Posted by: dacalu | 19 April 2017

Arizona Schedule 2017

I have a number of public events coming up in Arizona and wanted to put all the details in one place.

Thursday 4/20 – 7-8pm – “Aliens, Astrobiology, and the Meanings of Life”

Public Talk @ St. Philip’s in the Hill’s

4440 N. Campbell Avenue, Tucson, Arizona 85728

Saturday 4/22 – 3-5pm – Theology Pub

Informal Discussion @ Gentle Ben’s

865 E University Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85719

Sunday 4/23 – 9-10am – Discussion

Informal Discussion @ St. Michael and All Angels’

602 N Wilmot Rd, Tucson, AZ 85711

Thursday 4/27 – 6-8pm – “Aliens, Astrobiology, and the Meanings of Life”

Public Talk @ Trinity Cathedral

100 W Roosevelt St, Phoenix, AZ 85003

Posted by: dacalu | 3 April 2017

Participation

Today, I had the honor of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. Here is the sermon I shared.

Collect for the 5th 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

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The Valley of the Dry Bones)

Psalm 130 (“Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord”)

Romans 8:6-11 (“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit”)

John 11:1-45 (The Raising of Lazarus)

Sermon

Note:  Even if you are reading this, I would ask that you verbally agree (or disagree) when I ask for an amen. It’s about participation, after all.

I’m going to do two things unusual for me.
	I’m going to talk quite directly about resurrection,
	and I’m going to ask for participation from you.
Nor are these two things separate. 
Participation matters.
Can I get an amen?

Let’s try that one more time.
Participation in the Spirit of God matters.
	Otherwise, what is the point of us getting up on a Sunday morning.
	We believe that participation in the life of the church,
		in the life of the world,
		is a matter of life and death.
	And we put our hope in the Spirit of God.
Can I get an amen?

Rarely do all the readings fit so neatly together.
	Usually, some thought is necessary to see the connections,
	or to hear how the Spirit is speaking to us in our particular context.
Today it is easy.
Life and death.
Or should I say death and life.

Some of you have come to my talks on the meanings of life,
	you know this is one of my mottos:
life in the Bible should be taken more literally, not less.
It refers to concrete flesh and blood people.

The Gospel of Matthew speaks of two deaths.
	Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body 
but cannot kill the soul; 
rather fear the ones who can destroy both soul and body.” (Matthew 10:28)
The death of the body seems straightforward.
	The flesh and blood, tangible expression of ourselves, 
which needs food, water, and shelter,
that body can and does die.
	On average, our bodies last 79 years in the US.
When I speak of the soul, I mean only the self.
	I could wax poetic or philosophical,
		but for the purposes of today, I mean you,
		the you you are familiar with,
		the you that is known to your family and friends,
		the you that is a person.
Christians believe that that self – that soul – exists because of two things:
	the dust of the ground – the material, tangible body – 
	and the breath of God – that is the Spirit.
The breath of God stirs the dust and makes it move.
	Notably, it is not your breath alone.
	Just as the same air that fills my lungs, fills yours –
		just as I breath with the same molecules you do –
		so we are all enlivened by the same Spirit.
It is not mystical or supernatural or strange,
	though we may treat it that way.
	It is simple livingness.
The bodily physical livingness and the psychological personal livingness –
	and neither one does well in a vacuum.
To be a person is to be a person among people.

So, we have a death of the body that ends our metabolism,
	and a death of the soul that ends our personhood.
And we are promised that our personhood is more than our body.

For the record, I do not claim it is less.
I’m not telling you about how a self may exist without a body.
You may believe in that – many Christians do – but that is beside the point.
	The livingness which is our body is clear and unambiguous.
	The livingness which is our soul, our self, is more confusing,
		and yet it is familiar to every living breathing soul on the planet.


We come on Sunday morning to nurture our selves,
	to become fuller, richer, better people,
	in harmony with others, with God and with the world.
This why you are here.
Can I get an amen?

There are, then, two lives as well.
	We can live to feed our bodies,
		or we can live to feed our souls, which are embodied.
	There is dust – which is not alive,
		and then there is the living dust, which has the breath of life
			the physical body
		and that body may become more alive through participation
			with others
			the soul.
Life from death, souls from dust, all because of the breath of God.
It is not my breath or your breath,
	but one God, one Spirit in Christ, moving us.

The basic idea is not strange.
I should not need to preach about the fullness of life,
 	which is more than the fullness of the stomach.
Anyone would agree that we must feed the body,
	but also the self, the mind, the soul.
The great mystery arises in Jesus’ claim,
	and Ezekiel’s claim,
	and Paul’s claim,
	that once the body has died, the soul,
		like a seed, can be used to grow a new body.
It’s not just that the dry bones can be ground up for mulch
	to fertilize new and different life.
Rather, the very persons that appeared dead,
	can be brought back.

It is true in this lifetime, as well as in eternity.
Have you ever lost yourself – in grief or despair or addiction or just neglect?
Have you ever started to wonder who you were?
What happened?
	Did God bring you back?
	Or a friend?
	Did someone re-member your body, flesh you out, 
and bring you back to your self, your life?

Just as we tend our bodies, so we must tend our souls,
	not because they are separate or separable, 
but precisely because they are together.
In keeping the soul alive, we have hope for a fuller life of the body.
	And through the life of the soul – that is God’s Spirit within us,
		we hope for the resurrection of the body.
Without a self – it does not matter if your body comes back.


And so, I must give a shout out to Saint Thomas,
	patron of doubters, skeptics, and pessimists.
Did you pay attention to him in today’s gospel?
He thinks the locals will kill Jesus, if he returns to Judea.
	Thomas fears he will be killed as well,
		at least his body,
		but he is more concerned about the loss of himself,
		if he does not go with Jesus
		into the danger.
Thomas is a pessimist, but committed.

