Posted by: dacalu | 13 May 2019

Shepherds and Sheep

Today I worshiped with the people of Trinity Episcopal Church, Seattle.

 

Prayer for Good Shepherd Sunday

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Acts 9:36-43 (Peter raises Tabitha from the dead)

Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”)

Revelation 7:9-17 (“for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd”)

John 10:22-30 (“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”)

 

Sermon


Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Easter.
We get sheep and shepherds in three of today’s readings, all familiar.
	Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd
	Revelation 7: The Lamb will be their shepherd
	John 10: My sheep know my voice
Christians are often compared to sheep.
	Raise your hands if you like being compared to sheep.
	It’s a powerful image, but one I worry about on occasion.
	How many of you see sheep on a daily basis?
	I see them approximately once a year, out the window of a car.
This suggests a certain amount of caution.
I spent this week thinking about what it means to be a sheep,
	and whether this is something I want to be.

Spoilers are a bad thing when talking about movies, 
but rather useful when talking about scripture.
So, let me tell you where I’m going.
I’ve decided that sheep have some wonderful qualities,
	and some awful qualities,
	and some sort of scary qualities.
I’m signing up part time.
God has called me to be sort of sheep-like,
	but also to be sort of shepherd-like,
	not in some fancy collared way.
No, I think all Christians are called 
to feed the sheep, to gather the lost, and to lead the way.

When I looked at all the passages about sheep in the Bible,
	I saw something strange and slightly subversive.
Sheep are common, social, docile, and poor.
	Shepherds signal the lowly 
in stories of King David and of Jesus’ birth.
Most of the sheep in the bible get sacrificed or eaten.
	Usually both.
Five New Testament books refer to Jesus as a shepherd:
	Matthew, John, Hebrews, I Peter, and Revelation.
	Four of five introduce him first as the Lamb of God.
	Only in Matthew is he not a sheep before he is a shepherd.
Let’s take a closer look at sheep.
 
Sheep, Ovis aries, are popular farm animals.
	Current estimates suggest there are around a billion sheep in the world.
Sheep are calm, social, and recognize both other sheep and humans as leaders.
	Unlike closely related species they do not defend their territory,
		making them easier to herd.
	They default to group behavior, but can recognizing threats
		and move on their own.
	Overall, these seem like good qualities.
Sheep tend to focus on eating and avoiding danger,
	much like humans.
Sheep can recognize voices and faces for both sheep and humans.
	They really do know shepherds,
	at least after spending time together.
I’d like to emphasize that last point.
Sheep develop relationships with humans.
Those relationships take time.

Turning to today’s Gospel, John 10 troubles me.
First of all, we have this word “Jews.”
	“The Jews gathered around him” “in the portico of Solomon”
		a covered walk in the outer court of the Temple.
	Scholars suggest that this means people generically,
		the natives of Judea, including Jesus’ followers.
	Or it could refer to leaders in the Judean establishment, 
the Sadducees who ran the Temple.
	It could even be an attempt by later authors to discredit
		a rival faction.
	In any case, it does not line up the modern word.
Local leaders argued with him in public.
They asked what seems to me a reasonable question:
“Are you the Messiah?”

Here we come to my second trouble,
	the one having to do with sheep.
“Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. 
The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; 
but you do not believe, 
because you do not belong to my sheep. 
My sheep hear my voice. 
I know them, and they follow me.”
 
In the past, I heard this unconsciously through a Calvinist lens,
	in terms of predestination.
Some sheep are simply good from birth.
	God’s voice was imprinted on their souls.
Some sheep are bad from birth,
	and incapable of hearing the good news.
	Too bad for them.
This, especially when paired with a poor understanding of the word “Jews”
	has led many Christians to think of Jews as
	inherently and irredeemably evil.
This is really, really bad.
I’m happy to argue about predestination.
	Sometimes I’m for and sometimes against.
	A careful reading of John Calvin will reveal that
		disregard for other humans is just wrong.
I don’t think John is talking about predestination, though.
I think he’s talking about sheep.

