Friday, November 20, 2009

December 6, 2009. Second Sunday of Advent.

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Baruch 5:1-9

During his 2008 campaign for president, Barack Obama told Jewish voters that his first name had the same Semitic root as the Hebrew Hebrew name "Baruch," meaning "A blessing.” See a clip on YouTube The American Heritage Dictionary confirmed his claim. Baruch has been a personal name for Jews for centuries.

In today’s passage, Baruch appeals to Jews to stop being whiners. He says what is needed is a change of clothes:

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God

Those who have been oppressed often find it hard to give up the mantle of their oppression. Whining becomes ‘second-nature,’ self-pity a familiar routine that bears witness, as if to say, “at least I am.”

To prepare himself to write “The Prisoner of Chillon,” George Gordon, Lord Byron spent many days and nights in the same prison where his narrator had been shackled. Byron imagines that the prisoner did not find it easy to be freed; freedom lacks the familiar details of the prison:

My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:--even I
Regained my freedom with a sigh.”

See my article “Abusing Literacy to Colonize Minds: Eight Scenes from a Travesty in which I track related examples from Alabama, Hong Kong, South Carolina, Georgia, and other former British dominions.

Advent is meant to be a time of repentance, a time to ‘re-think, re-think! for God’s realm is near!”

Saint Paul cautioned Christians in Rome “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (12:3). As a gay Christian and as a son of a dear Southern Baptist mother who raised guilt and self-pity to an art form, I find it much more challenging to think of myself with a much respect and care as God has for absolutely everybody.

Paul completed that verse, “Think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Baruch speaks more boldly, more imaginatively:

Put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.

Both give counsel fit for a Quean like me, a challenging discipline for Advent.

Where is my tiara when I really need it?!

Canticle 16

Canticle 16 is the Song of Zechariah from Luke’s gospel, 1:68-79. Zechariah was the father of John the Baptist, and had been struck dumb during the pregnancy of his wife Elizabeth. When Elizabeth and Zechariah presented the baby for circumcision, the priests asked her what name to give him. All who knew the couple expected them to name the child for his father, and when she said “John,” they were confused, as that was not a name commonly used in her family. Then Zechariah himself was freed from his affliction and spoke, “He shall be named ‘John.‘” The spirit then prompted Zechariah to proclaim the advent of Christ, with John as the prophet who goes before to prepare the way. Elizabeth and Mary were sisters; John and Jesus were first cousins.

A Jewish friend of mine cautions that we Christians are prone to read too much magic into the birth narratives. “Every Jewish mother,” she tells me, “thinks her son has bee sent by God. And here we have two Jewish sisters, one of them pregnant and the older, newly a mother, resolving a potential family conflict deciding the relationship between these two “sons of God.”

Quean Lutibelle imagines another witness concerned about what the birth of Jesus might mean:

Ancient Hairpins

Honey, I know what I saw and heard
and I swear the three fancy foreigners
spoke of a baby Jewish "king"
kept in a stable by peasants.

I was in my Yiddish drag cruising
a dishy census-taker at the inn
when I overheard them saying
this little baby would bring
"salvation" even to us Romans.

Someone had better tell Herod
there's going to be trouble.

-- Louie Crew

Publication history:

Swish Christmas, 1980. Postcard
Pangloss Papers 4.3 (1985): Used my Chinese pen name ‘Li Min Hua’
Dignity/Integrity Mid-Hudson 3.8 (August 1, 1990): 7
New Poetry 5.11 (June 1992): 14
Gay Place from April 1999.

Philippians 1:3-11

What I like most is that Paul does not give them a set of rules to show them who is right or wrong. While he may hope they will side with him, his prayer for them is that “your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best” (1:9-10). Paul operates with several assumptions:

  1. We need knowledge.
  2. The knowledge must flow from love.
  3. We’re given the job “to determine what is best”;
  4. ‘what is best’ has not been pre-determined for us. It's ours to discover.

