Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Some 21st Century Existentals"

This sermon will have been preached on Sunday evening, at the Trinity @ 7 gathering.

“Life is short
And we do not have too much time
To gladden the hearts
Of those who travel the way
With us.
So make haste to love
And be swift to be kind.”*

This was the favorite blessing
Of someone I once knew.
A friend of a friend – you know the sort.
Someone who just seemed to embody
The very best the world had to offer
Not someone who was perfect –
We all have our feet of clay
But someone who was nevertheless
In constant renewal
And who was a source
Of constant renewal in others.

You know, when I think of renewal,
It really goes hand in hand with hope
I can see them from here, walking on the beach
Hope and Renewal
Renewal and Hope
Hope spawns Renewal
Renewal breeds Hope
And after them comes Healing
Walking so close behind
The surf hasn’t completely erased
The double print of footsteps

But they’re not just walking down a beach
I mean, that’s not all they do
All day long.
Mostly they dance
Sometimes around a bonfire
But mostly with their counterparts
Truth and Reality
And Brokenness

And you’d think that maybe
Truth and Reality are wearing
Shabbier clothes
And that Brokenness probably has
A matted beard and a twisted spine
But that’s not true
Because how would they dance?
And they dance.

No, what I see on the beach
Are 21st century throwbacks
To the great existentials of Greek philosophy
You can see them in togas,
Justice, blindfolded with her scales
Truth, with her sword, sometimes with her flaming sword
Liberty, with her light
Death, with his scythe
There are others – just tour around
Our nation’s capital
And give a close look
To the stoic statuary and you’ll
Meet the face of Youth,
Hope, and Sacrifice, among
Their other friends, loitering outside
The Temple to Lincoln by the Potomac

And so leaving Washington,
what we have on that beach is
Reality, with a pair of glasses on
So he can better see what the rest of us try to ignore.

We have Truth, but she’s put away her sword
Truth is embracing nonviolent conflict resolution these days
And so she carries with her a microphone instead
So you can hear her at the back of the crowd
Even with out your hearing aid

And then we have Brokenness
Who is intentionally beautiful
Devastatingly beautiful
Because when you get down to it,
We all are, each one of us, no matter what we look like
Or how we walk, or don’t walk,
How we talk, which language we use, or if we sign
We are all devastatingly beautiful
But she holds her heart in her hands,
Bound in razor wire.

And then there is Renewal, with his potted plant
A gardener at heart, perhaps, but always ready to
Encourage something to healthy new growth
Be it plant, or animal, human or idea

And then there is Hope.
She’s abandoned her anchor, so few of us sail these days
The metaphor doesn’t work anymore
But she’s taken up a blog.
And so she carries her MacBook with her
And asks the barista if they have wifi
Because she is behind a movement
A groundswell of one person
Joining many people
To see reality, voice the truth
Acknowledge the brokenness
Seek the renewal, and step forward in hope.

Which brings us to Healing.
Healing just has his hand out,
Palm out
Empty hand
Reaching to someone else

And so they dance,
And Healing
They dance together
Around a bonfire, on a beach
To a song on the radio in your neighbor’s backyard
In non-profits
In synagogues
In mosques
In churches
In universities
In neighborhoods
In cafes
In homeless shelters
In my life
In your life
Occasionally in Congress
They dance.

Reality, Truth, and Brokenness
Are dancing with Renewal, Hope, and Healing
And God is looking
And God is smiling.


*The above blessing was a favorite of the late Rt. Rev. Jim Kelsey, deceased bishop of the diocese of Northern Michigan in The Episcopal Church. He was a good guy.

"Lent: The counter cultural revolution"

This was preached at the early service at Trinity on this day of February 10, 2008.

I would like to talk about how very counter-cultural Lent is.

The season of Lent is not quite like any other in the year. Christmas is joyful – advent tentatively so. Pentecost is joyful, as is epiphany. Easter is unmitigatedly joyful, and the season after Pentecost is not without its joy – it’s certainly not anti-joy. And then there’s Lent, and Holy Week. These times in our year are not meant for joy, but rather, something else.

Now, these days, setting aside a time not to be comfortable, but to be uncomfortable is not strictly normal. Today’s society was built for comfort, if you have enough money. Our recliners are comfortable, our TV comfortably predictable – neither overly challenging, nor overly stimulating, but extremely anesthetizing. Our routines are comfortable. We have comfort food and comfortable clothes, comfortable friends and so many have a comfortable religion, and comfort is not a bad thing. I’ll go further and say this: comfort is a beautiful.

