Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Very Important Questions About The End Of A Decade

I wonder what it is that makes the end of a decade so important?  Magazines, newspapers and television are filled with decade memories as if somehow the moment that the year 2000 c.e. arrived we entered a new discrete chapter of history that is coming to its discrete end on December 31, 2009.  Is our obsession with decades what is meant by decadence?   

My first real encounter with that came in the transition from the 50s to the 60s.  The decade of childhood had ended.  The wonderful decade of adulthood was blossoming.  Well, so much for that one.  It was also a time of speculation about the wonderful future that would lie just on the other side of the magical year 2000.  I recall the bunch of us calculating how old we would be then and wondering if we might be too aged to enjoy it.  The ‘FUTURE!‘  Whatever it was, would exist in a wholly different world, yet it would be our world and it would begin in 2000.  We could get a glimpse of it at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  I was there.  I saw the future and it was intoxicating.  

Now the first decade of that future is ending.  Not only am I confused about what makes ten such an important number, but I confess some disillusion about the FUTURE.  Where is my flying car?  Why does my kitchen not offer up prepared meals at my command?  For that matter, why does it look a lot like it did eleven years ago?  How can it be that the century old water and sewer pipes in my city are failing?  Why does the international space station look like an orbiting junk heap and not like a proper Disney designed wheel?  For that matter, does HAL live in my computer?  So many questions.  So few answers.  Maybe by 2020?  This, this decade coming, maybe this decade will be the FUTURE.

Or maybe, on this sixth day of Christmas in the Year of our Lord 2009 by the conventional calendar, we might recall that the future came a long time ago.  In that coming all decades were transcended.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Goofing Off

We are on Winter Break, goofing off in BC on Vancouver Island.  More blogs anon when normal thinking is restored.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Dark and Brooding Christmas Pageant?

Have you ever noticed a difference in tempo and mood between the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke?  It occurred to me only recently.  Matthew is filled with dark, anxious urgency.  Most of his narrative happens in the night.  Joseph anxiously pondered the immediate question of what to do about Mary’s pregnancy.  The wise men’s eagerness to find the new born king set the whole of Herod’s court into a frenzy of worry.  Their secretive hurried trip home, Herod’s enraged raid on Bethlehem, Joseph’s rush to get his family out of harms way, and his cautious return a few years later are all wrapped up in a few paragraphs of text breathless with darkness and danger.  

Luke is languid.  Almost two entire chapters are filled with slow moving action, poetry, songs filling the sky, all the time needed to fulfill the law and the prophets, and irenic blessings with only one gentle note of impending discord.  No threats of divorce, no raging king, no fleeing to Egypt, just all things done properly and in order with the perfectly natural return of a new family to their home in Nazareth. 

In Matthew no power of darkness, no matter how violent, can prevent God from accomplishing what God purposes.  In Luke, no amount of celebratory singing can abolish the trials that are yet to come.  Each, in its own way, anticipates the victory of the cross and Resurrection sown in the seeds of the Incarnation.

So here is what I wonder.  Pastors know that for more than a few Christmas is a dark and foreboding time to be got through and got over as best one can.  Luke simply does not speak to them.  I wonder what it would be like to produce a Christmas pageant based entirely on Matthew: a pageant filled with brooding darkness, the music of “Jaws” and the tension of Hitchcock.  It would be a pageant of God’s, Gabriel’s and Joseph’s dogged determination to never let the light go out.  It would end not with the blessing of Simeon, but with the young adult Jesus preaching the beatitudes. 

It would not be a pageant for children, and probably not for a lot of adults either.  But it would be a pageant for some who struggle mightily with these days, and who desperately need to hear that God knows, understands, is present and cannot be defeated.

Christmas Travel

We get to do things in retirement that are not normal for us.  For instance, we can take weekends off and go somewhere, or, even more exotic, we can go somewhere on major holidays such as Christmas.  Last year we were in suburban NYC with Christmas Eve at Christ Church in Pelham.  This year we arre in Seattle with Christmas Eve at St Andrew’s.  It takes a little getting used to.  There is a lingering sense that perhaps you have abandoned those in need (of you) to indulge yourself in the frivolity of visiting family and enjoying fellowship without the obligation to plan and conduct services.   

At the same time, there is the pleasure of being able to worship without caring whether the furnace is working, the lights are on, the acolytes will show up, the candles are lit or your Christmas Eve sermon just the thing to enlighten all those occasional people sitting in the pews.  There is something healthy about experiencing worship in a strange setting as a stranger.  It refreshes the way I experience my own worship community when we come home because my understanding of it has been educated by new experiences, new people and new ways of doing things.      

Friday, December 18, 2009

Zechariah, mind your own business!

Zechariah heard God speak.  This is what he heard.  “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy each to his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart.”

For a long time it was understood that brother meant just that, the one to whom I am related, and more particularly, the male to whom I am related.   I imagine that by implication it also included the widows and poor within my clan as well as visiting relatives.  Any one outside those boundaries was fair game?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that Jesus set the record straight through his engagement with demoniacs, Canaanites, Syro-Phoenicians, Samaritans, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, Herodians, and, in case one missed the point, through the parable of the Good Samaritan as well.  His disciples continued so that within the span of a generation the gospel had been proclaimed in every part of the Roman Empire and beyond.  

One would think that Christians would embrace the whole idea, but clan and class are powerful opponents.  Not more than twenty years ago I listened to a reasonably well educated Episcopal priest assert that all that Zechariah heard God say applied only to fellow Christians because the synoptic Jesus proclaimed his brothers and sisters to be those who followed him in doing God’s will, which, of course, means us Christians and not others.  To me that misses the whole point of all that Jesus taught and for which he died.  Even within Christendom we have been comfortable discriminating against each other in similar ways based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and presently on sexual orientation.  How twisted is that?

Through Zechariah, God warned against devising evil against our brothers in our hearts, and that’s worthy of some reflection all by itself.  To devise does not require action, it only requires rough planning, but ‘in our hearts’ doesn’t even require that.  In our hearts implies more of an unplanned but earnestly felt intention.  Evil, at least in its older sense, is the whole realm of ordinary bad things happening as much by chance as anything else.  So we might interpret God as warning us not to carry grudges or wish bad things on others.

