Saturday, May 31, 2008


It's probably obvious that I am in full spring fever mode. We got a new couch for the front room that we never really used because the old couch was a) ugly, b) excruciatingly uncomfortable, and c) faced away from the window. So when it's rainy, which has been often, I sit on the new couch and look out at my front garden.

When it's sunny, I sit on our new bench on the porch, light some incense to keep the mosquitos away, and listen to the burbling of the fountain and enjoy the flowers and the birds flocking about splashing in the water while pretending that I am a large rock instead of a potential predator. Since I am the shape of a large rock, this is not that hard for the birds to believe.

Sometimes, I bring out the guitar and play a bit and maybe sing a few tunes. It's wonderfully relaxing, and occasionally passersby will stop by and make a request, like "Why don't you shut the hell up?" "How about some Eagles?" or "Do you know any Joni Mitchell?" --which is, of course, a silly question, but one that launches a bit of musical nostalgia.

I find it wonderfully relaxing and spiritually uplifting to enjoy my garden and the flowers and the breeze and the incense. Sometime I say Vespers out there.

But then there's my neighbor across the street. I was just blissing out, breathing in the mildly humid air, when out came the wife. She is a tiny little thing, very quiet, but she's always seemed to be nice enough. She did a bit of yard work, but then the garage door opened, and I started listening to her husband, who is an incredibly large, toadlike man with the foulest mouth for several miles. He immediately began to berate her quite profanely for not doing something he wanted done quickly enough. A few more f-bombs and I felt my stress levels rise, and I retreated into my house. I mean, Robert Frost would have loved this guy (Good fences make good neighbors, you know.)

Then I had a thought: "Love your neighbor as yourself." I find this person's behavior so mean and disturbing, that I feel like the lawyer did when Jesus expounded this commandment in Luke 10:25-37: I want to ask, "Who is my neighbor?" All the while I'm hoping, "Please don't let it be him, please don't let it be him, please don't let it be him..."

But of course, that is the entire point of the commandment. We aren't promised that we should only love those who are nice, or only those with whom we agree, or only those who love us too. We are to love our neighbors, and our neighbors are anyone whom we can help. Our neighbors may be people who stress us out. Our neighbors may be people with whom we dispute frequently. But we still should love them as we love our own selves.

I certainly fail to meet this standard much of the time. This is a hard but precious teaching, but just imagine what would happen if we tried to live this. What if +Peter Akinola actually took this seriously and loved +Gene Robinson as his neighbor? What if Jack Iker loved +Katherine Jefferts Schori as his neighbor? Wow, what if Fred Phelps and his band of followers would love... I don't know, anyone else in America without screaming that homosexuality should be a capital crime and so on? And expanding beyond the religious sphere, what if George Bush really loved the poor?

Who is my neighbor? The person I feared it would be.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A day like this calls for haiku

Spring thankfulness

My heart will wait upon
the red joy of new flowers
that dance with the wind

Singing bowl

A call to prayer
comes from the lacy shadows
of sunlight through leaves


If you cannot fall
without God's notice, perhaps
I'll fill the birdbath

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

This is not a political pawn. This is someone's child. This is our brother or sister.

This is someone who has given an entire universe of tomorrows in service to us.

Our country is us.

This person has died for us- and for what we have allowed our government to do.

"No one shows greater love than when he lays down his life for his friends."- John 15:13.

And we can show no greater honor than to demand that no one else dies in vain.

Cross-posted at A Shrewdness of Apes.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Praying for who we want to be

The Lord's Prayer, or the Pater Noster if you prefer, is one of the most commonly prayed prayers prayed by the Church. Yet, maybe I'm alone in feeling a lack of resonance and worthiness when I pray the Our Father-- a disconnect, if you will.

Here's the Rite I version:
Our Father, who art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

The New Zealand Prayer Book has this version in its Night Prayer service:
Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by all the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever. Amen.

I really like the way that that last stanza was reimagined. I really do get tired of the insistence of the prayer book on the masculine forms of address of God. For me, God is really both Father and Mother. The limitations of the English language make trying to avoid masculine forms of address awkward, yes, but let's remember that 1979 was really not a very progressive time in terms of using inclusive language, and, as the saying goes, "Praying shapes believing." New Zealand revised their prayer book in the late 1980s, and boy, does it show-- not to mention the fact that in New Zealand it is necessary to have even more inclusive language since there is also sensitivity toward not seeming to favor those of European descent over those who are Maori or Polynesian.