Wake up, Anglican Consultative Council. Wake up, Anglican Communion. Why are you trying to bypass this understanding of how God wants us to determine what is best? What love is overflowing from you for those who have come to conclusions different from yours as they and you try “to determine what is best” regarding lgbt people and those provinces which want to ordain and bless them?

Luke 3:1-6

Even put here in the NRSV, if you listen closely, you may have trouble hearing this text without the influence of George Frederic Handel:

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

In almost 36 years together, my husband has chosen many tee shirts, usually with an eye to fashion more than to politics, but with one of those dearest to him fashion was not the designers’ main concern:

“Jesus is coming; look busy.”

My Advent prayer for us is that “our love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help us to determine what is best.”

See also

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 29th, 2009. The First Sunday of Advent

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Just when most protestants start the count-down to Christmas, we liturgical Christians can’t go near the holly and the ivy, the mistletoe and the other marks of celebration, but first must clean house spiritually.

What works of darkness do you intend to cast away?

My question intimdates me, because only 11 days from being 73, I still don't trust my ability to discern my own works of darkness.

I was raised in Alabama in the 1930s and 40s, deep behind the Cotton Curtain, by parents who loved me dearly. Yet they taught me, as they had been taught, that "Nigras" (they chose that form intending to be polite) were created inferior and while they should not mingle with us socially, should be treated fairly.

That view was maintained at our Baptist congregation, at my prep school (the same one that Ted Turner attended with me, and that Senator Howard Baker and The Rev. Pat Robertson attended a decade earlier), and it was maintained when I entered Baylor University as a freshman in 1954 -- 55 years ago.

When I analyzed works of darkness in my life then, it did not cross my spiritual radar to include racism or sexism or heterosexism. I thought that only a few godless Yankees would turn religion into political agendas, stirring up trouble.

Meanwhile, I knew that you shouldn't smoke, drink, cuss, chew or beat your wife -- not that I was tempted to do any of those things. I knew about my secret desires but avidly suppressed them, the guilt from which made me all the more fervant in worship.

And at Baylor, I learned of a new sin to add to my list: 'mixed bathing.' When Texans told me that God opposed 'mixed bathing,' I wondered what would ever have possessed anyone to be heathenish enough even to think about taking a bath naked with someone of the opposited gender!

Many of our priorites for the "works of darkness" were wrong for most of us freshmen at Baylor in 1954, but what similar community understandings blind me to systemic works of darkness in which I willingly participate right now?

I have little trouble listening to my conscience: I have great difficulty educating it. Thus I would emend the opening of today's collect: "Almighty God, give us the wisdom to discern what is good and evil and then give us the grace to cast away the works of darkness...."

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Let’s personalize Jeremiah’s witness to our own time and place:

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for the United States; and its President shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Washington will be saved and the nation will live in safety. And this is the name by which the righteous branch will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."

Hope is indeed audacious.

Psalm 25:1-9

The psalmist suggests that we are not to be weighed down for sins long past:

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

I sometime find it harder to forgive myself than to believe that God has already forgiven me. Sometimes my sin’s most devastating consequence is my perception of it as indelible.

In the 1970s while working in London, I sought the counsel of a priest. He listened patiently and said, “Your story is very moving but it sounds rehearsed, like you might have perfected it through several iterations. Is this something you are really feeling, or are you stuck with some private shame as safer than or more certain than taking on uncharted directions for your life?”

A few “Hail, Mary’s” and “Our Fathers” were almost redundant after this priest opened my heart again to the living God.

As I try to discern my own "works of darkness" I continually find it easiest to focus on old sins that are no longer pressing problems -- habits I feel more comfortable confessing. Feeling guilty becomes for many of us a drug of choice. That is not healthy. Jesus died for our sins; he does not expect us to grovel.

