Saturday, September 26, 2009

October 4, 2009. Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 22

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

Many scholars believe that Job is one of the bible books written earliest. It is drama, not narrative, and it is one of the oldest play scripts on record. The writer does not intend to be talking about real people, or a real story, but about characters made up to be in the play.

There is nothing in the play to suggest a lack of sophistication, however. It has heady themes that still engage most who consider themselves ‘believers in’ God, and even more, those who ‘follow’ God.

In today’s passage, Job’s wife voices no doubt that God exists, but given the way that God has acted towards her husband, she chides Job: “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die."

One almost wants to shout to her, "Don't forget you are in a play. This is all just a script and did not really happen! God will give it all back once he proves his point to Satan!"

Archibald Macleish adapted Job to his modern play J.B.. In that version, Satan answers God saying that when Job speaks so well of God, it’s because of “all that gravy on his plate.”

Both Job and J. B. deal with the “problem of evil” -- that is, how can a good God allow evil or suffering in the world? MacLeish ends as a cynic, not thinking much of God, but respecting J. B. for his endurance, his humanity, not because of any excess of goodness.

In both versions the answer to the problem of evil is not likely to satisfy someone who wants to believe that God is good, because in both versions it is God who authorizes Job (J.B.) to be a victim of all manner of abuses, and for what purpose?: To prove to Satan that Job (J.B.) will still speak well of him.

Job (J.B.) is God’s sucker, and in both versions (as in Milton’s Paradise Lost) Satan comes close to becoming (for many he actually succeeds in becoming) the real hero of the drama.

At one point in MacLeish’s play, Satan says:

If God is good,
He is not God.
If God is God,
He is not good.

Take the evil,
Take the odd.
I would not sleep here if I could
Save for the little green leaf in the wood
And the wind on the water.

Matthew Arnold, the Victorian poet, struggled with his loss of faith. In his poem “Dover Beach “ he spoke of the sea of faith once being full -- a time when it was easy to believe in God and in God’s goodness -- but described the slow withdrawal of faith as an ebbing tide, the sound of which mingles with that of armies upon armies in flight. Instead of drawing solace from God, Matthew Arnold, like J.B., concludes that any “answers” are not in heaven but in human beings ourselves. He is is a consummate humanist:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

Let us be true to one another. Ironically, Arnold’s private and personal ‘solution’ resembles the theological position that focuses on salvation itself as primarily the salvation of the individual. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori started quite a stir at General Convention 2009 when she called heretical the view that salvation is individual. In the context of the African concept Ubuntu (‘I in you, you in me’; ‘You are; therefore I am’….), the Presiding Bishop finds it much more powerful, and humbling, to view Jesus as the savior of the whole world. When Saint Paul speaks of salvation, it is almost always plural.

By contrast, consider the hymn (not in the Hymnal of the Episcopal Church and not likely to be added) “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and He walks with me, and he talks with me….” That hymn treats salvation as a private affair, and when one has salvation, one is connected directly to God but with no corresponding connection to other people. "No other has ever known" [this joy], the narrator in the poem proclaims.

Psalm 26

Psalm 26 could be added as a speech for Job to say to God. It manifests Job’s theology. It presumes that God is good and that God will in the end be good to Job because Job himself follows all the rules. Job even avoids contact with evil people whenever he can.

This psalm is like Psalm 1 but rewritten as conversation, in the first and second person, rather than as conclusions in the third person. (See my parody of Psalm1, Lutibelle Tweaks David the King.) I see the speaker in Psalm 26 as self-righteous and out of touch with those unlike himself.

I have not sat with the worthless, *
nor do I consort with the deceitful.

I have hated the company of evildoers; *
I will not sit down with the wicked.