Sheep do not instinctively recognize shepherds,
	they grow to love them.
Sheep discover that the shepherd
	leads them to food, water, and safety.
Sheep learn, often with other sheep around them,
	that life as a flock is a good thing.


I do not doubt that we hear God’s voice.
	I have heard it for as long as I can remember.
But, hearing is one thing, recognition another.
	Trust requires even more.
	It takes time and commitment.
Staying in a flock takes work.
	I’ll nod to John Calvin and say this:
		I do not know who does this work.
		Maybe the sheep, maybe the shepherd.
		Maybe some of both.
	However it happens, the sheep learn to trust the shepherd.
		They learn what the shepherd says and what she means.
		They learn her voice and her vocabulary.s
So, when the people ask, “Are you the Messiah?”
Jesus has to say this.
	I said I was the good shepherd.
	I said I would give you real food and water
and find you when you’re lost.
	I said I would open a gate.
	I said I’d lay down my life.
If Messiah means something else,
	then we’re not communicating.
Healing the sick and lifting up the lowly
while refusing political power…
that’s what a Savior does.
Becoming a sacrificial lamb, making atonement,
	opening a gate between heaven and earth…
	that’s God at work.
Without that link between the word and the reality,
	conversation fails.
Demonstration was necessary.
Life together was necessary.
God did that.

We should probably use different words today.
	Few of you have extensive experience with sheep.
	Fewer, if any, have experience with Temple sacrifice.
	This is a good thing,
		but it means we can miss out on the significance
		of the image.

So I might say that Jesus committed to living with us,
		even when we were unbearable.
	He made himself subject to our wants and whims
		in order to communicate.
	He was humble and honest.
	He gave without taking,
		listened without interrupting.
took on our burdens without adding to them.
How many leaders can say the same?
How many shepherds actually live with their sheep
	and lay down their lives for them.
Jesus is the good shepherd, 
because he is also an ideal sheep.
He saved humanity, by being human.

It’s not an abstraction.
	It’s life and death, food and water, predator and prey.
	It’s real sacrifice.
And we understand it by living it,
	together.
 
The big, theological words can be helpful.
	Most days, you’ll find me rattling off 
pentasyllabic nomenclature.
	It’s a weakness.
And there is a time and place.
Words like predestination, atonement, soteriology, and ecclesiology –
they get us in trouble on occasion,
but we can usually work our way out.
Few of us pretend that pecuniary substitution or homoousias
	are easy concepts.
The big words save us from the over-confidence.
It’s the little words that get us into trouble.

Little words like ‘mother.’
	Mother’s Day is a secular holiday.
	‘Mother’ means something to me
		because of remarkable mothers in my life.
	My mother and grandmother have been examples to me
		of faith, hope, and love.
	Unofficial grandmothers – Ethel and Jane –
showed me how to listen, comfort, nurture, and lead.
	My friends Sharon and Patricia and Bill and David
and Empress Elephant (her kids know who she is)
		taught me more about mothering than I could possibly say.
	Some of them bore children; others did not.
		All of them raised children, officially or unofficially.
		All of them created and nurtured.
If Mother’s Day were simply about female parents,
		it wouldn’t really interest me.
Some do that well; others poorly.
Some have the chance; others do not.
But this amazing process of nurturing, comforting, teaching, sacrificing,
	strengthening, supporting, and letting go…
I could never explain it, but I recognize it.
	I trust it.
It warrants a holiday.
As you celebrate Mother’s Day, if you celebrate Mother’s Day,
	I hope you’ll think about this important, dangerous, wonderful
		little word
		and what it might mean
	and I hope you’ll remember all the mothers in your life.
 
Another little word trips us up: ‘love.’
Few words have caused so much trouble.
	It can mean lust or affection or desire or pity.
	For many it means reciprocity.
And so, when we say that God is love,
	people misunderstand.
They hear the word ‘love’
	but do they recognize it?
	Do they trust it?

