"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

26 December 2011

Just wishing all my blog friends a very merry Christmas. Its twelve days, y'know. Enjoy them all.

22 December 2011

I am one who stands, in the very throne room of God the King
Drinking in his power, majesty, and glory, and sent
To give his word to man. Now standing before this daughter of Eve.

(Gabriel: Batik on Silk by Elizabeth Jones

To perfection we brought sin,
To sin he brought perfection.
To become man,
so that we might be like God.
To be scarred
so that we might be made whole.
To be bound,
so that we might be set free.
To die
to make us immortal.
To become accursed,
so that we may be holy.

18 December 2011

Why we must pray for North Korea

All major news outlets are reporting that North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il has died.

And most of the world will say good riddance. Kim Jong Il maintained concentration camps to rival Hitler's. He was a sworn enemy of the United States, referring to us as "American Bastards" and warmongers while our leaders placed North Korea on the "axis of evil." Name calling is the only foreign policy we have with North Korea, unless you count sabre rattling and finger pointing.

And misappropriated food aid.

Kim Jong Il gladly glutted on gourmet food and Hollywood movies while the People scraped and starved.

But do not think for a minute that there is dancing in the streets in North Korea. This is the only leadership most North Koreans have ever known. And in a confucian culture which values elders, leaders, and parents, Kim Jong Il was, like his father, all of the above. Loyal North Koreans have lost a member of their family.

Never outside Korea has a communist regime passed successfully from father to son. North Korea is entering on a very unstable and unpredictable venture. Kim's son Kim Jong Un may prove to be a good leader or a poor one, but don't think the days ahead will be easy for the people either way.

In a nation where inflation is rampant,
food is scarce,
perceived loyalty is everything,
neighbors spy on neighbors,
Christians are persecuted,
fear breeds accusation,
outside information is limited,
inside information is controlled,
and winter cold is bitter and at hand...
these people, who choose neither their government nor its policies, need our prayers.

Christ have mercy.

One of the versions of this week's sermon that didn't get preached

We like to take the Bible in small chunks, maybe just a verse, maybe a little more, a story, a chapter, an idea. If we’re really ambitious we may tackle a whole book of the Bible, but we take it in isolation, with no idea of how one book lends to a coherent whole. A particularly cranky Old Testament professor I once endured referred to it as “cross-stitch it on a pillow syndrome.”
But the Bible, all sixty six books written over centuries and by many human hands was inspired of one Holy Spirit, and makes one coherent whole, one narrative, one history. And Luke was quite aware of that when he told the story of a young woman and an angel and a moment that would shatter the reality we think we know.
Luke surely remembered another young woman who was visited by an angel. Like this Mary, she was an innocent, and the angel took a harmless and common enough form, enticing her to take and eat. And as Father Paul is known to say, her day did not end well. When Eve ate the apple and gave it to her husband and he ate, the very fabric of the universe was changed. Human kind had been given the power to introduce sin into perfection, and that’s exactly what they did. But in God’s love, right there in the Garden the woman was also promised the power to introduce perfection into the world of sin. That fallen angel, that serpent of old, was forewarned… the offspring of the woman would be the one to crush his head.
Luke would have known the stories of other women, young and old, women like Hannah and Sarah who had no children. Barren women are a theme in Scripture; fruitlessness attributed to the eating of that first fruit. A barren woman was unworthy, to be scorned, presumed overlooked by God. And if she should be left a widow, she had nothing. It happened that an angel visited Sarah, a promise was made, with God all things were possible. Hannah called out to God, a prayer was heard, and not one but seven children were born to her.
And it happened that in the city of Jerusalem, somewhere about 5 or 6 BC that angel visited Zechariah and promised him that his barren wife would have a child. And half a year later, another woman, not barren by physiology but having no business bearing children in her unmarried state, would learn that she, too, was to bear a son.
The Bible, you see, is like a symphony, each movement repeating its theme, each theme contributing to the whole, slowly building until that point where, with the crash of symbols (pun not intended) and the frantic hum of winds, the symphony reaches its great moment, where it all comes together, where the music makes sense.
The incarnation, in the life of the church, is that moment.
Isaiah had promised, seven hundred years before, that a young, unmarried woman would conceive and bear a child. Of course it was assumed at she’d conceive in the normal way, get married and birth babies. But how much greater when we find that a woman, engaged but quite biologically a virgin (you can doubt the Hebrew word in Isaiah means virgin, but there’s no questioning Luke’s Greek… the good doctor that St. Luke was, is pretty certain of the medical meaning of what he’s putting forth here) conceives a child by the mere power of the Holy Spirit.
And so an angel once again visited a young woman, and Mary was rightly afraid. This was no cute cuddly little cherub from some Renaissance painting, this was one “who stands in the presence of God.” This was God’s own messenger, of the ilk that carried flaming swords before the entrance to Eden and would charge forth to cast Satan out of heaven at the end of time. And here one was, right there in the room.
And there are a million reasons for Mary to run. A million reasons to say no. A million reasons. It’s a horrible time to bring a child into the world, occupied Israel, Romans everywhere. She’s betrothed to a man who knows for a fact the baby isn’t going to be his. The punishment for adultery is death by stoning, Joseph could have her publicly shamed, or even executed.
But for some reason, Mary only asks “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel tells her, your child will be the very son of God. Your child shall be holy, the Holy One himself. And just so you know my words are true, your cousin Elizabeth, who could not conceive a child, is now outgrowing her clothes with pregnancy.
Luke knows the story, how a woman known as the mother of all living saw fruit that looked pleasing and denied the will of God in favor of her own will. Now he tells the story of a woman who saw fruit that looked quite difficult indeed and answered “let be to me according to your will.” God’s will, not hers.
And the world as we fallen people know it began to unravel that day.
There is a word in Hebrew, which we usually translate “visited.” But as my favorite Hebrew professor used to say, “its not like visited for tea.” The best translation of the word is to break into the timeline and change the destiny of the one being visited. In this way, the angel visited Mary, and God visited humanity, and the destiny which began at the fall began to be changed.
And it was a terrible time to have a baby, just like every time in which every baby since the Fall had been born. The Jewish king would try to kill this baby, the Roman Emperor would send the young family on a desperate pilgrimage, the world would whisper about his paternity, even his earthly father would for a while consider ridding himself of the whole mess. He would be born in an occupied country, far from home, in a world hostile to him.
And yet, “he will be great,” says the Angel. “And he will be called the son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
And, as if that were not enough, because every baby ever born is born into the same fallen world as he has emptied himself of the splendor of heaven to visit, his name shall be called Jesus.
Which means “God saves.”

