A Casey Jones-ish Train of Thought

There’s nothing worse than knowing that you want to have your cake and eat it, too.

That’s a frequently used/heard statement but I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about what it means.

If I eat my cake, there is no more cake; if I hold onto my cake, put in display for all to see, there’s no possibility of eating my cake.

 

If you want a beanstalk you have to plant your beans.

Maybe that’s the crux of the mid-life crisis…knowing you get one or the other.

Pecan-Chocolate-Espresso-Coffee-Cake040512014PSE
Photo Credit

If you’ve been at something professionally for 15 or so years, do you set it aside and pursue a dream; do you keep your integrity in check and be authentic or do you fake it till you make it…make it through the moment of crisis and indecision…maybe.

Do you chase the dream or leave it on the shelf?

Chasing the dream is full of risk and throws the security of a good career to the wind; putting it on the shelf, leaving it on the shelf…that only leaves restlessness and discontent.

This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing. Hmm. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.” (Master Yoda)

And that’s the struggle.  I know that chasing dreams is anything but an exciting adventure.  I know that dreams come at a cost, but are ultimately fulfilling at the cellular (soul-ular(?)) level.

Either way, I still need to wait until we get back stateside in about a month.  At this point I’m just processing a casey jones-ish train of thought.

You May Say I’m a Dreamer

Or maybe it’s just a mid-life crisis…

A friend and I had a dream in the early 90s of opening a coffee shop.  It was a hip thing to do in the 90s, and probably trite these days, but the dream has never gone completely away even though I’m in a solid vocation/career, have been for over 15 years. But the dream it sits there just below the surface, letting the water ripple around it, and every now and again it resurfaces with a new twist.

I’m really enamored with the Japanese way of running a small business: You’re open for five or six days a week and you offer a small number of menu items and when it’s gone, it’s gone, and you close up shop even if it isn’t quite what your sign says is closing time. Nobody gets butt hurt by the fact that your menu items are gone and that you’re closed for the day; that’s just the way it is.

I don’t know if that model would work in the states; in the places I worked/managed back in the day, your kept making items until you closed; and when you closed your items got tossed and you wrote it off as a loss.

I also know that 30% of small businesses, especially restaurants, don’t survive their first year.

But I’m a helluva cook when it comes to vegan food and know one helluva baker, and I know good coffee, and it’s been a dream for over twenty years.

I read this book in grad school that said you shouldn’t share dreams or visions (i.e. vision statements, organizational visions, etc.) unless they have had a chance to gestate for about nine-months.

Nice birth metaphor, right?

I think I’ve given it enough time to practically be an adult.

We’ll see. Gotta get back to the states first.

(And apologies to anyone who was looking for something more related to JL’s “Imagine”)

I Hate Titles…

15xdl9

I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that divide us—or maybe the things that we think divide us. We say that we are a divided nation, that we are a divided Church. We are divided by sexual orientation. We are divided by gender identity. We are divided by political ideologies. We are divided by acceptable levels of gun control.  We are divided by so much.

We think that the reason for the division lies with the other person:

The reason for our division lies with the young man who walked into Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine beautiful people. Because he hated black people. Or maybe the reason for our division lies with those who question how this man had access to guns in the first place.

The reason for our division lies with the man who walked into Pulse in Orlando, Florida and murdered fifty beautiful people. Because he was disgusted by gay people. Or maybe the reason for our division lies with those who question why Muslims belong in our country in the first place.

Yes, I’m working a little hyperbole and using some gross generalization. A little. Some.

But I’m frustrated.

I’m frustrated because I love diversity.

I love theological diversity.

I love political diversity.

I love racial diversity.

I love diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Diversity makes us stronger… 

if we embrace it… 

and one another.

I believe in the power of the rainbow and it makes me sad when we take ideas that we fear, and the people associated with those ideas, and send them away to graveyards. Metaphorical graveyards and especially literal graveyards.

In the Gospel Jesus encounters a man who has been chained up in a graveyard because people were afraid of him. He was scary. He had a demon or two, or three, or four.

I’ve always thought of these passages in terms of the demoniac, but in light of recent events—and not so recent events—I wonder if we shouldn’t put ourselves in the place of the Gerasenes and ask why we’re so afraid of other people, or other ideas, to the point that graveyards are an acceptable option.

Now that I think about it.  Maybe we think we’re chaining up the people we’re afraid of but we’re really putting ourselves in chains: shackled by Islamophobia; shackled by Homophobia; shackled by Racism.

Either way, this is what I know. I’m tired of hearing, seeing, reading, how “that person or people” are the ones with the demons that need to be cast out. I’m weary of hearing how all of this is just a “sign of the times…end times that is.”