Christianity, for me, is deeply wrapped up in community.
	It requires flocks of real people,
		calm, social, 
consistent, but capable of change
not territorial, but aware of dangers.
	It requires individuals who help one another
		find food, water, and safety.
	It requires real leadership,
		but that leadership has a very special character.
It starts with a shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep,
	a God who lived with his worshipers.
It continues with those who
	give without taking,
	listen without interrupting,
take on burdens without adding to them.
Not always, but once in a while.
It continues with communication, forgiveness, and trust,
	each of which, when we understand them
	requires genuine sacrifice.

We have all been called to be shepherds, and mothers, and priests.
Not always, but once in a while.
If you’re like me, it happens a more frequently
	than you would like.
I am a sheep, after all.
But my shepherd calls.
That is the best possible meaning of love
		and the best possible meaning of Christian.

I believe that all who recognize his voice 
will hear him say:
	“Feed my sheep.”

 

Posted by: dacalu | 25 April 2019

Living Church, Living Science

Today’s post comes from a reflection I gave for the Society of Ordained Scientists TeleCompline. I have decided to set it forth twice: once as a secular essay for scientists, and once as a reflection for Christians. The previous post spoke about the essence of science and what it means to “March for Science.” This post continues with scripture, gospel, and mission. Whether you fall in one camp or both (or neither), I’d encourage you to read through both and see how the two cases relate to one another.

Today’s lectionary (Bible passages set aside to read for the day) influenced my thinking greatly. I encourage you to read them in full if you have the time: Ezekiel 37:1-14, the valley of the dry bones; John 15:12-27, “love one another.” Here are short sections to give you the idea.

Ezekiel 37:7-10

So, I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus, says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

John 15:12-17

[Jesus said,] ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Lucas’ Commentary:

I study life. This passage from Ezekiel fascinates me because it so clearly sets forth an idea of human life. We are made of bone and sinew, flesh and skin. And yet, there is something additional. Breath stirs us.

This applies to all life, amoebae and archaebacteria, as well as humans. The tissues differ, but the principle remains. We have physical stuff, but life comes from the dynamic process of stuff interacting with the environment. Call it metabolism or circulation or breath or even natural selection – something moves.

Life happens in the context of matter that changes through time. Without the matter or without the time it looks very un-life-like. I won’t comment here on whether that is possible. My point is that life as we know it is not matter, but something that happens in matter (by matter and with matter and through matter).

This leads to a difficult question, easy to state but difficult to understand. What is the essence of life?

In today’s context, I want to talk about both “science” and “Christianity” as living things. Like organisms, they have components. Like organisms, their life comes from a dynamic process acting in those components.

I have come to think of science and the church as communities engaged in concrete practices. They involve processes that must be sustained for health and survival. They pursue ideals that can never be fully achieved, but if they stop running, they fall behind and pass away.

I care about science as the pursuit of truth about the world working through physical explanations. I think this process requires large groups of people making observations, analyzing them, and coming to conclusions, together. I think it must always make predictions and compare them to observations. I think it must aim for an impartiality that humans cannot have. It must be ever curious and ever humble before the evidence.

Similarly, I care about the Church as a means of reconciling the world to God and to one another. This requires large groups of people seeking and finding, drawing in and raising up, creating community. I think it must always seek Truth and compare it to lived experience. I think it must aim for a selflessness that humans cannot have. It must be ever curious and ever humble before the evidence: life beyond self, truth beyond knowledge, wisdom beyond experience.

I think the Church has an advantage in that God participates. God seeks and finds, draws in and raises up, and creates among us. Through Jesus, God is a member of the community.

Now that I mention it, science has a similar advantage. With Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton and many others, I think God helps us understand how perception can become real understanding. They explained the correlation between mental model and objective reality by linking our intelligence to divine intelligence (the logos of the cosmos). Of course, this is not necessary for science. Few scientists would make the connection. My point is that the grace I afford to the Church need not distinguish it from other human endeavors. I’m not talking miracle; I’m talking basic rules of reality.