In another vein, I also know that as one of my manifold faults I have a problem with forgiveness. When I pray "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us," I wince inwardly. Dear God, I try so hard to forgive others, but I admit I struggle with holding a grudge or being wary and aloof from those who have hurt me. Please, dear God, forgive me BETTER than I forgive others. Otherwise, I am doomed.

Here is what I am praying today:

Eternal Creator of Life and Love, abiding with us always,
exalted and holy be your Name.

May we build your kingdom of peace and justice here on Earth,
and may we conform our every breath to your Will
as Heaven was and is and shall be.

Satisfy our hunger with bread for body and soul,
nurturing us with all we need.

May we forgive those who hurt us
just as we own and mourn the pain we cause others,
and help us dedicate ourselves to loving our neighbors
as much as we love ourselves.

Strengthen us in evil times as well as good,
and help us see and feel your love in times of pain as well as joy.

We worship you in your kingdom, your power, and your glory,
asking to abide with you forever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A. J. Jacobs' A Year of Living Biblically gets the thumbs up

After my last post, I did go out and buy The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs. And I've got to say that I haven't been able to put it down. This man is really honest about the changes that were wrought in his life, but with a totally self-deprecating sense of humor. His wife is obviously a saint to put up with him, too.

His habit of obsessively googling his own name makes me laugh, too-- I did that once and found myself discussed on several students' Facebook pages. Last time I'll do that. But notice that I've titled this thing in the attempt to give him a thrill. And I'm not a blogger in Singapore, either.

The book is very worthwhile read. I will write more when I finish it. But so far he does a great job of explaining the background to several biblical laws. I loved it when he stoned the mean man who claimed to be an adulterer and when he taught his toddler the Ultimate Four-Letter Word.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Fight Against Modern Pharisees: the Limits of Biblical Literalism

I just got finished taking a brief tour around the Episcosphere, and ran across several posts talking about the visit of Archdiocese of the Southern Cone Archbishop Gregory Venables to Ft. Worth on May 3. Many of those who now call themselves "orthodox Anglicans" (which just shows how much they know about the history of the Anglican church!) were trilling rapturously about how the Episcopal Church is going straight to hell for its refusal to abide by Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality (see here and here and, of course, right here (pun intended).

"Look at what the Bible says! You must obey all of the Bible!" The fact is, though, that this is an impossibility. Much has been made of how one cannot be a "cafeteria Christian" in the use of the Bible as the Word of God.

Let's just totally leave aside the question of whether homosexuality is a sin, and look at the broader picture of whether it is possible to follow every verse of Holy Writ.

A.J. Jacobs (a favorite quote of his? "I’m officially Jewish but I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant.") has written a book about his attempt to live according to the rules embedded in the Torah-- and that's a whole lot shorter than the Christian canon.

But here's what he found, and I shall quote at length since people need to take themselves a whole lot less seriously:

At the beginning of the year, I wrote down every rule, every guideline, every suggestion, every nugget of advice I could find in the Bible. It's a very long list. It runs 72 pages. More than 700 rules.

Some rules were wise, some completely baffling. Some were baffling at first, then wise. Some were wise first then baffling. Here, some of the highlights, broken down by category.

Keep the sabbath. As a workaholic (I check my emails in the middle of movies), I learned the beauty of an enforced pause in the week. No cell phones, no messages, no thinking about deadlines. It was a bizarre and glorious feeling. As one famous rabbi called it, the sabbath is a "sanctuary in time."

"Let your garments be always white" Ecclesiastes 9:8. I chose to follow this literally - I wore white pants, a white shirt and a white jacket. This was one of the best things I did all year. I felt lighter, happier, purer. Clothes make the man: You can't be in a bad mood when you're dressed like you're about to play the semi-finals at Wimbledon.

No gossip. When you try to go on a gossip diet, you realize just how much of our conversations involve negative speech about others. But holding your tongue is like the verbal equivalent of wearing white. I felt cleaner and untainted.

