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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Genesis 37:19

Acacia Merlin
Remember the 'good old days'?

You know. When life seemed less complicated and the summer rolled along in one lazy, beautiful sunshiny day after the next?

When lemonade never tasted sweeter or colder, and you never counted a calorie or worried about the intake of sugar?

When there were simple pleasures to be enjoyed like laying on your back in the tall grass or reading a book under the shade of a tree or riding your bike all over the neighborhood - without a helmet?

When you could go - uninvited - to a neighbor's house and know everyone by name - including their pets - and chat for a while on the cool of their porch?

When your father (well, okay, your mother - men wouldn't do this) could stop at a gas station for directions and/or a free map and know they'd be reliable - as certain as they were that you were safe in the back seat without wearing a seat belt?

When you could go to a department store and the sales clerk was not only knowledgeable about the product but was also interested in actually providing you with "good customer service" - which you are now promised (but rarely receive) if you stand in line at a "Customer Service Desk" where an overworked and underpaid person listens to you with obvious disinterest and then gives you a form to fill out?

Memories are wonderful, aren't they? Except, of course, when they become a kind of aching nostalgia that sours your enjoyment of the present moment.

I hear strains of this aching nostalgia in conversations about the current political climate as well as in my work with a few churches where I'm engaged in some consulting work.

There are Democrats who remember the good old days of the political party that offered a New Deal and a vision of Camelot and the Great Society and sang their unofficial song: "Happy Days Are Here Again".

There are Republicans who remember great leaders like Eisenhower and great communicators like Regan and 'compassionate conservatives' like G.H.W. Bush and sang . . . um, I couldn't find an unofficial or official song for the Republican party, except this one was suggested.

I suspect neither FDR nor JFK would recognize the Democratic Party today. Neither would Eisenhower or Regan recognize the "Grand Old Party" for all the 'tea bags' littered on the current political landscape.

As the Republicans seem to have shifted even more to the Right, the Democrats seem to have shifted away from the Left to a more moderate or conservative position on the political spectrum.

I don't know too many people on either side who are happy about that.

Conservative Republicans seem absolutely disgusted by the shenanigans of the Tea Party with their "our way or the highway" approach and "we'll humiliate you - even one of our own - if you don't do what we want".

Likewise, Liberal Democrats seem thoroughly befuddled and enraged by the President's willingness to negotiate and seek compromise with folks they consider terrorists. I don't know what the man is supposed to do with a Republican majority House and a Democratic majority Senate except seek the higher ground, but that's just me.

Even so, everyone seems to be unknowingly quoting a line from Shakespeare's Richard II (Act III, Scene 2): "O call back yesterday, bid time return."

It seems to be the increasing lament of many churches whose unofficial theme is "Build A Better Yesterday." Two of the churches I'm working with actually said the same thing, word for word, as their vision and prayer: "We just want to be the same close, happy church family we once were."

Right. Good luck with that.

Any church that is interested in re-creating the past doesn't have much of a future.

The Seven Last Words of a Dying Congregation are:

We.

Have.

Always.

Done.

It.

That.

Way.

I wish someone would make a poster of that and make sure it was displayed prominently in the Parish Hall of every church. If more than three people in any given congregation say that more than once in one week, someone should begin to toll the church bells because they're already dying.

In working with these churches, I've found myself going back to the shape of the Eucharistic liturgy as a model for churches to consider as a model of their individual and congregational life of faith.

Week after week, we come into church and process to a hymn which hopefully strikes the theme of the lessons we are about to hear. The collect prayer "collects" this theme and gives us a preview of what is about to come.

Then, we listen to the stories and psalms of our Hebraic roots. As Verna Dozier often pointed out, the sequence of our liturgy is really off because the Epistle is really a reflection of the Gospel not the Hebrew Scripture.

Be that as it may, we then hear a sermon which, hopefully, the preacher will help us understand the meaning of all the lessons - but especially the Gospel - for us today. Right now. In our time. And, how we can live out the Gospel and the stories of our faith more faithfully.

We reaffirm that faith and join our voices with the ancient voices of the church in a Statement of Belief which we call The Creeds. For Sunday Eucharistic Service, in a church which professes to be "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" in nature, that means the Nicene Creed.