15 December 2011

Preaching on Mary this weekend...

One of the difficult things in preaching is the familiar story, the one that everyone knows so well they could recite it in Sunday School terms in their sleep so that it feels like there's nothing new to say.

One of the difficult things in preaching is to realize that when we have something "new" we think we want to say that it's usually heresy. Orthodox Christianity has been around a while and there's not much that wasn't said in the last two thousand years.

One of the difficult things in preaching is the temptation to be entertaining.

Damn. That is a problem.

And clever.

And a crafter of lovely sermon-art.

Because those things are narcissistic.

So I'm preaching on Sunday, on the BVM, aka Our Lady, aka Mother Mary. And I'm thinking of starting out with a Hebrew word and some Greek.

Which is usually just a sign that the preacher is full of herself.

But I think its cool that Jesus came to change our destiny (that's the crux of the sermon, for the curious sneak-peeker (Dave)) and that Jesus more than fulfills the prophecy about him and that his identity is clear and clearly articulated by some gentile doctor who ran around with St. Paul.

And I think its cool that angels aren't fat little babies with wings, but rather fierce. And I'm thinking of bringing my husband's grandmother's batik on silk of Gabriel who looks like he might be just a little feral. Or at least tough.

I've torn a lot of pages out of my notebook trying to figure out how to structure this thing. I like to type out ideas, but I'm changing my note style for a season, in part because there is no pulpit at St. Elizabeth's to hide behind, or at least to hold my notes. So I'm writing this one by hand, at least for now I think I am. But percolating all these ideas into one is a rough road right now. Biblical theology is like a salad, all sorts of good stuff jumbled up together but hard (right now) to string into a sermon.

Part of it is that the people are new to me still. And part may be that I'm not preaching as often as I was in previous parishes. And part of it is that I think I have lost the overinflated estimation I once had of my own preaching. Rats. It was fun thinking I was good.

14 December 2011

A few thoughts on the AMiA

The internet has been blessedly silent in the last few days since the majority of the Anglcian Mission in America bishops resigned from the Rwandan house of bishops in an apparent huff. The immediate and expected two days of bustle and then nothing more came from the internet voices. Today I noticed some rather barbed remarks over on Stand Firm, but on the whole, perhaps the silence is as it should be... though it is deafening to those of us who are waiting for the other shoe to drop. How will Rwanda respond? How will the ACNA respond?

