Friday, December 24, 2010

Peace to the whole community

"Peace to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 6:23)

Peace indeed. On earth -- especially some parts of the earth which needs a good dose of peace. Goodwill to all -- especially to those who are approaching Christmas with the taste of dry ashes in their mouth. or knots in their stomach

May hope be our gift. Hope being what writer Jim Wallis describes as "believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change."

As you gather at the creche -- at church or in your mind's eye, may you drink from that divine well of peace and hope. And allow yourself to be changed. May that be your gift.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Put on the armor of God

One of our longest hymns is St. Patrick's breastplate, which begins "I bind unto myself today...."
It is often sung at ordinations. It is seven verses long. It is a variation of an ancient Celtic practice of getting dressed in Christ. As people put on whatever they were going to wear that day, they were intentional of adorning themselves with the presence of Christ. It is an ancient practice worth preserving

The hymn derives from the Celts -- and I suspect they got it from Paul: "Put on the whole armor of God." (Ephesians 6:11) This is not preparation for war, but is an admonition to be prepared for the struggle "against the rules, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (6:12)

It's a tough world out there, and we had better be ready. Fasten the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, put on your feet whatever you need to proclaim the gospel of peace. Take the shield of faith, take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (6: 14-17)

Get dressed. Be ready. The world needs our witness -- to grace, to hope, to peace -- to Christ's glory.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Truth telling

Paul challenges us to challenge the principalities and powers. It requires truth telling -- which can be difficult at times -- and demands profound personal discipline: "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." (Ephesians 5:11)

In my lifetime, Martin Luther King stands out as the most eloquent and abiding truth teller -- exposer of darkness:

"We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with...Injustice must likewise be the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured." (Letter from a Birmingham Jail)

And then we get to the household code (Ephesians 5:21-6:9). It grates on the ears and seems to undermine everything else that Paul has said in his letter. At first reading, the household code seems to be proof text for wives to be subordinate to husbands, children to parents and slaves to masters. It seems to hold up social inequality as a cultural norm.

But -- and this is the key, "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." There is an emphasis on mutuality here. It undermines the hierarchy of the time, a hierarchy which engenders injustice. Paul addresses both parties in the three household relationships -- husbands/wives, children/parents, slaves/masters -- and admonishes them to be respectful of each other. Secular codes couldn't -- and wouldn't, do this. They were only addressed to the paterfamilias. Subordinates in the family system were deemed not worthy of ethical instruction.

Paul is leveling the family playing field. Some would say he could have done a better job. And he does -- at the end" ...for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality."

Paul is exposing the injustice of wives, children and slaves having no voice -- and no value. There needs to be mutuality -- and relationships need to be gathered around -- and abide in, the living Christ.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Call to nonviolence

"Be angry but do not sin." (Ephesians 4:26) This is Paul's clarion call for nonviolence.

There is a lot to be angry about. Exploitation, oppression; those of high degree taking advantage over those of low or no degree. Paul's 4th and 5th chapter represent a virtual cathechism for how to live nonviolently in a violent world.

"Do not let the sun go down on your anger" (4:26). Violence -- be it physical violence or verbal violence -- often springs from anger that won't go away. Let it go, Paul admonishes us.

Several years ago, Ernesto Cortez, a community organizer for the Industrial Areas Foundation, wrote a book called Cold Anger. A second generation Mexican-American, Ernesto received a MacArthur Genius Fellowship for his work. Keeping his anger cold, so he could have an ongoing impact. Maintaining discipline and direction in the face of discrimination -- which he received regularly as a Latino growing up in Texas.

"Take up the armor of God." (6:13) Not to go to war -- but to engage in the practice of nonviolence.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Speaking the truth in love

Yesterday a small group in the diocese met with The Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyenjo, an exiled Bishop in Uganda. Christopher has been marginalized because his ministry in retirement has been to the marginalized. He has set up a counseling practice -- and a large part of his clientele is the LGBT community of the capital city of Kampala.

