Posted by: dacalu | 23 April 2019

LGBTQ Theology Books

A friend asked me to recommend LGBTQ focused books on theology. I do not have expertise in this area, so have asked for suggestions. I have not (yet!) read most of them; I can only pass on the wisdom of others. I have placed an asterisk by those which look most promising – due to multiple recommendations or recommendations by experts. Feel free to add to the list with comments.

Alexander, J. Neil (2003) This Far by Grace: A Bishop’s Journey Through Questions of Homosexuality

Alison, James (2001) Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

Beardsley, Christina (2018), Transfaith: A Transgender Pastoral Resource

Boer, Roland and Jorunn Kland, eds. (2008) Marxist Feminist Criticism of the Bible

Brown, Terry, ed. (2006) Other Voices, Other Worlds: The Global Church Speaks out on Homosexuality

Burke, Sean (2013) Queering the Ethiopian Eunuch

Cheng, Patrick (2012) From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ

Cheng, Patrick (2011) Radical Love: Introduction to Queer Theology

Cheng, Patrick (2013) Rainbow Theology: Bridging Race, Sexuality, and Spirit

*Countryman, L. William (1987), Dirt, Greed, and Sex

Countryman, L. William, and M. R. Ritley (2001), Gifted by Otherness: Gay and Lesbian Christians in the Church

Goss, Robert (1992) Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto

Hall, Caroline (2013) A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church

Haller, Tobias (2009) Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality

Hartke, Austen (2018) Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians

Heyward, Carter (1989), Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and Love of God

*Johnson, Jay Emerson (2013) Divine Communion: A Eucharistic Theology of Sexual Intimacy

Johnson, Jay Emerson (2014) Divine Peculiar Faith: Queer Theology for Christian Witness

Johnson, William Stacy (2012) A Time to Embrace: Same-Sex Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics (2nd Ed.)

Jordan, Mark D. (1997) The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology

Keshet Torah Queeries: https://www.keshetonline.org/resources/torah-queeries/

McNeill, John (1988), Taking A Chance on God

McNeill, John (1976), The Church and the Homosexual

Martin, Dale (2006), Sex and the Single Savior

O’Brian, Michelle (2016) This is My Body: Hearing the Theology of Transgender Christians

Robinson, Gene (2008), In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God

Shore, John (2012, April 2), “The Best Case For the Bible not Condemning Homosexuality,” Christian Issues

*Stuart, Elizabeth (2003), Gay and Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions with Critical Difference

Tonstad, Linn (2016) God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality, and the Transformation of Finitude

*Tonstad, Linn (2018) Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics

Vines, Matthew (2015), God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships

White, Heather R. (2015), Reforming Sodom: Protestantism and the Rise of Gay Rights

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: dacalu | 22 April 2019

A Poem for Magdalene

Mary Magdalene has been called the “apostle to the apostles.” The Gospels mention her frequently and, in all four, she discovers the resurrection first. Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ most influential disciples. Some have suggested a romantic or sexual relationship between the two, even marriage. And yet, she was rarely mentioned by early Christian authors. She was regularly conflated with Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus) and the sinful woman of Luke 7.

By at least the 7th century, Christians spoke of her as a reformed prostitute. There is no support for this in scripture or other early writings. I don’t know why it inspires the strong emotion that it does. No-one bats an eye at reformed murderers (Moses and Paul), collaborators (Matthew), and terrorists (Simon). I suspect it has to do with discomfort around physicality, particularly women’s sexuality. I suspect it has to do with distrusting male/female intimacy. And, I suspect it has to do with discomfort around women in power.

Many see prostitutes as beyond redemption; incurably corrupted by their acts; savable in soul, but never in body. They are wrong. (To be clear, this position is erroneous, hateful, and harmful. It offends against the gospel.) It may be inaccurate to call Mary Magdalene a reformed prostitute. (I believe it is. It helped many dismiss her discipleship.) And yet, she would be no less saintly, no less a disciple, for having such a past.

