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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Like David in the Valley of Elah

“Like David in the Valley of Elah”
A sermon preached on PentecostIV 7B
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

I don’t know about you, but I come to church this morning with a very heavy heart. The events in South Carolina have deeply troubled my spirit.  I can only imagine what you all may be feeling – what emotions you carry in your heart.

Some of you may be shifting in your seats and thinking, “Oh, God. I come to church to be uplifted; to spend some time away from all that mess in the world. I come to learn something about my faith. I don’t need politics in the pulpit. I can read the New York Times or the Washington Post when I get home.”

This is not a sermon about politics. I trust you won’t read anything like it in the NY Times. 

My intention is for this to be a sermon about the promises of the Gospel and the hope we have in Jesus. But, I would not be a faithful priest if I ignore the horrific pain that is just outside our doors which some of you have brought into church with you this morning.

As Episcopal priest and author, Barbara Brown Taylor, once wrote about her priestly discernment,  
“Being a priest seemed only slightly less dicey to me than being chief engineer at a nuclear plant. In both cases, one needed to know how to approach great power without losing great danger and getting fried in the process. All in all, I was happier in the pew.”  

In his statement about this national tragedy in South Carolina, the Rt. Rev. Dan Thomas Edwards, Bishop of Nevada wrote, in part:
It is too small a thing to condemn racism once again. It is too small a thing to condemn gun violence once again. It is unacceptable to attribute the violence against a Black congregation to a deranged lone gunman when systemic racism and systemic violence are pervasive and are being overtly acted out with increasing frequency. We must not “heal our people’s wounds too lightly,” as Jeremiah put it. Nothing short of the gospel can speak for us to this tragedy, a gospel not just proclaimed but acted on to usher in the Kingdom. We need a lot more Kingdom right now  . . .  . . . We need the gospel to infiltrate the real life of the people and make the creation new right now.
Not “heal our people’s wounds too lightly” and not just proclaim the gospel but get the gospel to “infiltrate the real life of people”.  You understand what Ms. Taylor was talking about in terms of “getting fried in the process.” You’ll forgive my preference for sitting in the pew. 

Mark’s Gospel (4:35-41) does offer us a great deal to consider about how we might rely on Him when storms like this terrible national tragedy enter our lives.  
Many of us clearly identify with those disciples in the boat in the middle of a storm. Jesus was asleep on some cushions in the stern. They went to him, woke him up and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And, it was Jesus to the rescue! He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And lo! There was a dead calm. 

If only . . . .  If we just had faith. More faith. Enough faith. That’s the answer, right? All of this is happening because we’re afraid and we are afraid because we have no faith. Simple. 

I am hearing the words of the Prophet Jeremiah. “Do not dress the people’s wounds too lightly” (6:14) or “ . . . cry ‘Peace! Peace!’ When there is no peace”.

I submit to you that, in order to better understand the Gospel, we need to understand something from the Hebrew Scripture which we heard this morning. It was the first option – the passage from 1 Samuel 17(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49). I think there are some things we can learn about faith and conquering the Giant of Racism and being like David in the Valley of Elah. 

It’s the story of David and Goliath which we all think we know but, tell me, when was the last time you heard it as an adult – much less, in church? It’s a classic battle between the Israelites and the Philistines. The nation which emerges as winner of the battle will be lord and master over the other.
You may have missed the connection by the gentile language of “servants” but hear again the words of Goliath: 

He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, "Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us."

Just so we’re clear, we’re talking about slavery based on race and religion here.
Saul and the rest of the men of Israel heard the words of Goliath and saw his great size and strength and they were sore afraid. When young David appeared, fresh from the fields of tending sheep, he also heard the words of the great giant but said he would fight him. 

When Saul and the other men protested, David reminded them that, as part of his job as a shepherd, he sometimes had to defend the sheep against lions and bears. Surely, if God was with him in battle against the lion and bear, then, with God’s help, he could take on this giant.

Saul reluctantly agreed and tried to dress David in his armor, but David could hardly walk in it. He took it off and “he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi (or, a dry river bed), and put them in his shepherd's bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.”

Goliath laughed at the sight of this young boy, “ruddy and handsome in appearance” but David laughed right back. Drawing one of the smooth stones from his pouch, slug it and hit Goliath, bringing him to his knees, and he fell dead, face down on the ground. 

And thus, David did kill Goliath in the Valley of Elah.
Here’s what I think: I think the church, the Body of Christ, has been asleep in the stern of the boat. The storm of racism has been swirling around us for a long, long time.  In many ways, the issues for which we fought and many died in the Civil War are still alive and well and continuing to tear apart the very fabric of this nation. 

Here's what I think: I think Jesus has been waiting for US to wake up. I think it’s time for us to take off our protective armor and get back to the basics of our faith. I think we all have experience fighting lions and bears in our own lives. 