These are pretty high bars:
  • Be honest and fair in our judgments
  • Show kindness and mercy.
  • Do not create conditions of oppression for widows, the poor, or those who sojourn among us.
  • Hold no grudges and do not wish bad things on others.

My tradition begins worship this Sunday with a prayer that Jesus at his coming might find in us a mansion prepared for himself.   Will he?  Or will he find no room at our inns because we are unable to judge wisely, and care for the poor, oppressed and sojourners who are not of our family, class, clan or race.  Will he find us ready to scorn, turn away and wish evil upon his head?  Remember, that the first time he came as a stranger, an infant of a poor sojourning family.  What makes us think we will recognize him any better when he comes to us in our time?

“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray: cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.  We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

If this is our Breakfast Conversation you know we need to get a Life!

Around our house we’ve lately been talking about souls.  Great breakfast table conversation.  Is the soul inside or outside of the body?  When some theologians, me for instance, talk about embodied souls, what the heck are they talking about?  Where did the idea of an eternal soul come from?  What is a soul anyway?

An eternal soul that is ours by right of being human is very popular and commonly held, but it’s a very Greek idea that doesn’t have much credibility in Hebrew scripture.  That seems to come as a surprise to most Christians.  On the other hand, Hebrew scripture does reflect something of our nature that continues on after death, even if it is in cold storage in Sheol.   Consider, for instance, the story of King Saul summoning up the spirit of Samuel to advise him on the upcoming battle.  Nevertheless, some kind of spiritual cold storage does not seem to me to be the same thing as life after death.  Life requires living in all the meanings that living can have.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were firmly convinced of a resurrection life in which all the promises of God would be fulfilled.  The gift of that life eternal, whatever eternal might mean, seems to be exactly that, a gift given by God and not something that is inherent in human being.   As Christians we believe that by grace through faith we are recipients of that gift, but I think we get into a lot of trouble when we start telling God what the rules are that govern how and to whom God can grant it.  As far as I know, God has never asked for our opinion on that.  

Our continued life, in the fullness of all that life can be, after our bodies have died suggests that the soul bears our self into new territory.  Whatever our soul is, it seems to me that it must encompass all that we would call the self.  I’m not entirely sure what that means, but as a man growing into his senior years, I do know that the self I identify as me is not an old man, in spite of what my body displays in the mirror.  That self is not merely the exchange of electrical impulses coursing across the synapses of my brain, nor is it only the image and capabilities of my body.  It is more than that, and it continues to grow and change embracing the wholeness of my life.  

I believe that both the Incarnation and the Resurrection symbolize the embodiment of soul.  Materiality is a part of the soul’s wholeness.  The body is not a temporary and decaying soul container from which we will emerge as freed spirits after death.  Something there is about soul that includes materiality.

That raises a really good question.  What will our resurrection body be like?  The Corinthians wanted to know and Paul famously answered by calling the questioner a fool.  He went on to say, in essence, that he really had no idea, but whatever it is, it will be quite different from the one we now have.  I think we get a clue about the answer not from the Resurrection, but from the Transformation.  In that scene, the disciples recognized both Elijah and Moses without difficulty, and that’s the clue.  Whatever our resurrection body is, it will embody our souls so that our self will be instantly recognizable by anyone who ever knew us at any time in our lives, regardless of age or condition.  

So do we get these marvelous new bodies immediately after death or do we have to wait around for the General Resurrection?  N.T. Wright takes a third track and seems to think that we will spend  a lot of time in heaven as disembodied souls waiting for the new earth of Revelation before we again become embodied.  Given what physicists have told us about the notorious instability of time itself, I’m not sure the question even makes sense.  In God’s presence perhaps all these things happen at the same time.  Since our earthly lives are predictably short, what difference does it make?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Work That Is Pleasing In God's Sight

Once upon a time, not long after God began his acts of creation, he brought into being a man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till and care for it.  The story in Genesis 2 says something about the nature of being human that requires work as an essential element of human wholeness.   But more than that, it also says something about what that work is.  It is a work of holy  stewardship.  The man was charged with taking care of God’s creation, engaging with all the plants and animals so that the acts of creation and recreation could continue.

The story in Genesis 2 features a particular person who would later be known as Adam.  But preceding it in Genesis 1 is a more universal story where the whole of humanity is brought into being by God and given dominion over the rest of God’s earthly creation, not as owners but as agents created in the image of God to continue to the work of God.

The work of caring for God’s creation is a fundamental part of what it is to be human, and that includes not only the stewardship of land, water, air, plants and animals, but most important of all, the stewardship of humanity, of one another.  Some theology holds that humans have fallen so far and become so depraved that they can offer no righteous work to God.  I’m not so sure.  Scripture frequently testifies to the work of individuals as signs of their righteousness before God.  Consider for instance Abel, Noah, Lot, Job, Abraham, David (in spite of his evil deeds), and Joseph of Nazareth, to which we might add the anonymous righteous mentioned in Ezekiel, Amos, Habakuk, Matthew and Luke.  None of them were perfect.  Each was a sinner.  They were not deemed righteous in their being, but righteousness was attributed to them for their works.  What seems to tie them together is that they not only heard God’s word but became doers of it so that at least some of their deeds were considered to be moments of righteousness and pleasing in God’s sight. 

If we are capable of deeds showing moments of righteousness, Jesus, in his humanity, led a life of works that was entirely righteous before God and demonstrated for us what righteous works look like.   Now you might think that this preamble is headed toward an essay on what righteousness might look like in the life of an ordinary fallen 21st century human being living in North America, but what I started out to explore was something a bit different.  What all of this brought to mind was how important work itself is to being a whole human being.  Work is not something to be simply endured, done until retirement, or until one has accumulated enough wealth to quit.  Human beings need work to be fully human in body, mind and soul.  But not any work will do.  The work that completes us is work that God has given us to do, work that is undertaken in companionship with God.  That work, in all its combinations and permutations, is the work of caring for God’s creation, including caring for one another.  It includes the work of tilling the soil through which new life and new bounty can be brought into the world.  There are so many soils.  There are so many ways of tilling.  I wonder how we might examine how the ordinary jobs of ordinary human beings might be understood as holy work that is pleasing in God’s sight?  What might that mean for our understanding of ministry and stewardship?  Got any ideas about that?
  