We then say prayers for the concerns of the world and the church, bringing the concerns of the world to the Body of Christ and, hopefully, find inspiration to bring the Body of Christ into the world.

I find The Announcements highly disruptive at this point - my kids used to call it "Half Time at the Episcopal Bowl Game" - and would much prefer them at the end of the service, but I have come to see it as the way in which the community 'lives out in their lives what they profess with their lips". I rarely miss an opportunity, during the announcements, to make a connection between a church event and the gospel.

It's the Eucharist, however, which is the central act of our Christian lives. This is where we bring all of the stories of our past, all of our concerns for the present, all of the brokenness and poured out messes of our lives, all of our prayers of thanksgiving for what was and is, and all our hopes and dreams for our future - all of it, everything - to be changed and transformed into the Living Presence of Jesus.

The Chronos of the past and the present and the future, and "all the company of heaven" come together in one mystical Kairos moment we call "Holy Communion".

In Christian theology, it is a time - the time - when God acts. Indeed, in Greek Orthodox Liturgy, before the liturgy begins, the deacon proclaims, ""Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio" ("It is time [kairos] for the Lord to act"); indicating that the time of the Liturgy is an intersection with Eternity.

Hmm . . . what might happen if we made that announcement just before our liturgy begins? 

When we fully participate in the Sacred Mystery of Eucharist, it is not just the bread and wine that are changed and transformed. We, too, are changed and transformed into agents of God's mission in the world and become witnesses of the unconditional love of Jesus and vehicles of the power of the Spirit.

I recently attended Eucharist where the priest held up the host, broke it, and then looked distracted as he dropped the host into the patten, fussed with the altar linens and mumbled, "Alleluia, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us."

He might as well have been saying, "Damn, I forget to change the oil in the car this week." I burst into tears and fled from the church as quietly and quickly as I could.

I know. I know. The validity of the sacrament is not dependent upon the character of the priest. It just broke my heart, is all. I was in no state to receive communion. No wonder that church is in trouble.

The point is that, if we miss the mystical nature of God's presence in our midst, if Eucharist is just a perfunctory exercise in a quaint religious duty, no wonder the past becomes more important than our present or future.

No wonder some of us keep trying to "Build A Better Yesterday".

The point of the Eucharistic liturgy is not to forget the past, but to bring the best of the past into our present, leaving the rest behind, so we can move, unencumbered, into building a better future.

I can't do much about the political landscape. Frankly, I think we all need to accept that things have shifted and move on - or, move with it - and seek the serenity to accept the things we can't change, find the courage to change the things we can, and gain the wisdom to know the difference.

As it is also said in Twelve Step Programs, "The wise person knows that success in life is achieved by simply putting a whole lot of mistakes together in a way that works".

They also say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

So, these days, on hot days, I drink sugar-free lemonade with lots of ice.

I have a GPS in my car instead of stopping at a gas station for directions.

I try not to get too discouraged when I ask a sales clerk a question about a product and write letters to the company when a sales clerk has been helpful (Did this just the other day for my new best friend "Johnny" at Staples).

I still love to sit under the shade of a tree while I read my Kindle, and I will get a helmet before my next bike ride.

The Dreamer - Renoir
While I lament that the last true Liberal Democrat may have been buried in a grave with Ted Kennedy's name on it, I try to see the good in my political party and call and write my Representatives - and yes, my President - when I think they've done a good job as well as when they need a good, swift verbal kick in the pants.

And, I still have hope for this old church of ours - that we may bring the best of what has been in the past into the present, leaving the rest behind, so we may become more of who we are and live into the vision God has for us - as individuals and as a Body of Christ.

You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. We know from scripture what often happens to dreamers (see Genesis 37:19).

That's okay. I'll take the risk and responsibility of my dreams.

Actually, St. Paul's words to the ancient Church in Ephesus inspire me daily:
"Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, through Christ Jesus for ever and ever. (Ephesians 3:20,21)
Somebody in the church give me an 'Amen'.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen.

Maria

Dom said...

Amen!

JCF said...

And amen!

kt+ said...

Amen, Amen!

I think I would have had to leave aa well.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

kt+ It just broke my heart.

