Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The collect is fairly basic: ‘Keep us on course.’ Like most collects, it is stated corporately, “we pray…follow uswe may…” What would happen if in the same corporate space each were to pray, “ I pray….follow me I may…”? Does the latter version effect more individual commitment by making it a personal, individual prayer? Does the version in the BCP let us assent more easily because we presume someone else in the congregation will actually do the good works?

Why not stop the prayer with “through Jesus Christ our Lord”? We’re talking to God in the prayer. Does God really want us to bow and scrape as if to a potentate? I sometimes maintain more awe than I suspect God wants. It's a way of leaving God with responsibility that I could well undertake myself.

When we revise the BCP, as we will at some point if we want to keep prayer common, should we drop “Lord”? Isn’t “God” enough? Does “Lord” increase or diminish stature in contemporary ears? In countries with no monarch, how many rightly understand Lordship?

Those who introduced Lord had many other lords: the title had a context it no longer has for many Christians. It also registered a hierarchy that might make God seem less accessible or familiar to those who understand the hierarchy or see themselves at the bottom of any hierarchy.

When his disciples spoke to him, they did not tag onto their utterances “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.” Is that the way to talk to someone who says, “I have called you not servants, but friends”?

I realize that my questions come out of our time, not out of the monarchal cultures in which the collects and the Scriptures were written.

In my private prayer, I find that changing the collects makes me pay closer attention to what I am asking. Since God already knows my heart, she does not seem to mind how I bespeak it. I find that the verbal part of prayer, formal or informal, is warm-up for the real thing, the intimate and loving silence God shares with me when I finally shut up and listen.

Exodus 32:1-14

And God changed his mind.

Of all that you encounter in today’s readings, don’t forget that. “And God changed his mind”!

If God can do it, why does the Church find it so difficult to do it?

Part of our problem is in expecting the Church to change its mind instantly and of one accord. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church -- not to mention a lot of store fronts and other side-liners, some of whom are more numerous than the ‘main-liners’ -- has no central way to reach conclusions, though many consortia, like the Roman Catholics, the Greeks, the Russians, the Coptics, or the Anglicans -- have ways of gathering and coming to decisions.

The Holy Spirit appears to change minds by working on Christians one at a time, one congregation at a time, one diocese at a time….., a veritable plentitude of Pentecosts.

Those who have not yet changed, often decry the change of others as obviously evil because the new way does not meet the standards of the old way.

“And God changed his mind”! So might we, but first we have to use our mind. We have to listen to the appeals made for the change.

“You will break your promise, God, if you destroy the Israelites. You told Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that you would make their descendants to be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore. Don’t forget your promises!”

“Jesus, you promised that if we lift you up you will draw all unto you. Do not you really mean all? All races? All genders? Persons of all sexual orientations?

Scripture proclaims that whoever believes in you, shall have everlasting life. Did that really mean only “whoever is straight and believes”?

And if we believe God has changed her mind, how are we to persuade those who believe God won’t ever change God’s mind again, those who feel that if it is not in Scripture, God won’t allow it?

The Word of God is a person, not a book.

Only a dead God never changes his mind.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

Psalm 106 is the Broadway musical version of today’s reading from Exodus. It compresses the narrative and briefly summarizes the part where God changed his mind:

So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, *
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

Who will stand in the breach before God’s devoted servants +Peter Akinola and +Henry Orombi, and others in the Anglican Communion to turn away the wrath for consuming The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and any of their supporters?

Of course I am quite well aware that +Peter Akinola, +Henry Orombi and many other good people respect these same texts and hear in them something quite different. For them, TEC’s welcome of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered is a radical departure from the faith, much as Aaron made the golden calf and the Israelites worshiped it, forgetting I AM their deliverer and Moses I AM’s servant.

For many who condemn TEC, lgbt Christians are demonic and larger than life. Notice how we are portrayed in many the blogs of many re-asserters. When I encounter this discourse, sometimes I check out my tail bone to see whether it is growing, or Froogle for pitchforks on sale. My hair used to be red, and the color goes well with my complexion and my green eyes. No wonder +Peter and Mrs. Akinola told the New York Times that they jumped back in “wonder and horror ” when I introduced my husband Ernest to them. That’s queer power!

It’s difficult to take responsibility for the exaggerations in the evil imaginations of others. In March of 1983, I preached at St. Andrew’s in Ann Arbor. Six people walked out, and one complained to the bishop that I had used the f-word from the pulpit. Given my strict Southern Baptist background, I did not learn to swear at all until an adult, and I’m extremely awkward when I try. Nor does my husband swear at all; so there’s no sympathetic ear, even if I hit my thumb with a hammer or drop the crème-boulet on the dining room floor.

I did not use the f-word in the sermon. Fortunately I did not learn of the accusation until after it was resolved. The Rev. Jim Lewis, then the rector at St. Andrew’s, sent to Bishop Coleman McGehee a manuscript of my sermon, nor did the rector hear any such thing. Bishop McGehee scolded the complainer, charging him not to bear false witness.

That’s why we should not use the word homophobia to describe mere objections to lgbts: we need to reserve it for behavior that is truly phobic, like this person’s irrational act of hearing what I had not said.

Philippians 4:1-9

I don’t recall ever meeting or reading about a modern Christian named Syntyche. I was prepared to rejoice that it never caught on as a “Christian name” and survives only as the bane of lay readers, but when I Googled to check out my assumptions, I discovered 48,500 hits! That’s more than four times the number of hits for “Jack Iker” and Syntyche’s been dead almost two millennia.

Apparently Syntyche and her friend Euodia have an ongoing disagreement. Saint tells them to get over it: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” And since others will read this letter (little did Saint anticipate how many and the authority millions would give to it) Saint advises other readers: “[H]elp these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

So much for who claim that women should have no prominent place in the work and worship of the Church!