Monday, December 14, 2009

Infidel

I’ve just finished reading “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2007, Free Press, Simon and Schuster).  It’s the story of her indoctrination into the clan structure and stern Islam of her native Somalia, her emerging sense of self as a child living in Saudi Arabia and Kenya that included the normal beatings endured by children, espsecially girls, forced marriages of pubescent girls to older men, the institutionalized violent oppression of women, and the growing force of Islamic fundamentalism.  In a remarkable sequence of events she learned to assert her self apart from family and clan, escape to Holland, became a Dutch citizen, served in parliament and endured the murderous hatred of those who remained in the life she had left behind.  

Obviously there is more, and if you have not read it I encourage you to do so.  Don’t let the introduction by Christopher Hitchens get in the way.  In the end Ali comes to the place where she can no longer believe in the Allah of her youth, and therefore she cannot believe in God by any other name.  That just feeds Hitchens’ delight.  Another nail in God’s coffin.  

The Allah and Islam she grew up with deserves to be nailed in a coffin.  But lest we become arrogant, so does the God of extreme Christian fundamentalism, and, by the occasional news report, I suspect the same is true for the extreme fundamentalist gods of all other religions.  Ali’s is a strong voice warning against being naive about the danger to liberal democracies of religious fundamentalism, and especially in this moment in history of the Islamic zealots who are so locked in their little worlds of bigotry and hatred that they cannot see beyond the next bomb.  But again, words of caution.  Her warnings can too easily become energizers for our own ignorance and prejudice leading us to demonize Islam and all Muslims.  Moreover, we Christians are not immune.  We have our own extremists, perhaps not as violent in action but certainly as violent in words.  And they are not beyond acting out now and then blowing up buildings, murdering abortion doctors, nurturing white supremacy and the like.  

Perhaps it is this very tension, felt but hard to articulate, that has generated such a resurgence in apprection for Niebuhr’s Christian Realism.  It is difficult for Christians to be politically astute and yet persevere in following where Christ has led.  It’s hard to remember that he came to save the world and not just you and me (with my doubts about you).  And it breaks my heart that one who tried so hard to find a God who would love her, rejecting the cruel god she knew, could find nothing at all. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Codeine and Carrots

I have not written much lately but I’ve got a dandy excuse.  My cold turned into brochitis of some kind that ended up with an antibiotic and a bottle of codeine cough syrup.  Some people can handle codeine.  I am not one of them.  It stopped the cough just fine but that loopy feeling it brought on was more than unpleasant.  Most people tell me that it just makes them sleepy, but sleep eludes me.  Instead, I find myself in a semi-conscious state in which which ideas without number flow through my head like little rafts on white water rapids, and I cannot grab hold of any one of them.  Now that I’m done with that, I actually have a thought that has lingered for a few minutes, long enough for me to write about it.  It has to do with the current idealistic trend toward eating only locally grown, preferably organic, produce.

I’m the chair of a local committee that is exploring ways to add value to our agricultural economic base in new and creative ways.  I was confronted at our meeting earlier this week by the singular, evangelistic passion of a local farmer for whom this is the one, only and most critically important issue in agriculture today.  No other issue even needs to be considered.  People with that kind of passion are key to success in new ventures, but I’m not as eager as he is to make it a priority.

For one thing, there are very few regions in the country that are able to grow enough crops in enough variety to satisfy the needs of a local population.  That is certainlhy our case.  Our climate, weather and soils won’t allow it.   What we are able to grow in quantity and quality is more than the local market can absorb.  We need to export it to some other place.  For us that means wheat used mostly for pasta, wine grapes and wine, onions, garbanzo beans, alfalpa seeds and canola.  In the summer our valley produces wonderful fruits and vegetables that are sold almost exclusively in the local market.  It’s a wonderful time of great abundance, but it ends by fall.  But that does not end our desire for, and need of, fresh fruits and vegetables.  So we import them from other places.  

A bag of onions from Peru is on our kitchen counter.  Carrots, cabbage, lettuce, green beans and more are in the regrigerator, most from somewhere south of the border, some from south of the equator.  My coffee is from Ethiopia and my tea from S.E. Asia.  What about your larder?  

We, and probably you, can afford to eat this rich variety of healthy foods all year long.  It is an immoral tragedy that the greater part of the world cannot do the same, and that’s true for far too many in our own small community and yours too.  It is also an immoral tragedy that some, if not a majority, of the bounty that graces our table is the product of unjust labor practice bordering on slavery alog with a lack of stewardship of the land.  

In the end, while I am very much in favor of as much locally grown and consumed produce as possible, I am much more concerned about healthy diets for the greater number provided by nutritious foods produced by fairly compensated labor using sustainable agricultural practices.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Colds, Sermons and Glenn Beck


Sitting around the house with a cold is a drag.  At least H1N1 or pneumonia of some kind would earn some bragging rights at the weekly woe-is-me gathering.  But a cold is just a cold.  According to the tevelvision commercials I should be able to take any one of a number of remedies and wake up smiling, feeling great and jaunting off to work, no doubt infecting everyone I met.  For me, it doesn't work that way.  With or without snake oil my energy level declines to near zero.  My IQ sinks to well below dull normal.  Not a cretive thought enters my mind.  I can sit and stare for hours at the televison, even if it’s off.  Two or three pages of a book put me to sleep.  My beloved crossword puzzles become trials that would baffle the NSA.  My throat is sore, my eyes are bleary and my voice sqeaks.  I’ve been trying to prayerfully ponder the lessons for tomorrow.  It seems to me that the key to tomorrow’s lectionary reading is the word ‘knowledge’, and while I can imagine why that is true, it’s an image that comes without words.  

Do you suppose that Jesus ever got a cold?  He certainly got a little testy here and there.  Maybe he just didn’t feel very well.  I figure Paul had a cold when he wrote Second Corinthians considering how he flipfloped between profession of his love for them and irritability beyond measure.  Stephen must certainly have had a cold on that fateful day; otherwise why would he have gone on and on lecturing those rabbis on what they already knew.  I’ll bet poor Glenn Beck is suffering from a permanent cold.  It would explain everything.  A little Nyquil, a good night’s sleep, and he might become a really cheerful guy skipping down the sidewalk on his way to a happy day at work.  