Who are you, in your heart of hearts?
And what would cause you to lose your self?
More than physical death, we fear this death of the soul.
We fear that our love will atrophy,
	that that which binds us together will wither away.
That’s the business we’re in,
	tending the life that is the body of Christ,
	made out of human bodies.
We are one in the Spirit.
We have one life in Christ – quite literally.

This is what I’m doing with my life.
This is what Jesus did,
	what Abraham and Sarah, Peter and Photini, did.
We nurture a common life.
More literal, not less.
Planting seeds and watering.
The bones are mulch – dead but with all the ingredients of life.
Or perhaps I should say they are sea monkeys,
	the little shrimp that you can dehydrate
	and then bring to life by placing them in the water.
We’re like sea monkeys,
	all curled in upon ourselves,
	until the Spirit of love revives us.
We’re like sea monkeys,
	though we appear to die,
	still we can live.

I know you’ve met people that “suck the life” out of you.
And I know you’ve met people who “bring you to life.”
It’s quite literal and quite prosaic,
	but it starts with admitting it can be done,
	and then giving your heart to doing it.

Get excited about Christianity.
	Yes, we have problems, 
but we’ve been nurturing community for 2000 years.
	We came up with the university, the hospital, 
and inalienable human rights.
	We inspired Queen Elizabeth I and Martin Luther King.
	Nor do I think any of that would have happened
		because of an abstract commitment to an ideal
		or even an institution.
	Every time it was a about real people, 
struggling to live together,
		and to live fully.
	How can we live up to that?

My advice is to be more literal, not less.
Start and foster caring communities.
Invite people over to dinner from outside your family.
	It’s a great way to become closer.
	Don’t wait until the house is perfectly clean,
		or the schedule is clear,
		or you know them better.
	Eat together. See what happens.
	Give unwarranted gifts.
		That’s a hard one in our society.
		We care to much about keeping score.
		Stop.
		Just see something someone needs,
			or something that would give them joy.
		If you can easily give it, do.
	Start a conversation with a stranger.
This is, unsurprisingly, the only way to make them into a friend.
It’s uncomfortable, but if you are willing to muddle through,
	you will find you’ve both grown a little bit.

I’m going to pull rank and give you homework.
You have one week.
Do one of these things.
They are not expensive, they are not dangerous.
They take a little thought and they may misfire,
	but why not give it a try.
Can I get an amen?
I’ll list them again.
1)	Invite someone over for a meal or out to lunch.
2)	Give an unwarranted gift.
3)	Start a conversation.
Just one.
These are things worth doing on a regular basis,
	not because they are disciplines, or abstractly good, or righteous,
	but because they give life.


I have a strange relationship with Lent.
I use it as a time of reflection,
	but Lenten disciplines rarely work out for me.
	I have trouble motivating myself.
Which is funny, because I’m a bit of an ascetic;
	I love discipline.
For me, though, the disciplines I love are joy and not hardship,
	I take them on because they flow out of my inmost self
	and draw me closer to God.
So, I’ve often been more successful with my Easter disciplines,
	than I was with the same thing in Lent.
How can I celebrate the life I have been given
	by making my life more full, more bright, more wondrous?
Easter, after all, is a good season for planting seeds.

Don’t be discouraged.
Sometimes you plant a hundred seeds and only one springs up.
	That’s okay.
	We plant the seeds and water, but God gives growth.
	And even one tree is better than none.
Prepare yourself for Easter by planting seeds.
Don’t just prepare for this Easter
	Prepare for next Easter.
	Life is about planting seeds.
	Life is about participation.

Posted by: dacalu | 26 March 2017

God Calling

Today, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. Here is the sermon I shared.

 

Collect for the 4th Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Readings

1 Samuel 16:1-13 (Samuel finds David)

Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”)

Ephesians 5:8-14 (“Live as children of light”)

John 9:1-41 (“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”)

 

Sermon

God has called you.
	Yes, I’m talking to you. Here. Now.

One of the benefits of preaching three Sundays in a row
	is that I can build on what I have said.
Two weeks ago, I talked about Abraham,
	who was a bit of a schmuck.
	He was an opportunist and an adventurer,
		perhaps a bit of a con-man.
	And he was God’s friend.
	You need a bit of a rogue to found a people,
		a bit of a con-man to convince your followers
		and the leaders of the surrounding countries,
		to recognize the nation of Israel.
	And I do believe he became a better person
		through his relationship with God.
	The Lord brought him out of Ur and into Canaan,
		but also led him to a better understanding of himself,
		and of his family.
	He was reckoned as righteous,
		not because of his perfection,
		but because of his friendship with God.
Last week, I talked about Photini,
	the woman at the well,
	who clearly led an interesting life.
	No doubt she would have been thought head-strong,
		flirtatious, and improper
		by the respectable people of Sychar.
	And she became Jesus’ friend.
	You need to be a bit impetuous
		to preach the gospel.
	You need to be willing to defy the expectations of society,
		to show people a new way.
	Perhaps being flirtatious helps
		if you’re in the business of meeting new people.
	And I do believe she became a better person
		through her conversation with the Messiah.
	I believe she found a new focus for her life.

This week we get the man born blind.
“’Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, 
that he was born blind?’ 
Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; 
he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’”

Now, it would be rather cold-blooded for God to say,
	“Let’s make someone blind so we can show off.”
I don’t think that’s what Jesus is going for here.
Instead, in his usual, carefully focused way, Jesus is answering the question,
	“Why is he blind?”
	It’s not about “what caused his blindness?”
	but “what does it mean to us?”
How are we called to be God’s people,
	in light of his blindness?

We keep saying,
	“it’s bad that he is this way.”
And Jesus says,
	“it’s good that we can respond.”
Jesus looks forward.

I do not deny that blindness can be a hardship.
Nor do I deny that Abraham and Photini
	had each sinned in their own way.
But Jesus comes to each of us exactly where we are,
	weighs us, and puts us to use,
	bringing about the kingdom of heaven.

