"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)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day... of course, what else would today be?

So today is Earth Day.  There's a lot of hoorah in Christian circles, ranging from eye-rolling to utterly put out, that Secular Society has exchanged the darkest day on the Christian calendar for Earth Day.   How dare they usurp "our" holiday with their neo-pagan pantheism secular-humanism environazi tripe! 

Now I'm all for good stewardship as an act of Christian living.  I keep my lightbulbs incandescent (no mercury, baby), my laundry natural (and line dried when weather permits), my garden organic, and my car as fuel efficient as possible.  Mostly because I think God did a fine job creating nature, and I like to keep it as much as he intended, heck just for my own well being and pleasure as much as any other, but also because I'm Scottish and therefore somewhat stereotypically cheap.

And if EnviroPaganism wants a holiday, I don't care when or where they schedule it...  as long as they don't expect me to drop everything, hop into my carbon emitting vehicle, and waste my precious time joining them. 

Today, for that "other" holiday happening concurrently, my parish read through the entire Gospel of John during the course of the liturgy.  I admit, I don't often take the leisure to sit down and read an entire Gospel (though I have read all four Gospels in totality more than a few times, fear not!) and it is even more rare that I have the leisure to sit and, aside from taking my own turns at the lectern, hear the Gospel read out loud.

John is a thematic writer, light and dark, Jesus' divinity, the Son's agency, Jewish idenity, fulfillment of the Law.  There are plenty of identifiable themes.  But the theme that most struck me today was the difference between the earth man and the God-man.

Jesus tells the earth -man that he will see angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.  For the Jesus himself is the stairway between heaven and earth (think Jacob at Beth-el).  Angels must ascend from the earth before they can descend and make themselves useful in God's mission.  Likewise no earth-man has ascended, seen God.  The man of the earth is bound to the earth, he comes from the earth (Genesis) returns to the earth, and doesn't seem to have any variation on the theme in between. 

The earth-man stares in wonder, we do not know where this Jesus comes from.  Of course not, earth-man can have no experience of non-earth.  Earth man does not know where Jesus comes from because he can only name geographic locations and the names of other earth-bound creatures.  How could Jesus, who we know comes from Galilee be the Messaiah?  We aren't supposed to know where the Messiah comes from?  How could Jesus, whose mother and father we know, be the mysterious savior... unless of course there is something in him we cannot see through earth colored lenses. 

Earth-man thinks death is the end of this Jesus, to kill the body, humiliate... this will get rid of him and make sure no one cares to follow in his footsteps.  This, this will quelch all hope.

Today Earth-man still strives for his victories.  His religion is still one of deeds, drink from this cup (no not the styrofoam one), reduce, reuse, recycle.  Follow our laws of overpriced enviro-consumerism.  Be greener than your neighbor.  And so earth man celebrates (some celebration) "Earth Day"...

With an hour of darkness....
A rally....
A washable coffee cup...
a reusable grocery bag...

Knowing somewhere deep down that his futile efforts will not cheat death, there is no cure, and the meager remedies are really only a drop in the bucket, at worst hypocracy.  Earth-man's deity, savior, planet is seen as dying.

And that sounds really rather Christian.

Until one realizes that Earth-man's planet has no hope of resurrection.  Death is death and the dead stay dead.

Some celebration.

But God incarnate does not stay dead.  The Christian savior requires no saving from us.  Death, cross, humiliation, these are not the end of him.  For the earth cannot hold him, the grave must set him free. 

And the man he created of the earth itself is in his image, and the earth must set him free.

And the earth itself must indeed pass away, but not without hope.  For he who made it once will make it again, newer and unburdened from our sin and greed and death and pettiness, perfected and eternal.  Even the earth has hope of resurrection.

And God descended, without having first ascended because the earth does not bind him, it is neither source nor strength, but creation.  He descended that we might ascend, freed at last from the duties of imperfect earth.

And so on this day, while others celebrate earth day, we remember him who was "lifted up from the earth" in order to draw all people away from our earthliness and to himself.

I'll take the darkest day of Christianity over the starkest celebrations of Earth-bound man any time.  For we, Christians, are not as a people without hope....

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Insiders Outside, and the other way around

The Gospel reading for tonight was the center portion of John 12, after Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem, and a couple of Greeks approach Philip and ask to see Jesus. There is so much situation, culture, emotion and personality here. Philip, who had previously invited the Jewish Nathaniel to come and see Jesus now has no idea what to do with a couple of Greeks, gentiles, "goyim"... They're outside the elect, strangers whose access to God is questionable at best. There are no promises of a place at the table.