Tomorrow I’ll go to Grace Church and squeak out a sermon on why knowldege is what you need to know about to understand Advent.   I’m sure it will make more sense tomorrow than it does now.  On the other hand, most of the congregation can’t hear very well anyway so it might not matter.  I’ll use lots of hand sanitizer before celebrating the Eucharist and probably abstain from distribution, turning that over to a couple of lay people who may or may not be licensed to do that, but as long as there are no canon lawyers around I won’t worry about it.   In the meantime I’m going to try to finish the Saturday crossword and read a few pages of “Preaching the Atonement” (Stevenson & Wright).  Someone told me it was an easy read.  You think? 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Waiting

Compared to Easter, Christmas is in a distant second place as an important Christian holy day.  But that’s not the way I remember it as a child.  Then Easter was a boring imitation of Christmas with a few decorations, a basket of candy that did not come close to the Halloween take of a few months earlier, and a lame Easter egg hunt that I never was good at because my little sisters got too much help from our parents.  Getting ready for Easter involved waiting through Lent, but since Easter held no special anticipatory glee for me, the idea of Lent was irrelevant.  How all that related to the Feast of the Resurrection was a mystery to me.  In fact the whole idea of resurrection was a mystery.  I had some vague idea that it was a good thing that Jesus was really alive, but that was about it. 

Now Christmas, that was another matter altogether.  Waiting for Christmas was a giddy affair of hardly contained anticipation egged on by hours spent buried in the plump toy section of an enormous Sears Roebuck catalogue.  Of course I knew that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus, but the Sears catalogue won out over bible stories as preferred reading.  The season of Advent helped.  No matter how anxiously eager I was for Christmas to come, it could not be hurried.  Marking off the days and weeks with an advent calendar measured the incredibly slow process of time.  Pictures behind the little doors kept reminding me that Jesus was the focus of it all.  Bible stories, second place though they were to Sears, were read over and over so that I had a clear understanding of Mary and Joseph, donkeys and shepherds, wise men and stars, and a reasonably decent idea of how important it was for Jesus to be born.   Moreover, in spite of my avaricious delight in Santa, other Christmas stories helped me understand that this special day was not about me, and that somehow I was involved with extending the enduring work of Jesus into lives other than mine (although it did not occur to me that that might include the lives of my little sisters).

Advent was a childhood symbol of waiting for wonders that could not be hurried.  How many other advents are there in one’s life?  Waiting to grow up; graduate from school; get married; get a job; become successful in a career; what else?  Can the Christian Advent inform these other advents?  Can waiting become as important as getting?  Can our waiting become a time of learning that it’s not just about us, and that we have something to do for each other and for all as we wait?  Can all of our advents, and this particular Advent, lead us from self-centered childish anticipation to the mature recognition of what we are waiting for?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Solstice Celebration or Christmas?

It seems like every year I write something on the history of Christmas.  The first year that I gave a talk on “When was Jesus really born?”, I could see the disbelieving faces betraying their certainty that I had become a heretic.  One year I wrote a column for the local paper on the origins of popular Christmas customs that got me more than a few nasty responses.   So here we are again trying to get Christ back into Christmas with little recognition that we Christians tried to take over a well established Roman solstice celebration somewhere around the fourth century, and then kept on trying to do it in the other northern cultures we encountered, each with their own solstice celebrations.  Never had much success, but we’re still trying.


I think we should give up, relax, enjoy the pagan rituals that surround us and that are not offensive to our faith, and get on with parallel celebration of our Christ’s Mass without trying to merge the two.  It’s a battle we lost centuries ago and continue to lose each year.  As for me and my household, we will observe Advent and the Christian Christmas, but we will also enjoy gifts, wreaths, trees, lights, parties, etc.  Besides, it’s one of the two times in the year when marginal and non-Christians will show up in church, and we should make the most of it with boldly inviting proclamations of the Good News of God in Christ.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Polls





Public opinion polling came into its own in the late ‘30s and ‘40s as a way to inform public and private decision makers about what the public, in its manifold forms, was thinking or how it might react to some new decision.  To the extent that polling still does that, it’s a useful tool.

But consider polling as a form of entertainment or faux news reporting.  Then it becomes a tool more intended to tell the public what to think or decide: ignorance informing ignorance.  What I mean is that the daily cascade of news is filled with reports of what the polls say.  Is the economy getting better?  Should we pull out of Afghanistan?  Are 40,000 additional troops going to be enough to win?  Was bailing out Wall Street a good idea?  Should Boise State get a bowl bid?  The questions aren’t bad, but the answers are because they are broadcast not so much as indicators of what Americans think but as pointers to what Americans should be thinking.  There is an implied assumption that somehow those polled have some reasonable expertise about the economy, conditions in Afghanistan, military planning, Wall Street, the BCS bowl game process, or whatever else the polls are about.

If a majority of those polled think thus and such they must know something I don’t know and I’d better go along with them to be on the safe side. It gets even worse with various television call-in polls, such as those featured on CNN’s Cafferty File segments, in which viewers are asked to call in their votes, aye or nay, on complex issues of the day with the results posted in very short order.  As entertainment, it’s a lot of fun.  But to imply that it’s any more than a form of entertainment is misleading, and that is exactly what is done on television news shows.

It’s not that I think polling results should be kept secret.  I just don’t think that polls should be used in a frivolous manner, particularly when that frivolity is deliberately intended to lead the uninformed by the uninformed on complex issues of importance to the welfare of the world in which we live.  In the remote event that some news producer reads this and objects that such would never have been their intent, my response would be that he/she is either lying or is dumb as a rock.  Let’s face it, it’s a pretty good marketing gimmick that spices up 24-hour news programming a bit.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Regrets

From the start I have permitted open commenting with no prior approval or word verification.  But in the last couple of weeks Country Parson has been spammed several times.  So I have gone the way of many other blogs on the CC network and enabled word verification and owner approval for comments on blogs over fourteen days old. Too bad.
CP

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who Needs A King?

Our problem with Christ the King Sunday is manifold. Americans just don’t like the idea of monarchs. The vaunted myth of American individualism rebels against it. Maybe that’s why we birthed so many denominations over the years. Every little group wanted its own democratically elected God or Jesus enfolded in its own democratically elected way of worship. Maybe that’s why we tend to put so much emphasis on having a personal savior. We are quick to claim that we have given our lives to Christ, but often as not that would be hard to prove by our words and deeds. It may be “good to be king” but if a king has any power at all, his subjects are likely to suffer. Yep, no kings for us.