I was delighted when a friend of mine at last completed his jail sentence and was released. We had met during one of his earlier releases: he saw an ad I had placed in a local paper in Georgia, inviting writers to a regular meeting at which we would read our new work and critique the new work of others. He wrote lousy poetry, but he took criticism to heart, re-wrote and returned meeting after meeting. He went on to write some good work.

I did not see him again after we moved to another state, and then I received a sad letter from a prison in Florida: he told me that he been convicted for armed robbery of a convenience store. He stole a six pack of beer and then sat in the parking lot of the store drinking it all. He passed out and was sound asleep when the police were called.

“I did not know how to cope with the freedom I had,” he wrote me. “A conflict arose at work and I felt trapped between two adversaries. It seemed I could in no way win, and so I freaked out about it. I suppose I really hoped to be arrested. I know the rules of the joint. In here I am not given much leeway to do myself harm.”

That pattern continued through two more incarcerations and release, and then he determined he could live responsibly outside. He worked for a time as a carnie. He met a woman who loved him, and after about two decades together they’re still living successfully outside the joint but below the poverty level on the edge of the desert in Arizona. His poetry continues to improve, and he haunts the public library.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” Plagiarize Saint. I am sure that he gives us permission to use his words as our own and send then on a hand-written note to 5-10 persons that need to hear that from us. Who in your life gives you joy just to think about? Do they know that?

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus invites his disciples to live on the edge with Great Expectations, unafraid of all the disasters and signs and wonders that will herald his approach.

“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” Really?!

Have they left already? Has the second-coming happened already?

Or did Jesus have a faulty iPod calendar?

Don’t ask; don’t tell.

See also

November 22nd, 2009. Last Sunday After Pentecost. Christ the King

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

All the lessons today are about kings -- King David and his descendant, Christ the King. The collect reminds us that Christ is not just a king, but “the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

These texts were written in cultures where kings and queens had more real power than most of them do today. If/when the Prince of Wales becomes King Charles III of England and Scotland, he will control lots of money and a huge estate, but like his mother, he will exercise almost no power over the various governments of his realm. In being so closely identified by Scripture as a monarch, does Christ the King suffer a similar, if unnoticed loss of status? Do we with modern ears imagine Christ the King in charge only by title and rank but not by power and control?

Does Christ even want to be king? Does he want his subjects bowing before him in splendid ceremonies that assert his majesty and glory?

Suppose your spouse were to greet you on rising, “Good morning, your Majesty” or on bedding, “Rest well, your Majesty.”

Nor can I find a modern political title that would communicate for us what ‘King’ communicated for the bible’s original audiences. “Christ the President” or “Christ the Commander-in-Chief” or “Christ the Prime Minister”…. all offend.

Jesus said: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Is that kind of candor reserved only for those in the upper room? Are we to imagine that to the rest of us his followers, Jesus says, “Mind your place”? Jesus sternly scolded his disciples when they talked about which one would be the greatest with him in heaven: he counseled that the greatest are those who serve, not those who are served. What kind of king is that? Does calling him King of kings distract us from what Jesus really wants of us?

In his new book Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell Bishop John S. Spong warns that we have created a God who is to be flattered, as if God “needs” flattery.

Concerns for one’s grandeur or title or rank distances the concerned. Those concerns do not bring one closer to the object of reverence.

In Adam Bede, George Eliot counseled, “If you would maintain the slightest belief in human heroism, you must never make a pilgrimage to see the hero” (Chapter 17). Eliot suggests that no human being can stand the tests of real heroism at close range.

Of course Jesus is a divine hero, not a human one. For John, Jesus passed all the tests for reliability at close range, and John insists that Jesus wants us as friends, not as subjects.

It's easier to be a subject. Being a friend requires much more responsibility.

2 Samuel 23:1-7

Given the candor that Scripture gives about David’s sins -- his adultery with Bathsheba, his murder in the second degree of her husband Uriah, his sometimes abusive conduct in battle… -- it is fascinating to see the place that he secures for himself in Hebrew Scriptures, and even in the genealogy of Jesus in Christian Scriptures. He’s an arch sinner that it’s hard not to love if you are on his side.