But one good thing is that those responses are not happening immediately. Cooler heads seem to be sorting things out, and for that we can be thankful.

But a few reflections:
1. These bishops have resigned on their own behalf. Nothing is up for grabs, parish and priest statuses are not changed. And while, organizationally and ecclesiastically, AMiA has beheadded itself, there is nothing to prevent the existing AMiA dioceses (I think they call them Networks, but I'm not sure) from simply electing new bishops. It would likely be a poor course of action, seen as a public betrayal of the former bishops with no guarantee that Rwanda would accept the new bishops, but it is a sign of how this does not need to trickle down to every parish, priest, deacon, altar guild, etc. in the AMiA.

2. If, for some reason, an AMiA parish or member of the clergy would be better suited to life in the ACNA, he/she/it is no more free to reaffilitate now than at this time last week. No move either to leave Rwanda or to accept a new parish/clergyperson should happen without consultation with Rwanda as the overseeing body.

3. A wholesale move of AMiA into the ACNA is unlikely. The one tragic thing that has come out of this is that dioceses and parishes and clergy are forced to divide their loyalties, to their former bishops and friends or to the overseeing body which sheltered them in the storm. One is near and relational, the other far off but worthy of a particular loyalty and affection. The rest of us are in no place to tell others how to respond.

4. Right now this reflects (and it reflects badly) on certain North American Anglicans, the ones whose names are on the letter. But a free-for-all, parish poach-fest, ACNA support for these bishops or slight to Rwanda, or further division in the AMiA will reflect badly on all North American Anglicans. We haven't shamed ourselves in the eyes of the world, but it will be very easy to do if we don't step out gently in honor and respect, especially for Rwanda's care for our brothers in distress. Even now, Rwanda has not turned its back on the AMiA, let's honor the grace which has been given.

5. Short summary, there are no lone rangers in the Church. Some folks have chosen to learn that the hard way, but the rest deserve our affection and support. We need each other; that's just how we were made.

08 December 2011

Stand Firm | On the AMiA and the ACNA

Stand Firm | On the AMiA and the ACNA

Matt Kennedy has posted my thoughts exactly.... For those who would like a reasonable read amid the insanity.

In the news....

Someone once said that most of what we see passed off as "news" is really just gossip. Its not something the public needs to know; its something the public wants to gawp at.

And most of it is sensationalized.

And if there's any example of that for the modern mind to wrap around, here's a harmless but obvious one:

"URGENT: Report: Pujols Agrees to 10-Year Deal"

Found on Foxnews.com. And yes the word "urgent" was in red.

Now I'm as big a baseball fan as anyone, and it doesn't take much to know that Pujols is the human baseball machine of our era. But really, nobody needs to know his private decisions. It doesn't affect our lives other than cheering for our teams. And it sure isn't "urgent." He'll still be with the Angels when the season opens in the spring... there's nothing here that is going to change between now and next time I look at the news.

People use dramatic words entirely too easily in the media.

(And no, I have no intention of commenting on the AMiA, dramatic words or no.)

05 December 2011

On Poverty and Charity

"Some people wonder why we don’t take care of our own poor first. Why send money and resources half way around the world when we have poor people living in our own communities? Here is the simple answer: America does not have poverty. Compared to the poverty in Africa, Asia and South America, what we call the American poor are actually people, for the most part, enjoying a quality of life superior to the middle class in much of the rest of the world.

According to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the CIA Fact Book average per capita income differs greatly between the United States and much of the Third World. In Kenya, for example, the average person lives on $775 per year. The average American lives on $47,184 per year."

Please go read the rest over on my friend Fr. Scott's blog.

People say "charity begins at home." But friends, what happens at home is self-service. True charity is reaching out a little further, a little care for strangers or even (oh the thought of it!) for an enemy. There is no faceless, distant "other" in the eyes of our God. Thanks, Scott, for telling it like it is.

02 December 2011

Local Artists

I found the coolest gift for my sister-in-law tonight, made by a local artist.

China Boycott year two has definitely taken an "off the internet" turn. For one thing, its almost impossible to know for sure where things are made if you order from big sites like Amazon. And all the interesting native craft sites I found last year are pretty much offering the same fare this year, so two years in a row ain't happening.

So I'm forced from my introverted little hidey hole into my COMMUNITY! Supporting local artists is always fun, mostly just to see what they've created over the past year. While I firmly believe in the message I posted below, there are some people in my life who have flat out told me they will be disappointed if they don't get gifts. As in people over legal driving age who know better.