If anyone reveals this truth, surely it is the first kings of Israel,
	Saul and David.
Their reigns look like something written for a soap opera,
	sex and violence,
	selfishness and political intrigue,
	adultery, betrayal, and even necromancy.
Basically, Game of Thrones.

The Israelites wanted a king and this is what they got.
The books of Samuel and Kings tell the tale.
	the people said, “we want a king!”
	And God said, “No you don’t.”
		“Look, he’s just going to put your sons in the army
		and your daughters in his household,
		and take your crops.”
	(In other words, expand the national government
		and raise taxes. Things don’t really change much.)
	And the people said, “No.  We really want a king!”
		“Give us a king.”
God said, “Yes” and gave them Saul.
	King Saul was handsome and strong and self-confident.
		People liked him and he was an effective military leader.
		He protected Israel from the neighboring kingdoms.
	But Saul forgot that his righteousness and kingship
		were based on a relationship with God
		and not on his being handsome and strong and self-confident.
	And so, Saul began to neglect his relationship with God.
		And so, God began looking for a new king.
David was the second King of Israel,
	not quite so much the expected candidate,
	being a youngest son, less strong, perhaps, but more clever
	than Saul.
And, for the most part, David was a good king,
	though he did have some problems with adultery and murder.
	Game of Thrones, remember.

We can forget that
	scripture tells us our history
	and not just our aspirations.
Israel was – and still is – a byword for faith and hope.
God did a wondrous thing in creating the Kingdom of Israel,
	not because it’s founders were such impeccable
	symbols of righteousness,
	but because, in their relationship with God,
	they became part of something – 
	the recreation of the world.

Or we might consider the rise of the Church of England in the 16th century.
I remember very clearly my first year of seminary.
Bill Countryman, our Anglican Spirituality professor,
	was talking about the Tudors: Henry VIII, Mary, and Elizabeth.
He said we tell their stories not because they were wonderful people,
	but because they are members of our family.
They remind us what it means to be part of the story we find ourselves in.

I can’t count the number of people who have said to me,
	“Anglican, really? Isn’t that a branch of Christianity 
founded on Henry VIII wanting a divorce.”
	“No. It has a lot more to do with finding a path between the extremes
		of Roman Catholicism and Calvinism.”
	But that’s beside the point.
	We remember Henry for the good he did – and the bad.
	We remember him because he had a relationship with God,
		and through him, we think good things happened.

Coming back to today,
	you might think you are not the kind of person
	to be a prophet, or found a nation, or preach the gospel.
Nonsense.
	I’m guessing none of you are as messed up as Abraham or Saul.
	Don’t get me started on Moses.
		Apparently, an entitled stammering murderer
		was what it took to get the Israelites out of Egypt.
	I’m joking.
	A little.
	I think.
	I really do believe Moses was an amazing individual,
		whose faith could move mountains.
My point is that he became that – and we become that – 
through our relationship with God.
We cannot – we must not –
	think it works in the opposite direction.

If a man was born blind so that the world might learn to see,
	we respect God’s willingness to work with us,
	however and wherever and whatever we are.
This is not a cop-out or an excuse or some way of saying
	“everything is okay.”
Everything is not okay.
You are not perfect just the way you are.
And the world is not hunky-dory.

And yet, the whole idea of grace comes wrapped up
	in a recognition of our own powerlessness
	and God’s power working in us.
Knowing this removes all excuse.
Whatever seems to be a weakness,
	can be an opportunity for God,
	when we let it be – 
	when we stop letting our expectations for God
	get in God’s way.

Are you a rogue?
	God needs rogues?
Are you blind?
	God needs blind people?
Are you doubtful, neurotic, poor, rich, angry, lazy, sad, silly, serious, manic, or depressed?
	God needs you.
If Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Peter and Photini can be servants of God,
	so can you.

This is true of many saints, by the way.
	It’s generally agreed that Saint Francis was impossible to live with.
No doubt there are many pleasant, patient, compassionate, wise saints as well,
	people passionately advocating for justice
	and infinitely fun to be around.
…well, maybe not many, but a few.
And again, that’s not the point.
They are not saints because they are perfect,
	they are saints because we can see God working through them.
You, too can be a saint.
No one better.
Really.

Step one: see that this is a possibility and talk to God about it.
	Ask, seek, pray.
Say, “God, make the world better through me”
	and see what happens.

The Pharisees thought they saw clearly
	and so they were blind.
They stopped asking and so they stopped hearing answers.
The blind man suffered,
	but God saw his suffering and used it to make the world a better place.
You can do this as well.
	You can be a witness to suffering,
	and you can work to redeem it.

Look at the world and say, “What can I do?”
	Try stuff and see what happens.
You will make mistakes.
	Bad mistakes.
	That’s what happens.
But also, a little grace, a little improvement, a little light shining through.

Maybe you’ve started already.
I think you’ve started already.
I know you’ve started already.
That’s alright, too.
Maybe you’re perfect. No worries.
	That’s not the point.
	The point is what comes next.

Posted by: dacalu | 20 March 2017

Banter with God

This Sunday, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle.  Here is my sermon.

Readings

Exodus 17:1-7 (“He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?'”)

Romans 5:1-11 (“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”)

John 4:5-42 (Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well)

 

Sermon


“Is the Lord among us or not?”
It’s a great question.
The Israelites asked it in the dessert,
	and we ask it all the time.
We find the world unsatisfactory, so it’s good to ask,
	even when we find ourselves
	annoyed, disappointed, or angry.
“Is the Lord among us, or not?”

This, first, because it is a simple psychological truth,
	which somehow escapes a great many Christian preachers.
If you are in a relationship 
and you don’t voice your concerns
it will be an unhealthy relationship.
It may not last very long.
So, if we want a relationship with God,
	we must start with honesty about our thoughts and emotions.
“God, are you with us, or not?”
We are unlikely to get an answer
	if we do not ask.
Thus, there is a long and glorious tradition of obnoxious prophets
	questioning God:
	Moses is the prime example,
		but I might also mention Job, David, Jeremiah, and Peter.