I think we all have slingshots of power and authority and a pouch where we store at least five smooth stones of faith. We all know how to protect and defend that which is precious and important to us. 

Either we believe what we say in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States that “all men – all people – are created equal” or we don’t’. Either that’s worth defending or it isn’t.

Either we believe what we say in our Five Baptismal Promises – that we respect the dignity of every human being” or we don’t. Either that’s worth dying for or it isn’t. 

Indeed, I believe the five smooth stones we have to fight off the Giant Evil of Racism can be found in those Five Baptismal Promises:

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

And, there it is, my friends. Those are the five stones we have at our disposal. They are five stones made smooth by the baptismal waters of our faith. We have our own slings – the authority of our baptism in Christ Jesus – to take those stones into the Valley of Elah and take on the Giant Evil of Racism. 

We who call ourselves Christians, we who have built the story of our faith on the stories of Hebrew and Christian Scripture, can change the story of this country by the witness and actions of our own faith. As Brene Brown writes:
When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending. 

Until we find a way to own our collective stories around racism in this country, our history and the stories of pain will own us.

We will not get away from the violence and heartbreak. Fear and scarcity will continue to run roughshod over our country. Yes, the violence in Charleston is also about access to guns and, more than likely, mental illness. But it’s also about race.

Our collective stories of race in the US are not easy to own. They are stories of slavery, violence, and systemic dehumanization. We will have to choose courage over comfort. We will have to feel our way through the shame and sorrow. We will have to listen. We will have to challenge our resistance and our defensiveness.
I do believe that our Five Baptismal Promises will help us to do this. It won’t be easy. Our leaders will not be allowed to cry “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace.  We will not be able to dress our wounds too lightly. We will have to call up prophets and listen to them speak.

I do believe, in the words of Bishop Dan Edwards, we will need to do 

a lot more justice in the distribution of resources and opportunities, a lot less racist blaming of minorities to distract poor whites from the real forces behind their growing numbers and declining quality of life, a lot more curiosity and imagining our way into each others situations, a lot less grudge clinging, a lot more hope for the common good, and a lot less scrambling to get our piece of the action.”

I do believe we can wake up, drop all of our protective emotional armor of self-deception, resistance and defensiveness and carry our five stones made smooth by the waters of our baptism into the Valley of Elah. 

I believe that together, we can bring this Evil Giant of Racism to its knees – with God’s help. I believe we caninfiltrate the gospel into the real life of the people and make the creation new right now”.  I believe Jesus will cry out “Peace, be still” and calm the waters of the storm.

And, I don’t know about you, but that belief, that hope, that vision, that shalom peace, that work of moving us through the storm and closer to the Realm of God is the reason I come to church.
To learn how to be more like David in the Valley of Elah.  

(Lectionary lessons)
Note: In place of the Nicene Creed, the congregation was asked to reaffirm their Baptismal Vows, which they did with great vigor and amidst tears.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sing to the Lord a New Song

“Sing to the Lord a New Song”
A Sermon preached for Integrity/Pride Eucharist
Christ Church Parish, Kent Island, MD
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

I know it’s proper form for a visiting preacher to begin by saying how good it is to be here, but in my case, I’m not just being a polite Episcopalian. Mark Delcuse and I were in seminary together, back when dinosaurs roamed Cambridge, MA – is it really almost 30 years ago? Le sigh! – and  I’ve only been able to keep up with him on FaceBook (you know how that goes); so I am absolutely delighted to be able to spend some time here with Mark and his beloved Mimi.

The other reason I’m delighted to be here is that, for the first time since 1985, I will not be going to General Convention. I’m not as ambivalent about this as I was a few days ago. Every day, I feel that my decision was wise.

I’ve never been known to be a person in search of – or at a loss for – an opinion. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever known a time in my life when I haven’t had at least two opinions on any one given subject, both of which were held with equal passion and conviction. Mark, can I get an Amen?

As we move closer and closer to the church council gathering as the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, I find my blood pressure rising in direct proportion to the opinions being expressed – on the Left, Right and so-called Middle – about all the hot topics of the day. These include but by no means are limited to:
the election of a new Presiding Bishop, 
the re-visioning and restructuring of the church, 
the proposed changes to Title IV canons regarding the disciplinary actions for clergy, 
the proposed canons regarding compensation for family leave for clergy, 
the Anglican Covenant (yes, it’s baaack) and, of course, 
the proposed changes to the canons and revision of the BCP with regards to marriage.  
Just to name a few. 

It’s okay. You can relax. I’m not going to give to give you my opinions on these things. This is a sermon, not a lecture. I’m here to preach the Gospel. But, if I were at General Convention, you can bet I’d be at the microphone every chance I got when I wasn’t having intense conversations with people in the corridors of convention hall and hotel lobbies and coffee shops. 