That’s the theology Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria, used when he described to the NY Times how he jumped back when startled to meet my husband. At the time the Archbishop and Mrs. Akinola, like Ernest and me, were lunch guests in the home of the Bishop of New York. The Archbishop and I had both been a part of the liturgy that morning when the Archbishop was enthroned nextdoor at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Several, including the Bishop Suffragan of New York, later tried to persuade the Archbishop to talk with me, and on one occasion he dashed away to avoid contact. Would we give him gay cooties?

I wonder what the Archbishop thought he was voting for when consistently he has voted with other primates to commit the Anglican Communion to listen to the stories of lgbt Christians. Perhaps it is easier to fail to keep promises when you can claim that you "hate the company of evildoers."

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

Is Jesus’ life on earth the end of God’s speaking to the world? Who gets to declare revelation over? In the Nicene Creed we affirm that the Holy Spirit “proceeds” -- present tense -- from the father and son, that the Holy Spirit is alive and well. Dare we dictate what the Holy Spirit might say and to whom the Holy Spirit might say it? Is the Holy Spirit forbidden to say any thing that contradicts what has already been said? I cannot find a in Scripture any doctrine that the Holy Spirit should be mute.

In his hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation” James Russell Lowell wrote

New occasions teach new duties,
time makes ancient good uncouth
We must upward still and onward,
who would keep abreast of Truth.

Is Lowell right? Is his point of view heresy?

Have you ever held dearly a view as good which you now see as uncouth?

For a long time people used the bible to proclaim that slavery as good, the subjugation of women as good, the criminalizing of homosexuals as good.

In what ways might we today still be using the Bible to oppress others?

Mark 10:2-16

Does Jesus dare to ‘contradict’ Moses about divorce?

Well not outright, but he conceptualizes Moses’ divorce certificate as Moses’ concession, not as God’s law regarding divorce.

According to Jesus, no one may divorce.

Until 1973 the Episcopal Church did not allow remarriage after divorce. The new canon did not retrict remarriage to the cause of adultery, the standardard used in Scripture.

General Convention changed the rules out of pastoral concerns, and I agree with the change.

The Anglican Communion said very little about that change by the Episcopal Church, and many other parts of the Communion now have similar changes. All are in direct contradiction to Jesus’ point of view as Mark describes it. Yet again and again we are told the church cannot change Scripture's disapproval of homosexuality.

Perhaps it is easier to be sympathetic to those we view as like themselves than to be sympathetic to those whom they consider beneath them.

See also

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September, 27, 2009. Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 21

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect is self-serving. It acknowledges that God is powerful in an unusual way of being powerful, namely God shows mercy and pity. Yet the collect does not ask that we have the same power of showing mercy and pity. Instead, it asks for still more ‘heavenly treasure' for us.

The collect is rather like the flattery of a child talking with a parent who has announced forthcoming revisions to her will. “Mother you are so generous, especially in showing mercy and pity on us your children when we have disappointed you. Grant us that we may more fully please you and become partakers of your heavenly treasure.“

Mommy sees through such dissembling.

Jesus recommended a different model, not used in this collect. When we pray, we are to pray that God will treat us precisely the way we treat others: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

Consider Quean Lutibelle’s revision of this collect, in which I try to follow Jesus‘ model: “O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: hold us to that same standard. Be merciful and show pity upon us only as we are merciful and show pity on those who need our forgiveness. In so transforming us, give us not only the mind of Christ, but also Christ’s heart.” Amen

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

Esther is my all-time favorite Closet Queen, secretly a Jew in a country that oppresses Jews. Centuries earlier God had placed Moses in Pharoah‘s household in oppressive Egypt. So God places Esther, smack dab into the lap of luxury and power in a kingdom that oppresses her people, albeit at first she does not even know that she is a Jew. When Mordecai tells her, she must choose whether to deny her heritage or to risk losing all her privilege by becoming an advocate for her people.

Closet politics can be capricious. The Rev. Grant Gallup, chaplain of Integrity’s first chapter (Chicago, founded in December 1974), argued strongly that it is immoral to disclose the homosexual identity of someone who chooses to live in a closet. Their private life is their private life as long as they do not use it as a means to wound others. “However, I will not let someone use a closet as a sniper’s nest!” Gallup proclaimed.