The alternative is to passive-aggressively say nothing
and then suddenly blurt out how un-happy we are
that God is silent and somehow un-God-like.
That doesn’t end well.
Read Jonah.
Or read the tale of Exodus.
	The Israelites in the wilderness don’t converse with God,
		they whine to Moses and Aaron and their subordinates.
“Testing God” is the opposite of a question.
It’s when you think you know the answer
	and say God got it wrong.

So, we start with the question.
“Is the Lord among us or not?”
Anytime you want to ask it, do.
	Pray.
	If you can’t think how to frame it,
		read the psalms for a while,
		or Job, or Lamentations, or Isaiah,
		or Julian of Norwich, or Teresa of Avila,
		or Madeline L’Engle, or Simone Weil,
		or Kiekegaard, Bonhoeffer, and King.
The Christian tradition is rife with people questioning God.
This is, after all, one of the benefits
	of a living, embodied, personal, human God.
You can talk to him.
If you’re not asking questions,
	you're doing it wrong.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.


Now, we come to the answer.
I can tell you what I think – of course I will – 
	but let me suggest that it will never be fully satisfying
	until you’ve heard it from God.
Whether I am right or wrong,
	your relationship with God is yours.
Go home and ask God what God thinks.
It is meet and right and your bounden duty so to do.

“Is the Lord among us or not?”
Yes. The Lord is among us,
	but never in quite the way we expect.
We’re a little insecure about this –
	one reason that Anglicans, and Christians historically,
	go around saying it all the time.
The Lord be with you.
(And also with you.)
It’s not just about wishing someone well;
	it is a declarative statement.
The Lord God IS with you.

And it holds up as you go back in time.
I’m very fond of the Elizabethan English:
	“The Lord be with you. And with thy spirit.”
God is as close as your very breath.
And even farther back, it would be
	Dominus tecum. Et cum spiritu tuo.

God is with us in our breathing,
	and in our living,
	and in our doing God’s will,
	and, as I talked about last week,
	in our faith, hope, and love.


With that in mind, let us turn to the rather long gospel reading – 
	the Samaritan woman.
For context, it helps to know that Samaritans and the Judeans
	did not get along.
The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh,
	living in the northern parts of Canaan,
	still worshipped God at Mount Gerizim, near Sychar,
	while the other tribes thought you had to travel to Mount Zion,
		to Jerusalem.
Thus, we had the kingdom of Israel in the north
	and the kingdom of Judah in the south.
Although they were one political entity at the time of Jesus,
	the religious tensions were palpable.
It also helps to know that women,
	particularly unmarried women,
	did not talk to strange men,
	a condition still common, if lamentable,
	in much of the world.
The more times I read the story,
	the more I can’t help but see it as banter,
	almost flirting,
	between two strangers at a well –
	the very well, as it happens,
	where Jacob flirted with Rachel.

For all the high theology in John’s gospel,
	he tells us very personal stories
	about Jesus as a son and as a friend.
I think we miss something if we try to make this
	an impersonal, cold interaction.
As always, I encourage you to read it for yourself,
	but at least once, read it as though you were reading Shakespeare.
	It makes a difference.
I will call the woman Photini, the Greek Orthodox name for her.

Jesus comes to the well and asks Photini for a drink of water.
She pauses and says, “How is it that you ask this of me? I don’t know you.”
And Jesus replies, “If you knew who I was, you’d be asking me for a drink.”
“And how would you get it? Are you so great you don’t need a bucket?”
Jesus says, “This water is nothing. It’s temporary. The water I can give you will quench your thirst forever.”
“Right… Okay, I’ll take your water, it would save me having to come here all the time.”
She calls his bluff – 
but Jesus delivers.
He says, “Go get your husband.”
“I have no husband.”
“That’s right. You have no husband, 
but you’ve had five, 
and the man you’re living with is not your husband.
Things have gotten somewhat serious here,
	so Photini gets serious.
“I see you speak for God, 
well this place used to be good enough for God, 
but you Jews say we can only talk to God in Jerusalem.”
And Jesus answers with similar seriousness.
“The time has passed for worshipping God on a mountain. 
“Now we worship with our very breath and with truth.”
“I know the Messiah is coming.”
“That would be me.”

It is a serious conversation,
	and it is a very familiar conversation.
It is a conversation all about trust 
and communication
and questions.
Photini models for us what it means to have a real,
	intimate, conversation with God –
	to question and to listen for the answers.
She also models the right response.
She evangelizes – once again with a tinge of humor.
	“This can’t be the Messiah, can it?  Come and see.”
And it comes at the beginning of John’s gospel,
	when he is telling us what it means to spread the good news,
	through the Disciples and Nicodemus,
	but also with wine and healing.
We are told that many Samaritans believed 
because of her testimony.
It’s worth remembering Photini, the Samaritan woman,
	and God’s willingness,
	to speak to us all directly.


Last week, I spoke about Abraham,
	who was reckoned as righteous,
	almost in spite of himself.
His salvation came about through his faith –
	his personal relationship with God –
	and through God’s grace –
	that free gift of love, light, and life
		by which God recreates the world.
Last week, I said,
	don't worry about your salvation,
	don’t worry about yourself at all.
Christianity is about God working God’s purpose out.