A poem by Thomas Merton describes a people “waiting to see the seven-headed business promised us” but then wonders, “Who shall gather to see an ordinary dragon, in this day of anger?…meanwhile…no one observes the angels passing to and fro: and no one sees the fire that shoots beneath the hoofs of all the white, impatient horses…” (“Landscape: Beast” by Thomas Merton. A Thomas Merton Reader. Ed. By Thomas P. McDonnell, Image Books, 1989.)

I read it like this: we’re eager for more things that stir our fear, and deepen our divides, and—for some—toll the final bell.  But where are those who are excited to observe the ordinary stuff that harkens the goodness in our lives, and in our world? In our anger can we recognize the angels in our world, can we hear the stamping of impatient feet?

Maybe I’m missing Merton’s mark, but I’m okay with that because I’m married to a poet and so many poets I know and have read have said that poetry is meant to lead the listener or the reader to place of experience not to a place of explanation. (Or to quote the Grateful Dead, “[the story teller’s] job is to shed light not to master.”) (“Terrapin Station” by Hunter & Garcia)

But I digress—maybe.

Whether we separate ourselves from the Other because of our fear, leaving them in a graveyard; or whether we ourselves become chained up by fear of them.  It ends the same way until we open ourselves to healing and action.

In the Gospel texts, Jesus engages the demoniac and learns its name.  (Having a name is the first step in exerting power over something—hence we name our fears—hence the reply to Moses, “I will be who I will be.” (G-d will not be owned by anyone.)

Engage—name the fear; name the ism that possesses us, so that healing can begin and then tell it to leave.

Act.

For G-d’s sake do something.

Stand with those who hurt. Speak up on behalf of those who are demonized. Be your brothers’ (“And sisters!’”) keeper.

When I say tell it to leave, I don’t mean cast out or cut off from you anyone and everyone who won’t accept your worldview.

I love diversity, remember?

There is absolutely a place for difference. You don’t have to accept me, and I don’t have to accept you.  But there is room in the world for both of us, as long as we don’t demonize each other.

As long as it doesn’t end with us in graveyards.

Because I’m tired of everything ending in graveyards.

Easter 6C (5/1/2016)

the-healing-of-the-paralytic-manThere was a study conducted by John Darley and Paget Gross involving college students and a young girl named Hannah. The students watched a video of Hannah playing in her neighborhood and were given to read a brief fact sheet describing Hannah’s background.

Some of the students watched “Low-Income Hannah” who had parents with High School Diplomas who worked blue collar jobs.

Other students saw “Middle-Class Hannah” with college educated parents working white collar jobs.

When the students saw Hannah interviewed she was asked the same battery of questions and gave the same answers to those questions. Some of the more difficult questions she did not answer correctly and some of the simpler questions were also answered incorrectly.

Even though Hannah answered questions exactly the same, “Middle-Class Hannah” was rated academically as close to fifth grade level, while “Low-Income Hannah” was rated academically as below fourth grade.

A different study by Robert Rosenthal and Lenure Jacobson told Elementary School teachers, after giving their classes an assessment test designed to identify “academic bloomers”, that some of the students had scored in the top 20% of the test, even though they performed no better than unselected peers. A year after the “test” the researchers returned to the school and administered the same test.  The “bloomers” now outperformed their peers by 10-15 IQ points because the teachers fostered the intellectual development of the “bloomers” over their ordinary peers. (“Why It’s Dangerous to Label People,” by Adam Alter, from Psychology Today.)

Can words create boxes that confine people? Certainly words are used to help identify and describe—people are tall or short, people have a variety of melanin that makes up skin tone–and so we can use words to identify physical traits of other individuals.  But what about words that make value judgments—“these students have been identified as academic bloomers”—Hannah is in a low income neighborhood with parents who have never been to college so her intellectual development is less than the exact same Hannah who lives in a middle income home and has parents who have graduated from college. Do those words trap Hannah? Maybe. Maybe not.

Jesus is in the Temple for a Festival—presumably he is there for one of the major pilgrimage festivals and since Passover was the last Festival mentioned in John’s gospel, some think he is there for the Festival of Shavuot which commemorates the giving of Torah to Israel, which is no small matter. “The giving of Torah was a far-reaching spiritual event—one that touched the essence of the Jewish soul for all time…sages have compared it to a wedding between G-d and the Jewish people.” (Chabad.org)

If Jesus is in the Temple for Shavuot, he’s there for a Festival draws attention to the unique identity of the Jewish people.

It’s also the Sabbath. Even though the Sabbath is not mentioned till the end of the passage, it’s important to note here, because equal in importance to the Torah for the Jewish identity is Sabbath. It is meant to be a day of rest and celebration—and if not recreation, certainly re-creation of the G-d given identity.