In today’s part of the story Esther exposes the misconduct of cruel Haman, a high-ranking official of the king and an enemy of the Jews. Haman is so offended by the Jews’ leader Mordecai that Haman has built a very tall gallows in front of his own home, intended for Mordecai’s execution; yet with Esther’s advocacy, Haman is hanged from that gallows.

Psalm 124

This is one of the strongest psalms proclaiming God’s support in a recent military victory.

When teams huddle for prayer at the beginning of a football match, are we to believe that God determines the outcome of the match based on who prays or who prays most effectively?

When a hurricane devastated Charleston, SC a few years ago, Pat Robertson bragged on his TV program that God had answered his prayers and had not struck his broadcasting station but had directed the devastation elsewhere. Were Robertson’s neighbors struck by the storm in answer to Robertson’s prayers?

(Robertson and I are both alumni of The McCallie School in Chattanooga. We had the same Bible teacher, Dr. J. P. McCallie, although Robertson was enrolled about 10 years ahead of me. Which one of us comes closest to your own understanding of how to take the claims in Psalm 124?)

See the lyrics of Bob Dylan‘s haunting satire, With God On Our Side

James 5:13-20

James believes in the power of prayer. For him, prayer is powerful not because the person praying is of high rank, but because the person is, as he says of Elijah, “a human being like us.”

James also calls on us to care for those who have fallen away from God. We Christians may succeed if we encourage them to return.

One of the great privileges of my life has been a steady stream of folks writing to tell me that the ministry of Integrity has brought them back into the life of the church. Many had fled the church as unloving and unwelcoming. Many experienced direct hostility from the church and from religious members of their own families.

I pray that the church might continue to learn how strong a testimony to the power of God in Christ the Church makes when it, like God, welcomes with open arms all who seek God’s embrace.

Mark 9:38-50

Jesus warns against thinking our denomination, or any other Christian group, has a monopoly on God’s good news. In another place, Jesus counseled, “Other sheep I have who are not of this foal; them I love also.”

A few days after I was diagnosed with diabetes, I was depressed as I made my way through an A&P trying to find sugar-free substitutes. That store has stuck all of its diabetic material in a small, unattractive corner out of the main traffic, behind the bread display and near the meat market.

There were no other customers in sight. The butcher must have noticed my countenance and said with loving concern, “Are you saved?”

I have several responses ready for such questions: “From what?” or “Yes, again and again until I get it right” or “I am an Episcopalian!” or….

But I heard kindness in his question.

“Yes,” I replied, “but at the moment I am not in touch with the grace that I need. I have been diagnosed with diabetes, and I am scared. Will you pray for me?"

The young man came from behind the counter. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“Louie,” I replied.

“I’m Jabrell,” he said, and laid his hands on my shoulders. “Lord Jesus, I ask your blessing on my brother Louie. Take away his fear. Help him make the adjustments he needs to make. Hold him in the palm of your hand. Amen.”

See also

September 20, 2009. Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 20

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

All of the readings today reinforce the theme of the collect, to choose heavenly things, not earthly things. The reading from Proverbs praises the ‘capable wife’ for her material resourcefulness in serving the spiritual needs of her family. Psalm 1 says that one is blessed (or ‘happy’) when living simply by the law of God. James stresses that discord follows when people are ambitious. Jesus stresses that Christians should want to serve, not to be served.

Proverbs 31:10-31

This is a patriarchal view of females at the patriarchy’s best, if patriarchy may fairly be said to have a ‘best.’ The passage praises the ‘capable wife’ and gives details of her many virtues. She works hard without complaint. She is up earlier than anyone else in the family, and sends them all forth fortified for whatever challenges might come their way. If a day brings snow, she is not alarmed for she has made clothes of crimson that will keep her family members warm….