His motivation for this ministry comes -- in some measure from Paul: "I to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patients, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Christopher is indeed gentle and humble -- and passionate about the calling to offer God's love.

And he is in trouble for it. Because the primary constituency to whom he is offering God's love is a constituency that is subject to arrest, punishment -- and even death. It is a crime to be a gay or lesbian person in Uganda. A law that was presented to the Uganda Parliament this fall that criminalized the LGBT community was shelved -- for the time being. We were told that a new version of it will probably appear after national elections -- in March, and it will be more subtle and more ruthless.

In Uganda, open hostility may become official policy. Open hostility is already the practice around the world -- be it racial, regional or religious -- but official hostility is something else.

Paul enjoins us to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). They have to go together. In a sermon I heard recently, truth without love can be tantamount to abuse -- and love without truth doesn't exist.

And Bishop Senyenjo offers his witness -- with extraordinary gentleness and humility. And fire -- for love. For the redeeming power of love. And it is making a difference.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Be all that you can be

"Be all you can be" was a recruiting ploy of the US Army several years back. The phrase has stuck with me, partly because I thought it to be a shameless -- and inaccurate marketing tool, but because it was good theology that had been placed in the wrong context.

Be all you can be. It could regarded as a paraphrase of Paul's last verses in the third chapter of Ephesians: "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).

It is an invitation to partner with a power that is available to us -- but which we will never fully understand. Be all that you can be -- BUT not on your own.

My favorite definition of vocation comes from Gail Godwin's novel Evensong. It is about two Episcopal priests who are married to each other. The husband says to his wife, "something is your vocation if it keeps making more of you."

To make more of us is God's desire. And the more that God wants to make of us is not the more of the culture -- more stuff, more recognition, more influence, more status. No, the more of vocation is to have a discipline that draws on the mysterious but abiding power of God -- which has an abundance that is more than we can ask or imagine. A power that reveals God's glory, and which can work for God's purpose in the world.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Knowing vs. believing

Before he died, the great psychologist and author Carl Jung was interviewed about his view of the world -- and about God.

'Do you believe in God?', the interviewer asked. Jung hesitated for a moment. "I don't believe", Jung said. "I know".

Jung's answer is Paul's prayer: "I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:18-19)

This is knowing beyond knowing. God has given us this power to know at this very deep level, a level that Jung lived at -- and wrote from.

"Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it." (Psalm 139:5)

We cannot attain this knowledge. Rather, we are asked to submit to it -- which is a very different project; counterintuitive and intensely countercultural. And has a power all its own.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Prayer is Power

When I was a priest in Massachusetts, Archibshop Tutu came to preach on the occasion of his granddaughter's baptism. Bishop Tutu began his sermon by thanking us -- for praying for the end of apartheid. Your prayers, he said, helped to end apartheid. He cited the case of a nun who lived as a hermit in the mountains of California. She wrote Bishop Tutu to tell him that she got up every morning at 3 am to pray -- for an hour, for an end to apartheid.

"They didn't stand a chance," Bishop Tutu said -- "They didn't stand a chance against a nun praying at 3 am -- in the mountains of California."

The "they" he was referring to were the principalities and powers, whose main purpose -- if not sole purpose, is to preserve the status quo. And to protect their hegemony, at whatever cost.

Prayer is power. Different from the power of the principalities and powers, but power nonetheless. Paul knew this. "I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit (Ephesians 3:16).

The power of prayer can take on the principalities and powers -- and, at least in the case of apartheid -- according to the profound witness of Desmond Tutu, can help to dismantle them.

May it be so.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Taking on principalities and powers

One of St. Paul's intentions is to take on the "principalities and powers" (Ephesians 1:20 ff) They are the entities and institutions whose primary interest is preservation. Preservation of place, authority and identity.

Paul takes on the principalities and powers because he is primarily interested in transformation. The soul's transformation. It comes through peace -- which, for Paul, is not the absence of conflict but is the presence of justice. And so Paul seeks to deconstruct the divided house between Jew and Greek, slave and free -- and reconstruct it on the foundation of race, class and gender equality. He is interested in the reunification of all things.