Jesus is in the Jerusalem Temple on the Sabbath during a major pilgrimage festival and he happens across the Pool of Bethzatha—a place where the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed were left, or where they would congregate in hopes of being the first one in the pool once the waters were stirred.

John says that “a certain man” was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  There’s no name for this guy, the Greek words used only call him tis Anthropos a saying used of persons which the writer cannot or will not speak of in more particularity.

Jesus meets tis Anthropos and knows he’s been there a long time.

I wonder: How did Jesus know that the man had been there a long time?  Did the man have a look of defeat on his face because he had given up on trying to get to the stirred up waters? Did Jesus see resignation on his face?

We will most likely never know how Jesus knew tis Anthropos had been there for a long time, but we know what Jesus did for the man. Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?”

I remember very early in my ministry I received a phone call about a parishioner who had gone to the hospital with an unexpected and pretty serious illness. I got to the hospital as quickly as I could, concerned for the individual and their family; I walked into the room after being told by the nurse which room they were in, and as I looked at the person, hooked up to multiple IV bags and tubes and machines, I asked, “How are you doing?”

Words you wish you could take back, you know? “How are you doing?” I know you’re lying there, not quite on life support, not sure where your illness is headed so let me ask you, “How are you doing?”

Jesus wasn’t careless in his question, though; not like my miss-step with my question.

“Do you want to be made well” doesn’t quite get at what Jesus asks the man.  Thelo  is word we turn in to “want” – which can more readily be translated “to will, to have in mind, to intend” and maybe the KJV is closer with its rendering of “wilt thou.” Ginomai is where we get “be made” – which can mean “to become, to come into existence, to begin to be, to come to pass, or to be made or finished.” Hoo-Gee-Ays is the word we get “well” from which is to be sound in body or to be made whole.

All that to say that maybe a better way of rendering Jesus’ question is “do you have the will to be made whole/complete/finished?”

Do you have the will to be complete? Do you desire to be made whole?

And this man—this tis Anthropos—who is in the porticos of the Temple, surrounded by tangible reminders of the presence of the G-d of steadfast love and mercy, looks at Jesus and says, “There’s no one to put me in the waters, and when they do get stirred, as I am making my way to the waters, someone else gets there first.”

Sir, I am a victim.

Sir, I am an invalid.

Sir, I am my disease.

Sir, I am my paralysis.

His excuses are derived from his identity of being of victim of his helplessness. He is feeble; he is weak; he is powerless. The labels which once upon a time merely described him, have grown to define him. And rather than see the presence of G-d, he sees only his invalidity.

His answer is almost a protest of obviousness, “Of course I want to be made well; I have been waiting here for 38 years so that I can be made well, but I am helpless! Look at me!”

I had a professor who said that in almost every gospel encounter there is a moment where we cannot help to say, “But Jesus.”  The man kind of says, “But Jesus, I can’t be made well.” But that isn’t the kind of “But Jesus” that my professor meant.

“But Jesus” is the moment in gospel encounters when Jesus tells people, either with his words or with his actions, that G-d is not contained by our powerlessness or our excuses.

“Of course I want to be made well!” the man says. But Jesus says to the man, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”

I hope you’ll excuse me for doing this one more time, but the Greek word here is E-ga-ro  and in addition to meaning to cause to rise from a seat or bed, it also means “to arouse or cause to rise, to arouse from sleep, to awake, to arouse from the sleep of death, or to recall the dead to life.” And the word that gets translated as walk is peripateo — which can mean to make one’s way, as in to move, or to live, to regulate one’s life, to conduct one’s self, to pass one’s life.”

Hey you, tis Anthropos, rise; get up from your helplessness, get up from your invalidity, and live—be alive!

The text tells us “at once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.” At once, he rose up, took control of what controlled him, and began to be alive.

Now that day was a Sabbath.

John takes that sentence and begins to tell of conflict between those who would be keepers of the rules and the One who is the Giver of Life.  But my purpose in bringing us back to that sentence is not to use historical conflict between Jesus and the Religious Leaders of the day as a way of driving a wedge between Christians and the Law; I bring us back to that sentence because Sabbath is a day for re-creation of G-d given identity.

Sabbath is a day of remembering that our identity is not derived from how productive or strong we are. Sabbath is not a day of doing, but a day of being. Our Sabbath identity rests in the identity that we are given by G-d. Likewise our Sunday identity—our Lord’s Day identity—is derived in the One we worship, the One who sets the table, the One who calls us Beloved and Forgiven. And every time we have the opportunity to bask in the identity we are given in Baptism and in the Eucharist, we turn away from the labels that would confine us, limit us, or box us in.

We remember as we move forward to Christ in the Eucharist that we are reconciled in his death and resurrection; that we are made whole and alive in the eyes of G-d not through our efforts of doing, but in our state of being in Christ.