From another perspective, no matter how often or in what way Jesus tried to explain the presence of the kingdom of God that was at hand, it never really got through. Still doesn’t. The fact that God’s kingdom can infect this world only through the lives of faithful men and women bringing the light of Christ into it seems to have eluded most of us, most of the time. The Jews of Jesus’ day wanted a Messiah who would ride at the head of an army to reestablish the Davidic kingdom. A good many Christians want the same thing through a theology that sees the cross, grave and resurrection as an incomplete start to what will be finished when Jesus returns, this time getting it right, at the head of his angelic army. Isn’t that what it promises in the Revelation to John?

Speaking for myself, I don’t know what to make of the word king, although I’m helped at least a little by Deirdre Good’s book “Jesus the Meek King” in which her emphasis is on the word meek. What I am persuaded by is this passage from Isaiah:

Is. 55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

I don’t have to understand king any more than Pilate did. I only have to trust that God is God, and that in following Jesus I am following where God leads. My confession is that I follow him like a little boy. I try never to completely lose sight of him, and intend to be diligent in following, but I get easily distracted along the way and am prone to wander off down side roads now and then. I never count myself among the lost, just, on occasion, a wee bit disoriented. I always find him again because he always seems to know where I am even if I’m not sure where he is.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Word Study and Author's Intent

One of the joys of scripture study is engaging with the interpretations of various commentators. I’m grateful for their deep knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, a gift that I do not have. But I have a question. How significant is it to endlessly parse noun endings and verb tenses according to the various ways in which a word might be understood in order to more precisely tease out the author’s meaning?

After all, we don’t have an original text. The writers of the gospels were known to be a bit rough in their use of Greek. Moreover, they had to translate into Greek a story whose origins were in Aramaic. I thought of that as I considered some of my own writing. How eager would I be to have some linguistic expert try to explain the real meaning of what I wrote based on a close examination of my choice of certain words? Not much! I’m not that good a writer. I write fast. I make mistakes in verb tenses and sentence structure. Even after I do my best to edit things I find stupid little errors. I write something so clearly that even a five year old could understand it, and my wife tosses it back as unintelligible.

It all reminds me of the Paul of my imagination. Pacing to and fro, I see him rapidly dictating his letters, sometimes veering off into half finished ideas before returning to his main theme. I imagine his secretary(ies?) doing the best he can to keep up, throwing in an extra word here and there, failing to catch another, and scrambling to get the essence of what Paul was saying even if he couldn’t capture each syllable. He didn’t have spell check, white-out, or even a decent pencil with a good eraser.

I wonder how accountable we can hold Mark, Matthew, Luke or John for writing ‘has come’ instead of ‘came’ or whether a given word should be closely interpreted as ‘hence’ instead of ‘because’?

One easy way out is to assert the God inspired inerrancy of Holy Scripture, which works pretty well as long as you have only one copy of one text and treat it as the original. A local pastor does that with the 1611 edition of the King James Bible that he holds to be the last, final and perfect version of scripture. Frankly, I love reading commentators who delve into word study. It helps me to hear the words, as we have them, in new ways. But I am highly suspicious of ascribing too much to the author’s intent. It’s more about our intent: the commentator’s and my own listening to new meanings.

Monday, November 16, 2009

First Maccabees and Afghanistan????

This is a question. Consider the first few chapters of First Maccabees and and tell me if you think that they have anything to say about our adventures in Afghanistan. What do you think? All other things aside, do you think the tribal leaders and Taliban in Afghanistan have anything in common with the Maccabeans? Do we have anything in common with the Seleucid army presence? The first thing I would object to is comparing the Taliban or Opium war lords to righteous Jews desiring to follow the laws of the only true God, and I would be unhappy being compared to the arrogant, pagan and cruelly violent Hellenists. How about bracketing all of that? Then what? What might the Maccabeans teach us about America and Afghanistan?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Have Not Accepted Jesus as My Personal Savior? Have You?

I attended a day long evangelism workshop yesterday and learned quite a bit. One person was bold enough to give her testimony about when and how she accepted Jesus as her personal savior. That’s a bit unusual for us non-evangelically minded Episcopalians. I’ve known this woman for years and know her faith to be real and deeply held, and her intentions without guile. But I also know that, for many people, accepting Jesus as one’s personal savior has become a formula for the one correct way to become a Christian. Case in point; I got an e-mail just recently from an occasional reader who knows that I am an Episcopal priest and wanted to know the story of how I came to accept Jesus as my personal savior. I doubt if it occurred to her that there was any other question to ask of a Christian. I have some problems with that.

For one thing, I’m uncomfortable with the individuality of the language: it’s just me and Jesus. Don’t need anyone else. For another, I dislike the implication of ownership: “my personal savior,” as if Jesus belonged to me as something I own. Finally, the idea of accepting Jesus as my personal savior seems, at least to me, to put the burden of my salvation on my back, and I’ve got enough to carry without adding that.

When my occasional reader asked for the story of how I came to accept Jesus as my personal savior I wrote back, “I didn’t.” I was brought up in the Church. I cannot remember a time when God in Christ was not a part of my life. There was never a question of whether I accepted him as my personal savior. It’s a question that didn’t even make sense. But there were plenty of questions about whether, and to what extent, I was willing to be a part of his community of followers. Maybe that sounds like splitting hairs, but if so, I think they are hairs worthy of being split. It’s one thing to have a personal savior. It’s another to become a member of a community of disciples who faithfully trust that this Jewish carpenter is so uniquely the presence of God among us that he really is the way, the truth and the light, and that no one comes to the Father except through him. Becoming a follower of Jesus must always put us into the company of other followers. Moreover, following implies a journey. Being on that journey brings to my mind the multitude of conversations that have to be taking place among all the others walking with us. I’m in conversation with you the reader right now, but at another time I might be deep in conversation Erasmus or Augustine or some guy named Ralph. We can (but maybe are not required to) each have a very personal, even intimate, relationship with Jesus, but it can never be singular, nor can it involve any form possessiveness that might imply our ownership of that intimacy.