There is no accident that the passage begins to sound like an encomium to the Victorian Way.

The passage never suggests that this person might be just as effective as her husband, or more so, in the ‘real world’ of male work and responsibility.

Nor does the passage hint of the many challenges a ‘capable wife’ is likely to find when she has a selfish or lazy or prodigal husband.

The most telling phrase in this entire passage comes at the end. With no fanfare, the writer says, “Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.”

What’s her reward for being a good wife? Most decidely not her full inclusion as an equal with her husband. Most decidedly not the full portion of the fruit of her hands. She is to be given (not required, but a gift!) “a share,” just a share. It is understood that the major portion of the fruit of her hands belongs to her husband, who owns her, just as he owns his oxen, his donkeys, his house, and any other property.

“Who gives this woman to wed this man?” takes on its original meaning. In this context, a wife is a possession, and if flattered and praised well, will perform to the husband’s advantage.

Imagine the confirmation hearings for Justice Sotomayor. Would it be appropriate to ask her whether she meets the standards for a ’capable wife’ as detailed in Proverbs 31?

Would it be appropriate to present to a daughter a wall hanging with Proverbs 31 stitched on it?

Recently Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist religion. Carter scolded the Baptists for not ordaining women as ministers. He believes that any religion that does not maintain absolute equality between the sexes is: "In clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions."

Anyone who reads the lesson from Proverbs today without a critique of its patriarchal assumptions also is in clear violation of them.

Psalm 1

In contrast to this self-righteous and sanctimonious text, compare the Quean Lutibelle version:

Psalm 1B

Miserable is the person who never talks with the ungodly,
who goes out of the way to avoid sinners,
who never can see life critically.
The self-righteous live by the rules of the elite,
and by these rules are they compulsive day and night.
They are like trees planted in a swamp, moored
in every flood of fashion.
They seem to endure, and whatsoever they perform
is always noticed.

The humble are not so; but are free,
like leaves which the wind drives everywhere.
Therefore, the humble shall not sit to be judged,
nor shall the gentle join the congregation of the
For God knows the ways of them all,
and only the self-righteous shall perish.

From Quean Lutibelle’s Pew

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.”

James’ values are quite at odds with the values of society in the United States in 2009. Ambition does not impress James; nor does a competitive spirit. Righteousness comes only as the harvest of making peace.

The search for pleasure and for treasures is perilous to the spirit.

This dog won’t hunt; this text won’t preach in most of the United States.

That’s our loss.

Mark 9:30-37

Mark also declares ambition to be destructive. Ambition puts one at odds with others. Ambition gives highest priority to acquisition. “"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."

See also

September 13, 2009. Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 19

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Proverbs 1:20-33

This narrative stretch is unusual for Proverbs. Usually the insights are stacked a few verses at a time.

Imagine the Environment as a specific context for Wisdom’s soliloquy here. How dumb and simple do you want to be, Wisdom asks us. Have you not seen the results when you have contaminated your own space with waste? Do you seriously think the whole planet operates under different rules? Have you learned nothing from you own time here? From what sources will the ice caps renew themselves? From your personal refrigerators?! Just where will we find dinosaurs and vegetation enough and have time enough to renew the fossil fuels which you so greedily consume?

Is it your children, or your children’s children’s children who will pay for your prodigality? For how many generations ahead are you willing to care -- to care enough to change your own behavior?

Why do you have good brains if so willfully your are unwilling to use them?

There is no such thing as global warming, your last president told you, and you paid your taxes . There is no real danger; we have many other alternative sources of energy: trust us!, the Whitehouse told you, and you reelected him.

How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,
when panic strikes you like a storm,
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
and be sated with their own devices.
For waywardness kills the simple,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but those who listen to me will be secure
and will live at ease, without dread of disaster."

Poem Found on Cinder No. 3--2000 A.D.