I find these unnamed Greeks remarkable, because they've already made a trip from their home to Jerusalem, knowing they'd come as outsiders, not expecting a place at the table. These are people with no spiritual home, seeking after the one God, and all the while literally walking away from the gods of their fathers, their lands, their family and neighbors. And all the while there is no promise that the one God will accept them. They travel miles in first century conditions, and when they arrive they still cannot enter the Temple past the court of the gentiles. Surely there is deep humility in their request, "Sir, we would see Jesus."

Philip knows there's no guarantee. How can he speak of the promises of God to these people, who are by definition outside the promise? How can he offer the Jewish messiah to these non-Jews? What does he have to offer to Samaria and the ends of the earth? A moment in time, a consult with Andrew, and together they approach Jesus.
I was struck today by the cryptic nature of Jesus answer. "The hour has now come..." Leave it to Jesus to not just offer a simple yes or no answer. There's much ado about glorification and the Son of Man being lifted up, but what about those Greeks. I took a moment to look up the passage in the InterVarsity commentary on John for a little extra help. There, Rod Whitacre notes:
Philip does not go straight to Jesus with the Greeks' request, but rather to Andrew, who was from Philip's town (1:44). This may bear witness to Philip's humility, but more likely it shows how unusual the situation was. Jesus has had contact with non-Jews (cf., probably, 4:43-53), but very rarely. He has taught much about the universal scope of God's love, but the full implications of this were not grasped by his followers until later. The nationalism stirred up during Jesus' entry into Jerusalem might make the disciples uncertain about such a request, though these Greeks were proselytes. It seems Philip simply needs some encouragement to approach the Lord when faced with this new and stretching situation. He goes to Andrew, who seems to have been a trusting person who was willing to speak up even when it seemed foolish (6:8-9). If we are stymied by a situation, it helps to have a friend with whom to go to the Lord, not to demand of the Lord but simply to lay before him the situation.
Quite often Jesus has responded to questions and situations with cryptic sayings, and this is no exception. When Andrew and Philip announce the coming of the Greeks something wondrous happens. It triggers the moment the reader has been anticipating since the story began: Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (v. 23). As with all his cryptic sayings, this response addresses the issue, but it does so in ways incomprehensible at the time. He does not speak directly to the Greeks, but he speaks of their place in his community in the future. For he reveals that it is time for his death to take place, through which a great crop will be produced (v. 24) as he draws all men to himself (v. 32). Thus, verse 24 answers the Greeks indirectly, for through his death he "will become accessible for them as the exalted Lord"
Of course we all know that the Greeks are welcome to see Jesus, but if that is the only answer why is Jesus so harsh at first with the SyroPhonecian woman? The answer may be that the time hadn't come. Everything up through the triumphal entry was one phase, and now things are shifting. God became incarnate for the Jews, and now the whole system is about to crack wide open. It reminds me of Aslan on the Stone Table in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the deeper magic is that the table, the old system, the Law itself is cracked in two and the lion gets up from the scene of his slaughter.  In my imagination, between the cracks in the cold stone, new life emerges, like a tree growing up from the rubble.
The contrast in the text though is with the locals. Those who have had access to Jesus all along, so many still don't understand. Even when God speaks directly, audibly, many just hear thunder. And yet, for those who seek him, of all nations, this is the "light to enlighten the gentiles" of whom Simeon spoke. But not only a light to the nations, but also the glory of God's people, Israel. Here is not only the King of Israel, but the very crown of the nation.
I think we are a little like Philip sometimes, when someone outside our own sense of the "chosen" people wants to see Jesus. Philip has no ill will, he just doesn't know what to do with the situation. I wonder how we can pray for people to come to Jesus if we aren't even sure we can comfortably introduce such as these to our Lord if given the chance. As Jesus shifts his ministry toward the cross, he also shifts his presence outside the boundaries of the "chosen" people, and sometimes it is hard for us disciples to catch up with where he's going. How willing are we to introduce to Jesus the stranger, the outsider, even the enemy and oppressor?