God takes all sorts, including sex-workers. Sex-workers (willing and unwilling, male and female, reformed and reforming) should have a patron. They can find redemption in body as well as soul, redemption as complete as for any other (“all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”). Why should a sex-worker not aspire to be an apostle to apostles? And why should Mary not have special care for them, who have been given, by man’s inhumanity, into her care?

How would Saint Mary respond to rumors about her past and about her relationship with Jesus? I don’t know, but I imagine something like this.

 

 

Magdalene

 

You think you know me

who call me fallen;

it was not I who stumbled

over sex.

 

You think you know me

who proclaim my innocence;

it was not I who feared

to know too much.

 

Before all, I listened and heard.

I reached out and touched.

Before all, I spoke.

 

He was at my fingertips.

He is on the tip of my tongue.

You do not know me,

but listen,

and you may know him.

 

Before the fallen I,

before the redeemed I,

in God’s eyes

we are in love.

 

 

 

Posted by: dacalu | 20 April 2019

Holy Saturday Poem

A pause to catch your breath
Lucas Mix, Holy Saturday 2019

O, prodigious Son
Who did a full week’s work
In three day’s rest

 

Posted by: dacalu | 19 April 2019

Good Friday Poems

Triduum

Lucas Mix (4/19/19)

 

God at the crossroads

of was and is

and is to be,

 

God to man

a human hand

did give.

 

Love denied,

we pierced and pried

and opened wide

 

His offered grace,

in word and deed

and sacrifice.

 

Body broken

by human hands

outstretched,

 

abandoned and,

by breath forsaken,

hung,

 

God,

in breathless word,

exhaled love.

 

 

 

Divine Frustration

A Good Friday Litany, written for Shelly Fayette

Lucas Mix, Good Friday (4/19/19)

 

A new heaven and a new earth (but not yet)

The righteous praised (but not yet)

The humble raised (but not yet)

All truth revealed  (but not yet)

Sickness healed (but not yet)

The hungry fed (but not yet)

The risen dead (but not yet)

Justice done (but not yet)

Vict’ry won (but not yet)

Only silence, stillness, sorrow

And the bitter word “tomorrow”

While all the world

to God replies

“Not yet”

 

Posted by: dacalu | 10 April 2019

The Kingdom Come

Last Sunday, I had the joy of worshiping with Christ Church Episcopal in Seattle. Here is the sermon I shared.

 

Prayer for the Fifth Sunday in Lent:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Readings:

Isaiah 43:16-21 (“I give water in the wilderness”)

Psalm 126 (“Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy”)

Philippians 3:4b-14 (“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”)

John 12:1-8 (Mary of Bethany and the costly perfume)

 

Sermon:

How do you measure value?
	Judas Iscariot counted denarii, silver coins.
	Martha counted deeds done.
	And Mary of Bethany counted her hours with Jesus.
I have to admit,
	Martha and Judas sound more sensible to me most of the time.
	Judas may have had his eye on stealing the money,
		but he does have a point.
	Three hundred denarii could buy a year’s worth of bread.
We must be careful, though.
	Moses and Jesus remind us that we do not live by bread alone (Deut 8:3; Mt 4:4).
So, there is this strange tension.
	On the one hand, we have monetary value and nutritional value.
	On the other hand, we have something else,
		something more than money and bread.
We have been told to use our talents wisely,
to give our money to the poor
	and to feed the hungry.
And we have been told that all of this is as nothing without love.
What are we to make of Mary’s gift?
And what of Jesus’ strange statement:
	“You always have the poor with you”?

Christians must always view wealth cautiously.
	“You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Mt 6:24)
“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle 
than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mt 19:24)
For what, then, do we work?
What is the goal that Paul speaks of?
What do we, as Christians, ultimately value?

This question, for me, underlies all the other questions.
Our readings today suggest that we value
	Christ and the resurrection,
	but it matters how we unpack that.
It matters whether we seek eternal life so that we may be with Jesus
	or follow Jesus so that we may have everlasting life.
It matters whether we seek wealth so that we may serve
	or serve in order to gain wealth.
It matters whether we improve ourselves so that we may love others
	or love others in order to improve ourselves.
 