Comfort is a beautiful thing, though, because suffering exists – it is real. Physical suffering is real. People hurt, people dying, people starving, people living in poverty – extreme poverty, relative poverty, at or just above an arbitrary poverty line that has no real basis in reality.

Emotional suffering is real. People consumed by anger, by self-hatred, by anxiety, by fear. People in the midst of a difficult situation, knowing they must go forward and pick between several paths in front of them, but not quite knowing which is the best, and if they are willing to sacrifice even more comfort – people like Jesus.

After his baptism by John, after the clouds parted and Jesus was given a sign, a signal about which path he needed to take in his life, after these things happen, Jesus went to the desert wilderness outside of town and stayed there for a good long while. And he didn’t go there because it was comfortable. He went there because he was suffering. And in the desert, he engaged in the traditional actions of fasting and praying that were meant to clarify the mind and purify the soul, and thus – this is the most important part – and thus to be able to be closer to God, to be able to understand what God wished, and how it might be possible, and what to do next.

And so he fasted. And so he prayed. And Jesus found out then, there, something that so many of us have figured out as well. Sometimes we are better defined by what we are not willing to do, than by what we are willing to do. And I’ll go even further – when we’re still at that stage of our lives where we’re trying to figure out who we really are, and who it is we need to be, we have all had that moment of finally understanding who we are in a certain situation by what we aren’t willing to do. Jesus finds this out.

In the middle of fasting, he is offered food, but refuses, because eating isn’t the only thing that matters. Oh, he likes food just fine, and later on he’ll eat feasts with the right people and the wrong people, on the right days and on the wrong days, he’ll eat when others are doing ritual fasting and annoy them deeply. But right now, he’s fasting because he knows he needs to, so he is not distracted from it.

Then, in the middle of trying to get close to God through this fasting and prayer, trying to get close to God in order to understand God’s will, God’s action – which can be subtle or decidedly obvious, depending on the day, and considering the fact that he was still fasting and praying, we might infer that he hadn’t yet come to a satisfying conclusion about these things, in the middle of this, shall we say, relationship building exercise between Jesus and God, it’s pointed out to him that there’s a faster way than all this tedious prayer and fasting stuff. He could put God to the test, give God an ultimatum – answer me or I’ll throw myself off the cliff, then you’ll have to answer me, rescue me, or I’ll die. So there. But of course, this completely defeats the purpose of why Jesus was doing what he was doing. Ultimatums don’t build relationships, or at least, not healthy ones. Testing people’s loyalty doesn’t increase their loyalty – trusting people increases their loyalty. And so, Jesus refused.

And finally, after the temptation of food after a long fast, of quick answers during long days of searching prayer, Jesus encounters the last thing that would have been truly tempting. Power. In the days that followed, Jesus showed that he had tremendous power behind him, and we can argue until the cows come home about whether or not he was a deity, or a human, or both, or more than us, or just like us, or nothing like us, let us for the moment agree that he had an incredible power behind him, and if he had so decided he might have used that power for his own personal gain, rather than to preach and heal and teach a new way of being that has resonated down through the 21 centuries since. But before all of that, when he was still just a carpenter, when he was just 29 or 30 years old – when he was my age – when he was still just a follower of the old-style prophet, John the Baptizer, when he burned with an inner flame, but was still figuring out what he ought to do about that inner flame, when he took the time away from all the joy of life, all of the comforts, all of the friends and companionship to fast and pray and check in with God to see what he ought to do, an answer was presented to him: he could rule the world. And you know, given what we know about Jesus, if he had set his mind to do this thing, he just might have been able to do it – or die trying. We all know he was capable of that. But one thought of Caesar, the Roman overlord of the day – not like a president or prime minister, or King these days, where religion has some separation from state, not even like an Ayatollah who might have religious or political power, seen as an authority on both fronts – Caesar wasn’t seen as a religious authority, a pastor, or priest, or oracle. Caesar was seen as God Incarnate. Caesar was God. That may be hard to wrap our minds around today, but that was situation normal for them, and Jesus knew it. He might have the power, the personality, to be a strong ruler, but interestingly enough, Jesus in this moment refused to be seen as God, to be said to be on par with God, or to even style himself as God.

In the midst of a long time of prayer and fasting, Jesus refused to be comforted, Jesus refused the easy way out, and he refused the power to be on par with God, and in so doing, he began to define who he was, and his prayers were finally answered.