If you didn’t know, that’s where some of the real intense work of convention gets done.

What I’d like to do in the next few moments we’re together is to be a bit more like Barnabas, whom we remember this night, and explore whether his life might contain some lessons for us in how to be leaders who are LGBT and our straight allies (or, as I prefer to say, in shorthand “Queer people”) in the church, especially as we move towards a season in our church which is a time of transition and change, decision-making and, yes, history. 

We are always living history.

I’d like to echo the Prophet Isaiah and ask us “How do we sing a new song to the Lord”?

So, let’s look first at what we know about St. Barnabas. The first mention we have of him in Scripture is from Acts 4:36f : "Joseph, a Levite, born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (son of encouragement), sold a field he owned, brought the money, and turned it over to the apostles."

Barnabas. The Son of Encouragement. His new name fits what we know of his actions. 

When Saul (or Paul) came to Jerusalem after his conversion, most of the Christians there wanted nothing to do with him. They had known him as a persecutor and an enemy of the Church. 

But Barnabas was willing to give Paul a second chance. He looked him up, spoke with him, and brought him to see the other Christians, vouching for him. Later, Paul and Barnabas went on a missionary journey together, taking Mark with them. Part way, Mark turned back and went home. 

When Paul and Barnabas were about to set out on another such journey, Barnabas proposed to take Mark along, and Paul was against it, saying that Mark had shown himself undependable. Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance, and so he and Mark went off on one journey, while Paul took Silas and went on another. 

Apparently Mark responded well to the trust given him by the "son of encouragement," since we find that Paul later speaks of him as a valuable assistant (2 Tim 4:11; see also Col 4:10 and Phil 24). 

There’s a great deal in today’s world – in today’s church – that is very discouraging, isn’t there? Who knew that, after Brown v. the Board of Education in Topeka in 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1984 and electing a Black Man to the White House in 2008, we would still need to take to the streets and protest, reminding everyone with signs that say: “Black Lives Matter”?

Who knew that, after Roe v. Wade in 1973 we’d be having conversations and debates, not only about abortion but about contraception? Would someone please tell me why, in the year 2015, we’re still debating the issue of contraception? (Are you kidding me?)

Who knew that, after Lawrence v. Texas in 1965 which struck down the sodomy laws and the election of Harvey Milk as the first openly gay politician in the state of California in 1977 and that, now that 37 of these 50 United States of America have Marriage Equality, the Supreme Court would still have to decide whether or not Queer people have the civil right of marriage? 

Interestingly enough, that Supreme Court decision has a good chance of being rendered during our time at General Convention – even as we are deliberating whether or not to change our canons to have our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and provide ‘all the sacraments for all the baptized.’ 

It’s easy to get anxious. It’s easy to let our anxiety slip into fear. It’s even easier to allow our fear to paralyze us and keep us stuck in a place of self-fulfilling “oppression sickness” where we imagine only the worst and envision ourselves as perpetual and eternal second class citizens in the world and in the church. 

I want to stop here, at this moment, and have us consider again Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. I’d like us to reflect on how it was that he got that name. It would appear that the disciples called him Son of Encouragement because he gave people a ‘second chance’. 

He had known Saul as a persecutor of Christians and enemy of the early Church. But, Barnabas was willing to give the old Saul/new Paul a second chance, even vouching for him with other Christians who wanted nothing to do with him. 

He also gave the young disciple Mark a second chance after he left Barnabas and Paul halfway through their first mission trip. Paul was much annoyed, but Barnabas gave him a second chance and Mark apparently turned out just fine, since even Paul later speaks highly of him in three of his Epistles. 

It has been my experience that people who give other people a second chance are confident, hopeful people. They are people who have hope because they have enough confidence in the lessons they have learned from their own failures that they are not afraid of the failures of others. 

People like Barnabas who are ‘encouragers’ are people who have learned how to take the bad that has happened as lessons to apply to the future.  

People who provide encouragement to others believe that failure is never the end. Indeed, failure is just an opportunity to learn something you could never have learned any other way. 

That new song that they sing to the Lord? It’s just a rearrangement of old notes and words. Like the words of repentance and forgiveness of Amazing Grace that are carried on a tune widely speculated as one that had been sung by the slaves on the ships that carried them to a tortured life of slavery. John Newton, who wrote the words to Amazing Grace had himself been a slave trader and had no doubt heard the slaves singing to give each other some comfort and encouragement.

How do we Queer people – and, I mean LGBT people and our straight allies – sing a new song unto the Lord? 

We who have been sent out, as Jesus is quoted as saying in Mark’s Gospel “like sheep in the midst of wolves,” how are we to proclaim the Good News” that the “Realm of Heaven has come near”?” 