This week, I want to say this.
	There is a way to think about you.
	Think about your relationship with God,
		and think about how that relationship
		overflows into your relationships with others.
	Think about what it means to share your very self with God,
		to ask for what nourishes you,
		and for the ability to nourish others.
	Think about what it means to listen,
		to hear God speaking in unexpected places
		through unexpected people,
		in unexpected ways.
The water that satisfies is the Spirit of God,
	and the spirit is light and life.
	It is breath and truth.
I do not mean this in some abstract way, but concretely.
	God is in the light and in our ability to see.
	God is in our fleshy particularity,
		and in our ability to eat and grow.
	What we do at this table is a sanctification
		of the sharing and eating and growing
		we do every day of our lives.
	God is also in your breath and in your breathing,
		never farther, nor less significant,
		than the oxygen, which powers you.
	God is truth – real honest conversations,
		deep questions,
		and the longing for answers that always calls us 
into a deeper understanding of God and one another.
Come and see.
Be amazed.
Be delighted.
Be unashamed to share the water of life,
	in faith, hope, and love.
What has been given to you, in Christ Jesus,
	was meant to be given away.



 

 

Posted by: dacalu | 18 March 2017

One Note Words

A menagerie,
	legged, lettered beasties,
	feasting on their fellows
	animate in their multiplicity,
	until a single phrase, lion-like
	arches its back and roars.
Every word has a history,
	distance of time and dissonance of meaning,
	layered as a symphony,
	quiet here…    then louder, prouder, crowding,
	always puttering, fluttering, muttering a sound
		in the background
	rhyming the timing until a beat can be heard.
	Word.
No word is alone.
	Each one carries a mystery,
	consonant with countless stories
	where precedents rule,
	valences cover and reveal,
	vowels and avowals and row upon row of 
		interacting lines;
They form a grid of meaning.
	
“Talk plain,” they say.
“Be clear.”
“Say one thing at a time.”

What? Don’t be ironic, iconic, literary or literal, littoral,
	bordering on the insane?
Am I inane?
Or does every hue color the canvas,
	every hew reveal a different plane of thought
	and every thought reverberate off 
	of the cacophony
	of meanings?

One note words.
Plain talk.
Easy to say, “speak plain.”
Easy to think
	I can’t know you, can’t see you, can’t be you
	unless you use simple words,
	my words, by-words of familiarity.

My words are long and drip with weight,
	meaning soaked-in from freight of years
	and heavy use,
	like sponges worn with care.

What I want to say won’t fit 
in one note words. 
Posted by: dacalu | 13 March 2017

The Breath of God

Yesterday, it was my pleasure to worship with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle for the second Sunday in Lent.

Readings

Genesis 12:1-4a (God calls Abram)

Psalm 121 (I lift up my eyes to the hills”)

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 (“Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”)

John 3:1-17 (Jesus and Nicodemus, “You must be born from above.”)

 

Sermon

I do not work for my own salvation.
I work for yours,
	as I hope you will work for mine.
As we enter the second week of Lent,
	we get two obscure passages of scripture,
	both frequently cited,
	both difficult to understand:
	Paul talking about Abraham
	and Jesus talking to Nicodemus.
Both passages ask us to shift our perspective,
	indeed to shift our priorities;
to stop thinking about helping ourselves
	and start thinking about God helping others.
Let me say that again:
to stop thinking about helping ourselves
	and start thinking about God helping others.
It can be easy to stop halfway there.
	It can be easy to focus on God helping me,
	or even me helping someone else,
	but the truth is more wondrous than that.
William Temple, 
Archbishop of Canterbury during the second world war, 
put it this way:
“Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself 
than of other people, 
nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. 
It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”

And yet, when I say this, I recognize that I am involved in the process.
It is not enough to sit still and let God do everything,
	for sitting still is also an action I might chose.
The choice to do nothing means I have focused on myself,
	said, “I will do nothing so that God may do something.”
Perhaps there is a time for that,
	but more often, we must attend to God and neighbor,
	forgetting about ourselves
	so that, through us, and with us, and in us,
	God may continue to work
	as God has worked from the beginning.

This is the challenge,
	to let God be God in me.
Or, if you prefer more traditional language,
	to be born of the Spirit,
	to rest on grace and be reckoned righteous.

When God first came to Abram,
	the Lord promises to bless him
	so that he will be a blessing to others.
We see this as the greatest gift,
	the ability to be a gift to others –
		to have such an abundance of faith, hope, and love
		that they overflow onto others.
	Nor can we have faith, hope, and love 
in any other way.
By their nature, these gifts are shared.
	We must have faith IN, hope FOR, love OF
		something beyond ourselves.
	I might add joy,
		for we take joy in the world as well.
	It is more than simple happiness or pleasure,
		but delight in our role in the world.
	It is a recognition that we are a blessing.
And so Abram becomes Abraham.
	One letter, but one very significant letter.
	Abram becomes Abraham so that his very name
		reflects the presence of God in his life,
		in his identity.
In the same way, Samu-EL, Micha-EL, and Rafa-EL
	contain “El,” the Hebrew word for God.
It seems no accident to me that God uses the letter ‘He.’
	Like our ‘H’, it is a breath or aspiration.
Abram becomes Abraham because the breath of God
	has become part of his identity.
Sarai becomes Sarah.
God breaths on them, and in them, and through them,
	making them Godly,
	making them a blessing to others.