Paul sees a battle -- between Christ's desire for the inauguration of peace and the Principalities and Powers' perpetuation of conflict, which is their misguided recipe for preservation.

We are preserved -- and transformed, by Christ's peace.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mystery -- beyond space and time

For most of us -- most of the time, our world is framed by space and time. Nearly everything that we think and do falls within the space and time boundary. Advances in science and technology enable us to push out the edge of space and time, but is not able to go beyond it.

Mystery does. Actually, mystery comes to us beyond space and time. Mystery (Ephesians 3:3, 3:4, 3:5) is truth that cannot be explained -- and cannot be roped in by space and time. Mystery is the word made flesh; mystery is the grace of God; mystery is the Resurrection.

One of the reasons I love the Episcopal Church is because we celebrate mystery. We celebrate mystery with intention and reverence. We actually call what is put on the altar the "holy mysteries". We then place ourselves in the midst of mystery, and I for one, am transformed by that mystery. I can't explain the mystery, but I have learned over the years that I can't live without its unexplainable and abiding power.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Prisoner of Christ

Paul describes himself as a prisoner. (Ephesians 3:1) A prisoner for Christ Jesus. To me, that means he is captured. Captured by Christ.

Most of us know what it is to be a prisoner. To be a prisoner of anxiety or fear; to be captured by anger or disappointment. It is a web of worry -- and I have found that the more I wrestle with it, the tighter the web gets.

Paul is a prisoner of Christ. He is at the mercy of mercy -- and of love and grace.

It sounds like freedom to me.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The God Above God, the Peace Beneath Peace

As Paul writes eloquently about peace in the second chapter of Ephesians, I am drawn back to Paul Tillich's great work, The Courage to Be, which was written in 1952 -- and which I read in college. And which had an enormous influence on me. Tillich writes just as eloquently about the "God above God," which is the God beyond the God of our projections, beyond the God of our creation -- the God that we think (wrongly) we can control. The 'God above God' is the God who exists beyond our knowing -- who is beyond our sentient world of space and time.

That is the God with whom we should be in relationship, Tillich writes.

In the same vein, St. Paul's invitation to peace is -- for me, a peace beneath peace. It is a peace beneath the peace of a brokered deal or the absence of hostilities; it goes further than moments when the shouting and insults stop. Paul's peace is a deeper peace. This deep peace doesn't make conflict go away -- but enables us to see conflict differently. And not be consumed by that conflict. And to imagine (which means to create an image) of disparate positions or groups coming together in unity: "...that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it." (2:15-16)

That is the peace with which we should be in relationship.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"For he is our peace."

"For he is our peace." (Ephesians 2:14)

This is simple, but not easy. It is not easy because many of us often think -- myself included, that peace is about having my position prevail. Which makes it more about power than peace.

'Peace reigns' is a hope that many of us carry. Which usually means that the boss, parent or the partner -- or the bishop, gets their way. That isn't peace. That is just another version of political power.

"For he is our peace."

Paul's statement is an invitation to go beneath the need to prevail, and beyond the desire to win people over.

Paul's peace is the prayer book's peace -- that peace which passes all understanding. It is beneath anxiety and fear. It is hard to describe, but easier to see. I have seen it in the face of some people who are near death. Their bodies may be broken and filled with pain, but there is nevertheless present a peace which is beyond explanation.

In that Christ-centered peace place, divisions take on a different perspective, adrenaline scales back to normal -- and love is palpable. As it is a peace which passes all understanding, it is a power that is beyond our knowing.

"For he is our peace."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Grace is enough

While pondering grace, which seems to be the theme of the second chapter of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, I keep being brought back to a prayer attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola. The founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius wrote the Suscipe (to receive) prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will -- all that I have and possess. You, Lord, have given all that to me. I now give it back to you. All of it is yours. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, for that is enough for me.

Grace is enough. Something to remember during a season when the culture tries to entice us to want or buy more. Grace is enough.