No images. If you interpret the second commandment literally, then it tells you not to make a likeness of anything in heaven, on earth, or underwater. Which pretty much covers it. So I tried to eliminate photos, TV, movies, doodling. It made me realize we're too visual in this culture. It made me fall in love once again with words, with text.

Give thanks. The Bible says to thank the Lord after meals. I did that. Perhaps too much. I got carried away. I gave thanks for everything - for the subway coming on time, for the comfortableness of my couch, etc. It was strange but great. Never have I been so aware of the thousands of little things that go right in our lives.

You shall not wear a "garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff." (Leviticus 19:19). At first, I thought this applied to any mixed fiber. So I cleared my closet of all polycotton T-shirts. But it turns out the truly forbidden combo is mixing wool and linen. Sadly, my only good suit - my wedding suit -- contained both wool and linen. So I had to embargo it for a year.

If you are in a fistfight with another man, and his wife grabs your private parts, you "shall cut off her hand." (Deuteronomy 45:11-12). Another rule you won't find engraved outside many courthouses.

If you suspect your wife is cheating, you shall bring her to a priest, who will mix a potion of barley, water, and dust, which the woman shall drink. If she's cheating, her stomach will swell. (Numbers 5:11-20).

If you set your slave free after six years, but he decides to stay, then you shall bring him to the doorpost and bore a hole in his ear. (Exodus 21:5).

You shall not marry your wife's sister (Leviticus 18:18) It helps that my wife doesn't have a sister.

You shall not plant your field with two kinds of seed (Leviticus 19:19). I did plant some cucumber seeds in some pots. But I kept it purely cukes.

You shall not eat eagles, vultures, black vultures, red kites, black kites, ravens, horned or screech owl, gull or any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.

Do not become a shrine prostitute. (Deuteronomy 23;17) I didn't become any kind of prostitute.

You shall not trim the corners of your beard (Leviticus 19:27) My rabbinical beard became wildly uncomfortable, plus I was subjected to every beard joke in the history of facial hair, with about 412 ZZ Top references.

You should not lie on a bed where a mensturating woman has lain, and you can't sit on a chair where she has sat (Leviticus 15:20). That knocks out all subways and restaurants. See the Handy Seat section for my attempt to follow this.

You shall smash idols. The ban on idolatry is such a huge part of the Bible, I figured I should try to smash something. I ended up smashing my wife's fake Oscar statuette. But it felt like a hollow gesture, and it annoyed my wife by getting gold flakes all over the rug.

Put to death men and women who commit adultery. Though I did manage to figure out a way to stone adulterers. One adulterer in particular. A grumpy seventysomething man I met in the park. I used pebbles.

You shall not covet. This is like asking someone not to breathe. Especially in New York. New York is a city that runs on coveting. On a typical day, I covet everything from Jonathan Safran Foer's speaking fee (allegedly $15,000) to our friend's sprawling backyard in the suburbs.

You shall not lie. Once I started keeping track, the number of lies was astounding. I lie to everyone - strangers, my wife, my three-year-old son ("No, we can't watch TV. It's broken.")

You shall stand in the presence of the elderly. I did try to follow this at certain points in my journey. Like the time I ate dinner in a Florida restaurant at 5 p.m. That was the highest concentration of elderly people in America. So I stood up from my chair every time a white-haired person entered the room, which meant I was bouncing up and down like a pogo stick.

You shall not utter the name of another God. English is filled with the names of pagan gods - even the days of the week are named for them: Thursday, for the Norse god of thunder Thor.

Be slow to anger (Proverbs 19:11). My anger isn't of the shouting, pulsing, vein-in-the-forehead variety. It's more of long-lasting resentment. I never fully got it under control, but the best method for putting the brakes on my anger came from the story of Jonah. (See the book for details)

I've gotta read that book. When summer comes....

This argument about the authority of scripture and literalism is, ironically, as old as the New Testament itself, for Jesus certainly spent a lot of time arguing with the Biblical fundamentalists of his day-- the Pharisees (see Matthew 12 for more detail). If you are a Christian, by the way, you believe that Jesus was right and the Pharisees were wrong. The Pharisees insisted that everyone make a big display of following all the laws of the Torah-- and the interpretation of the Torah that had developed over the centuries.