And at the same time we hear stories of Christians, in every generation and on every continent, who are able to pray for their persecutors. We sit here comfortably and think that our minor losses are persecutions, while we have yet to begin to suffer. And we can't pray for our enemies. But our brothers and sisters who risk life and limb on a daily basis shine like beacons to the grace of God. They are the Andrew to our well-meaning but (in this case) somewhat ineffective Philip

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Paying One's Respects

Not to be on a morbid theme, really I don't go looking for these things, but I stumbled across this in the news today and couln't resist sharing (found at: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/04/17/drive-casket-viewing-california-offers-mourners-look-wheels/?test=latestnews)



Drive-thru Casket Viewing in California Offers Mourners a Last Look on Wheels

Published April 17, 2011

COMPTON, Calif. - There are drive-thru burger joints and drive-thru banks but now one California city offers the ultimate in drive-thru convenience: drive-thru casket viewing.
Yes, at the Robert L. Adams Mortuary in Compton, south of Los Angeles, it is possible to view the deceased resting in a casket display window while cruising past in your car, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

"It's a unique feature that sets us aside from other funeral parlors," said owner Peggy Scott Adams.

"You can come by after work, you don't need to deal with parking, you can sign the book outside and the family knows that you paid your respects," Scott Adams explained. "It's a convenience thing."


I don't know about you, but the way I was raised, paying one's respects is not supposed to be convenient.  Its about going out of your way to care.   Now, I've never been a fan of the American ritual that involves displaying the dead (if any of my family ever try to do that to me I promise to haunt them) and commenting on how "natural" uncle Joe, a manly man indeed, looks in full make-up and a suit he probably hated.   I tolerate it for the sake of parish ministry, play nice for the love of friends and relatives (again, its not about me, my convenience, my preferences) but I'd be much happier to just attend the funeral and offer thanks to God for lives well lived.  Yes, I'd rather spend two hours in a pew than ten minutes in a receiving line.

And the very thought of driving by, where the dead are on public display in some bulletproof (oh wait, I haven't posted that part yet, have I?) storefront for the sake of "convenience"... revolting.   I don't suppose it struck me as an indignity to receive a my supposed meal from a paper bag handed through a window by an employee who would rather be anywhere else.  I'm sure I missed the lack of humanity in the "here's the goods, now move along" world of drive through banking, food, coffee, and even pharmacies (or so they say, I've never used one).   But one by one, business by business, convenience has taken the place of relationship.  To do so in the most relational of times, a funeral, is dehumanizing and repellant.

You know, there was a time when the dead were kept in their homes before the funeral, and death was part of life.  Funeral homes removed that, for convenience. And while the last thing I'd want if a member of my household were to pass on woudl be a parade of people coming in and out my door, there is something appropriate in the non-sterile environment in which death and life collide.  But for convenience, dignity and humanity and relationship are sacrificed, and even our loves are dispensed from a drive through (spelled drive-thru, I guess) window.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spam

I admit it: I sometimes enjoy reading spam mail.

Not often.  and I do use a defunct email address for my online needs, a spam filter on my email, and occasional email address changes to keep spam to a minimum.  But once in a while, you have to give these guys a read.

Anyone who would fail to grasp the futility in sending a message riddled with spelling errors in all caps and clearly labelled as being from a "barrister" in Nigeria must either be a tremendous cynic who has no faith in human intelligence or an extreme optimist who can't accept that he's wasting his time.  Does anyone ever fall for these things? 

Today's spam comes from someone who interestingly calls himself Prophet Tarsam Hayre.  Prophet!  There's  a new one.  You'd think if he were so prophetically inclined he would know that he's destined for deletion.  But for kicks, do allow me to share with you, directly from my email "junk" folder....

The message is entitled (in all caps) "CURE FOR YOUR PROBLEMS" and politely begins with an apology for the "inconvenience this email will give you"... really unless it comes with its own special prophetic curse, there's not much inconvenience in just hitting delete, but you'd think the Prophet would know that.   So my vote is that its cursed...   Kind of like chain letters that insist on being forwarded or some evil monster will eat your young.

But Prophet Tarsam goes on... we, the people are no doubt waiting for his oracle on the edge of our seats...

The prophet tells me he has the cure for AIDS and cancer.  You'd think, if he did, he'd be too rich and busy jetting around signing autographs and giving lectures to send me spam.  How toughtful of him to take the time between appointments, from his busy schedule, to message me directly making no reference to my name, location, or other identifying information.  I'm in awe. 

Kindly he goes on: "For success in examinations,interview,lottery games,court cases and any kind of spiritual assistance we are there for you."  Yeah, so is the local tarot reader, and probably cheaper, just as accurate, and less likely to ask for my bank account information.  Has anyone tipped this guy off about the Biblical response to false prophets?  No probably not...
"If you have or you know anyone with the above problems mentioned kindly contact us immediately or send us your phone number," thus saith Tarsam... not only your own phone number, but if the sucker born this minute knows of anybody else who would like a call, preferably somebody really afflicted and willing to hand over wads of cash and personal information, do please do Tarsam a favor and forward this person's number along... after Tarsam can't waste his prophetic powers just listening to the hum of the universe for the cries of the oppressed... he must rely on you, the innocent sucker, to bring those cries to his doorstep.   Anything else would take too much time out of his busy AIDS and cancer curing schedule.