How are we – having been baptized in the sacrament of new life in Christ and nourished by his Body and Blood in the sacrament of Eucharist, and having been denied full sacramental access to the all of the five sacramental rites – how are we to give the church a ‘second chance’ and encourage her to “love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with God”? 

I believe our sister Carter Heyward has one answer for us. Building on Mary Daly’s teaching that “God is a Verb,” Carter encourages us with these words:

For too long we Christians have imagined that we have very little sacred power, little divinity, little goodness, in and among our human selves. With devastating historical, social, and personal consequences, our patriarchal religious tradition has failed to convey to us the central and most important meaning on the JESUS story – God is with us, in the flesh, embodied among us, in the beginning and in the end.

Like JESUS, and in his Spirit, we are created to god.

This is what it means, to be fully human/creaturely – to god.

That is why we are here – to god.

Godding is loving – justice-loving.

To live fully in and with humanity is to make justice-love roll down like water!

To live fully in and with divinity is to share the earth and the resources vital to our survival and happiness as people and creatures.

To god is to embody the Spirit that creates and liberates the world, She who is incarnate among us here and now, literally calling us to life moment by moment.
So then, here’s the truth of it: We can only give someone else a second chance when we give ourselves a second chance. Like Jesus and in his Spirit, we are created to god. That is why we are here – to god. Godding is loving – justice loving. 

Contrary to what we’ve been told – by our culture and the church – we have all the sacred power we need, all the divinity and goodness we require, in and among our human selves. We are not helpless, orphaned, hopeless victims. 

God is with us, in the flesh, embodied among us, in the beginning and in the end. 

"Godding" – to embody the Spirit that creates and liberates the world – is that new song. As more and more of us have come out and lived our lives with integrity and authenticity, we have been harder and harder to ignore and dismiss. 

Our whole lives matter. Our song of redemption and freedom and salvation can be found in the lives we live and it cannot – will not – be silenced. 

I know. I know. I’ve heard you. I’ve heard your weariness. I confess that I share it, sometimes. 

What if, you ask, your knuckles white in a grip of anxiety, what if the Supreme Court doesn’t give us our civil rights? 

What if The Episcopal Church does what it often does and kicks the marriage equality can down the road for another three years? 

What if the voices that cry out “we haven’t done the theology” and “we don’t have a robust theology” and “we should wait until the rest of the church catches up with us,” and “this will kick us out of the Anglican communion” – what if they drown out the new song we are singing to the Lord? 

Well, I don’t deny the possibility. But probability? I am choosing to believe that while it’s probable that we’ll leave Salt Lake City with at least an authorized rite of blessing, it is possible that we won’t get the canonical change we seek. It’s also possible that we will. 

Let me tell you something about St. Harvey Milk, who must have taken lessons from Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. 

Anne Kronenberg, his final campaign manager, wrote of him: "What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us."

I think Harvey Milk was “godding”.  We can’t be Havey Milk, but we can “god”. We may not be able to be a visionary but we can fire our imagination and create a church which offers all the sacraments to all the baptized. We can’t be Barnabas but we can encourage each other and give each other – and the church – a second chance. 

And, if in the off chance – the improbability – that we leave SLCU without a change in the marriage canons? We go back again to the next 79th General Convention, wherever it may be held, and we try again.  Another chance for ourselves and for the church. 

Here’s the thing: We are not going away. We are not leaving the church – much as some would like and expect us to do. We are not leaving the Anglican Communion. We are singing a new song to the Lord and that song will not be silenced. 

As Pauli Murray – the first African American woman to be ordained in The Episcopal Church – once wrote: “Hope is a song in a weary throat.”  

I am here to boldly proclaim that Queer people – and I mean LGBT people and our straight allies – are that new song unto the Lord. 

We are singing for our lives. Of our lives.

Our throats may be weary, but we will not be silenced. We know  - we have learned the painful truth – that Silence, does in fact, equal Death.

We will give ourselves and each other and the church a second chance to make it right – until we get it right.   

We will continue to encourage each other in faith and hope. 

We will participate in the holy enterprise of “godding” – engaging our imaginations to be the change we seek, to be the justice we work for, to be the incarnate love that God has created us to be. 

In the words of ancient scripture, we are “blessed to be a blessing”.   

God is with us, in the flesh, embodied among us, in the beginning and in the end.  

So, go. 

“God”.  (God is a verb)

And, as you are “godding”, be yourselves - in your very own bodies - that new song to the Lord, proclaiming – so that all who meet you will know incarnate love and hope – that the Realm of God has come near. 

Can I get an 'Amen'? 


Friday, June 12, 2015

The Wild, Wild West

There are so many wonderful things to say about Social Media.