That leaves plenty of room for Jesus to be the one in charge of what avenues of access to God are open or closed, acceptable or unacceptable, and I don’t recall that Jesus ever asked our advice on the matter. One can most certainly be very authentic in one’s testimony about how Jesus became their personal savior. I may have my own problems with that statement, but I won’t deny it as a genuine statement of faith. What I will object to is any claim that it is the only acceptable statement of faith, the only and necessary entrance ticket required by some heavenly gate usher.

P.S. If you ever get a chance to hear Victoria Heard, Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, speak on evangelism, do it. Her workshop, “How to Share your Faith without Spooking your Friends” is excellent.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Response to David Rose

David Rose, professor of economics at the University of Missouri, writing in today’s Christian Science Monitor, wants to chuck the entire health care system as we know it or have proposed it to be. He would replace it with a simple system in which every citizen would receive a health care voucher which would be used to buy what? He doesn’t say. It’s what I call a cute idea. It’s cute because it is both attractive and na├»ve.

I agree that the current non-system is needlessly complex and inefficient, and that the bills currently before congress offer only marginal improvement. But his proposal is a little like the various tax simplification schemes that come up now and then. The legislative process, by its very nature, is incapable of producing a simple product. That’s not because legislators are incompetent. It’s because public and private interest groups will always lobby to tweak a simple idea to provide for some special advantage of value to them. It’s crazy to rail against the “special interests” because you and I are part of those interests in one way or another by virtue of our age, sex, occupation, location, or particular interests. That’s life in a democracy. If you want simplicity move to a dictatorship.

Rose’s objection to the current legislation is based on his understanding of the fallacy of composition in which an advantageous change in one part of a system does not equate to an equal advantageous change in the whole system. He gives two examples, one good and one bad. The good one has to do with baseball team batting averages. If one team improves its overall average it will likely win more games, but if every team does likewise there is no advantage and any change in winning will have to be due to something else. The bad one has to do with a pencil manufacturer, and it is this example he uses with regard to the health care debate. He writes:

Suppose, for example, that a pencilmaker sells one pencil per month to 10 separate buyers. Each pencil costs $1 to make and overhead is $10. The pencilmaker needs at least $20 in revenue per month to stay in business, so the average price per pencil must be at least $2.

Now suppose some buyers form a cooperative and use their newfound market power to negotiate a price below $2. To continue generating $20 in revenue, the pencilmaker must now charge the remaining buyers more than $2 because overhead has to be paid by someone.

If the remaining buyers also form a cooperative they may to able to negotiate the pencil price back down to $2, but only if pencil buyers in the first cooperative experience a price increase. Once everyone is large, the advantage of being large disappears.

That, he says, is why the co-op and public option health care schemes will not work. The problem is that his example assumes that the pencil company is both efficient and honest, and that there are no other pencil companies. My take is that the current non-system is neither efficient nor honest, and that a “robust” public option, or perhaps co-ops, would go a long way toward changing that. Detractors assume that nothing the government does or sponsors can be efficient or honest, and, therefore, why go down that road. It’s the old Peggy Noonan line that government is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem. My logical and fact based response: Fiddlesticks!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day

It’s Veterans Day. I am not a veteran so I’m not one of those being honored this day, but I am among those who desire to express my appreciation for their service. How to do that? Things have changed a lot over the years. Today used to be Armistice Day, and we celebrated the end of the war to end all wars making the world safe for democracy. It did not end all wars, but it did set into motion events that would, by the mid-twentieth century, prove the futility of wars for worldwide dominance. The cost of that enlightenment was enormous. The dead in the tens of millions whose humanity has been reduced to numbers that can only be estimated was accompanied by many more millions of lives challenged with physical and emotional wounds that never really healed. The veterans of those wars have more than earned the honor due them from a grateful nation.

Sadly, that did not end worldwide warring. War just took on new forms in new places. For America, our reasons for entering into armed conflict have become less and less clear. Politicians send troops into harm’s way for purposes that do not appear to have any clear connection to the standard shibboleths of keeping America safe or defending our freedom. Unfortunately, the ensuing national debate often ends up demonizing those who serve rather than the political leaders who engineer military engagements.

Another change has been in the nature of our armed forces themselves. The big wars of first half of the twentieth century, including Korea, were fought by draftees who did not choose to serve, and by enlistees who were often motivated by a patriotic morality. Now we are served by a professional military who have chosen to join as a career, to have a job, to get an education, for adventure, or to avoid getting into trouble.

None of that detracts from the steadfast courage of those who have served in our armed forces. Whatever their reasons, they have done their duty in the service of their nation, and for too many the cost has been high. What is the right way to say thanks? Airport greetings and welcome home dinners are nice, but often just decorations on a cardboard cake. How about if get really serious about a fully functional and efficient VA? How about if we get serious about job placement initiatives that lead to something other than stocking shelves at Wal-Mart? How about well staffed veterans’ centers on every public university campus? How about if we just learn to listen to them?

Connections

Interdependence is a word that has been tossed around so much that it can lose its meaning. That happens. Just the same I started thinking about interdependence from three different perspectives emanating from three different events. One has been the incarcation of a young friend who has got mixed up in drugs and the crimes that go along with that. Another was a talk I heard yesterday on economic conditions. The third was memory flashes of an old BBC show narrated by James Burke called “Connections.”


My young friend’s drug use has tagged him with a well earned criminal record and engaged him with destructive forces of society that are rampant in places such as Mexico, Columbia and Afghanistan, as well as Portland, Seattle and Walla Walla. Distant murderous crime syndicates, corrupt governments, and local warlords are financed by mostly impoverished drug users all over the world. He is my friend and I care very much about him, so I also am engaged. It’s an insideous web of connections with no obvious place for intervention.


The speaker on economic conditions observed that Europe was financing its social welfare system on the American market place, and when we stopped buying their products it put their economies in jeopardy. The implication was that they were dependent on us, in a profligate way, because we are the very center of the world economy in such a way that everyone else depends on us. I don’t think that’s what he really meant, it’s just the way it came out. And coming out that way, it ignored our dependence on oil from other parts of the world, on China to supply both manufactured products and cash to finance our borrowing, on Europe as both a market and supplier, and on the cheap labor of lesser developed countries to grow our winter fruits and veggies. Voices calling for a renewed self dependence in all areas simply fail to understand the complexity of these relationships that lead to the mutual well being or destruction of all. That goes for those who want to secure our borders with walls and gun towers, satiate our lust for oil by sucking it out at any environmental cost, and limit our food intake to locally grown produce.


