The Rector's Blog
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May 31, 2018, 9:48 AM

Wade in the Water


Wade in the Water

Tracy K. Smith, 1972

for the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters

One of the women greeted me.
I love you, she said. She didn’t
Know me, but I believed her,
And a terrible new ache
Rolled over in my chest,
Like in a room where the drapes
Have been swept back. I love you,
I love you, as she continued
Down the hall past other strangers,
Each feeling pierced suddenly
By pillars of heavy light.
I love you, throughout
The performance, in every
Handclap, every stomp.
I love you in the rusted iron
Chains someone was made
To drag until love let them be
Unclasped and left empty
In the center of the ring.
I love you in the water
Where they pretended to wade,
Singing that old blood-deep song
That dragged us to those banks
And cast us in. I love you,
The angles of it scraping at
Each throat, shouldering past
The swirling dust motes
In those beams of light
That whatever we now knew
We could let ourselves feel, knew
To climb. O Woods—O Dogs—
O Tree—O Gun—O Girl, run
O Miraculous Many Gone—
O Lord—O Lord—O Lord—
Is this love the trouble you promised?

 

From Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith.

 

Last week, I was at an event called the Festival of Homiletics, an annual fest / feast of fantastic preaching by well-known and lesser-known luminaries of the wider church:  

  • Walter Brueggemann, who offered us “eight theses, two texts, and five conclusions” as he spoke on economic systems that oppress the poor;
  • Craig Barnes, who spoke of the “anxiety at the core of our age,” and said that Jesus was not [publicly] identified as the Son of God until his baptism, when he became deeply involved in our human condition through his baptism (offered for sin), thereby showing that it is [also] the human state that God loves.
  • Otis Moss III, who stressed that Jesus was concerned with how power is distributed in society and how power affects people – in other words, with politics, and said that to avoid the topic of politics in preaching or teaching is to allow the power differentials of the status quo to remain in place; and 
  • many others – Richard Rohr (the usefulness of personifying evil), ++Michael Curry (the power of love), Diana Butler-Bass (the importance of gratitude as building resilience and encouraging resistance against the things that tear us down or apart) being among the more easily recognized names.

It was a challenging week, but it fed my soul so much!  I probably have more ideas for sermon approaches than at any time since seminary!

On Thursday evening, May 24, Sojourners publisher Jim Wallis, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Franciscan Fr Richard Rohr, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, and several other “elders” came together with 2500-3000 of Festival attendees and other lay and clergy leaders to lead a candle walk to the White House to showcase “A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis” – a statement of principles that reclaims Jesus’ message of love for God and for all people, and rejects politics of division, derision, and dominance that are too common in our day (and have plagued us from the beginning of time, truth be told).  If you’d like to know more: see the Reclaiming Jesus website.

Blessings to all!                                     Evelyn+

 




May 16, 2018, 12:00 AM

The End MAY be nigh, but we really don't know...


As many of you may recall, I spent over 20 years in the U.S. Foreign Service.  I believe in the power of diplomacy, in the pursuit of peace, justice, and equity not only for us, but for all nations.

Isaiah 42:1-9:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it….

Which is why I cringed when I heard that we were going to move our Embassy to Jerusalem.  The protests that erupted that day were completely predictable; the violent response – leading so far to over 60 deaths – perhaps less predictable, were far more appalling.

Romans 12:19

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

I know that a lot of Americans feel that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is the right thing to do.  One can make a reasoned and rational argument either way.  But there are other arguments, less reasonable, less rational, also being made. There is a strain of thought that says the Lord Jwill return if Jerusalem is once again the capital of a restored Israel. 

The Biblical texts used to support this thinking are being taken out of context and misapplied.

God made a promise to Abraham (Genesis 12) that those who blessed Abraham would be blessed, and those that cursed him would be cursed. The errant reasoning is that God made two covenants: one with the descendants of Abraham, and another with everyone else.  But this is a very recent idea, popularized in the late 19th century. It really began to take root, primarily in evangelical thought after the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948.[1]

St. Paul, on the other hand, argued that while the original covenant was with Abraham’s descendants, Gentiles were being “grafted” into the family, and, in following Jesus, were as much inheritors of the promise to Abraham as the Christian Jews. 

Paul’s theology had its own dangers – principal among them being the idea that God rejected the people of Israel if they rejected Jesus as the Messiah. This unfortunately led to a couple millennia of persecution of Jews. But this is no better theology than the idea that the restoration of Israel will lead to the return of the Messiah. 