Except, sometimes, it's not so wonderful. Much less 'social'.

I've come to call it "The Wild, Wild West."

I love media platforms like FaceBook because it allows me to keep up with family and friends - and, they with me. I'm not a huge fan of Twitter but I do concede that, if you are involved in political movements or concerned about politics, or want/need to build up a "following," it's the "go to" place.

I confess I can't even get my head wrapped around "Instagram" or "My Space". I'm part of the "Google Circle" and "Pintrest" but, to be perfectly honest, I don't know what the heck they really are or do. I suspect they were designed to be competition or an alternative to ... well... the others.

Then, there's "Linkedin". I get notices every now and again that someone wants to "link" with me but since I took my name out of that group years ago, I suppose I would have to re-up in order to "link" with anyone and I'm sorry, I'm just not doing that.

Social media has been front and center of late in bringing justice to people who would never have gotten justice any other way.

Smart phones with cameras and video capability are changing the legal landscape, especially for people for whom the legal system has not been a vehicle of justice.

And yet, social media can be a place of vicious personal attacks and enormous injustice.

Consider these two incidents, both occurring in the very same week.

For example, just this week, a Texas policeman forced to the ground a bikini clad teen girl and pulled his gun on two teen boys after an altercation at a pool party. The policeman was White. The teens were Black. The incident was filmed and posted on YouTube.  The policeman, a ten year veteran, was publicly reprimanded and forced to resign.

And yet, also this week, a noted and much beloved author tweeted some inappropriate and mean-spirited things about a certain transgender woman who has been on the cover of a major magazine. Her son, however, called his mom up short and she - eventually - apologized. Well, apologized for the hurt, not for the comment.

I don't know what it is about a public platform that makes people think they are entitled to say anything they want to say, anywhere they want to say it, to whom anyone they wish to say it, most of whom are total strangers.

Or, is it that 'justice' to some looks like 'invasion of privacy' to others? Where are the boundaries? Who makes the rules? How are they enforced? Who gets to say when they are broken?

Welcome to the Wild, Wild West.

I moderate a FaceBook Group for an organization I've been associated with for much of my adult life. I am deeply committed to it and want the FB page to be a reflection of the values of this organization.

Here's the thing: One does not have to be a member of the organization in order to be a member of this particular FaceBook page.

And, I think, therein lie incredible evangelism and membership possibilities as well as enormous potential for problems.

Part of the solution was to develop Comment Guidelines which were modeled after the guidelines developed by the community known as Sojourners. They are very similar to the guidelines I have in the comment section of this blog (see below).

When the conversations around particular "hot topics" get a little too hot for some people, it is good to have the Guidelines to point to - to ask everyone to take a deep breath, take a step back, read the Guidelines and then carefully consider a 'response' verses a 'reaction'.

I've learned that the moderator has to be diligent as well as consistent. Consistency in the application of the guidelines is absolutely necessary, which is why diligence is imperative. Which means, it can be very, very time consuming.

Of course, for my efforts, some have called me "arrogant" and "controlling," oh, and "evil" - which, I think, says more about what's going on for that person than anything true about me.

I suppose it can feel like someone is "arrogant" to have your words judged as inappropriate. When things are out of control someone has to take control. And, of course, there's projection. 

It's the cost of doing business as a leader. Moderators are leaders. People say stuff about you that is mean and untrue and makes you angry. And, you deal with it. Because you know it's not true.

However, when it begins to get out of hand, you take some action to clear your own name. As you'll see in a minute.

But mostly I am thanked for keeping the conversation moving without being inappropriate or mean-spirited. That happens just enough times to make it worth the effort.

Some have left their FB group membership of their own accord. I have had to remove exactly four people over the past ten years. I have blocked two. Two have blocked themselves from both the FB page and me.

You can't be a sissy in the Wild, Wild West.

I should say that I have never blocked anyone without warning and notice. I try to be fair. I try to provide an explanation as to why the comment(s) are inappropriate. Some people simply refuse to listen to that. They believe that if a FB page is "public" that means it is open to anyone and everyone and they can do and say whatever they want to whomever they wish.

See also: entitled and privileged.

Oh, and sometimes, bat crap crazy. 

The chaos one sees on some group pages is sometimes directly related to the style of moderation of the page.

Some moderators are very 'hands off'. Others delete comments they feel are 'inappropriate' - without telling the person who made the comment.

Still others change the 'rules' every other week and assume that this page must clearly be the center of the universe - because it is the center of their universe - and so you have, of course, read everything that's posted there, including rule changes, every day.

And, sometimes, the chaos is directly related to the pathos of some of the people - especially the so-called "owner" of the page - which reveals itself in the ethos of the page.