And that is Lent. We are encouraged to follow his example: set aside time to engage God, without becoming side tracked, to check in with God and see if we are on the path that is best for us. To engage in some sort of discipline that gets us out of our habit and mode of comfort, that jars our body, and thus our mind and spirit and soul out of our comfortable, habitual don’t-even-have-to-think-about-them-anymore patterns, and so be open to what God has to say. And sometimes, like Jesus, we will have the opportunity to define ourselves by what we’ll refuse to do.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday discipline

Well, so far so good. It's always nice not to utterly renig on your Lenten promises on the first day of Lent.

Day one - BAC at something like 6am. Meditation, check! The other bits of my Lenten journey are much easier to do, and don't require near the amount of discipline as these two, and they're on track as well.


Ash Wednesday sermon

This is the sermon that is/was given on February 6, Ash Wednesday at noon and 6pm.

Ash Wednesday, 2008

Since coming to Trinity I have encountered a compelling definition of hypocrisy, which is the opposite of integrity. So, if as Cam has said to us from time to time, if integrity is the space between what you SAY you believe and what you actually DO decreasing, ever decreasing, then hypocrisy is that same space widening. It was a new definition for me, I’d never thought of it quite like that, but I like it.

Now – what we have from the Gospel Community of Matthew is a bit different. Hypocrisy here has little to do with matching up your STATED values with your ACTIONS. Here, hypocrisy isn’t the opposite of integrity, it’s the opposite of humility. Here we’re not comparing two people who proclaim, for instance, that their health is important to them, but only one of whom has made any sort of commitment to maintaining their health. No, what we have here in Matthew is the equivalent of two people who say their health is important, and who both fulfill their own commitments to maintain their health. They aren’t just talking the talk, they’re walking the walk. They’re putting their money where their mouths are! In our society, they’d BOTH be commended.

And yet, in Matthew we see two versions of how to be: one example is given of what people are actually doing, sounding trumpets in the temple before they give alms, disfiguring their faces if they’re fasting, praying loudly on the street corners, being seen to be doing what is right, and then the other example, which the Gospel Community of Matthew is encouraged to take up instead: give alms in secret, fast and look happy, pray on your own, and don’t make a spectacle of the fact that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. The first example of what not to do, that Matthew labels ‘hypocrisy’ doesn’t necessarily coincide with what we’ve heard of as hypocrisy.

But you know, I think to understand this, we need to take a wider view, because even with this different definition of hypocrisy, there is wisdom to be mined.

I propose that something bigger is going on in this little set of Gospel admonishons. I propose that they are set in the larger context of living in Community with one another. Now, I don’t mean to say that ancient Israel, or Roman Occupied Israel-Palestine, had cornered the market on being Community – we know that’s not so. But we do know that historically the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has been concerned with Community – and especially people on the margins of Community, making sure they don’t get forgotten. I think especially here of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger – these were the main categories of people who were on the margins in Jewish society, and they were the very people who were provided for in the laws and in the religion. And so, the importance of preserving Community – the dignity of every member of the Community – was built into the very system of laws.

But then comes Jesus. Jesus, who never seemed to be content with those who follow the letter of the law, but who manage to violate the spirit of the law, who manage in this case to alienate others rather than be hospitable. Jesus, who had no patience for law abiding members of the Community who still managed to be consumed by their own arrogance at how well they fulfilled the letter of the law.

It’s a fine point of being in Community, literally of community life that Jesus and his followers under Matthew are criticizing here. It’s a finer point, perhaps, than we need to concern ourselves with, we who still struggle and need to justify the very taking care of those at the margins that Jesus took for granted. He took for granted that taking care of the marginalized was part of the law, was something that God demanded, so you did it, period the end. This, he took for granted, and this we cannot take for granted in our society, so perhaps the criticism that is leveled in these passages of Matthew were a finer point of community life than what we’re dealing with, so we can ignore them.

Or, perhaps not.

Because no matter what our laws say, or refuse to say about taking care of the marginalized, no matter how others who also worship God may approach the sacred texts we share in common, the sacred texts that we read one way to tell us this is important, the sacred texts that they read another way to say that other things are more important, no matter that our society, our community is not yet at that ideal place of institutionalized justice for all that we value so much in theory, no matter… if what Jesus was trying to say was be hospitable, rather than alienating when it comes not just to people you know and love, but everyone else around you, be hospitable rather than alienating… if what Jesus was trying to say was be humble, rather than arrogant, when it comes to the things God is not requesting, but requiring of you, be humble rather than arrogant… then perhaps this reading is incredibly relevant for us, today, here, right now.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Noah's Pudding

All yall who watched the Super Bowl instead of coming 'round to Trinity @ 7 yesterday missed something really rather cool. We were joined by our friends from the Buffalo Turkish Community Foundation who brought us, their neighbors, Ashura or Noah's Pudding which was not only an incredibly tasty sugar-fix, but a cross-cultural interfaith experience. ...Allow me to explain.

