minister.
At that time I understood very little about myself or about the nature of the ministry to which I already understood myself to be called. To live my own live, I had to lose that life.
Had I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a public queer, that redhead might have acted on some his early fantasies of committing suicide if puberty persisted in asserting his unorthodoxy. He did not yet know that God loves him "Just As I am without one plea."
How has the script you thought you were given changed?
What about the next act of your drama?
"Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?" We have work to do before Christ comes again, before we notice Christ already here among us.
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
I suspect the authenticity of the opening of this psalm:
Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; *
let those who hate him flee before him.
Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; *
as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; *
let them also be merry and joyful.
This passage lacks the provenance Rabbi Jesus taught us to expect regarding God claims. The God Rabbi Jesus called Father is not interested in scattering his enemies through a show-down of power. God the Father is interested in loving his enemies into friends. God's wants us to love enemies too -- not only ours but also God's.
The histrionics attributed to God here sound more like the proud imaginings of those who consider themselves more righteous than anybody else.
However, much else in the psalm is in synch with what Jesus revealed of God's priorities: God does indeed take sides, and God takes the side of the vulnerable. God is the "Father of orphans, defender of widows" and "God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom."
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
When I founded Integrity in 1974, the church spent very little time addressing the issue of homosexuality. And most lgbtq persons in the church dared not speak up lest they find themselves summarily kicked out. For centuries homosexuality had been known as "the love not mentionable among Christians."
That changed when lgbtq Christians started finding themselves in Scripture and with increasing intensity demonstrated that God loves the outcast. Indeed, many straight people will not believe God loves them until they see how thoroughly God can love an old queen like me.
Spreading that ancient Good News and claiming blood kinship with Christ, lgbtq Christians provoke "fiery ordeals" indeed, even unto this day. See, for example, the website of The Westboro Baptist Church, known as 'GodHatesFags.com'. Fred Phelps, their pastor, has picketed many General Conventions of The Episcopal Church. The congregation pickets funerals of soldiers killed in action. Days after 911, Phelps asserted that fags working in the Pentagon and in the World Trade Center had prompted God's destruction of those place.
Peter faced far worse calumny and abuse, yet boldly proclaimed: "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.."
Ernest and I lived in a tiny town called Ft. Valley, Georgia when I founded Integrity. As a racially integrated couple, we could not have been more visible. If we had announced our marriage in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, we would not have drawn the attention we received when we took out a joint checking account at Citizens Bank in Ft. Valley.
A national John Birch Society Paper published in nearby Macon accused us of causing a tornado that hit Ft. Valley. Our apartment was stoned several times, We were under heavy threats of other violence. In that context, living with Peter's vision of God, I wrote "A Gay Psalm from Ft. Valley":
Fortunately God used double entendre when Jesus spoke from the cross, "It is finished." His earthly life? Well, no, not if you count the post resurrection appearances; and not if like Thomas, you demand to put your fingers into the holes the nails made.
Does this passage mark the end of Jesus' 'earthly ministry' as he is about to ascend into heaven? Well, what about the time he appeared incognito in Calcutta, or in the South Bronx?
The story is told that a woman working in high finance in New York decided a few years ago that she wanted to spend her summer vacation doing something significant to help those lest fortunate. Months in advance of her time off, she wrote a letter to Mother Theresa in Calcutta offering to spend her vacation time there serving the poorest of the poor.
Anxiously she waited. After two months she began to fear that her letter had been lost in the mail, though she had sent it Express. As the vacation time drew closer, she feared she would not hear anything at all.
Then a letter arrived, with a stamp for surface carriage, in an envelope that had obviously been used for other mail earlier. A dirty, frayed Indian stamp was attached. She tore open the letter to find out the plans for her.
On a small single sheet appeared just two words: "South Bronx."
The Sisters of Mercy operate a ministry for the poorest of the poor only a couple of miles from where she worked in Manhattan.
Has Jesus really departed, or might we find him, where he said we always might expect to find him, among those whom we consider the least -- not just those whom we consider the least in some exotic place on the other side of the plane, but among those whom we consider the least among us?
Sunday, May 1, 2011
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
It would be hard to be more upbeat than this collect. We would be wise to pay close attention to what we are saying. The collect walks us step by step into greater expectations of God and of ourselves.