As for me, I'm proud to say I have been blocked twice in the past ten years - once on a blog and the other on a FB page.

The blog is "owned" by a group of folks who have mostly left The Episcopal Church. I am very proud to say that I stand firmly in an august group of people who have been blocked.

If I were to start reading off names, well, it would sound like a Who's Who of the Progressive Left. Honestly, it's great company.

We are able to read everything posted on that blog. We are just unable to comment. Actually, that's probably best for the soul. Although, I must say that in the past five years, things have calmed down quite a bit. At this point, we could probably write each other's blog posts. And comments. It's all so predictable and sad.

The other is a FB page that, if you didn't know better, sounds like it represents The Episcopal Church. It gets pretty rough over there, even though there have been as many as seven moderators, each taking turns "on duty". Although, I understand that, just recently, five of them abruptly quit, leaving just the original "owner" and one other person.

Apparently, I and a few other folk were blocked because we were commenting about the goings on over there on another FB page. I said I thought that what went on in that particular FB page was "an embarrassment to The Episcopal Church".

I meant it then. I mean it today.

There was no warning. No notice. No communication.

About a week later, I went over to check in and noticed I couldn't get on. Couldn't even find it in my FB feed. I checked with one of the moderators who told me that, yes, in fact, I had been blocked.

Which is fine. I really went over there once a week or so, mostly to shake my head in dismay, maybe offer a comment or post something I thought might stimulate some good discussion, and then leave.

So, here's where I have to defend myself. Apparently, the "owner" is telling folks - anyone who will listen, apparently but of course I don't know that for myself because, well, I'm blocked - that I had to be blocked because I called his rector to complain about being blocked and tried to sabotage his discernment process toward the priesthood.

Poor baby.

I would ignore it, except some people have asked me about it. At least one person I know and love asked me if it was true. While I was grateful for the question because at least I knew what lies were being spread about me, I was pretty devastated by being asked. I mean, as if . . . . 

So, in case you've heard anything and, you know, just for the record:

I know the man lives in a large, major metropolitan area. I don't know where, exactly. Neither do I know which church he attends. Therefore, I wouldn't know his rector. (Well, correction: I found out just yesterday when I asked a member of that church.)

For the record: I did not call his rector. That FB page may be the center of the owner's universe but it is not the center of mine. I don't know the rector and even if I did I certainly wouldn't call about something as ridiculous and frivolous as being blocked from a FB page.

I left the sixth grade a long, long time ago.

For the record: I do not believe one person has power in anyone's ordination process. Not the person discerning a call. Not the rector. Not even the bishop who needs the endorsement of the Standing Committee before he/she can ordain.

Discernment is done in community - in the community of faith, in the seminary community, the field education community, the community of Clinical Pastoral Education and the community of the Commission on Ministry.

So, one call from one priest to another is not going to deter a valid vocation to ordination. If it were that easy, many of us who are priests today would not be able to take our place in the councils of the church, much less cherish our place at the altar and in the pulpit.

I can say that if this "owner's" actions are any portent of the way conflict would be handled in a community of faith where he was leader, the church is in worse shape than the numbers reveal. Are we really surprised all of the moderators left in one fell swoop?

See also: Wild, Wild West.

You know, if this were the only incidence, I'd shrug my shoulders and say, "Meh!". But, this is going on all over the internet.

Comments can turn real ugly real fast, especially where there's a "drive by commenter" - someone who drops a bomb into the middle of the conversation, causing it to suddenly veer off into an entirely different and undesired direction.

Some groups are designed to be a place - a "private, safe place" - where people can express their anger, outrage, confusion and frustration over a particular event.

Unfortunately, these are very places where 'reptilian brain' is the only part of the cerebellum which is engaged. Expect 'reaction' vs 'response'. Expect a lot of snapping and snarling, aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual display.

Expect that, if you try to drop some reason or reasonable question into the discussion, you and it will be attacked like so much fresh, raw meat, which may be dragged over to another FB page - without your knowledge or permission - to be ridiculed.

Expect that reason - or anything but anger, outrage, confusion and frustration - will be seen as an attack on loyalty and devotion.  Expect that everything you say after that will be automatically suspect. Even maintaining silence but hitting "like" can cause you to experience snapping and snarling.

The rule of thumb is that any group known as a "safe space" probably isn't. Not unless you are willing to march lock-step with the prevailing opinions and attitudes. It is only really "safe" for those who want and need to be angry, outraged, confused and frustrated.

Trust me on this. I have learned the hard way and have the scars to prove it.

And, nothing is "private". Not on the internet. Don't kid yourself. Anyone can take anything you post and either take a "screen shot" of it or copied and cut and pasted and used anywhere by anyone. 

And yet . . . and yet . . . . Social media does some wonderful things. It is a powerful tool. Like any powerful tool, it can be used for good and abused for evil.