Neither one of these ideas is Biblical.

Romans 9:6b-8

For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants.

Paul makes it clear – it is belief that makes a person a part of God’s people of Israel.

Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And when the end shall come, no one knows.

Matthew 24:36-44

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

And if Jesus himself knew not the day, how can we possibly think we can figure it out?  If we can’t know, then the question is not how shall the end come, but what do we do with the time we have? 

Here’s a hint:

Micah 6:8

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

                                                 Evelyn+




May 4, 2018, 6:42 AM

Spring!


Can you believe it’s May already?  The dogwoods are in bloom all over town, but the tulips are already finishing up their annual display!  This week we are having daytime temperatures in the 80s, so it seems winter has been dismissed at last.

There’s been a lot of good work in our church garden, with more to come.  The south side of the garden, the front of the rectory, and the west side of the office building have been dug up, tilled, covered in landscape cloth, replanted (in smaller plantings), and mulched.  The hostas and the peony have been divided, the monkey grass has been reduced, and lilies of the valley have been potted, at least temporarily.  Much weeding has been done in the central portion of the space between church and rectory; and on the south side of the church, but further work in these areas must now wait till the Fall, as transplanting now could kill the plants.

Kudos and thanks to all those who have helped – you know who you are! 

 

Last week I went to Waycross for the annual Spring Clergy Retreat – we not only have a chance to relax with our colleagues, but we also have a bit of training. 

This year we held “Fierce Conversations.” Some of you in the business world may have heard of this – essentially it is a technique to encourage honest, in-depth discussions about issues important to those in the conversation.  I think all of us have been in conversations that go on for days, months, even years, but never arrive at any conclusions – the “Fierce” approach aims to put an end to this habit by first “interrogating reality” – that is, being brave enough to identify, as fully as possible, all the permutations of whatever situation is being addressed, and to be as honest as we can be (or are challenged to be) about them. 

Other steps include being fully present, tackling the toughest challenges first, heeding one’s instincts, taking responsibility for one’s own emotional responses, and being patient enough to wait for answers.

The basic premise is that our lives, relationships, and careers, will succeed or fail through one conversation at a time.  This really puts the emphasis on the importance of those conversations!  In fact, one can look at the conversation as the expression and working out of our relationships – even our internal conversations.

So all in all, I would say it was a worthwhile introduction, and who knows, you may find signs of my learning in future conversations!

Blessings to all!

                                                 Evelyn+

 




April 12, 2018, 1:51 PM

So much and then more...


On Sunday, April 15, we will be tying and blessing the first two prayer quilts created by the Prayers and Squares Ministry
Be sure to come! 

This is a new venture for us.  We invite you, as you return from the altar after receiving communion, to tie a knot in each quilt, saying a prayer for each quilt’s recipient.  We will offer a special blessing over the quilts after communion.  As we knot the ties, we remember that “prayer is the knot that holds our fabric of life together.” (Cheryl Louie, San Diego chapter)

These quilts will be given to Carole Sloan and Debbie Taylor. 

--------------------------

I will be away April 23-30, for two events:  the Spring Clergy Retreat at Waycross, where we will be learning about “fierce conversations”; after which I will be taking some personal time to attend a friend’s wedding in Ontario. Fr. Tim Hallett will be here on Sunday the 29th.

  I am grateful to the Vestry for allowing me to disappear the week after Easter – I have pretty well caught up on my sleep and feel more rested than I have in a long time!  I realize that we all have many demands and desires for our time that simply eat us alive and spit us out a moldy mess.  It’s easy enough to say, “I’m not going to do that myself!” but it’s not so easy to follow through!

I have the same problem with prayer as I do with sleep – I settle in, and after a couple minutes, all the things I’ve shelved till later start hopping off the shelves – the cats are bored or hungry; the laundry is just sitting there; the dishes need to be washed; and on and on.  Everything needs to be done.

This Week offers a case in point –

On Monday, we had Bible Study in the morning, and then I called on four parishioners, which took up the whole afternoon. 

Tuesday was pretty open on my schedule after the monthly sponsors meeting at the Clearinghouse so I took advantage of some free time to put away the Holy Week and Easter materials until next Spring.  We also had several people come in requesting financial assistance.