The Ignatius prayer has resonance with an opening prayer at a retreat I attended over thirty years ago:
Help us to see, O Lord, that the only thing we truly possess is the capacity to be filled by you.

May it be so.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Breaking down the silo

There is a temptation in all of us -- certainly in me, that when things are at their worst, the response is to seal oneself off in a silo. A silo of safety. Or a silo of certainty. In such a silo the world becomes only that which we choose to see.

Things are not always what they seem. While the silo promises security and certainty, and while it may seem safe -- it turns out that the silo is a dangerous place. Because as we think we have sealed ourselves off from that which threatens us -- we end up sealing ourselves off from God. Which is never a good thing. And which becomes the foundation of sin.

"By grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:5). Grace breaks open the silo -- and enables us to see the full reality of the world -- in all its misery AND in all its glory. And enables us to receive the unfiltered blessing of God.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith" (2:8). When I hear some Christians claim that they have been saved, I hear more hubris than humility. It is as if the "saved" have somehow figured out how to bring God into their silo. We can't direct God's movement. We can't take a piece of God that fits our job description of God, and put God to our own use.

For by grace we are saved. The silo crumbles. And we then see and live in the fullness of creation -- and are exposed to a dimension of God that is greater than anything we could otherwise imagine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Receiving grace

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God -- not the result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I remember the first moment I understood the concept of grace. I was a sophomore in college, and a group of us Religion majors were talking after our night class on the Bhagavad Gita (the sacred Hindu texts) and the writings of St. Paul. (I can't remember how the two went together, but apparently they did.) We were discussing grace. Actually, a couple of others were discussing grace and I was trying to "get" what they were talking about. As an athlete, I thought that grace was something that you had to work for. And work hard for. Achieve. Win. A classmate (not an athlete, and now an Episcopal priest) said, no, all you have to do is receive it.

"You're kidding", I said. "No, that's all you need to do", he replied.

At first I was a bit indignant, because I thought it should be harder than that. I thought that grace was something you went after -- not something you simply received.

That conversation was a turning moment for me. One of many conversions in the course of my adult life.

I would like to say that it was a 'turn on a dime' moment. It wasn't. While that conversation began an intention to simply receive God's gift of grace, over the years I have discovered that I regularly put up no end of barriers to thwart the receiving of this extraordinary divine gift.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ego and soul

Paul doesn't name Satan, but that is who he is talking about in the opening verses of the second chapter of Ephesians. "Following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient." (2:2)

The power of the air? It sounds ominous -- and it is. I am not sure what to call the power of the air -- although our tradition has many names: Satan, the devil, Beelzebub, the unclean spirit. And I am not sure what that power looks like -- be it the time-honored image of red creature with tail and horns, or some nefarious energy that floats about in the air. But I do know where that life-denying power lives.

It lives in my ego. That place in my psyche that wants advantage or affirmation (usually at the expense of someone else). That power that is averse to risk, and which will do almost anything to maintain order (usually at the expense of someone else).

That is the power of darkness. That power can lead us to trespass (2:1). But in this season we are asked -- as it is said from the Collect of the First Sunday of Advent, to put on the armor of light. To bathe in the Spirit. It is another power. The power of Christ -- given to us by grace. We don't have to buy it or prove ourselves worthy of it. All we need to do is accept it.

It is a power that lives in the soul, which is a place that lies beneath the ego. It is a deeper place -- of blessing and freedom and hope. It is Christ's gift -- and the rest of this chapter describes the gift and how we might go about the internal work of receiving it. And sharing it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A VUCA world

We live in a VUCA world. So writes author Robert Johansen in his 2007 book, Get There Early. It is a world marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. We would like to think that VUCA is a new phenomenon, and although it may be a new acronym we have had these dynamics around for a long time.

And most of us don't like it. The Tea Party movement seems to me a misguided attempt to deny or collapse VUCA. And the outrage industry is fueled by the fear and anxiety that emerges from VUCA -- and indeed is an artifact of the VUCA world.