In his “last words” David praises himself (and we who repeat him, praise him) for his good government:

One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
Is not my house like this with God?

My father loved the rituals of his college fraternity. When I complained about various misdeeds of some of our heroes, he often quoted The Sigma Nu Creed “To keep green the sainted memory of our loved and lost, their faults forgotten, their virtues enshrined in our hearts forever.”

I am not a cynic but prefer the counsel of poet Thomas Hardy: “If way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst“ (in his poem 'de Profundis').

I am glad that Scripture includes details of David’s failures as well as details of his achievements.

Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19)

Like many of the powerful in history, David revels in what he claims as God’s promise to him not just in his lifetime, but in posterity. Note that the promise for his posterity is explicitly conditional: “If your children keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their children will sit upon your throne for evermore."

I have seen several dozen thrones in museums plus a few more in drafty old castles; and not one of them has looked comfortable. I cannot imagine being pleased with the notion of sitting upon a throne forever more, even if only metaphorically.

Ezekiel has no trouble at all imagining it: “I saw the dome that was above the four winged creatures, and on it was the sapphire throne“ (10:1). I take that as strong evidence that gay queans will be in heaven, because who else could advise God about an antique store where he could find a sapphire throne?!

Revelation 1:4b-8

John the Divine had no trouble at all imagining Jesus’ throne either.

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

I highly recommend reading the whole of the Book of Revelation aloud occasionally. Candle light and sherry can enhance the experience.

In the 1960s I fell asleep before my fireplace after reading the whole of it aloud. Later I awoke, or thought that I awoke, to see a metal saucer upside down in the great lawn before my home at St. Andrew’s school in Middletown, Delaware. The saucer seemed only about 5 to 6 feet high, but 60-70 feet in diameter. There was little noise on its take-off, save the heavy rustle of leaves. I fell back asleep, or thought that I did.

At dinner, I made the great mistake of telling the lads at my table what I had dreamed (or by then thought that I had dreamed). I wish that I had kept the experience to myself. Most likely the wild imagery of the Book of Revelation had prompted my dream. At the time, and the few times that I have remembered the experience, the dream has meant nothing; it tells me nothing. But for months I felt like a prime kook for giving evidence to several who wanted to make more of it. Some were angry that I did not report the episode to the Air Force. Heavens to Betsy, No! I am glad that I have had no such experiences, real or imaginary, since.

John 18:33-37

I have great sympathy for Pilate in this episode. It could not have been a plum assignment to be sent to Israel, and it must have been especially annoying to have the indigenous leadership among his subjects to ask him to crucify someone whose crime, if any, was clearly more against the local leaders than against Pilate himself or by extension against Rome.

And the prisoner is not cooperative. Most gospel writers show Jesus as largely saying nothing when his accusers speak against him. In this apparently private audience, Pilate seems to pursue the possibility of a rapprochement. “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks straight-forwardly.

Jesus might have said, “That’s how my enemies mock me. You can see for yourself that I sport none of the grandeur or aspirations of a king. It’s a ‘Jewish thing.’ I am sure you have seen how worked up my people become over disagreements about our doctrines. Obviously you have to decide how to appease them. I wish you well. I am glad that I don’t have your job!”

Jesus said no such thing.

Or Jesus might have said, “Yes, I am the son of God. I am Christ the King. I am Lord of Lords.”

Jesus said no such thing.

Instead, he was vague:

Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Okay. What am I as Pilate to do with this testimony? What do I know now that I did not know before I asked? I can’t make heads or tales of what he has said. He seems strange but is apparently innocuous. He hardly seems a felon, yet how will I be able to use anything that he has said to me as evidence to save him from the crucifixion local leaders are demanding for him?