The Church can be miraculous when moved by the spirit of love, the Spirit of Christ. Science can be miraculous when moved by impartial curiosity and clear thinking. Both only make sense (at this time and place), when we see them as fundamentally material, tangible, and made of human action. Both only make sense when focused on the concrete needs and aspirations of humanity. Both only make sense when they have unrealistic hope for more than human fallibility.

Breath shows up in the strangest places. It blows through the dry bones and makes them live. It turns dust into resurrection and humans into something divine.

Posted by: dacalu | 25 April 2019

March for Science

Today’s post comes from a reflection I gave for the Society of Ordained Scientists TeleCompline. I have decided to set it forth twice: once as a secular essay for scientists, and once as a reflection for Christians. This post carries the secular portion; the next relates it to scripture, gospel, and mission. Whether you fall in one camp or both (or neither), I’d encourage you to read through and see how the two types of reasoning relate to one another. It might surprise you… Indeed, I hope it will.

This week, I was remembering the March for Science. On April 22 (Earth Day), 2017 around 100,000 people gathered in Washington, DC to advocate for science. Tens of thousands gathered in other cities around the U.S.

I recall being troubled at the time. “Science” sounds good as an abstract principle. The word means roughly, “knowledge acquired by study.” Who doesn’t like well-earned understanding? A little reflection, however, reveals a challenge. There are natural sciences (e.g., physics, biology, chemistry…) and social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology, history, economics…). It’s not clear to me that they all use “science” in the same way.

Many other ways of knowing claim to be science. Aquinas called theology Queen of the Sciences (13th cent.). Gauss gave that title to Mathematics (19th cent.). Even today, we see Christian Science, Creation Science, and Scientology. The name is not enough. Most of us want science to be a reliable and commonly accepted way of knowing.

That’s where the trouble starts. What makes science reliable? Who decides? The marchers want “evidence-based policy.” For my part, that means policy should use the best empirical data according to natural science. It narrows and focuses “evidence” and “science.”

I doubt politics will change the weight of biological evidence (human embryos implant ~7 days after fertilization, viruses evolve) or climate science evidence (the atmosphere is warming, human activities contribute significantly). The same cannot be said for economics. Here, the evidence reflects many biases that vary with political party. Should we consider humans rational and selfish? Should we think of them as good at estimation and planning? Evidence in economics works differently than evidence in biology.

More troubling, I know many people who wrap materialism, progressivism, and other ideologies into their definition of “science.” Strangely, individualism (“see for yourself”), socialism (consensus), and meritocracy (peer review) all arise in discussions of good science. Some of the marchers may care more about these things than they do about empirical data.

I think the organizers of March for Science focus on good things – rigorous reasoning, inclusion, impartiality, forward-thinking, and reflection. There’s another march on May 4. Check it out.  Maybe you should go…

I’m not attacking science or the march. I’m asking what’s at stake and what I care about.

Perhaps I’m being persnickety, focusing on metaphysics instead of practical questions? (I do that.) Perhaps I over-reacted because Scientism (over-valuing science by seeing it as the only source of knowledge) was so popular in the 90s and 00s? (I do that, too.)

So, I did a thought experiment. How would I feel about a March for Christianity? That would make me rather nervous as well. I am always for Christ, but Christianity has all these foibles that come from human imperfection and social structures. Christian marchers calling for “virtue-based policy” would give me chills. Too many Christians have “virtue” that is alien, if not antithetical, to my faith.

Public debate should be driven by empirical data (a kind of evidence) and compassion (a virtue). When I speak of science and Christianity informing policy, that is what I mean. I will march for these things. I might even be willing to die for these things, but they may not be the first things my neighbors think of.

We live in an age of confusion. Clarity comes from knowing what we care about and why. I can be persnickety about science (and Christianity) and I will be, because the words matter. It matters what we say and what we mean. It matters if we march. And it matters why.

The religion-y portion follows, here.

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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