Which brings us to Romans,
	one of my favorite letters, but
	arguably the most abused book of the Bible.
I strongly encourage you to read it beginning to end,
	and form your own opinion.
For my part, the theme is this:
	“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” [Rom 3:23]
	You, me, and everyone else.
	We cannot recover through our own works,
		through the merits of our flesh – that is our individuality –
		or through the law – that is our ability to follow rules.
	We can only recover by the power of the Spirit,
the same Breath, breathing in us that breathed in Christ Jesus.
	“You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God
		in Christ Jesus.” [Rom 6:11]
“Each of us must please our neighbor 
for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 
For Christ did not please himself.” [Rom 15:2-3a]
It is important to read from beginning to end 
to see the arc of the argument.
	We are each sinful; we recover together.
In this context, the passage about Abraham begins to make sense.
He did not earn the title Father of Nations.
	He did not become the touchstone of three faiths,
	one half the people on the planet Earth,
	because he was a really good guy.
Remember Genesis: Abraham was a bit of a schmuck
	to his wife, Sarah,
	to his consort, Hagar,
	to his son, Isaac.
We remember many disturbing stories of Abraham.
And, though he did many important things,
	many righteous things,
it was not his good conduct or good intentions or luck
	that made him great.
It was the Spirit of God, moving in him.
	It was the ‘He’ that changed him from Abram to Abraham –
	It was the ‘He’ that changed Sarai to Sarah –
	that brought about Israel, Islam, and Christianity.
His greatness did not come from any belief that he possessed,
	any motion of his hand,
	any word on his lips, or
	any thought in his mind.
This is the mistake so many make,
	to make of faith an action of the mind: assent, will, choice.
Those are important to be sure,
	but they are not grace.
Grace comes by the will of God alone, acting in us,
	stirring up the dust, and making us live.
Grace is the overflowing of faith, hope, love, and joy,
	through Christ into us,
	and through us into one another,
	and through us all into the world.
Grace is the gift of the Spirit, 
which is, after all,
nothing more than the Greek word for breath. 
[Gk: pneuma; Latin: spiritus; English: breath]
God’s breath works through us,
	that same breath that was in Christ Jesus.

My greatest hope comes from the chance
	that I might be, in some way, like Abraham,
	God’s gift to the nations.
I do not work for my own salvation.
I work for yours,
	as I hope you will work for mine.

There is, of course, nothing I can do,
	in and of myself, to bring this about.
It is all God working in me.
And yet I hope…
I hope that some small action of mine might contribute.
I hope that some small will of mine might be the will of God.
I hope that I might be for someone,
	in some small way,
	what Christ has been for me,
	and what so many others have been for me:
	the very image and likeness of God.
I do this without believing in my own power.
	The only power I have is God working within me.
I do this without concern for personal gain,
	but only for that which benefits us all,
	the re-creation of the world,
	the coming Kingdom.

It is a strange business,
	this hope that places no confidence in self,
	that has no focus on self,
	but only the life of the world.
It is a strange business, seeming foolishness,
	and yet it works.
	It brings about miracles.
It is not about trying, though it is good that we try.
It is about prayer,
	letting God be God,
	and giving thanks every moment of every day,
	that we participate.
It is about the harvest,
	watching faith rewarded with spiritual growth,
	watching hope rewarded with endurance and maturation,
	watching love rewarded with deeper love,
	and watching joy abound.
It is about the choice to turn to God,
	not just with our whole lives, but with each moment.


This is what Jesus tells Nicodemus.
It is good to follow the rules of your religion.
It is good to be a good person in the world.
But it is better to put your trust in God.
	God is not an idea or an identity.
	God is not an action.
	God is God,
		and we see God in the Spirit that flows out from us into the world.
We alone are nothing,
	we together, in that Spirit, are everything.
“The wind 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.”
Our hope cannot be planned.

“For in hope we were saved. 
Now hope that is seen is not hope. 
For who hopes for what is seen? 
But if we hope for what we do not see, 
we wait for it with patience.” [Rom 8:24-25]
We wait, and we act in love, and we pray
	that when the wind blows,
	it will blow through us.


Can I be still enough, that I will not get in the way?
Can I be light enough on my feet,
	that when the wind blows,
	I will flow with it?
Perhaps.
I have hope in Christ,
	and in a multitude of saints,
	through whom that same wind has blown.
It is as close as my breath,
	despite blowing over many nations.

So, I will not ask you to start having faith.
I will ask you, this Lent, to consider what within you,
	gets in the way of the faith that already stirs you to action.
I will not ask you to start having hope,
	but to loosen your grip on that which
	holds hope down.
I will not ask you to love,
	but to see the love within you,
	and flow with it – to the benefit of the world.

Wherever you can,
	stop thinking about you,
	and start thinking about the light, life, and joy
	that makes you more than dust.
Posted by: dacalu | 21 February 2017

When to Say Sorry

I love English. We have a variety of useful words for every occasion. We can speak clearly and briefly without losing detail. Alas, not everyone uses the language as carefully as we might wish. Today, I want to talk about an overused word: “sorry.”

True sorrow and repentance are powerful emotions, but we weaken their power when we confuse them with automatic politeness. I want to speak for the word “sorry” and the tremendous power it can have when used properly.  Here are Lucas’ rules for when to say “sorry.”

A. Say, “I’m sorry” to express sorrow over events when you have no control over them.

“I was so sorry to hear about the earthquake. It must have been terrifying.”

The word sorrow conveys great and distressing sadness. Sadly, we rarely use it when speaking of ourselves, but we retain this word, “sorry” when speaking of sadness at the misfortune of a neighbor. Honesty requires that we reserve this use for times when

  • Someone else has suffered
  • We enter into their sorrow with them
  • We had no control over the events in question.

I’m sorry can mean, “I feel your sorrow with you.” Importantly, we must be careful not to minimize: “I’m sorry about X; at least Y.” Nor to blame: “I’m sorry you chose to X.” Nor to compare: “I’m sorry about X; something Xish happened to me…”  I don’t doubt that there are times to minimize, blame, and compare. I simply feel that those actions do not warrant the use of the word, “sorry.”

Sorrow, as an emotion, blocks out everything else excepting faith, hope, and love. Thus, it is often useful to say, “I’m so sorry and am here with you” (faith), “I’m so sorry; we’ll make it through, somehow” (hope), and “I love you and am so sorry this happened to you” (love). Take careful note that the hope version must be a common, non-specific hope. Otherwise it swiftly turns into judgment and problem-solving. All other additives are simply incompatible with actual sorrow.

B. Say, “I’m sorry” to express regret over something you did when you have rethought the action, would now choose differently, and are willing to make amends.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call you. I know how worried you were. Let me give you my cell number, so you can reach me if you don’t hear.”

We can be genuinely sorrowful about our own past actions, but in this case, sorrow must come with true repentance. I’m sorry I did it. I take responsibility for doing it and for dealing with the consequences.