Good acts, even good intentions, are good in context.
	The why matters.
	It matters because it provides proportion.
		It tells us when to begin and when to stop.
Consider eating.
	I think all of us would agree that food is a good thing
		and that it is good to eat.
	We also know that we can eat too much
		and eat the wrong things.
Eating is good when it leads to life and health and strength.
Eating can also give comfort and build community.
And, sometimes, eating can be bad for us.
Bread is good, but we do not live by bread alone.

More than this, bread does not stay good.
	Bread can spoil.
	Good bread becomes bad bread if we wait too long to eat it.
We have a strange desire for everlasting bread.
	Perhaps it’s wonderbread or twinkies
		or protein bars or MREs.
	We want to store away our wheat so that it will last forever.
	We want to be sure that we will always have food.
	Scarlett O’Hara famously says this in Gone with the Wind:
		“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
What follows makes no sense without this foundation.
	We actually need food.
	Any of you who have been truly hungry know this.
	Hunger and thirst can gnaw at you, overwhelm you,
		until nothing else seems to matter.
We can forget this, living as we do, amidst the wealth of the world.
Seattle is a city of wealth,
	though many who live here still go hungry.
One reason we fast in Lent is so that we might remember,
	just how close we are to dust and death,
	just how much our flesh and blood dictate who we are
		and what we want.
Please don’t mistake me.
	True food is an immediate, visceral need.
	And so, we pray for our daily bread.
 
We do not pray for everlasting bread, yearly bread, or even weekly bread.
	We pray for daily bread.
	God gave the Israelites manna in the wilderness,
		but it could not be kept overnight.
	Jesus sent the disciples out without bread and without money,
		charging them to rely on hospitality.
Even if we had bread that never rotted –
wonder bread can last an awfully long time –
it too would go bad.
Bread goes bad any time I have two meals and someone else has only one.
	We all need food.
There is a difference between food tomorrow and food today.

Lewis Carroll spoke of jam tomorrow,
	complaining about those who promise something in the future
	but never deliver.
Many have spoken of political and ideological promises
	as jam tomorrow, but never jam today.
Most often I hear this as a critique of Christianity.
	Is not resurrection life all about jam tomorrow?

But this is not the Christianity I know.
	It is not the New Testament. It is not Christ.
Jesus of Nazareth was always and only about jam today, 
bread today, life today.

“do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. 
Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Mt 6:34)

So, bread is good, but bread is good today.
	If it is good for me, it is good for my neighbor.
This is a hard teaching.
	I cannot claim to have mastered it,
		but it is, very clearly, the teaching of Christ.
Bread is good and bread is for neighbor.
Wealth is good and wealth is for Christ.
Life is good, but it is good as life today and together,
	never as life forever and apart.
 
What do Christians value?
	We value the relationships of love
		built by breaking bread together.
	We value the love of Christ
		found in one another and in contemplation of God.
	We value the breath we share in the moment
		with other children of God.
That, I believe, is resurrection life.
	It is the kingdom come, and not the kingdom yet to be.
	It is life here and now, not there and then.
	It is, emphatically and always, bread and jam today.
I do not rule out life in the future.
	I believe that my redeemer lives,
		at the last he will stand upon the Earth,
and I will see God face to face.
But that will be more of this.
	If we do not live now, we cannot live then.
	If we do not love now, I cannot love then.
	The eternal feast begins now.
I see Jesus in the last and the least.
	If I want to eat with him, I eat with him here,
		at this table, on this street.
	Literally, viscerally, concretely on this street.
	If Jesus lives, he lives there.
He is not the God of tomorrow or yesterday.
He is the God of today.


I have not yet found the peace of Mary.
	I have not yet chosen the better part,
	but I am learning.
I learn from Shelly and Aaron on a regular basis.
I learn from their concern for the poor and their concern for you.
I learn from countless Christians who do the hard work of love,
	today.

