Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Today’s psalm bids us to
Yet elsewhere the Bible tells us that no person can see God and live. Earlier this month Jacob wrestled with a stranger and only afterwards understood that he had wrestled with God. Throughout Scripture God makes many cameo appearances, traveling incognito in our midst. We are bidden, “Continually seek his face.”
Where are we most likely to find it? In the poor more than the rich? In the weak more than the strong? In the lame more than the whole?
My friend Gray Temple, a charismatic Episcopalian and long-time rector of St. Patrick’s in Atlanta, spent a sabbatical living as a homeless person. “Louie,” he told me, “you don’t bring God to the homeless; they already know God and God spends lots of time talking with them.”
Gray does not romanticize the poor. He stayed long enough to get a direct awareness of their hard edges as well as of their hardships, plus an awareness of the hard shell we the privileged construct to cut ourselves off from others’ needs. Why is it that I find it much easier to give to the homeless elsewhere through Episcopal Relief .& Development than to offer the spare bed in our apartment to the man who sleeps in the cold in the park behind our house?
God is not subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics:
“There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”
God’s energies do not diminish.
“If….they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM Who I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
In Scripture the Israelites often make extravagant claims that God is on their side supporting their violence against others, yet in their better moments, they refuse even to make an image for God, lest they make God in their own image. It is all too easy for us to limit God to the measure of our own mind. God’s presence is much bigger, and in God’s presence, we need to take off our shoes to stand on holy ground. The Israelites forbad themselves even to give God a name.
“I AM” is grammatically as reduced a claim of identity as one can utter. In Latin and many other languages “I am” is just one word, Sum Descartes added two words to assert his own identity, “Cogito ergo sum.” ‘I think; therefore, I am.’” The Ubuntu theology of Archbishop Desmond Tutu asserts individual identity not in the self but in the community, “Because you are, I am.” [Note: “Ubuntu” is the theme for the up-coming 2009 General Convention.]
People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered often have to work hard to accept who we are. It is much easier to duck into the shadows of presumptive heterosexuality.
I Am What I Am
by Jonas Brothers, as sung by Gloria Gaynor
I am what I am - I am my own special creation.
So come take a look, give me the hook or the ovation.
It's my world
That I want to have a little pride in - my word,
And it's not a place I have to hide in
Life's not worth a damn, `til you can say: I am what I am"
I am what I am, I don't want praise
I don't want pity - I bang my own drum,
some think it's noise, I think it's pretty.
And so what if I love each feather and each spangle,
Why not try and see things from a diff'rent angle?
Your life is a sham, `til you can shout out:,I am what I am"
I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck - sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.
It's one life and there's no return and no deposit:
One life, so it's time to open up your closet.
Life's not worth a damn `til you can shout out:,I am what I am"
Saint is at it again this week. What a piece of work. He calls on us to empty ourselves of all vengeance and anger: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.“
And why?: “for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."
Saint has not really emptied himself of all vengeance and anger: he has only repressed it and given it more power.
Have you experienced Christians being nice to you sensing that something is amiss, guessing that by all rights they dislike you and are “playing nice” with a hidden agenda?
A young teacher who was my colleague in Beijing got a scholarship for graduate study in English at Baylor University, my alma mater. Occasionally Christians would invite him to their home, he told me, “but they haven’t the slightest interest in me, in where I come from or what I am doing in my studies. It seems they want me as some kind of badge of honor, especially if I will join their church and ’accept Jesus,’ whatever that means. And when I show no interest in that, they show no interest in me. They invite me, but they don’t invite me. They know nothing about who I AM.” I AM that I AM.
Many evangelicals have visited AIDS wards to try to persuade the sick and the dying to repent from their evil and turn to Jesus. That’s Saint’s theology on the ground, so to speak. Win them over or heap coals of fire on their heads.
Is this really a way to live peaceably with all? Saint and I have much to discuss on Cloud 999999. I have already booked a year with him.
In one of our family albums there is a picture of a young teenager, about 14 or 15, with bright red hair, in a white linen suit, standing in front of family azaleas holding a bible.
The Baptist family and the Baptist Church have written a script for this young man‘s life. He has already gone forward at a revival to dedicate his life to full-time Christian ministry. He’s now in junior high or high school……
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
The life envisioned by his parents, his church, and by the young man himself never happened. He lost that life. He grew up queer.
The feelings I was already having when Dad took this picture were not a “passing phase,” as I prayed they would be. They did not disappear. To be I AM, I had to embrace my wholeness. I thought I was losing God in losing the life scripted for me, but God has never felt more real, more present, more supportive.
“For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”
Paul was writing in and to a shame-and-honor culture. By refusing to get into it with someone, you maintained your honor and increased their shame - that's what those burning coals are meant to represent.
My late father - a Methodist preacher of great dignity - used to say that church fights were like pissing contests. The thrill of winning was eclipsed by the self-disgust of having taken part in the first place.
Paul has a consistent message of trying to drive the shame-and-honor system out of the church. I've gotten to like that about him. But I
don't think I'd want to spend a year with him, Louie!
Pamela Grenfell Smith
Many thanks for your father's insight, and for your own.
I shall re-book that appointment and reduce the time.
I think I have already done time with him. Sometimes a month or two on the bishops-deputies discussion list is taxation aplenty on one's spiritual reserves.
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