The tree, the sky, and the water were ours,
we presumed, for us to use as we pleased,
as if we had a Visacard or Mastercharge account
in God's name with no payment to make in our generation.
This is a recording is a recording is a recording
is a recordingisa recordingisarec....

--Louie Crew

Has appeared:

Negative Capability 3.1 (1982): 58
Northland Quarterly 2:3 (1990): 36. Used my Chinese pseudonym Li Min Hua
Poetically Speaking as part of 'Guest Poet' series for a month from May 8, 2002
Pennine Ink Magazine 29 (2008): 7

Psalm 19

I find it hard to read Psalm 19 without Haydn taking over my head.

I vividly remember an evening in my sophomore year when I went to bed awash with suicidal thoughts, unhappy to be gay, weary that my sexual longings would not depart in spite of sustained prayer and fasting. From my sleep very early in the morning I was awakened by the radio. Apparently I had forgotten to turn it off. “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament showeth forth His handiwork,” the chorus rang out. Bright sun had taken over my small room. It was an epiphany, and for a moment, it banished my depression.

One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard…

The love of God is inescapable, I rejoiced. Then, my damnation struck again, with a vengeance:

The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

“Condemned! Guilty as charged. I love men!” -- I said to myself, and I knew what the law said about that. I had read Leviticus. “Suffer not such an one to live.”

James 3:1-12

How convenient for sinners that the Church so rarely speaks out against an unbridled tongue.

How much easier to focus on the sins of others, especially those unlike ourselves, whose sinful behaviors do not even tempt us.

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus himself had an identity problem. Jesus himself asked what other people thought about him.

“Some say you are ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets,’” his disciples reported.

“What do you say?” he asked.

“You are the messiah,” they said, naming the subversive truth in the room. He told them not to tell anyone, at least yet.

Nor did they really want to hear the truth when the truth brought with it grim consequences for themselves. When Jesus told Peter that he would be killed and after three days rise again, Peter wanted none of it, and rebuked Jesus for making such awful predictions.

Jesus in turn rebuked Peter, turning so that the other disciples would surely hear him do so. Peter you are speaking on human terms; I am speaking on divine terms.

Jesus had to lose his life to gain it. So must we.

What tape was set out for your life by your family and your community when you were a child and when you were a young adult? How has Christianity subverted that?

I wasted a major part of the first 28 years of my life trying to be someone who I was not, namely a heterosexual. No preacher, no psychologist, no dear personal friend, no family member…--all of whom I approached--had any efficacy in valiant efforts to help me change. Nor did Jesus. In many ways Jesus was the least helpful of all, as he showed no inclination to make my change a condition of his love for me.

I had to lose the straight life to which I felt destined. Until I lost it, I could not have discovered my wholeness, and thereby my inclusion in the Kingdom of God and in the faithful company of God’s people.

What a shame to have felt sorry for myself for being gay! How fortunate I was to be gay! How else would I have challenged the narrow Baptist culture which nurtured me? How then would I have ever been prompted to challenge the racism and sexism which privileged me?

Many with whom I grew up work 11 months a year to earn enough for a vacation on which they go to New York or London or Paris .... to see plays or movies about lives like the life that I have been blessed to share with Ernest, my husband of 35 years.

For every friend I lost in coming out, at least 100 more have come along, each more mature and freer to rejoice in the richness of diversity in creation.

People who value me value me as who I am, not as a persona that I have constructed to make my life easier for them to tolerate.

In 2006, General Convention passed the notorious Resolution B033, which proclaimed moratoria on consents to the Episcopal elections of lgbt persons and on blessing lgbt unions. It cautioned against supporting people “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the rest of the Communion.” (That is Anglo-Speak for “Don’t mess around with the queers except to condemn or convert them.”)

General Convention this summer, 2009, made history out of B033 by passing two more welcoming resolutions which supersede B033.

If your life is not a challenge to the rest of the Communion, what evidence is there that you are a Christian?

What life have you lost to gain eternal life in Christ?

See also