This love can be very strategic.
I think there is real value to holding and saving money,
	but we hold it and save it because we care about one another.
We hold it and save it because we care about today.
It can only be good in context.
And the farther our thoughts wander –
	the more we make the kingdom something
		far off and far away –
	the less we have it with us, today.
 
I avoid politics in sermons
	and I shall not address specifics,
	but I will say this.
Ask yourself:
Who is delivering food and who is promising it?
Who feeds the hungry and who guards the larder?
Who is selling you jam tomorrow?
This tactic is common on the right and the left.
And it matters.

It matters whether we seek security for the sake of a common life
	or only use our common life for the sake of personal security.
It matters whether life together is an end or only a means.

The same is true in the church.

It matters whether we speak of resurrection as an opportunity for love
	or as a reward for loving our neighbor.
To call it a reward is to say that it is the better part,
	as though love were not an end in itself.
Too many Christians speak of heaven as the final goal of Christianity,
	and not the fulfillment of God’s love,
		our love for one another, and our love for God.
When heaven happens, we will find that it is and always was
	now, in community with these people.
There are no other people and there is no other now.


You will always have the poor with you,
	because bread today is the bread we share.
Jesus’ body and blood were broken and shared for us,
	and with us, and in us.
But we can only experience his resurrection,
	we can only become one body in Christ,
	when we share ourselves with those who hunger and thirst.

What do Christians value?
	We value the life of Christ,
		bread for the world.
	We value love lived concretely.
	We value the call to heavenly life, here and now.
Posted by: dacalu | 7 April 2019

Spirit, The Sacred Self

These thoughts on spirit follow complement my reflection on body in the previous post. Both come from a retreat I led on body, mind, and spirit.

God is everywhere. So, everywhere is holy. We, in our limitation, cannot appreciate the holiness of the cosmos. We set aside a few things to remember and recognize their holiness. We call them sacred.

There is a spiritual life, which is not a holier life, but sacred side of life. It helps us to learn that all life (metabolism, consciousness, individuality …) is holy.

We use many names:

  • “Kingdom Life” emphasizes God’s role in uniting the world under one law and identity. It can also make us think of dominance and violence, and God’s Spirit does not seem to work that way.
  • “Resurrection Life” emphasizes the transcendent life we share with Jesus in the resurrection. It can also make us think that spiritual life is distant and “other.” God’s Spirit moves in the messiness of immediate, daily life.
  • “Heavenly Life” emphasizes the sublime, eternal perfection of our life in God. It can also make us thing that spiritual life is static, but God’s Spirit constantly challenges us to move in new ways.

No picture of spiritual life is perfect, because we are still becoming perfect. It helps to know that there are good and bad parts of each – and of many other pictures. We use them best when we think about how they work for us (and others) and how they limit us (and others). With that caveat…

I view spiritual life as the dynamic activity of the Spirit of God breathing in the world. God’s breath (the Holy Spirit) proceeds through souls, bodies, blood, and flesh into the very dust at our feet. God’s breath returns through flesh, blood, body, and soul to the heights of heaven in curiosity, contemplation, conversation, and praise. It moves through us and between us. We can see it at every level.

God’s gift to us – the soul (Hebrew nephesh chay, Greek psychen zoosan) is the very height of creation. And yet, it is as nothing next to the life-giving spirit (Greek pneuma zoopoion) by which Christ enlivens us and we enliven the world.

Jesus inspires us.

Dynamic, spiritual life is not a feature of Christianity; it is Christianity. In myself, I am dust: simple, inactive, undignified. In the Spirit, I am alive: complex, powerful, and glorious.

Life appears as a metaphor for salvation and goodness throughout the scriptures. It may be the most common metaphor. Of course, “being saved” and “being good” are also metaphors for true life. We always speak metaphorically, and yet, I think we should take the life metaphors more literally, more plainly, more viscerally than we do. “Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you.”

Spiritual life means bringing life to others…remembering that all life, all breath, is God’s. You do not make the air you breathe. Breathing is about more than air; it is about sharing.