Reflections on the 3rd Sunday of Easter

Jesus-after-resurrection-PeterLThird Sunday of Easter

Text: John 21:1-19

It’s an ordinary statement for a person who fishes for a livelihood to make. “I’m going fishing.” Even if it wasn’t a way of making a living, it wouldn’t be strange to hear someone who loves to fish say “I’m going fishing.” It’s like hearing a runner say, “I’m going running” or a surfer say, “I’m going surfing.”

Peter says, in the company of the apostles, “I’m going fishing.” Perhaps the problem with his declaration is that Simon Peter isn’t a fisherman any more. He’s an apostle.

Maybe Peter just wants to clear his head and go do something he knows, get his zen thing on, do some manual labor and wrap his head around everything that’s happened. But they spend all night out on a boat and their mojo is seriously off.  They don’t catch anything. It’s demoralizing turn to something you love and find no success in it.  It’s frustrating to turn to something you know you’re good at and find failure.

But sometimes we step out for a nice long run and our bodies shut down at mile three.  Sometimes we sit down to relax and play a board game with our families and get mad because we keep losing over and over and over again at a game we knew about before they did—a game we know we’re better at playing. It’s downright frustrating!

I imagine Peter stewing all night long the boat; fuming, “I can’t even do THIS right and it’s what I’ve done my whole life! I failed Jesus, I failed my family when I left to follow Jesus, now I can’t even fish.”

As the sun begins to break, and the dark water turns to steel gray, bouncing back the early morning light that isn’t quite sunrise there’s a man on the shore who calls out to the boat, “Children, you have no fish, have you?”

Great, now a total stranger is pointing out that Peter’s a failure, too. Doesn’t he know what Peter’s been through the past few days? Why point out the obvious? But like any good criticism, the stranger doesn’t just say, “Hey that’s wrong.” He also offers a corrective measure. “Cast your nets over there!”

And it’s the jackpot. Not just a few fish. Lots and lots of fish. A catch so heavy they couldn’t bring it in.  A catch so heavy that their net tears with the load.

And even if the one disciple hadn’t said, “It’s the Lord,” somehow Peter would have known. Peter is intuitive that way. And in the foolhardy, all or nothing way that Peter does his life with Jesus, he jumps into the water and swims to the shore.

After breaking bread with the disciples, Jesus asks, “Simon Peter do you love me?” Three times Jesus asks and three times Peter replies in the affirmative. It is frequently taught that Peter is being given the opportunity to redeem his three denials of Jesus.

Maybe Peter is being given the chance to believe in himself; to forgive himself and move forward in the task laid before him.

In the previous chapter of John’s gospel Jesus appears to the disciples and offers them peace. In that encounter he doesn’t rebuke Peter for his denials. Jesus doesn’t chastise the others for abandoning him. He offers them peace, breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, and sends them out with a proclamation of forgiveness; a message of reconciliation. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Maybe Peter still hadn’t forgiven himself and Jesus could see that. Maybe it was apparent in the desire to be in a boat all night, sulking about not catching any fish. So Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and Peter says, “Yes.” The question isn’t meant to embarrass Peter; It’s not meant shame; it’s meant to get Peter to forgive himself, to believe in himself, and understand how much he is loved so that he will love back in the same way that he is loved.

Maybe that’s something we all need. Like Peter, maybe we have trouble believing in ourselves, maybe we have trouble forgiving ourselves.

If we look at the Table that is set week after week—if we look to the Eucharist, we have this continual reminder of the gift of love that has been given to us, and we have the continual reminder of the gift of the Holy Spirit breathed upon us and sealed within us and more than that, we pray that the spirit comes upon us and the gifts we offer in unison with Christ’s offering for us. We pray week after week that the Holy Spirit would bless us to be a blessing; that we would be sent (apostolos in the Greek..roughly speaking) as a reconciled people, with the message of reconciliation.

 

Lenten Photo a Day: Feb 28

Feb 28: “Home”

  

I couldn’t help but think of this picture in my office when I saw the theme “home.”

Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son captures in such a visceral manner the beauty and tenderness of the son who is received by his father upon returning from the far country. His painting visualises the heart of God as revealed in this amazing parable.

Lenten Photo a Day: Feb 27

Feb 27: “Burden”

  
My Dad and Betty-Mom gave me this stole when I graduated Seminary. In my Church the stole is a symbol of ordination, so I waited through my Probationary years before vesting with this stole, or any stole for that matter. 

At first I thought of the privilege of wearing the stoles do the privilege of being in my Order; then it became more about the weight of the Order to which I belong. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” says my Lord. But there is a responsibility that comes with wearing my stole to lead and teach the church with Word and Sacrament. So each time I vest, I kiss my stole right where it rests on the back of neck that the burden may be light, but also that I may never take lightly the task of caring for God’s people.