We cannot feel real sorrow over actions that we would not change. We may feel sorrow over the situation we were in, but that is another sort of emotion – as much about feeling sorry for ourselves as for the other person. “I’m sorry” is not helpful in this situation, as it is, in effect, adding salt to a wound – complaining about how unfortunate we are to have had to hurt them.

No doubt the situation will occur. No one with power and responsibility can avoid making decisions that others find distressing. I accept that. I ask only that you not compound the slight by complaining about it.

True repentance is powerful. You have thought about your actions and so become a different person. You have paid attention and learned something from the consequences. Above all, repentance shows you care about your relationship with someone else. “I’m sorry,” can be the greatest gift you can give to someone you have wronged – but it must be sincere.

In rare cases, we revert to sorrow A. If I were a banker who had exhausted all avenues at my disposal, I might say “I’m sorry we cannot give you a loan.” That is “I’m sorry that the policies are set up in such a way that we cannot give you a loan. I think you should get one, but I cannot figure out how to…and I tried…repeatedly. I’ll be thinking about how to change the policies.” Just know that it is case A and involves events beyond your control.

Don’t be a “sorry, but.” There is never – ever – in any situation – a reason to use these two words together. “But” implies a reservation. You can either be unreservedly sorry (A) and it is out of your hands or unreservedly sorry (B) and attempting to fix the problem. Other emotions are not sorrow. “Sorry, but” most often hides an excuse for why one is not actually repentant or sorrowful. Please, don’t do

“I’m sorry if,” is also problematic. You might have done something bad but haven’t bothered to find out. Take the time and turn it into a “I’m sorry that.” Otherwise, it’s not the right time for the word.

C. Say, “Sorry” when genuinely feeling bad about very small social interactions.

I have enough British friends to add a third category. The phrase “excuse me” is considered terribly rude in some parts of the world, and the phrase “sorry” (no I’m) takes its place. British folk, in my experience, use sorry as a place holder for,

“Alas, we have an unscheduled social interaction. It requires me to enter your personal space. Compelled by circumstance, I may have to touch you or move your belongings. It grieves me greatly, but I will not intrude upon your person more than necessary with explanations. Let us contrive to ignore one another as much as possible, while muddling through.”

While not actual sorrow, it is useful.

It is useful because it is brief. Added words destroy that usefulness. Thus, it will not work if you anticipate actual conversation.

 
I will not apologize for potentially offending you. I will, however, ask you to share a better view of the word and its uses. I look forward to being sorry (B); it gives me a chance to improve myself and welcome help with that.

Thank you for listening.

Posted by: dacalu | 16 February 2017

Bishop’s Silver Atonement

Over the past few years I have been asked for my position on the Christian doctrine of atonement.  Every time I want to link to the lovely blog I wrote a few years ago.  Every time I go searching for it and realize that I never wrote such a blog.  The subject is tricky and deserved a fuller treatment, but I decided that I should sketch something out in the meantime.  In my first post, I introduced atonement – how Jesus mends our separation from God. In the next post, I summarized popular Christian explanations. Now I turn to my own take.

 

The Bishop’s Silver

My own theory about atonement draws on the novel Les Miserables, written by Victor Hugo in 1962. The kindly Bishop of Digne is a figure of Christ. By saving Jean Valjean from the police, at personal cost, he shows what it means to love selflessly. This example leads Valjean to reform and devote his life to serving others. The Bishop is the moral example against which we are to compare the rest of the novel.

The first few chapters tell us that the bishop is a humble man who had given up most of his worldly goods. He had left his palace, so that it might be used as a hospital, and lives on one tenth of his income, giving the rest to the poor. His only extravagance is a pair of solid silver candlesticks.

The novel’s hero, Valjean, is an ex-convict. He cannot find work or a place to stay because no-one wants to deal with someone who has been in prison. With nowhere else to turn, Valjean stumbles across the bishop’s house, where he is warmly welcomed. Fearing for his future, Valjean wakes up in the middle of the night, steals the silverware and flees the house – only to be caught by the police. He tells them that he was a guest of the bishop, who had given him the silver. They didn’t believe him. But, when the police bring him to the house, the bishop confirms his story and goes a step further. He takes his candlesticks from the cabinet and says, “you left so quickly, you forgot the best part.” After the police leave, the bishop tells Valjean that God has saved him and now he owes God his life. After some misadventures and poor choices, Valjean takes this to heart and begins to live a life of service to others. The book explores this fundamental choice of compassion over justice as it plays out in several characters. The musical successfully introduces the major themes, but if you have the patience, the (1500 page) book covers the topic with poetry and sophistication.

The message for theology is clear enough. In Bishop’s Silver Atonement, God has given Jesus to humanity as a freewill gift. God loves us and shares life with us, becoming one of us and approaching us where we are. Humanity, in turn, attempts to steal the gift. Both Romans and Judeans take advantage of the power they have been given, trying to manipulate and control Jesus. Friends and enemies begin to see his vulnerability as an opportunity to gain power for themselves. They torture and kill the God made flesh. They literally steal Jesus’ life.

Like the bishop, God refuses to punish the thieves. Instead, God’s love transforms theft into gift. Without ignoring or endorsing human selfishness and malice, God turns the crime into an opportunity. It saves us from the immediate consequences and shows us how to live into a better life. We are forgiven and empowered to forgive by God’s sacrifice.

Posted by: dacalu | 16 February 2017

Atonement Options

Over the past few years I have been asked for my position on the Christian doctrine of atonement.  Every time I want to link to the lovely blog I wrote a few years ago.  Every time I go searching for it and realize that I never wrote such a blog.  The subject is tricky and deserved a fuller treatment, but I decided that I should sketch something out in the meantime.  In my last post, I introduced atonement – how Jesus mends our separation from God. In this post, I tackle some of the most popular theories for how this works.

How Does Atonement Work?