So, let us move from “having life” to “sharing life” and “bringing life, so that we may return through “receiving life” to once again “having life” in ourselves. Life does not stop. We never possess it or accomplish it. We may only join it.

Posted by: dacalu | 1 April 2019

Body – The Tangible Self

Last week, I led a retreat for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. We talked about life in body, soul, and spirit. I’ve summarized my reflections on body and soul here. More on spiritual life in the following post.

We tend to think of ourselves dualistically, as body + mind. This comes, most recently from the thought of René Descartes (1596-1650). Christianity has a different approach.

The New Testament, specifically Paul’s Epistles and John’s Gospel, present us as part of a continuum.

πνεῦμα           –           pneuma         –           breath

ψυχή             –           psyche            –           soul

σῶμα              –           soma              –           body

αἷμα                –           haima             –           blood

σάρξ              –           sarx                 –           flesh

God’s breath stirs up the dust making it into flesh through the circulation of blood, into a body through the activity of soul.  You have your own flesh, blood, body, and soul.  Theologians have argued for 2000 years about whether you have your own breath (spirit, pneuma) and, if you do, whether it can be good. I and others argue that there is only the Spirit of God. When it is moving in us, we are alive.

We can be confused when we try to collapse all of these parts into body and mind. Look at I Corinthians 15:44 (NRSV): “It is sown a physical body it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” This looks dualist, until we look closely. The physical body is really a “soul-oriented body” (soma psychikos).  The spiritual body is a “breath-oriented body” (soma pneumatikos). Both are bodies made of flesh, but one aims at nothing more than psyche (metabolism, consciousness, and individual life). The other aims at Pneuma, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit.  I Corinthians 15 explains resurrection by contrasting Adam as a living being (nephesh chay, the Hebrew term in Genesis, usually translated as soul) and Jesus as a life-giving spirit.

Body and soul are both intermediate, with flesh and blood “below” and breath “above.” But “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” and God chooses the weak to shame the strong (I Cor. 1:25-31). God chose the sarx and haima to be the means of our redemption. Jesus’ body, broken, forms the bridge between heaven and earth. “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).

This means:

  • There is no dualism, no true separation, only God reconciling the world through Jesus Christ.
  • We are all one in Spirit, not only with other Christians, but with every living breathing thing. In some sense we are one with all Creation by that one breath that moved over the face of the deep in Genesis 1.
  • We need not fear death. If we are alive, we are alive in Christ. Christ died and dies no more (Romans 6). We will pass through death of the body – and many smaller deaths. And yet, we continue, not only as the breath of God, but in the flesh and so in blood, body, and soul. The resurrection means that we can be in eternity, as we are now, fully alive.
  • We have a physical hope. As the spiritual is brought near, so the flesh is lifted up. With Jesus, we are resurrected in the flesh (sarx). This is why sacramental worship is so important (outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace). Grace is embodied in Jesus. Grace is embodied in the Church and in every individual.

Flesh has dignity, but it has dignity because it is caught up in the Breath of God. Therefore, we must treat bodies well: our own, our neighbors’, and the very Earth. And yet, we must not, in our souls, get too caught up in the flesh. Nor should we let our individual souls distract us from the life we have as part of a greater body.

Thank you for reading.  I have, of course, simplified a very complex idea. If you want to know more about souls and bodies, check out my book Life Concepts from Aristotle to Darwin. If you have concerns about how this doctrine has been misused to support oppression and colonialism (I believe it has, repeatedly and disastrously), please read the previous post. Life-in-Christ is not the same as life-in-Christianity.

Posted by: dacalu | 26 March 2019

God’s Corset

As someone involved in many communities, I am frequently asked about Christianity and exclusion. Can someone be Christian and X? Can anyone outside of Christianity be saved? Or have a relationship with God, or understand ethics … I believe that these are questions for observation, not abstract analysis. We must come and see. What follows is a brief reflection on Christian exclusion based on the Bible.

Jesus said “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). I believe that all who live, live in Christ, the logos of the cosmos, the fundamental life and truth of the world (John 1:1-5; 14:6).