Paul lived in a VUCA world. And he had many responses to it; the most most profound (for me) coming in the first chapter of Ephesians: " I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power." (1:17-19)

This is not a solution, but an invitation. An invitation to look beyond the very real (and troubling) issues raised by VUCA, and to see a vision of hope by using wisdom and revelation -- which the Lord will provide.

Jesus was always re-framing the perspective of how to read the dynamics of the world. So does Paul.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The fullness of time

Time is a four letter word. While not a curse word, nevertheless time can feel like a curse given the relative lack of it. Especially at this time of the year.

We are often pressed for time; we try and find time for others -- or just for ourselves. We wonder where did the time go, almost as though it wasn't there in the first place.

As I read over the 10th verse of the first chapter in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, I am reintroduced to the "fullness of time." Which for me is kairos time. Time outside of time. Unbounded time -- when a moment can linger for what feels like an eternity. Moments when we literally lose track of time.

Most of us can recall moments of kairos time. The first few days after after our children were born was kairos time. More often than not for me, the breaking of the bread in the Eucharist is a kind of alarm clock for an encounter with kairos time.

No telling what might happen in the fullness of time. "In the fullness of time", Eucharistic Prayer B beseeches God to "put all things in subjection under your Christ" (page 369 of the Book of Common Prayer); which I think the Prayer Book authors took directly from Ephesians.

Children seem to be more open to kairos time than adults. Mainly because they are not bound -- as we adults are, to kronos time. Which is measured time. Most of us keep the measure of kronos time close at hand, if not literally wrapped around the hand. I think we have twelve clocks in our house, not counting computers or cell phones. I have three clocks in my office. If we are not slaves to time, we end up being indentured servants to it. Being on time -- and getting things done in time are important virtues, but our hyper-allegiance to kronos time runs the risk of erecting formidable barriers to the breaking in of the fullness of time. Where timeless kairos gifts await.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In the heavenly places

"In the heavenly places." (Ephesians 1:3)

Where are those heavenly places? Most of us have been taught to think that the heavenly places are up there; someplace beyond reach. A place flowing with milk and honey, and filled with serenity and peace. Certainly not here.

I have a good friend who sports a bumper sticker on his car: 'I would rather be here now.' Not fishing. Not at the beach or shopping. Here.

Which is where heaven is. Which is where God is working. When we go to a favored place for the purpose of getting away from it all -- or go on retreat, we may have a sense that we are going to a unique heavenly place. The fact is, God is no more there than God is here. The difference is that in that 'away from it all' place, we position our souls differently, and are more ready to receive God's presence.

Next month, a group of bishops in New York and New Jersey are planning to go to Haiti. Haiti is part of our province. We will go to offer support to our brother bishop, Zache, who has invited us. We also go because -- in spite of squalor and cholera and unspeakable grief, Haiti is a heavenly place. We go to witness, and to find out -- in new ways, how God is working.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And the Band Played On

And the Band Played On is the title of an important book written in the 1980's by Randy Shilts. A journalist, Shilts followed the developing AIDS epidemic -- and how the government and medical establishment intentionally ignored the spreading of a complicated virus and its inexorable and fatal outcome. "And the band played on."

Much has changed in the three decades since the outbreak of HIV disease. There is better treatment. AIDS is no longer a death sentence (provided people have access to the treatment). But more people are infected.

Today is World AIDS day. We remember those who have died from this disease, their families -and caregivers -- and the many self-organizing individuals and groups around the world who stepped in to help when the official entities wouldn't.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives blessing to God, "who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love." (1:3-4)

What an extraordinary statement about the abundance of God's blessing. It covers everyone and everything. In all situations.

But there is a tendency in us to ration that blessing. To limit it -- or to carefully direct it to the "worthy" places. A limited blessing was unofficial policy at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. It is less the case today, but prejudicial blessings still abound. Which meant -- and which means, that whole categories of people are thought -- in some quarters, to be expendable. Paul doesn't see it that way.

Nor should we.