Maybe I can get around it by offering to release him in my annual pardon of a felon. I’ll offer them a truly unsavory character instead, Barabbas. That will bring the priests to their senses. They'll never choose to release the thug instead of this guy. That’s what I’ll do.

Isn’t it about time for Happy Hour? Christ the King indeed!

See also

November 15th, 2009. Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I recall an occasion about 35 years ago when a colleague in another department invited me to address her students’ questions about homosexuality. An older student in that class had decided to earn a degree while still working as a fundamentalist preacher. He became particularly agitated when I quoted as the first commandment “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and as the second "Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39 -- NIV)

“There you go misleading these people and distorting what God said. Those are not the first two commandments,” he exhorted me, huffing. “The first commandment is ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ and the second is ’Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, ’” (Exodus 20: 3-4 -- KJV)

“Very good,” I told him. “You cite the first two of Moses’ Big Ten. I cited Jesus’ two. Jesus said all the law and all the prophets hang on these big two” (Matthew 22:40).

“What version of the bible are you using?” my adversary said snarling.

“This time, the New International Version.”

“There you go again misleading people by reading a bible written by men. I use the King James Version, which records what God said exactly,” he replied.

“And Jesus spoke English?” I asked.

“Yes, sir!” he replied.

“And what’s another name for the King James Version?” I asked.

“The Authorized Version,” he snapped. “It’s the one that has God’s approval.”

“Authorized by whom for whom?” I asked.

“Say what?!” he replied. “That’s obvious. It is authorized by God for all Christians.”

I rejoiced to have someone who cared enough to challenge the authority of the teacher.

“No,” I explained. “The KJV was ‘authorized’ by Quean James (a.k.a. James 1st of England and James 6th of Scotland) for use in the Church of England, my church,” I explained.

“If you want to use my cookbook, you are welcome to use it,” I went on a bit unkindly, “but don’t come into my kitchen and tell me how to use my book.”

We were about equally exasperated with each other.

Today’s collect describes what the two of us were trying to do with Scripture in a most Anglican way: “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.”

Scripture is not given to us to follow blindly. Jesus’ own list was a careful response to the Pharisees, who tried to trip him by asking, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the law?” I find his short answer extremely helpful as I try to sort out apparent conflicts in Scripture.

For example, Leviticus tells us that we should kill a man who lies with a man, yet John 3:16 says that “whosoever believes in Jesus shall have everlasting life.” John does not say “whoever is heterosexual and believes” just “whosoever believes.” Jesus did not shout from the cross, “Don’t misunderstand me: I am up here dying for heterosexuals only….”

What changes would take place in the Church and in the world if those who call themselves Christians would love their lgbt neighbors as they love themselves?

“Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” Indeed.

1 Samuel 1:4-20

In reading the bible, it is often fascinating to note details not in the writer’s central focus. For example, this text is not about polygamy. It neither supports nor opposes polygamy. It simply describes a domestic conflict within a polygamous household. Elhanah gives a double portion to one wife (Hannah), but another of his wives, Peninnah, provokes Hannah severely, mocking her for having no children.

Elhanah tries to comfort Hannah by asking, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” Put otherwise, “Am I not man enough for you?” Ah, the irrepressible ego of the patriarch!

Hannah bargains with God for a son by conceding in advance that she does not want a son who will be rival patriarch. If allowed a son, she promises to set him apart from birth as a Nazarite, a special celibate order, of which John the Baptist was also a prominent member later, in Jesus‘ generation.

I am fascinated with the place of rank and privilege that sexual non-conformists enjoyed in ancient cultures. E.g., note not only Samuel the Nazarite here, but also the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, entrusted as many eunuchs were, with great responsibility.

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah’s song prefigures Mary’s Magnificat. Both note that God reverses the order of things. God overthrows the rich in favor of the poor. The full become hungry; the hungry become full. God gives power to the weak and overthrows the strong and the haughty.