I do not believe that all who live, live in Christianity. To mistake belief for reality, to mistake worship for the object of worship, to mistake the label for the living being, that is idolatry. The golden calf in Exodus may well have been an image of God. The Israelites did not sin by switching deities; they sinned by preferring the image to the thing itself. They wanted a “God” who would always come when called.

The Father of Jesus is a living God. Few labels appear so consistently or emphatically in Christian scripture (Deut 5.26; Josh 3:10; I Sam 17:36; II Kings 19:4, 16; Ps 42:2; 84.2; Isa 37:4,17; Jer 10:10; 23:36; Dan 6:20,26; Hos 1:10; Mt 16:16; Acts 14:15; Rom 9:26; II Cor 3:3; 6:16; I Tim 3:15; 4:10; Heb 9:14; 12:22; Rev. 7:2).

God’s breath is deep and wide. “The wind (pneuma) blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (pneuma)” (John 3:8).

I will not put a corset on God. I will continue to look for the breath of God in the Church. And, I will continue to look for the breath of God in the wider world. Sometimes it will be in places the Church should go. Sometimes God is doing just fine without Christian interference. Surely as I breathe, God breathes. And the Spirit of God does not stay still.

I have found the breath of God throughout Judaism. I have seen it in corners of Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism, and the beliefs of indigenous people in North Americans and the British Isles. I will continue to search, not based on labels, but based on the signs God has given me (Gal 5; I Cor 13). Where ever I find love and truth, wherever I find a life-giving spirit, I will do all that I can to help it move more freely.

If you are looking for the Spirit of God, I am happy to share the inspiration gave me: the good news of Christ Jesus. If you’re waiting for me to say that Spirit of God cannot be found elsewhere…don’t hold your breath.

Posted by: dacalu | 20 January 2019

Light from Light

This morning I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of Redeemer Episcopal Church, Kenmore. I shared this reflection on reality, the wedding at Cana, and unintended consequences.

 

Prayer for the day (2nd Sunday after Epiphany)

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Isaiah 62:1-5 (For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent”)

Psalm 36:5-10 (in your light we see light.”)

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit”)

John 2:1-11 (The wedding in Cana)

 

Sermon

How many of you are familiar with the law of unintended consequences?

Thomas Austin was hunter. 
A resident of Australia, he lamented the lack of game.
In 1859, he imported 24 rabbits from England,
	and released them on his estate.
They began taking over.
	Within 10 years, hunters were killing millions – with little effect.
	1926 estimates suggest 10 billion rabbits, living across 70% of the continent.
	Concerted efforts by the Australian government
have dropped that number to around 600 million.
	But rabbits still destroy crops and local plants,
		Costing upwards of $200 million dollars per year.
	All from a few imported rabbits.

The full story is more complicated, 
but it shows the tremendous impact our actions can have.
Small actions can have big consequences,
	and sometimes we can’t even imagine them ahead of time.

This puts us in a bind.
How do we choose,
	when we know the world is so much bigger than we are?
Even Jesus found himself in this position, in Cana.
	He went to a wedding with his mother.
	They ran out of wine, so Mary turns to Jesus and says,
		“Do something.”
Have you been in this position?
	It may have been a mother or a son, a husband or a friend.
	You just showed up, and someone said, “do something.”
	What did you do?
Jesus looked at Mary and said something along these lines.
	“What do you expect me to do?”
Mary forged ahead. “Just do what he tells you.”
And Jesus turned the water into wine.	
	It was not something he planned, but it was something needed.
The law of unintended consequences
	warns us that we will never fully understand our actions.
And yet, life forces us to act.

One school of thought advises that we do as little as possible.
	There is something to be said for that.
	When I teach martial arts, I talk about compassion, moderation, and clarity.
	We can be succinct.

Economy and efficiency can be virtues.
And yet, I also teach science.
	And so, I tell people to experiment.
We need curiosity.
	We need to try.
	We need to do, and see what happens, and then do again.
	We need to try different things.
We need to show up, never knowing what may be asked of us.