I don't know the answer, but I think we all have a sense of what might work.

Here are some of my suggestions, but they will only work if you see a problem and want change.

A little common sense is a good place to start.

The Golden Rule is probably the only rule anyone ever needs anywhere but it's especially applicable on Social Media.

Try practicing 'response' instead of 'reaction'. That may mean you have to wait a whole five minutes before you write something down in the comment section. Think it through. Ask yourself what will be helpful to this conversation.

I know that doesn't really work well on Social Media where everything is in "real time" but it might make the media more 'social'.

Try to avoid "snark" - which is a snide, sarcastic remark. Snark has become a prominent means of communication on social media. It's a "style" I'm told. Lighten up, they say to me.

Here's the thing: Sarcasm is always a manifestation of anger. When you find yourself about to make a 'snarky' comment, think about what's making your angry. Deal with that, first. Then make your comment.

Imagine that person is in the room with you. Look into that person's eyes. Would you say what you are about to write to that person's face? Would you say that to a total stranger? 

And, in case you haven't read them, these are the Comment Code of Conduct for this blog.
Comment Code of Conduct

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of this online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree—even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by the Blog Owner and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)

(With thanks to Sojourners)
I'm not recommending this code for everyone. It's still subjective. I get to decide.

I am recommending that everyone consider a code of conduct for your own comments.

I think it's our best chance for taming the Wild, Wild West - and helps us to have a prayer of putting the 'social' back into Social Media.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

All You Need Is Love

A Sermon preached June 7, 2015 Proper 5B

I don’t know about you, but every time I read this passage from Mark’s gospel, I am caught up short by the harshness of these words of Jesus.  I took the great liberty of reading you the gospel from the translation known as The Message because I wanted you to hear what Jesus is saying to us so that we can be clear.  I hope you take your bulletin insert home and compare notes later.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at the harshness of the words of Jesus, given the context. And, the words are pretty harsh. Indeed, this passage is known as one of the “Hard Sayings of Jesus”. In the translation we have in our bulletin insert, Jesus is reported as saying that anyone who sins or blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has committed an unforgivable sin.

Wait! What? An unforgivable sin? How can that be? Aren’t all things forgiven by God? Or, is it just the Third Person of the Trinity who is different. So, wait. So, you can sin against God the father, and sin against God the son, and there’s nothing you can do that won’t be forgiven. But, sin against the Holy Spirit and you’re toast? What?

It reminds me of that old Jim Croche song: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask of the old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Jim.” Apparently, you don’t mess around with the Holy Spirit, either.

So, what’s going on here? Well, let’s take these words in context and let's ust imagine this gospel scene from the third chapter of Mark. The healing ministry of Jesus has been going on in earnest. And, the Pharisees are not pleased. At. All. 

At the beginning of chapter three, Jesus comes upon a man with a crippled hand and everyone is wondering if Jesus will heal him. It was the Sabbath, you see, and the Pharisees are very strict and rigid about the Sabbath – even concerning healing on the Sabbath.  Imagine!

As the story continues, in Peterson’s translation: 
Then he spoke to the people: “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?” No one said a word.

He looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out—it was as good as new! The Pharisees got out as fast as they could, sputtering about how they would join forces with Herod’s followers and ruin him.
So, Jesus knows that the Pharisees are angry. He knows they are plotting against him. Still, the crowd gathers around him, pressing him for healing. He can’t say no. Indeed, he doesn’t even take time to eat. His family and friends are growing concerned about him. 

The Pharisees – whom Peterson generously describes as “the religious scholars from Jerusalem” – had begun to spread rumors that Jesus was using some sort of magic, some dark art, something maleficent and evil, to heal people. Which is when Jesus explodes. 

He says, “You can’t send out a devil to catch a devil. You can’t use Satan to get rid of Satan!” 

In other words, you can’t heal evil with evil. 

Which reminds me of something Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached. He said, Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It’s true, isn’t it? We forget that when we’re anxious or afraid or hurting or frustrated. 

I remember, as a child, trying to open a jar – might have been peanut butter or perhaps a jar of jelly. It seemed the more I pushed and tugged and grunted, the less progress I made.

To my mind, if something wasn’t moving, it meant that I needed to counter that force with more force. That’s not necessarily true. My father would say, “Elizabeth, you can work hard, or you can work smart. Anyone can work hard. Try to work smart.”

And, with that, he showed me how to turn the jar upside down and tap it lightly on the counter. Then, he used a towel and wrapped it around the lid so the sweat and grease from my hands wouldn’t interfere with the traction needed to open the jar. 

Finally, he taught me to pull the jar closer to my chest as I applied gentle, steady pressure. That way, I was using my muscles at their optimum.  He was teaching me to work smart.