That’s what James Burke tried to describe back in the late 1970s with his ten part series “Connections.” The interconnectedness of all lives and things in every place is enormously complex, and following even the simplest strand becomes hopelessly confusing. How are we to keep our focus under these condtions? The psalmist, writing as the voice of God, had something to say to those of us who perceive ourselves to be the gods of our day:


Psa. 82

1 God has taken his place in the divine council;

in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

2 “How long will you judge unjustly

and show partiality to the wicked?

3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;

maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.

4 Rescue the weak and the needy;

deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”


That doesn’t answer every question, but it does point us in the right direction - God’s direction.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Here We Are Again: Hearing, Reading, Marking, Learning and Digesting

Mine is a liturgical tradition with all the ceremony that goes with it. Our services begin with song, and prayers that our hearts may be readied for worship, as well as a particular thematic prayer for each Sunday of the year. This next Sunday brings us to my favorite of all preparatory prayers, one that I treasure on this Sunday and use often during the year.

Blessed Lord, who Caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.

It’s hard to know exactly what went through the minds of those who first used it as found in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, but it appeals to me in this way. It affirms my understanding that God caused all holy Scripture to be written, but that in no way implies that God dictated it, or that it is intended to be read literally, or that it is inerrant. To hear, read, mark and learn (be instructed by) holy Scripture affirms what I’ve called the practice of wallowing in the bible, or what more sophisticated folk call Lectio Divina. Maybe wallowing is not such a good metaphor since it is often associated with pigs rolling in mud. My personal image is of being washed chest deep in the warm waters of Hawaii, letting the waves lift me up, set me down, move me about, cause my feet to be buried in the sand, banged up against rocks, dodging coral and being investigated by creatures of the sea. Holy Scripture is like that: it lifts and sets, moves, washes over, hits and probes. It is alive, comforting, threatening, enfolding, dangerous and alluring.

To inwardly digest it is to think, analyze, reflect and probe back. To inwardly digest brings into conversation with Scripture all that one has learned from every source and all of tradition, as well as one’s own prejudices and assumptions. It also means to directly engage God in conversation, both to talk and to listen. But digestion also has another aspect, and that is elimination. Some things have to go. The sign on the UCC church down the street boldly proclaims that “God is Still Speaking.” I agree. God is still speaking in new ways, and never more powerfully than through the written words in this ancient text. Sometimes God, through these old and familiar words, simply shakes us to the core and demands that the old be sifted out to make room for the new.

There are a lot of mission statements in the Church and for the Church. I can’t think of a better one for youth and adult bible study than this 460 year old prayer.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ezra, Paul & Melancholy Moods

I have a tendency toward melancholy moods, which I don’t mind because they also tend to be times of deep and creative (for me) thinking. Fall is a season for such moods, and this year they are urged deeper by sadness over reports of increasing tolerance, even support, for Neo-Nazi hate groups; Tea Party nuts; fear, hate, racial and religiously motivated shootings; and political ideologues basking in the light of polarizing tactics. It seems that we, individually and collectively, are quick to make choices that appear to be in our immediate self-interest without much thought for consequences affecting others or for the future well being of the community. Because most of us are steeped in the language of liberty and justice for all, as well as the predominant Christianish traditions of the last couple centuries, we are also very accomplished at wrapping those decisions in pious words.

The really sad part is that it has always been so and we do not seem to have made much progress over the millennia. I thought of that this morning as I read Ezra’s prayer and address to the people in chapter 9 that included the phrase “…and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong.” He was talking about all, every one, of the people living in the region who were not among the faithful company of returning Israelites. “Never seek their peace or prosperity.” His intention was to strengthen a purified Jewish community that would not again fall into the sins of the past. In a sense he was fully prepared with new strategies to win the last war, but failed to see that he was setting up the conditions for future conflicts for which there were no strategies.

Paul, for all his faults, seemed to have more fully grasped both the truth of what it means to follow Christ and the folly of Ezra’s politics. He was intent on forming faithful communities of Christians who could also be concerned for the peace and prosperity of those around them. I wonder when we might start understanding what Paul understood?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thoughts on Job Creation

Productivity is way up but job losses continue, albeit at a slower rate. Microsoft scored some nice gains in stock prices yesterday on news that they were cutting another few thousand jobs, thus showing how much more efficient they are becoming. This can continue for a while, but eventually the private sector has to start generating jobs paying fairly high wages if the nation, as a whole, is to recover.

That brought to mind an image from a trip to China that we took a couple of years ago where we encountered a curious combination of high tech low tech. I was bowled over by the advanced technologies in evidence in most of the coastal cities, and even in the one interior city we visited. It was not a matter of China’s premier cities catching up to us. In some respects they are far more advanced. On the other hand, there was a lot of very low tech supporting the high tech. For instance, there were no E-Z Pass tollgates on the freeways, just dozens and dozens of manned tollbooths, through which traffic quickly flowed. Goods were hauled about on tiny little trucks, bikes and scooters. Workers by the dozens were employed doing work that could easily have been automated. One of our guides explained that with over a billion people and huge migrations into the coastal cities, they have to keep employment up by deliberately not automating where human labor can still be reasonably employed in useful work. It is not perfect. There is more than too much abuse of immigrant laborers.

It’s an even more touchy issue in democratic America undergirded by private enterprise. When the welfare reform laws went into effect a few years back, the City of New York employed able-bodied welfare recipients to sweep streets and parks only to be accused of enslaving the poor. I suppose something like that happened in most major cities. Just the same, it is in the private sector where an abundance of jobs must be created, and those jobs must be both economically useful and provide decent income. It may be that the nation’s overall standard of living will not be the same as the fool’s paradise we lived in during the last decade, but it could be a good one. Some of those jobs will be high tech, but how many could be low tech in support of the high tech? Could companies deliberately forego some aspects of automation and still remain profitable? It would require a change in Wall Street assumptions about profit maximization.

How likely is any of that? Not much at all. We will go forward with delight and eager anticipation looking for the next fool’s paradise, assuring ourselves that we will be smart enough to cash in before the next bubble bursts. And since I am smarter than you are, I will be richer, you will be poorer and so what!

The Curmudgeon Opines on The Widow's Might?