And I had an event in the evening, so I cut out for a couple hours to avoid having a 12-hour day. 

Wednesday, I had a visitor who needed half an hour, then a couple of our members came in to make sure we would have video for the Hoe-Down Karaoke, the bishop called; the bishop’s secretary called; and I scheduled an afternoon parish visit.

Wednesdays are when we try to finalize all the bulletins, prayers, announcements, and flyers for the coming Sunday worship.  Karen has been updating the information for servers, printing out the lessons, pulling the music for Starla, and selecting the picture for the bulletin cover.  I add a prayer of preparation, and make any necessary adjustments for special liturgical items – such as the prayer quilt blessing this Sunday – and then Karen pulls all the documents together for me to check. 

On top of that, this week is Epistle week, plus the bishop and some of my Episcopal clergy colleagues are coming for lunch Thursday.  So that’s even more information gathering, organizing, and writing to prepare.

It never stops!  And that’s a good thing, in many ways – it says we are a vibrant and active parish, engaged in the world, supporting each other, and worshiping together.  I think that’s what church is supposed to be about, don’t you?

This week’s “Rector’s Blog” is not the most philosophical or theological reading, perhaps, but it does reflect my efforts to live out my faith in this community. 

I just want you to know that I appreciate you all so very much!  I pray for you every day.  I wish you well, and many, many blessings. God’s grace be with you!

                                                 Evelyn+




March 22, 2018, 3:55 PM

From Fear to Forgiveness and More


If you were here on Sunday the 18th, or if you have read or listened to the sermon on our website, you will remember that I asked you to think about the ways in which we can move from feelings of fear, deceit, and hatred to feelings of forgiveness, trust, and love.

I hope you’ve been giving this question some thought!  (If you weren’t here, you can read the sermon on our website at http://cecmadison.org/sermons.)

Howard Thurman’s answer, like Jesus’, is I.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus also told his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  And he never said it would be easy!  We know what happened to him, after all, and how the world, his people, and the Romans responded to his teachings.  He was ridiculed, defamed, persecuted, and killed.

But here’s the kicker – that was not the end of the story.  The end of the story was quite different than anyone expected, much as the life of the actual Messiah was different than anyone really expected. 

When we are told to love our enemies, we might feel incredulous, even offended.  How can you ask me to love [fill in the one(s) you can’t stand here]?  Thurman describes three types of enemies to help us think this hard thing through.  First, are the enemies within our intimate circle – family, close friends.  We might have an argument, or a disagreement, or harsh words, or even an outright betrayal of trust that shatters the relationship. Think of Judas, or of Peter, who denied Jesus three times!  In one case, Judas placed himself beyond the possibility of reconciliation and forgiveness by taking his own life in despair; in the other, we don’t know how it happened, but Peter and Jesus were so reconciled that Peter became the first head of the post-resurrection church.

Second, enemies may be within our larger circle – in a club or church community, in our school or other group – these are people who have betrayed the group norms and aligned themselves to those outside the group at the expense, and to the hurt, of those within it.  For the Judeans, that would describe the tax collectors for Rome, who were of the children of Abraham, but used their knowledge in and of the Jewish community to not only tax the people, but also get rich at their expense.

Third, enemies might be outside our circle altogether; obvious parties to oppression of one sort or another, with no obvious ties to ourselves or our community or group.  Now we’re thinking of Rome, and the Roman rulers and soldiers who had no regard for the Judeans at all, and did not hesitate to quash anyone who objected to their presence and their authority.

I am sure we can all think of enemies in each of these categories – people we would much rather not have to deal with, or see, or even hear about.  People about whom our friends would completely understand our antipathy and bitterness and anger.

But Jesus does not let us off so easily – which certainly does not mean that he doesn’t understand our feelings! 

He is, I think, tackling these feelings on a deeper level – and asking us to let go, let go, let go, let go … let go of the anger and the bitterness and the hate – or, in Thurman’s construct, the fear, the deceit, and the hate that divide us.  Jesus reminds us that all human beings are children of God, and God invites all people to come to the living water and drink our fill and beyond of joy and grace and mercy.  And we all – ourselves, our families, our communities, and our enemies are included in that invitation.

Jesus knows the cost, make no mistake.  But in his view, the cost is irrelevant, because the prize is beyond price, beyond wonder, beyond our hopes and dreams – it is salvation; it is joy; it is love.

God’s grace is all.

                     Evelyn+


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