Sheesh... and you thought he was just being a lazy spammer.

Cynic.

Tarsam reminds the gentle reader to "Remember every king or queen needs a prophet."
Because Tarsam has no idea whether I and the multitude of "undisclosed recipients" who no doubt are eagerly awaiting his next oracle are boy-suckers or girl-suckers.


And in closing Tarsam, in his world class English, kindly invites response, as all good spammers do: "Looking forward to hear from you."

Ah, Tarsam...  The Prophet.... has spoken.

Don't you just feel all warm and tingly in the reading of it????

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What unholy heck is this???

Okay so there’s a thread over at StandFirm about the latest hoorah from the Episcopal Church about the little factoid that Earth Day and Good Friday fall on the same date this year.  If you’re interested in a modern theological fiasco, you can scoot on over there and witness it all for yourself. The article is here.
Well, I guess I shouldn’t have.  I have plenty of other things to do.  And it is rather like unto watching a train wreck.  But I did it… I followed links.   Why do I do this to myself?
What I found was “The Episcopal Ecological Network (of the Episcopal Church)” and as they offered a few “liturgical resources” (one of which, I will spare you, specifically calling for the services of a mime… I kid you not… and culminating in ways we can be nice to the earth… but it pales in comparison to what came next) for use, including one for Eucharist in “creation season” which I gather comes sometime in October- November (from the dating in the document itself)… I had no idea such a “season” of the liturgical year existed. 
Ah where to begin???  Perhaps with the litany to which the congregational response is “I pray for all my relatives- all living things.”  Whether we are saying that we’re related to all living things (no, we are in Christ related to all other believers, but fluffy bunnies and kitty cats are not brothers and sisters) or whether we are simply affirming that all our relatives are living things (except those who aren’t, and I don’t think my relatives would take kindly to being called things), the response, repeated and repeated, is a load of tripe.
But ah, for what do we petition our deity on behalf of whatever it is we call our relatives…


Leader:
Father, love is something we must have. We must have it because our Spirit feeds upon it. We must have it because without it we become weak and faint. Without love, we weaken and our courage fails. Father, you declared that love in your Son Jesus Christ. Help your Church declare that love in this world.

Is it just me or is that kind of gross?
Okay how about this one?


Leader:
Great Spirit, we feel you in the buffalo, the moose, in summer, with the mist on the lake and in the blue wave, in the cry of the loon. It is beautiful. You tell us heaven is still more beautiful. Injustice and suffering will be gone, We rejoice and look forward in hope as You help us to build your kingdom in our communities. Those who have worn out their shoes know where to step. Help us to follow the footsteps of Jesus.

Holy paganism!  then again, if they hear their god in the cry of the loon…. no I won’t say that…
Then follows some stuff about Mother Earth casting off winter and the wisdom of the elders (echoes of ancestor worship that they aren’t willing to own up to quite yet)… and lots and lots of native American paganism. 
Then, of course, because the day wouldn’t be complete without it, comes… come on clergy friends… all together now:
EUCHARISTIC PRAYER C!!! Yes, this “fragile earth, our island home.”  The “Star Wars Prayer” as my husband calls it (“the vast expanse of interstellar space…”)  call of the loon indeed.
And if that is not enough… I promise you brothers and sisters, (it's found here)
the final blessing…
which makes utterly no sense at all…
“Blessing: Deep peace of the running wave.”
There is no congregational response to that.  Indeed, how could one respond to that?   I mean I can handle “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  I know that response: Thanks be to God.  But if someone dismissed the congregation with “Deep peace of the running wave,” it would be all I could do not to respond with “What the hell?”
Which is probably the only apt response there is, now that I think of it.

Important, life changing, and otherwise essential things I did today.

1.  called my mother.  Everyone should call their mother fairly often.  Mothers like that sort of thing.
2. called my mother-in-law.  I happen to really like mine.  She's a gentle relaxing sort of soul.
3.  took a walk.  Two miles.  Also relaxing.
4. failed to be in an auto accident on I-79.  WPXI reports that there were two fatalities.  I drove right by all the firemen and police, but had I not stayed on after vestry meeting, I would have probably been there when it happened.  On the exit I would have taken (had traffic not been detoured because the accident closed the exit). 
5. worshiped Jesus, received his holy sacrament, fellowshiped with some of the saints militant in Carnegie.  God is good.
6.  ate a doughnut.  Not important but tasty.
7.  had steak for dinner.  Humor me, its Lent.
8. sat outside in the sunshine.  Immensely good for morale after another nasty cold Pittsburgh winter.
9.  listened to the Pirates and Reds both lose. again.  Humility is good for the soul, right?
10.  got some work done... like real work.  That's good.