I hate shopping, but I have to admit, snooping local artistry is kind of like a museum tour rather than shopping. We saw some cool stuff we'd never even try to afford, but it was fun to see it. And I walked about in town, found a few neat places I didn't know existed, saw a few folks I knew, talked with shopkeepers.

What we did buy benefited the local arts center, so that was a win, too.

For those of you in the area, the Sweetwater Center for the Arts will continue their Holiday mArt through the weekend. Cool stuff there.

01 December 2011

On "Ignorance"

A friend of mine posted this article on the Kentucky congregation which will not allow membership for interracial couples. She wasn't the only one to post this to Facebook today, apparently a lot of people are shocked and appalled and want to tell the world via Facebook. Fine. But this particular friend was perhaps the most interesting person to post the article, as she is a Korean adoptee to Caucasian parents now married to a Caucasian husband and raising two adorable Korean kids. So she knows she's got a horse in this race. No problem.

I read the article. I have several horses in this race too. My youngest, as most of you know, is adopted from Korea. Our family is of mixed ethnic heritage. My kids may grow up to marry someone of another race or not, but either my youngest marries transracially or I get a Korean daughter-in-law some day. Either way is fine, but you know how folks will talk!

I read the article, and I saw in it people I know. My own grandmother, the only time I ever heard the infamous "N-word" used in actual person to person conversation, freaked out at the idea of interracial marriage. She'd been born and bred in those same Kentucky mountains, but a few decades out of those hills didn't change her ideas about interracial marriage. She wasn't being mean, she wasn't being hateful, but boy the idea rocked her world.

I posted a response to my friend on Facebook saying, "I understand this... not saying its right, but I understand. Culturally these Kentucky mountain pockets are very clan-oriented. They come out of the Scottish highlands a few hundred years ago and have been isolated and inward looking ever since. Outsiders come to be seen as a threat to their culture. They're not hateful people but their worlds are very closed. My grandmother was dead set against interracial marriage, even decades after she moved out of those mountains. Add to that the idea that they come from a tradition that takes the Bible as word-for-word literal without demanding interpretation within context (both narrative and historical context) and that early on God tells the Hebrew people not to marry outside their race.... of course he told them that because to do so was to marry outside the faith (which the church still discourages for obvious reasons) at the risk of introducing foreign gods to Israel. When Jesus came for all people, this idea of race shifted radically, but these folks don't realize that. They want to do the right thing, they just have no idea what that is. You or I would probably genuinely like some of these people, they just wouldn't have the tools for understanding us and our families."

In other words, we may not agree with this, but we do need to understand what motivates the idea. We can't communicate with people if we just label them ignorant and backwards, as so many people were doing in the Facebook marketplace. Someone else wrote back that the problem wasn't racism so much as bad theology, and on that I agree.

But I was shocked that others responded to this by stamping feet, calling people ignorant and declaring the "rationalization" of this behavior to be wrong and equally ignorant. I had thought that the root of ignorance is having the information available and choosing to ignore it, and ignorance here seems to fall to those who are told that this is why a small group of people is behaving in this way but choose instead to label that group as somehow less than themselves.

Members of my own family, a mere generation ago, would have agreed with this, not because they were ignorant, but because they simply did not have all the data available to them. And yet they would be called ignorant by those who do have the data today. They would be called hateful too, although these same people would give anyone of any race the very shirt off their backs. There's a deep hospitality in those mountains, very little hate for the stranger (though the nosy neighbor and those who would trespass on perceived privacy and rights best watch their back) in those hills. Its not hate, just clan behavior. But there's also a deep spirituality, not of ignorance but of devotion. Unfortunately its a spirituality that's fallen prey to some of the worst teaching in Christendom.

This is the problem of much of Protestantism, the idea that we're all theologians, me and my Jesus, and there's no canon for measuring the good theology from the bad. But the thing about Christianity is that we recognize that we have problems and that these who have been so poorly taught are not to be scorned but loved, they are our brothers. Jesus died for such as these. The same is true when we look at Christians of other races, Christians who hold to differing opinions, Christians of other nationalities.

To cast off a brother as "ignorant" and "intolerant" without attempting to understand the root of the error, to walk a mile or two in their shoes, is, in the Christian way of thinking, to do unto others exactly what we accuse them of doing. And to watch it happen is utterly, shockingly, horrifying.