So, let's just take a cursory look at a few problems inherent in attempting to take every word of the Bible as true: In Romans 16:1-2, Paul praised Phoebe for her work as a "diakonos" of the Church. Opposed to this is I Corinthians 14:34-35, in which women are admonished to be silent in Church (and by the way, there are more instances of Scriptures honoring women's contributions than of muzzling them). And then there are the prohibitions against divorce, touching menstruating women, and the controversy over slavery. Meanwhile, King David is not only an adulterer but engineered the death of his pregnant girlfriend's husband for being too faithful to his cause and refusing to come home to sleep with his wife so that David's crimes could be covered up. Lot offers his two virgin daughters to a ravening mob rather than betray Middle Eastern rules of hospitality (Genesis 18), and these two daughters later get their father drunk and have sex him and bear him children (Genesis 19).

Matthew 6:5-7 basically puts every televangelist out of business (hey!....). Jesus at times ignores his family (Matthew 16) and then makes sure his mother is taken care of in the midst of his passion (John 19). Ever pledged money to the Church and then not been able to follow through? Acts 5 may not be very comforting to you. Are you married? Oh well, if you must, although Paul makes it clear you will live a kind of shadow life in the faith since you couldn't resist the lure of sex and worldly things. Are humans created by God on the sixth day after the creation of plants and vegetation (Genesis 1:26), or on the third day before there were any plants on the Earth (Genesis 2:4-8)? And we could play this game all day.

The Bible DOES contain all things necessary for salvation. But leaving aside scattered verses here and there, the message of Jesus is love: love for God and love for neighbor. The Biblical fundamentalists too often demonstrate very little of either one. They get so wrapped up in demanding adherence to verses that support their own prejudices that they lose the Spirit of the scriptures. Just like the Pharisees did.

No one follows every single word of Scriptures. We are all "cafeteria Christians," choosing which verses and proscriptions we like and studiously ignoring those that challenge our basic preferences and prejudices. Jesus insisted on honoring the original spirit of the Law. This eventually led him to be brought up on charges by those who insisted on following every jot and tittle of the Torah at the expense of living a sanctified life that truly honors and loves God. Which side are we on, anyway?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A word from the Archbishop of Sudan

From the sermon on the Sunday after Ascension Day:

"What is happening in Africa? Wars! What is happening in the Middle East? Wars! Terrorists all over! Where are we? What is our message to them? What is the message of us to the world? It seems that we are not doing our job. We are being challenged, brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s why Jesus was praying: “Forgive, Lord! They don’t know what they’ve done.” When we come together in love as a Church, as a family of God, from different backgrounds. When you are a Christian you are not marked in our colors…. Whether a black or a white or a red or a yellow, we are disciples of Jesus Christ. He never prayed for a particular people, but he prayed for his disciples. And we are the ones. Are we proving to the world now that we are good disciples? When we come together in love as the family of God, we change the world….

We are not able to challenge the world because we are divided by our own differences as humans… Our foundation is Jesus Christ; we stand on him, and where we make our message is from Jesus Christ, and no more…. We have to love each other, encourage each other, serve each other, accept one other, teach each other! That is what Jesus Christ prayed for. Are we doing that?

But the world today, I tell you, has given us a new phrase, which says, 'Mind your own business.' That’s a new phrase we are now learning. That is not a phrase from Jesus Christ.

We are to stand with those who are suffering, near and far, as Christians."

Amen. Amen indeed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Is the Church THAT desperate for priests?

Oh, goody. Former New Jersey governor James McGreevey's divorce from his wife is in front of a judge again, and maybe we'll get to stop hearing about his alleged three-way sexual adventures and his affairs with/sexual harassment of aides and whatnot.

But I do wonder: is this the kind of person who has demonstrated the stability one would hope would be expected of a priest of the Episcopal Church? Do we really need someone who lies repeatedly, who makes vows he cannot keep, and who gave government jobs to his secret lover, and who, until these scandals broke, was an already once-divorced Roman Catholic? This man was received into the Episcopal Church on May 2, 2007, and immediately embarked upon the discernment process and entered General Theological Seminary. How did he get this sudden burning interest in the Episcopal Church and the priesthood?

He is obviously going through turmoil in his personal life. I have nothing but sympathy for people who have endured such personal trauma, even the self-inflicted kind we've seen in this situation-- but the last thing they need to be doing is ministering to anyone but themselves. Should entering the priesthood be even considered until his head stops spinning?