I’m intrigued by material in Scripture that is not in central focus. Clearly Saint thought he was writing a letter, not a book of Scripture. If Saint thought of writing this as a set piece, we might not have had these minutiae.

Hebrew Scripture refers to the “Book of Life,“ where the names of the righteous are recorded, and the “Book of the Dead,” where the names of the impure are recorded. Saint appears to refer to the “Book of Life” loosely, as a compliment: these two people are so good they are certainly in God’s ledger of good people, much as my mother praised long-suffering in the lives of her friends, “Stars in your crown, honey, I tell you, stars in your crown!”

The most enduring part of this passage is Saint’s reminder that we should take responsibility for what we spend time thinking about: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

One member of my family has a drug problem. At one point she got so hooked that she would even steal from her mother’s home (a tv, a clock…) and hock it to get the money for a hit. She has occasionally done time in jail, and many in the family advised her mother not to let her hang around, lest she victimize their mother again. The mother never replied to such a suggestion, and never would have denied any child access to her. There was no point at which she would allow herself to stop forgiving.

One afternoon the daughter told her mother, in the presence of several of us, “I feel depressed.” Her mother, a person who was living on public assistance, revealed much about her spiritual reserves, if not about the dynamics of her daughter’s depression, when she replied in loving exasperation:

“Depressed!? What do you mean ‘depressed’? You’re only 23; you have no reason to be depressed! If you’re feeling down, take a broom and sweep the floor. If you still feel depressed, take the broom and sweep the porch. If you still feel depressed, take a rake and sweep the yard. You don’t have time to be depressed!”

Take responsibility for what you worry about. I wish depression were as easy to dispel as the mother’s love would have it so.

In their last two years, both of my parents were too feeble to drive a car. I lived over 1,000 miles away. A friend from my father’s Sunday School class drove him once a week to do basic grocery shopping. They gave away their car to a grand-nephew starting college.

Once when I was visiting, mother was standing at the window of their apartment and saw the young man from the apartment upstairs park in their parking place. Agitated she said to Dad, “He’s doing it again. His own parking place is empty, yet he’s using ours!”

“Mother,” I said, trying to be gentle, “don’t you have something more important to think about than about Geoffrey’s parking in your parking place, especially since you don’t even have a car of your own to put in it?”

She paused a moment and looked daggers at me. “Louie, I hope you live long enough that you don’t have anything more important to worry about than who’s usurping your parking place!”

She spoke the last part with increasing slowness, and when she finished the curse, there was a delicious Irish smile at the edge of her eyes. She understood what I was saying, but also what she was saying.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Old age brings power of concentration that amazes me, but requires discipline as to what is worth the concentration. For example, I enjoy the discussion on the bishops-deputies discussion list, but I sometimes enjoy it too much. If I am not careful, I can become engrossed with the same points of view, even my own, for hours on end, and not use the time to read a good book or listen closely to a recording.

During July I gave myself one of the nicest gifts I have ever given myself: I went offline for major discussion lists for the entire Lambeth Conference. I can now sort through the major accounts that have survived without the toxicity in discourse that treated the Conference as a spectator sport.

Matthew 22:1-14

I was in the Diocese of Fond du Lac from 1979-85 when it still did not ordain women. As the founder of Integrity, I was the resident pariah at the Church of the Intercession in Stephens Point, where I taught at the University of Wisconsin. The vestry even discussed my possible excommunication, and the rector gave himself high marks for not allowing it.

Not that the rector was a great paragon of welcome. At one point he bragged to the dean of a seminary, not knowing that the dean was gay, saying that he had in his congregation 'the church’s main gay person' but was doing all he could to minimize the man’s influence. “And I tell his partner that he is living in sin every time I see him walking by the church on his way to shop.”

Ernest never told me about this. When I asked, he said he ignored the rector. Small wonder that Ernest did not become an Episcopalian until several years after we left Wisconsin.

To keep a sense of humor about it all, I called our home, in the next block from Intercession, the Faggotry. That was a nicer name than some gave it when I became the advisor to the campus lgbt group and when Ernest and I became members of Anthony Earl’s “Governor’s Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues.”

No one at Intersession ever talked about women’s ordination. It simply was not done, and it seemed almost “unheard of.” Even when the parish delegates went to diocesan convention, they had no risk of seeing a female priest.

The Rev. Anne C. Garrison, one of the oldest priests in TEC at the time, was a dear friend. She was a participant in a week-long consultation “Ministry WITH [sic] Lesbians and Gays” which I persuaded the College of Preachers to convene December 15-19, 1980. Two years later, on one of her visits to us, we asked her to lead a house Mass so that persons in Stephens Point could experience the Eucharist with a female celebrant.

We sent out word not only to those at the Church of the Intercession, but also to our German Lutheran neighbors and to the sisters at a local Catholic convent.

Since we were not using Church property, we did not require the bishop’s or the rector’s permission, but as a courtesy, I informed the bishop that Anne+ was coming. The bishop replied with a strong appeal that she not celebrate, and he asked that one of our two male friends coming from Chicago be the celebrant. The male priests refused even to concelebrate.

The local paper reported the “community service” and described Anne‘s presence in town as a ‘disturbing houseguest of Clay and Crew.’ "Denial of Women's Ordination Follows 'Trail of Tears'","Stevens Point (Wis.) Journal"," Friday, July 16, 982: 8.

The bishop’s objections helped to get the word out to the community in ways we could not, and our home, in the next block from the parish, was packed into the yard with participants.

`The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the Faggotry was filled with guests.”

Eucharist indeed.

See also

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