Madeline L’Engle, 
an Episcopalian and author of A Wrinkle in Time,
	put it like this.
“In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, 
but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified 
to do his work, to bear his glory.
If we are qualified, 
we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. 
If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, 
then there's no danger 
that we will confuse God's work with our own, 
or God's glory with our own.”
And this is the key to God’s action.
It hides itself, while revealing others.
One of my favorite quotes comes from C.S. Lewis,
	another Anglican, and another author of children’s stories:s
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: 
not only because I see it, 
but because by it I see everything else.”
John calls Jesus “the light that enlightens the world.”
The Psalmist says, “in your light we see light.”
And you may recall the hymn “Immortal, Invisible.”
“Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render, O help us to see:
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.”


I find myself quoting a ridiculous number of sources this week,
	perhaps because I need reminding
	just how fundamental this idea is
	to my faith and the faith of others.
God is that luminous transparency,
	through which we see the world clearly.
God is the love that connects us to one another.
God is the very breath in our lungs,
	which brings us life
	only by moving in and out and between.
When I lose track of God, I need reminding 
that God is the light, by which we see everything else.

That is the key to spiritual gifts,
	why they are so many
	and why they are so powerful.
They plug us in to the underlying reality of the world.
They make us really real, whether we call them Christian or not.
	Faith, hope, and love,
	forgiveness, curiosity and community.

“In your light, we see light.”

This is also the key to defeating the unintended consequences.
It is true that we cannot know the effect of our thoughts, words, and actions.
	They will always reach beyond us.
We must not underestimate the power God has given us:
	over our bodies and minds,
	over our lives and livelihoods,
	over our community and country,
	over our very world.

God put creation in our hands,
	as God put Jesus in our hands, 2000 years ago.
What will we do with it?


This question fills me with wonder and dread.
	Geologists call it the Anthropocene: the age of human influence.
I know how complicated it all is.
And I fear that I will only make things worse.
It is easier to destroy than to create,
	to break than to mend,
	to lose than to gain.
And yet.

Here is the miracle.
God gives us solutions.
You can find them in scripture,
	(though not only in scripture):
the labor that strengthens,
		the silence that speaks,
		the bonds that release.
They can be learned,
	but they require attention, patience, and reflection.
To change ourselves, we must change our minds:
	metanoia, repentance. 
We must have the humility to be imperfect,
	until God shows us perfection.

God did exactly that in Jesus.
He was corrected.

I will not say Jesus was imperfect.
I believe it was perfect for him to be corrected,
	or at least prodded, by his mother.
I believe it was perfect for him to show us perfection.
Above all, I believe that perfection is dynamic.
It is not about who we are, abstractly, by ourselves,
	but who we are with one another.

“In your light, we see light.”


We never know ahead of time what we’re supposed to do.
I’m sorry about that.
	I am genuinely sorrowful.
	I really don’t like not knowing.
You will know in the moment.




I can give you examples, things to think about.
True forgiveness is always rewarded.
	I don’t mean ignoring or forgetting or even letting go.
	I mean caring enough about yourself and someone else
		to build a relationship on everything that has gone before,
		to go forward with eyes open
		in a way that serves you both.
	It can be unimaginably hard.
	Start small, but know this.
	Every time you forgive someone, you get better at it.
		It becomes easier to forgive and to be forgiven.
Deep curiosity is always rewarded.	
	Any subject – when you care enough to truly pay attention,
		you will discover something new:
		about the world,
		about the God who made it,
		and about yourself.
	Everything you learn will make you more curious,
		more able to learn, and more knowable to others.
Genuine love is always rewarded.
	It may not be returned.
		I’m sorry about that.
	Genuine love will grow.
		It plants a seed.
		The beloved becomes more open, 
more loving and more true to themselves.
	Everyone you love will make you more loving
		and more lovable.

Keep your eyes open for these virtuous circles,
	these miraculously unexpected consequences.
They build on themselves.
They show us truth.
They reveal God.