And I don't care if he's gay or straight. But let's ponder a question: would a straight man who had engaged in such behavior be allowed such latitude? Would someone who was not in the public eye in the same situation be allowed to jump into the process?

I doubt it. Is the Church THAT desperate for priests? Not from what I have seen. And let's also not forget how flighty and unhinged this makes the Episcopal Church appear.

One would hope that a requirement for Holy Orders would be that a person refrain if at all possible from unethical or hateful behavior, that he or she would "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I'm serious here. Priests are not saints (most of 'em), but I don't think that that standard is too high a bar for anyone. Religion should be about more than just beliefs-- it should be about behavior. We are called to walk in the footsteps of Jesus-- ordained or lay, all of us-- and I don't think Jesus ever used the excuse of "She knew I was having affairs because she was in on it, so that makes it okay."

Saturday, May 3, 2008

On Prayer, part II

Over at RevGalBlogPals, there is such a timely Friday 5: So how do you wait and pray?

1. How do you pray best, alone or with others?
I pray best with others right now. I have been known to spontaneously whip up a prayer on the spot when the chips are down. I am working on praying more by myself. There have been a few times when I have been meditating that I have seen a glimpse of something deeper, but it has been fleeting. I am still working on it.

2. Do you enjoy the discipline of waiting, is it a time of anticipation or anxiety?
I am learning to appreciate waiting. I am trying to learn how to focus more. There's always so much waiting to be done, it's almost like I have to give myself permission to be still, and then there's the problem of finding a place where I can be still without being interrupted. I have been getting up an extra thirty minutes early to do morning prayer every day, and that has been helpful.

3. Is there a time when you have waited upon God for a specific promise?
Well, there was one time when I made a left turn right in front of a car that came speeding out of nowhere at me and was getting ready to T-bone me in a horrific way. Somehow, my cry of "Help me, Jesus" was the last thing I remember, and then I was in the parking lot that I had been turning into without a scratch on me. I am telling you, there is NO WAY that car should have missed me. I still can't figure it out.

4. Do you prefer stillness or action?
I prefer action. I am an action kind of gal. I want to feel like there is a before and after picture like in those ads. I need to get over this, and get over myself.

5. If ( and this is slightly tongue in cheek) you were promised one gift spiritual or otherwise what would you choose to receive?
Very seriously, I am praying for the gift of discernment right now. I have felt called to serve God officially and unofficially throughout my life. I feel called to holy orders, but I went to a discernment conference last year that I still in my head call the "discouragement conference." If you'd have asked me a year ago, I would have said that I would be in the formal discernment process by now. But life intervened. It seems the hurdles are insurmountable sometimes, and yet I do feel I have gifts in teaching and ministry and pastoral care and liturgy. I just have to tell myself, as is written in Revelations of Divine Love: "but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

On Prayer, part I

For several years now, I have thirsted for the chance to create a small still place for myself to engage in contemplative prayer and meditation. Life as a mother, daughter, teacher, and all the other hats that I (and so many others) wear means that when I DO finally sit down and try to still myself I usually wake up a few hours later with a start.

But in my ESM class we are studying spirituality and prayer this summer, so at last I can at least claim that I need some quiet time for school. This is hopefully going to be less stressful than last summer's assignment, which was preaching. Even though I speak and teach for a living, preaching is an entirely different experience, fraught with insecurity. What do I know, after all? What do I have to say? What if something heretical flies out of my mouth? What if the fans overhead blow the text of my sermon all hell to breakfast? These were just a few of my fears that I had to overcome.

In a way, it's the same thing with prayer. I am trying to move beyond the Oh God! definition of prayer, when God tells John Denver that he won't say anything to him from now on, but he'll be listening. I admit that I am more comfortable with music going on; silence can be disconcerting and twitchy. I don't want to just rambling on and on with God, and I don't want to make prayer a laundry list of wishes and wants with God as the big Sugar Daddy.

So I am reading Thomas Merton, and Julian of Norwich, and Kenneth Leech, and the Dalai Lama. I want to try to sink into the silence and listen to the Love that is God. And of course, I'll be trying to not fall asleep. And then trying not to beat myself up about it if I do fall asleep.