In a polytheistic culture, the Athenians had something going for them. The altar of "Unknown God" works like the tombs to the "unknown solder" at Arlington and various other parts of the world. There are so many bodies unidentifiable in a war that we choose one to honor grandly as a surrogate for the others.
In a universe of multiple gods, likely there are many whom we have not yet identified, so we at least modestly honor one as a surrogate for the others.
Saint purposely 'misses the point' intended by those who made the altar. Saint does not believe in multiple gods and proclaims that his God is living, not entombed in shrines made by human hands.
Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.
Saint connects God to us and not to sculptured images and memorials. God "gives to all mortals life and breath and all things." We are God's "offspring."
Paul is an iconoclast to polytheism and asserts that we can glimpse God looking at God's offspring, human beings.
I wish that Luke had given a body count for the congregation and the details of any altar calls. Is his cleverness efficacious in prompting unbelievers to believe, or does his rhetoric work best on those of us who already believe and delight to have him express so well what we have experienced?
Paul directly connects his message of Jesus to something his audience already knows. Often I have heard straight priests preach to gay gatherings with not one word to relate to the specifics of our lives. Often they merely preach what they preached in their own congregations earlier in the week. What huge waste of gospel opportunity.
One of the reasons that I initiated this blog is to provide three years of witness to a queer eye for the lectionary.
The psalmist today is as up-beat as the author(s) of today's collect. All has gone well for the speaker, and the speaker gives full credit to God. True, the speaker has known trouble, has known victorious enemies, has known what it is to be caught in a snare, but when the speaker called on God, God provided deliverance. The speaker feels vindicated and shows gratitude by burnt offerings and sacrifices.
Forget for the moment David's understanding in Psalm 51 that the sacrifices God really desires are not burnt offerings, but 'a broken and contrite heart.'
1 Peter 3:13-22
"Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?"
Well if you are queer, you might begin by standing in most congregations of Christians and pointing to each of them. Some congregations are controlled solidly by those who will harm us. They don't agree that we could ever be eager to do what is good. They believe that all our intentions are perverse.
But if queers suffer even for doing what is right, we are blessed. We should not fear what heterosexists fear. We must not let them intimidate us, but in our hearts we should sanctify Christ as Lord.
For almost three decades in the Episcopal Church queers have been ready to make our defense to anyone who demands from us an accounting for the hope that is in us; and we have tried to do it with gentleness and reverence. Among myriads of examples, you might listen to "Welcome to Samaria" as recorded when I preached during General Convention in 1994, total time just under 19 minutes:
In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
Open my eyes, Jesus, to see you in those not noticed and not valued by the world.
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Is this collect a fancy way to address our doubts? Using it, do we in effect say, we need your help with our faith. Can you please help us to know Jesus perfectly as the way, the truth and the life? If you do that, then we will be steadfast when we try to follow him?
I believe that faith is God's gift to us, not our gift to God. Faith is not a multiple choice test about God's attributes, where a perfect score will assure that we get to heaven. Is our faithfulness in attitude and behavior dependent on how richly God has filled us with seeing Jesus as who he is supposed to be?
I have few problems accepting Jesus claims to be the way, the truth, and the life; many who are far less certain that Jesus' claim are valid live lives far more faithful to God than my own.
Saul appears as a minor character at this point in Luke's narrative. He is a member of the crowd gathered to persecute Stephen, the first martyr. At the time of the martyrdom, Saul is convinced that he is faithfully protecting the faith from the Jesus folks and their heresy in claiming that Jesus is the Messiah. The Christians present recognize Saul with a rather dramatic gesture: "Then they dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul."
What an anointing! Are the witnesses themselves Christians? Or are they just part of the anonymous crowd gathered to watch, such as those who gather for public executions even in our time when capital punishment is enacted?
Whoever the witnesses are, their public gesture of laying down their coats at Saul's feet shows that they recognize Saul as a powerful force behind the persecution of Stephen.
Of course Luke, the author of Acts, knows the end of the story. In Luke's account of the martyrdom, the detail stands our as a kind of anointing, all the more poignant with Saul's conversion to Christianity.