That’s not all that God is.
What a silly thought.
God is not all male or female, gentile or Jew, servant or free.
God is not even Christian (heretical I know).

God simply is.
God is the light by which we see light,
	the livingness of life,
	and the reason behind reason.

God is also Jesus Christ,
	concrete, tangible, with us.
Mere humanity cannot stop 
	true forgiveness, deep curiosity, and genuine love.
It did not stop Jesus; it will not stop you.

The way is hard.
	I’m sorry about that – genuinely sorry.
	The world is not as I would have it be.
When forgiveness, curiosity, and love work in me,
	the world does not become better;
I do.
Someday, perhaps I will be good enough,
	to see the world as it is,
	or perhaps to forget myself entirely.

Do not ask the good you wish to do;
ask the good God wills through you.


One more quote.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: 
only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King did not overcome the world,
	but, then again, the world did not overcome Martin Luther King.
The seed he planted continues to grow.

Look for the light.
	You will find it.
	And by that light, you will see.

 

 

Posted by: dacalu | 16 January 2019

Home by Another Road

Christians celebrate Christmas for 12 full days. On the thirteenth day, January 6th, we turn our gaze from the miracle of Jesus’ birth to the illumination of his life. The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the adoration of the magi. Wise men (scholars or kings from the East) visited the infant Jesus. The meeting of secular and sacred wisdom makes Epiphany a good meditation for Christians involved in science. This year, I shared the following reflection with the Society of Ordained Scientists.

Home by Another Road

In 2014, the New Horizons team scanned the heavens. Their spacecraft, launched eight years earlier, was headed for Pluto and the farthest reaches of the Solar System. They knew they had enough fuel for one more flyby after the primary mission. A tiny speck at 45 AU – forty-five times the distance of Earth from the Sun – caught their attention.

This year on January 1st, New Horizons passed within 2,200 miles of the rock, officially named 2014 MU69. It sent back a picture that looks like a snowman. Two rough spheres, 12 and 9 miles across, collided and stuck. To date, this is the farthest object visited by human ingenuity. Unofficially, astronomers dubbed it Ultima Thule. The name comes from ancient descriptions of a country north of Scotland. In the middle ages, it became a byword for the farthest reach of human civilization.

New Horizons did not stop at Pluto. We are still receiving data, but the mission promises to tell us something about the earliest days of planet formation. The surface of Pluto was far younger than anyone expected, but Ultima Thule appears untouched by the 4,500,000,000 years since Earth was new. The mission will also tell us more about the Kuiper Belt, objects orbiting beyond the ring of Neptune. As J.R.R. Tolkien said, roads go ever on.

The gospel reading for Epiphany reminds me that the Magi returned home by another road. For fear of Herod, and to protect the child Jesus, they avoided Jerusalem. Matthew does not tell us the road they took, though many have speculated. Like New Horizons, their journey did not end when they reached their destination. It went on.

Some roads circle back. The Magi may have returned to their homes. But, if they did, they were changed. The road back was not the same as the road out. God makes all things new, even home. Perhaps home especially. Familiar injustices are the hardest to correct, familiar virtues the hardest to praise.

Some roads go to the horizon. New Horizons will never return home. With Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, it will pass on to interstellar space. For them, the path leads higher up and deeper in. Sometimes God calls us to out into the wilds, where the word of God matters in a new way. We have seen Jesus and the world will never be the same.

I often long to return home by the same road. I want yesterday’s answers to be enough for tomorrow. I want to complete faith, accomplish hope, and succeed at love. But these are not achievements. Nor are they treasures to be kept in a box. They live and move. Roads go ever on, even when they make a circle.

All of our education is for the road ahead. It is for this moment, as God reshapes the path beneath our feet. We will need to know about the foundations of the world, and the depths of space, and the place of humanity. We will need to know the things that hold fast and the things that are shaken. In short, we will need celestial navigation. The road ahead is always new.

Jesus was born for this. We came for this. And so, we go forth, to be a light in the darkness, and to bring God’s love to the very ends of the world.

 

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