I don't know why I'm posting this except to remind myself that sometimes little things are big things, and the things we think are huge are really, in the grand scheme of things quite little.  In a lot of the points above, life was being intensely lived, ministry was more an adventure than a job... and yet the list really looks pretty mundane.   And I guess that's good.  I also did some less than mundane things, but in the long run I doubt those things will matter. 

And probably, only the dougnut will be with me a year from now, right?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

For after that final at-bat....

Okay, anyone who reads this blog (does anyone read this blog?  well, a few perhaps) knows that I'm as much of a baseball fan as the next person.  The sounds and smells and feel of an open air stadium on a hot summer day (or a breezy summer night), maybe a cold drink, friends and family nearby, alternately relaxing and exhilarating.   Can't beat a good seat for a good game, and there's nothing like a game at PNC Park where all the seats are good, all the best teams come to play, and the price is still something I can afford without mortgaging one of my kids. 

But as much as one can love baseball, there has to be a limit.

This... has crossed the limit.


Yup, just like choosing your kids' bedroom comforter, there is a casket in every major league logo. 

Personally, I think it may be putting a bit too much stock in God's own sports preferences.  I mean, if you're a Pirates fan, do you go for the local favorite, even thought they've been an exiled people for 18 years, or do you go for a more "sure thing" and risk offending the local funeral director?   You could just as well end up going to eternity in a spiffy looking Cleveland Indians casket with a mustache and horns drawn on you in Sharpie pen.

And what if after you're all sealed up and firmly planted in the ground the team moves to another market, insults your hometown, and leaves your descendants paying taxes through the nose for an abandoned stadium? 

Football fans seem to be out of luck... so far the company seems only to have baseball coffins.  I guess that's because baseball is the only sport in heaven/Iowa. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Amuzing Grace, How Sweet the Sound

Yesterday I took my teenager to OMF's Heart for Asia conference in Lancaster. There were speakers there who were serving in various Asian countries, but I was particularly encouraged (as was my son) by the Church in Japan. Japanese churches that we learned about were very small, with no western worries about "critical mass," and often meeting in restaurant booths and karioke bars. I was particularly charmed by this one:


At first I thought the name was "engrish"... the special sort of mangled English that is particularly indigenous to Asia. But as it turns out, the church is intentionally named, as they meet in a small recording studio. Music/Muse/Amuzing. Cool.

I shared that with the congregation this morning. I just couldn't resist the allure of the clever name (especially as it stands out in the seriousness of Japanese culture and of the current Japanese national trauma after the earthquake/tsunami). It just seemed fitting to me to share God's grace with a sense of humor and delight.

I'm attaching below my son's remarks about the Church in Japan:

Japan is truly a place that needs the Savior. Even though it is within the 10/40 window of Christianity, it is currently without Christ. While Christ is working its way into Japan, it still remains mostly in the dark about Him. Also, there is the matter of, well, matter. Compared to the US population of 310 million people, Japan has only 127 million, or only 41% of the population. On another note, the US has about 3.8 million square miles, while Japan owns only 146,000 square miles, or a little less than 4%. Now, I don’t know about you, but I see that the population percent chance is a lot bigger than the square mileage percent change. In the US, they calculate about 82 persons to a square mile. In Japan, there is over 10 times that, at 870 persons to a square mile. This winds up with buildings everywhere, people everywhere, and very little elbow room. However, Japan manages to be neat and organized. When people go to work, school, or most work-related events, they wear a uniform. In fact, some missionaries (which are the best source of Christ) sometimes stay so long, they start wearing uniforms. (It gets to the point where you can tell the new guy by the fact that he doesn’t wear a uniform.) The weekly attendance for a Japanese church is 36, and that means all kinds of Christians. There are some churches that are so small; their “building” is about the size of a US bathroom. But still, even with these people going out of their way to preach the gospel, the Japanese people are so confident, that if God grants the power to help them do something, they get cocky and say that “they did it with their own power.” Because of this, the biggest thing that you can pray for when you pray for Japan is spiritual awakening. Now I shall ask you to pray for Japan, that they will receive spiritual awakening. Thank you.