The lectionary has brought us to Mark's story of the widow and her mite. I have heard that passage used from the time of Sunday School on, mostly during stewardship drives, to exemplify what it means to give everything to God, to put all your life and trust in God, and to emulate this saintly woman who so courageously showed all of us how to do that. At the same time, we have been warned that the rich, meaning you and me, who give only of our surplus in amounts that won't inconvenience us, are being sneered at by skeptical Jesus. It was just about then that Sunday School kids got their little cards with slots for dimes and quarters while the adults got pledge cards. A lot of what ifs come to mind.

What if those giving of their abundance were giving from the abundance of their love of God, their commitment to the community symbolized by the temple, and their desire to do God's will? When you and I look for the abundance that is in our lives, where do we find it? In what way do you and I understand our duty, holy or otherwise, to be stewards of that abundance?

What if the widow was not a paragon of saintly virtue at all? What if, as she dropped in the coins, she thought, watching the scribes in their long robes and superior airs, "Screw it, they've taken everything else, they might as well have this as well and to hell with them all!"? Could we call that holy and righteous indignation?

What if the community lived up to God's commandment to care for widows and orphans? Would she have been so impoverished then? Were the scribes even aware of her and the condition she represented? Did they ascribe to the kind of individualism that says sink or swim, lift yourselves up by your own bootstraps, and quit looking for a handout from us? Maybe she walked around the corner and got food, clothing, shelter and help renewing her life from the temple outreach mission?

What if those giving of their abundance began to wonder whether the conditions that lead to poverty might be ameliorated so that there would be fewer people needing the temple outreach mission?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

10th Ameindment

This morning’s e-mail brought a press release from the 10th Amendment Foundation promising a suit on constitutional grounds the very second that the president signs a health care bill. Such a suit, if successful, would also eliminate Medicare and, no doubt, a number of other federal health care related programs as well. The likelihood of success is slim, but the media coverage would be enormous, especially in certain sectors of the entertainment industry specializing in political hysteria.

I’m disappointed that America seems so easily captivated by a hot movement of small minds and cold hearts, but I also recognize that it’s been that way off and on for a long time. The Dixiecrats and paranoid ‘commie under every bed’ gang of the 1950s come to mind right away, but before them was the hugely popular America First and fellow isolationists movement egged on by media outlets that were rabidly anti FDR.

As I’ve said before, the difference between then and now is the existence of 24 hour talk radio and cable imitation news programming that take delight in fomenting the worst in the American psyche while proclaiming that their only interest is for the patriotic well being of the country.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Question of Parables

The Daily Office (Episcopal) is slugging its way through Matthew's parables, and that always brings up some questions. Is the metaphorical language of the parables concrete or abstract? Are the parables meant to be easily and quickly grasped by Jesus' listeners, or impossible to understand without authorized interpretation? When Jesus does explain a parable does it become the only meaning possible? When a parable is not explained, can the Church ascribe to itself the authority to offer one and only one interpretation?

For my part, I think the language of the parables is very concrete. The images of paths and seeds, wheat and weeds, coins, bushes, birds and all the other things are the stuff of ordinary life. The immediacy of how the parts relate in any one of the parables would be obvious in the minds of the listeners. So would be the recognition that each of them was a brief morality story not to be taken literally but metaphorically or allegorically. I've had little arguments with others about that. The big arguments start with interpretation. Consider the parable of the sower, the seed and the path. If Jesus told his disciples what each part meant, then there is one and only one way to understand it, right? It doesn't matter that the majority of scholars claim that the Jesus explanation was a later addition to the text. The fact is that we are stuck with the text we have and congregations of the faithful who are not interested in what scholars have to say.

So my solution is to enter into conversation with Jesus and the disciples by asking my own questions. What if we are the sower; what if we are the seed; what if we are the path; what if we are the weeds; what if we are the sun or wind; what if we are the rain, or lack of it; what if we are the devil in someone else's life; what if all the soils are present in us? Like the frustrated parent of an overly curious five year old, Jesus might say "Enough with the questions Steve, go to bed." So far he has not. So far he honors my questions and explores answers with me, and isn't that a part of what it means to live in companionship with the living scripture?

I feel sorry for those who can memorize dozens of scripture verses but are unable to enter into conversation with them. I feel guilty about those who have come through my pastoral care and left without knowing it at all, neither memorizing nor conversing.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saints Galore

I’ve got a little paperback book, “Saints Galore” – can’t put my finger on it right now so I can’t tell you who wrote it – but it offers something of an offbeat slightly irreverent look at saints. That’s not a bad idea for an age, ours, in which saints have been made into rigid stained glass figures of improbable holiness or demoted to everyone without distinction.

Most Protestants will emphasize Paul’s assertion that all who are baptized into the Christian faith are saints, at least in a generic sense. What we need to do is move from the generic to the particular. One duty of a pastor is to participate in guiding the formation of his or her flock toward a more particular sainthood, but that too often is turned into a pursuit of sentimentalized and saccharine goodness challenging reality.

Many Catholics simply cannot get around the idea that unless the pope canonizes there is no saint, and so saints become so particular and so remote that they enter a realm of otherness not open to ordinary human beings.

I wonder if we can accommodate two ideas at once. First, that each of us is called to sainthood, which can better be understood as a process of learning how to become a follower of Jesus Christ rather than one who simply accepts him as her or his savior. Second, that there are among us certain persons, flawed persons, whose lives and words have exemplified what it means to become a follower. They are worthy of being remembered, and honored in special ways because they are our elders in the faith and have helped make the path more clear for us.

Two of many examples come to mind right now. My dad was one such person for me. His politics were way too conservative for me, and some of his social attitudes and practices were straight out of the ‘30s and ‘40s. How could it be different? Those were the decades of his growth to the fullness of adulthood. But he was also a man of strong faith, committed to live in the community of the Church, and he struggled throughout his life to better understand what the bible was trying to teach him. It was a fine legacy to leave to his children and grandchildren. In a different way, so were the monks of the Anglican Benedictine Order of the Holy Cross who, though I doubt they would know it, taught me enough of the Benedictine way to have formed the way I have approached my preaching and teaching, and my own spiritual disciplines. These then are saints, and we are called to become bearers of their legacies in the name of Jesus Christ for the generations yet to follow.

Where do you find saints?