It is small wonder that after his conversion and his new name, Saul (now Paul) stays away from those whom he persecuted for three years (Galations 1:17-18). Clearly they will need some time to adjust to his claim of being converted.
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
These verses are jammed full of nuggets that show up widely in Scripture and in other Christian literature. Most famously, Jesus quoted verse five from the cross: "Into your hands I commend my spirit."
One of the most frequently used blessings or benedictions is lifted from verse 16: "Make your face to shine upon your servant," which becomes, "The Lord make his face to shine upon you."
The second of the Ten Commandments strongly forbad making images of God; yet verse 16 suggests that it is perfectly all right to ask for God's face to be seen in our own faces.
The passage is quite forceful in providing metaphors to reveal God's relationship to us mortals. For example, Verse 3 refers to God as
- my strong rock
- a castle to keep me safe
- my crag and my stronghold And verse 4 refers to God as
- my tower of strength
In the 21st century few of us in great danger would seek out a strong rock, a castle, a crag, or a tower as a place of security. The most famous threats of our time (earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, nuclear radiation....) seem far more than mere "nets" that our enemies have secretly set for us.
The psalmist asks God to "rescue me from the hand of my enemies" and commits his spirit "into God's hands." In most modern battle, the hand that pulls the switch of major destruction is often continents away. The murderer or the destroyer often never has to lay a hand on the victim nor to look the victim in the eye. Even our dirt and our flowers are often made of plastic to decorate gathering places both public and private.
Yet I am quite unhappy with my attempt to re-cast the psalm in terms current now:
- You, oh God, are the body scanner of my enemies and terrorists
- God you masterfully sniff out lethal weapons and drug contraband
- God you provide a perfect rocket for our escape to another planet or universe when the apocalypse arrives
Clearly I have not yet found a felicitous way to state in the context of our own vulnerability the God-claims that the psalmist made in pre-modern Israel.
Even when we use the language of security, we do so most often to talk about places that are least secure. TSA (The Transportation Security Administration), for example, emphasizes our vulnerability more than our security.
After World War II, The Securitate in Romania (the country's Department of State Security) marked the vulnerability of the citizens to its overreaching control of their lives. From 1948 to 1951 it grew from just 3,549 employees to 25,468, and under Ceausescu it became the most brutal police force in the world, with 11,000 agents and a half-million informers for a country with a population of only 22 million by 1985. (See Wikipedia).
1 Peter 2:2-10
I am fascinated with the comfort level that biblical writers had in using metaphors of gustation to celebrate God.
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Peter echoes Psalm 34:8 "Taste and see that the Lord is good."
Many 21st century westerners might be disconcerted it told to "taste Jesus" or "taste the Lord."
I suspect we are the losers in not having easy access to this understanding of God and to this understanding of our own bodies.
I have often welcomed opportunities to preach on this text to audiences filled with many out TQBLG persons. Regardless of our own sexual or affectional orientation, read the text again intention supplying transgendered, queer, bisexual, lesbian, and gay as the referent for you:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God's people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
The passage rings dramatically true to TQBLG experience as Christians.
I am struck by the play between the material and the immaterial reality in this passage, one used at most Christian funerals to provide comfort for the bereaved. Momentarily Jesus' world of heaven sounds almost as material as Madonna's "material world" here on earth: "In my father's house are many mansions, many dwelling places....."
Yet Jesus' biggest claims, the ones about himself, are notably immaterial, philosophical, almost ethereal, "I am the way, the truth and the life."
How much is our own personal identity tied to the physical details of our lives? Those of us in our 70s have radically different understandings of "who we are" than we did when we were 14. Tennyson's Ulysses says, "I am a part of all that I have met." One who is 74 may still have all the makings of the self at age 14, but the one at 14 does not have a physical connection to the person she might become if she lives to 74.
Will heaven be at place that most will welcome if there, they find themselves with no connections to the physical selves that they were on earth?
Jesus has said that in heaven there will be no giving or taking in marriage. You won't know your spouse there? You won't know the other members of your family there?
How long is eternity, and will the many mansions there remain stuck in just one style forever and ever.
I am personally far more frightened by amputation or dementia than I am by death. One of the brightest members of my family now has serious dementia. Please pray for her, for those of us who love her, and for those who fear not being able to know and recognize those whom we love in this life or the next.