MarkBrunson said...

One of the good things about growing up an emotionally-damaged poor kid in the end of the Cold War - no, I don't remember any good old days!

It sounds self-pitying, but it isn't. I've found it to be helpful in times like this. I get bitter, angry, frightened at times like this, but I don't really have a great nostalgic sense of loss.

I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say, and, since this is beginning to sound like a Russian novel (lol), let me just say I'm trying to reassure. Things will always, constantly change, for better and worse. One of the weaknesses of Christian praxis is that we rely too heavily on the unchangeability of God, without realizing ineffable and unchangeable are not the same.

MarkBrunson said...

As for your experience in the Eucharist, Elizabeth - it was, for you, like watching someone mistreat a beloved friend . . . your response was perfectly valid.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - How right you are about change and God. Change is always scary. Faith in God helps us through.

And, thanks for the validation about my reaction to the Eucharist. I was thinking last night that if there was some spiritual equivalent to a medicinal mood elevator or anti-depressant, I'd slip some into the communion wine. Then, I realized that part of their problem is that their ordained leader is as depressed as the rest of the congregation. I don't know which came first or who is depressing who but there is clearly a spiritual depression going on that needs to be addressed.

Thanks again, Mark. I always appreciate your comments here.

it's margaret said...

Amen!

--and, I took to making the "announcements" Our Offerings --the work of the church at all times --whether that offering was the food pantry or fellowship, we offered it.

susankay said...

Amen. In an adult ed discussion we can up with the idea that nostalgia is the enemy of hope since hope is for today and tomorrow and nostalgia wants to retreat to the past.

Regarding a spiritual mood elevator, I am reminded of a story Bishop Pike told of himself: He had discovered an old/ancient recipe for chrism and used it for confirmations. He found being tied to the past this way amazingly uplifting -- especially at really large confirmations. He had it tested. It was an hallucinogenic and it was perhaps not surprizing that after bending above it for up to a half hour -- he was "up-lifted"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - "Our Offerings" is brilliant. Of course. You thought of it. Thank you. I hope others take note.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susankay - That is so well said. Thank you. And, wonderful story about Bishop Pike. I never cease to be amazed by the stories about the man.

walter said...

Genesis 39. 17 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. The inherent meaning of the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Well Elizabeth 4, you may say you are not the only dreamer. How wonderful to imagine a Service which begin with the offering of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. I wish I could in the art of compromise say that I am sorry you had the experience that made you go out of that Church quietly and quickly, but I am happy you did. Someone may ask how can we understand better the mystery of the inseparable unity of creation and redemption and conversely of redemption and creation in the Sacrament of the Eucharist even though The Raising of Anglo-American Catholicism? And more importantly how can we comprehend Thurman’ truth that the creative act must ever be the personal act? Dream about a Service at the Blue Grotto Tavern that starts with the offering of the Sacrament of Eucharist. And think about the offering as the gifting of all the goodness of Life just until the beginning of Service. And think that what we would be offering is just about what we were able, by the Grace of God, to redeem just until the beginning of Service. Yes, the creative act must ever be the personal act; we are all ministers. May this energy with which I am touching the key board of my laptop enfold the silence and may it continue to speak truth to power after the touching. 14 my Portuguese Girl, my Little Girl and my Brother. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused, Jesus the Christ.

Walter Vitale

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Walter, I'm not always sure what you are trying to say, but I think you are agreeing with me. Thank you.

romelover said...

AMEN! Just joining the chorus to say you have so clearly expressed the problems of our nation and our church. We had a much loved interim for 18 months who, like you, kept holding up the mirror to ask us, "Is this you? Not the you you think, but the you you are?"

He was fabulous. We called a rector who has just celebrated 22 years with us. I think we figured out how to (mostly) see where we are and how to change. It's not easy, but it helped so much to have someone like you guiding when we were at the most opportune time to do that.

Now, would you go work for Congress, please?

chrissie

liturgy said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, for this wonderful reflection.

Blessings

Bosco

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Chrissy - Congress? I don't know if God knows what to do about Congress.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Bosco, for your kind words. Always nice to have you visit.

Paula Porter Leggett said...

Thank you.