The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.

… for not by might does one prevail

Quean Lutibelle sings a similar sassy song of power:

Queer Power

Swish, swish, men of America.
Cross your legs only at 90-degree angles.
Swish, swish!
Your fingernails are getting a mite too long.
Swish, swish!
That fuchsia shirt might be misunderstood.
Swish, swish!
You'd better lower your pitches
and say something evil about your mothers.
Swish, swish!
You smell too sweet and are too polite. Be crude
Swish, swish!
Talk about war, not about flowers.
Swish, swish, men of America.
Swish, swish. Swish, swish.
Swish, swish. Bug off.

-- Louie Crew

Has appeared:

Gay Christian [U. K.] 17 (1980): 27
Contact II Winter 1987: 50. Used pseudonym Li Min Hua
NABWMT Journal 4 (Summer 1991): 7. Used pseudonym Li Min Hua

Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25

Saint gives strong assurance here. Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins is complete, and we who believe should approach judgment “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Attention heterosexists: this promise comes with no disclaimers regarding homosexual persons who believe.

Saint uses the word provoke in an interesting way, to describe how we Christians should behave towards one another. One would hardly welcome being told to “provoke one another” in the context of the Anglican Communion currently. We’ve been there, done that far too much already, thank you very much.

But Saint restricts the kind of provoking he counsels us to practice: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds….as you see the [Judgment] Day approaching.” For example, we might expect these news flashes:

The Anglican Province of Nigeria to deploy fire-fighters through the Diocese of Los Angeles

The Diocese of Newark to help with clean-up following flooding in the Diocese of Albany

Two of the fifteen LGBT bishops in The Episcopal Church will receive honorary doctorates at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA

Two Arch-Conservative bishops in The Episcopal Church to receive honorary doctorates at Episcopal Divinity School

Et al.

Saint thinks that Christ would welcome having a footstool made up of the bodies of his enemies. Saint even says that Christ has been sitting around waiting for such a footstool.

I think not. How gross Saint’s imagination in this instance!

We would not appreciate a non-believer who took this tidbit from Hebrews 10 to justify calling Christians barbaric. The non-believer wanting to make such a case might also point to the disciple who cut off a bystander’s ear on the night of the crucifixion.

We do similar violence if we read the Qu’ran with similar reductiveness. We should not use isolated instances of violence therein as justification for calling Islam essentially violent.

I much prefer Samuel’s witness: “[F]or not by might does one prevail.”

Mark 13:1-8

The first verses of Mark 13 invite us into a long-term perspective from which that which we see as grand is in fact leveled:

Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

Global warming is triggering many alarm bells about the transience of all that is grand in our environment. When will the melt-down flood our major seaports? How long do we have before the floods and hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunamis make culture as we know it, nations as we know them, disappear from the face of the earth?

Percy Bysse Shelley wrote of a potentate who came to similar oblivion in ages long past:


I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

When I taught in China (1983-1987) I trekked through tomb after tomb after tomb. As my group walked through echoing subterranean passageways, I often whistled softly Thomas Tallis’ tune to which Arthur Cleveland Coxe set the words:

O where are kings and empires now
of old, that went and came?
but Lord, thy Church is praying yet,
a thousand years the same.

We mark her goodly battlements
and her foundations strong;
we hear, within, the solemn voice
of her unending song.

For not like kingdoms of the world
thy holy Church, O God,
though earthquake shocks are threatening her,
and tempests are abroad.

Unshaken as eternal hills,
immovable she stands,
a mountain that shall fill the earth,
a house not made by hands.

As I pass empty church after empty church, many with boarded windows and iron gates long locked shut, I realize that non-believers making the same journey can fairly ask of us, “O where is the church now? Praying still? Really?”

Jesus warned that the great Temple of his day would be left with not one stone on another. Such is sure to be the fate of our mighty temples as well. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs."

Our temple must not be made of human hands.

See also