The interesting question for most of us is personal. How do we become at-one with God, neighbor, and world? The answer to that has to do with what faith, hope, and love look like in practice. It’s a big topic because there are so many ways to do it. One of them is research, reflection, and conversation about reality – which I’m attempting here. Other ways have to do with repentance, community, and forgiveness. For now, I will look at the traditional question of how Jesus brings about atonement.

Once we start looking at the details, atonement can be both confusing and troubling. This is one of the few areas that I do not consider myself orthodox. Despite finding them useful, I simply cannot accept the prominent Christian explanations. Let me explain why (with excruciating and problematic brevity). [Better yet, read this scholarly yet approachable summary.]

Ransom Theories (Christus Victor)

(“All your soul are belong to us.”)

  • Humans are in bondage (to death) because we sold ourselves to the Devil.
  • God ransomed us by offering Jesus in exchange for us.
  • Having captured Jesus, the Devil found him impossible to bind (keep dead).
  • Now we and Jesus are free.

Problems

  • Why did God set things up so people could be bound?
  • Who trades away their son? Isn’t God being a little deceptive?
  • Why doesn’t God simply command the Devil to set us free?
  • Does this set up the Devil as somehow equal to and in competition with God?
  • Did Jesus actually do anything?

Moral Exemplar Theories

(“Jesus show me the way.”)

  • Humans are clueless.
  • Jesus showed us how to behave to find God.
  • AND Humans are weak.
  • Jesus actions strengthened us so that we can follow.

Problems

  • Why are humans so clueless and weak?
  • Why did Jesus teach us in such an unpleasant manner (abandonment, torture, and crucifixion)?
  • Shouldn’t there be other (easier) ways for us to learn?
  • If Jesus action is a teaching and and empowerment, why does the Bible talk so much about priesthood, sacrifice, and penance?

Satisfaction Theories

(“Help, I’ve Fallen and I can’t get up.”)

  • Humans offended God and thus owe a debt (to God).
  • We cannot earn more.
  • We cannot pay off the debt.
  • Jesus, being divine, can pay.
  • Jesus, being human, can pay the debt of humanity.

Technically, that’s pecuniary (monetary) substitution, but the same idea applies to penal substitution – we’re in jail and can’t let ourselves out – etc. The most popular version invokes the dignity of God, which we have trespassed by not respecting God properly. To modern ears, it might sound better to say we are at a party have said something so offensive that the room went silent out of shock. We are too flustered to say anything more and they are all too aghast.  (You know you’ve been there.) Jesus steps in and saves the friendships. In any case, it all comes back to an un-repay-able; only the currency changes.

Problems

  • Who set up the banking system?
  • Why doesn’t God forgive the debt?
  • Isn’t cruel to take money from someone who can’t earn more – even if is “just”?

All three types of atonement theory set God up to be a bit of a jerk – to the Devil, to us, and to Jesus. If God is wholly in charge, why is the system seemingly rigged. I will admit, I think this is the sort of thing that may be beyond human comprehension. That’s not just an easy out; perhaps we are messed up precisely because our condition blinds us to both reality and justice. Still… I want my theory of atonement to be helpful. Once I admit that I don’t understand it, I can go back and say, “Let’s pick a theory that is least obnoxious and most useful.” With that in mind, I introduce my own take in the next post.

Posted by: dacalu | 16 February 2017

At-one-ment

Over the past 20 I have been asked repeatedly for my position on the Christian doctrine of atonement. Every time I want to link to the lovely blog “I wrote a few years ago.” Every time I go searching for it and realize that I never wrote such a blog. The subject is tricky and deserves a fuller treatment, but I decided that I should sketch something out in the meantime. So, here is my sketch in three parts.  First, what is “atonement”?

What is Atonement?

In short, “atonement” is the word Christians use when speaking about our separation from God and how Jesus managed to bridge the gap. It usually goes something like this.

  • Adam and Eve messed up, resulting in a falling-out with God.
  • This original mistake passes from generation to generation; we are born with a broken relationship to God, neighbor, and cosmos.
  • Humans alone cannot mend the break.
  • Jesus did, though the process is still working itself out.

Hopefully that gives you the basics of what Christians call “The Fall,” “Original Sin,” “Salvation by Grace (gift) alone,” and “Atonement.” I tried to avoid using those words, because each one is loaded with centuries of commentary and some doctrines that many Christians disagree about.

I agree with that statement wholeheartedly (as stated). Still, I can see where people might have concerns:

  • about Adam and Eve – did they literally exist?
  • about what sin is and how it is transmitted – is intention required?
  • about our role in fixing the problem – how much power do we have?
  • about the effect of Jesus – did he save all or some?

Great questions. I’m not going to deal with them here.  So, let’s give a simpler, more immediate statement that I see as more useful, if you’re just getting into Christianity – or theology.

  • The world is unsatisfactory: I don’t have the relationships I would like, my priorities seem messed up, and I can’t even do the good things I want to do.
  • The problem seems to apply to everyone.
  • I’m at a loss to figure out how this might be fixed through any of the obvious solutions (e.g., getting power, physical discipline, self-denial, education, introspection) – and after serious attention to those options.
  • Jesus, by act and example, appears to be opening a way to make things genuinely better.

The word “atonement” has a wonderful history. It is an English word coined literally to capture “at-one-ment.” It is the process of coming together with someone from whom you have been separated. In other words, atonement is reconciliation.  Other meanings – including reparation, satisfaction, paying compensation, and doing penance are more recent and based on atonement theologies to which I will not here commit. And, of course, the Bible talks about atonement at length, both technically (in Leviticus and Hebrews) and more generally (everywhere else). It’s a pretty central concept.

The key element is this. It works for me. As a Christian, I find the world less unsatisfactory. My relationships are easier more fulfilling, my priorities more satisfying, and my actions more effective.

But how does it work? That’s the interesting question. You can read about popular historical answers or jump to my own position.

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