I remember following his instructions carefully and hearing him say, “You can do this. Imagine the lid coming off. If you can see it, you can do it.” 

And, suddenly, just like magic, I felt the resistance on the jar give, heard the pop and, Voila!, the lid was off the jar. 

I had still worked hard, but, not as hard as I would have if I hadn’t worked smart.

I think healing is like that.  There’s an old Native American saying that goes something like this: “Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.”

I think that’s a bit of what Jesus is teaching us here in this passage. Jesus was about the business of not letting the pain of their daily lives control them – especially the painful imposition of a strict, rigid interpretation and application of the Sabbath laws.

But, then comes the really hard teaching of Jesus. The part about forgiveness and what it means to sin or blaspheme or slander the Holy Spirit.  He says:
“Listen to this carefully. I’m warning you. There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you persist in your slanders against God’s Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.” He gave this warning because they were accusing him of being in league with Evil.
Jesus is speaking to those religious scholars – the Pharisees who insist on a strict interpretation of God’s law – and saying to them and to us today, that to slandering the works of Jesus – accusing him of being in league with Satan to affect healing –  is to slander the work of God’s Holy Spirit. And, in doing so, separates oneself from the very One who forgives all sins. 

See? It’s like trying to open a jar of jelly or peanut butter by holding it out here and cursing and swearing and sweating. Healing miracles are of God. They happen in God’s way and in God’s good time. You can’t force them to happen. You can’t curse them into being. Often, you've got to work with God and allow God to work through you.

Healing miracles are a great mystery precisely because they are from God.

As St. Paul says in today’s passage from his second letter to the church in Corinth: “ . . .because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Back to the gospel story: Just then, the mother and brothers of Jesus show up and want to have a word with him. Jesus uses the occasion to underscore the miraculous healing power of love. Love tears down all barriers and divisions because love flows from an obedience to God’s love for us. 

When we are one with God, we are one with one another and the miracle of the family of God heals all divisions of race and ethnicity and gender and age and any other human construct of that which separates and divides us. 

Which reminds me of the words of another song, this one by Lennon and McCartney:
There's nothing you can make that can't be made
No one you can save that can't be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn to be you in time
It's easy
The refrain, of course, is also the title of the song: “All you need is love.”

Well, life is of’t times more complicated than that, isn’t it? Which is not to dismiss the enormous power of the incarnate love of God in Christ Jesus through the ongoing revelation by the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

I have seen that love in action and it is amazing. Truly. I have felt the power of that love working through my own life. Perhaps you have, as well.  If you have, you know that miracles can and do happen. When you begin to live your life expecting miracles to happen, you’ll find that miracles are all around you. Everywhere. Happening every day.

If you don’t, if you harden your heart and set firm boundaries around your life and your heart, living by rigid rules, you’ll not only miss the forest for the trees, you’ll miss the possibility of miracles in your life.   

You’ll be cutting yourself off from the Source of all life and all miracles. And, while God will always love you and always forgive you, you may find it hard to forgive yourself. Especially when you realize what you’ve been missing. 

Love may not be all you need, but the world sure would be a better place if we all brought a little more love into our lives, wouldn’t it?  

I saw a bumper sticker the other day which was deceptively simple. It read “Everyone does better when everyone does better. “ Think about that for a minute and let it sink in: Everyone does better when everyone does better.

What would happen to you - to this church - to your family - to your neighborhood - to your town and this state - to this country and this world - if we woke up each morning committed to doing better? If we believed that our positive attitude could make a difference? 

Quaker educator and author Parker Palmer has a term for this. It's called "functional atheism". 

If you believe in God, you'll take a risk. Do something that breaks or bends a rule because it helps another person. Just as Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath.

This passage is known as one of the “Hard Sayings of Jesus” but it’s really not so hard once you understand the context of his words and know more plainly what he’s saying.  

So, if you read this passage and the harshness of it catches you up short, just try to remember:

You can’t cast out darkness with darkness; only light can do that. You can’t cast out hate with hate; only love can do that. 

You can work hard or you can work smart, but you'll work a lot less hard if you work smart.
There’s nothing you can do to separate yourself from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not even yourself. 

Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.

Everyone does better when everyone does better.

There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made. No one you can save that can’t be saved. Nothing you can do but you can learn to be you. In time. It’s easy. All you need is love.  

“ . . .because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Even so, it is still a wise and true thing and good advice to remember not to tug on Superman’s cape. 

And, it’s just flat out dumb to spit into the wind. 

For heaven’s sake, don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger. 

But, whatever you do, please: Don’t mess around with the Holy Spirit, who has many aliases like "Serendipity" and "Coincidence" and "Ruach" and "Shekinah" but, apparently, is sometimes also known as "Jim".