"Sharing Ashura is a symbolic representation of the unity and essential reltionship of humans to one another and to their Creator. Ashura prepared at home is shared with neighbors and friends. As tradition goes, the residents of the forty houses around one's house are considered neighbors. One has the responsibility of maintaining good relations with their neighbors regardless of what their religion or beliefs may be." - this, from the Buffalo Turkish Community Foundation.

Now, a little more of this history, recopied from the information given to me, with a recipe at the end!

Ashura is also known as "Noah's Pudding" Noah's Pudding celebrates Abrahamic heritage.

"It was thousands of years ago, a community was again on the threshold of catastrophe. The community had abandoned worshiping One God and was corrupted. Adultery was spreading and those with power were oppressing those without. There was no justice and the level of humanity was getting low.

"The Great Creator, because of His All-Compassion toward them and all humanity, sent Noa to guide them. Noah called them to beleive in One God, made sure that justice was established and maintained, and eliminated all evils in the society, as did Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus, Muhammad adn the ones whose names we do not know, but believe in. "The Prophet Noah called his people to the religion of God for nine hundred and fifte years. When his people insisted on unbelief and persisted in their wrongdoings, God ordered him to build an ark. After completing the construction of thie ship, Noah embarked in it, upon god's command, of each kind two, male and female, his family - except those against whom the Word (of punishment) had already gone forth, - and the believers." (Qur'an 11:40) When the waters of the great Flood began to recede, the Prophet Noa and his family gathered up all the remaining dry beans and wheat on the Ark and made a delicious pudding.

"Ever since that day, Muslims prepare Noah's Pudding every year according to the Islamic calendar. The pudding is made by mixing dry beans and wheat together, and is then shared with neighbors and friends."


There are various recipes, but the essential ingredients are: haricot beans, chickpeas, barley, rice, dried apricots, walnuts, dried figs, currants, lemon, cinnamon, caster sugar, corn flour, milk, and water. All the ingredients are boiled together until their reach a thick porridge-like consistency. This dessert is served cold.

    Ingredients (30 servings):
  • 1 cup wheat
  • 1 cup white beans
  • 1 cup garbanzo beans
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 3/4 cup peanuts
  • 12 dried apricots
  • 5 1/2 cups sugar
  • water - enough to cover
  • topping: walnuts, cinnimon

  • Soak wheat, white beans, garbanzo beans, and almonds in water overnight.
  • Boil the above ingredients, remove the outer shell or skin.
  • Soak the raisins in boiling water until they soften.
  • Put all the ingredients above in a large pot and boil. Add peanuts and almonds (peeled and cut in half) at this point.
  • Chop the apricot into small pieces, add to mixture along with sugar.
  • Boil for 10-15 minutes.
  • Enjoy your pudding!
  • "Freedom"

    This was given at the Trinity @ 7 service on February 3, 2008

    Trinity @ 7
    February 3, 2008

    Can we be free if someone else isn’t?
    No, let’s back up –
    Where are you?
    Are you hurt?
    Are you hurting?
    Have we learned the lesson
    That distinguishes the two?

    Hurt, meaning you have a wound
    A pain that radiates through your self
    An emotional tear
    A physical scar
    An injury to your psyche, to your soul
    That’s been slashed open
    Again & again
    Your sense of self, of your own humanity
    Called into question by an act
    Or a system, a way of being –
    This is a hurt, a wound.
    Wounds can be healed,
    By self, by others, with time
    Wounders can change, cease their
    Abrasive actions
    This is a hurt.
    Are you hurt?

    Or, are you hurting?
    Do you respond to the things around you
    In the world
    People’s words, their actions, pleasant or ugly
    Do you, with reasoned thought
    Knowledge of context and choice of compassion

    Or do you react?
    Blind & deaf, not bothering to clarify
    Or even ask,
    React, out of your own assumptions,
    Your own pain or anger or fear
    React out of your own hurting
    Deaf to what was meant
    Uncaring for one more piece of discord
    Added to the world-wide strain.

    Do you respond, or do you react?
    Are you hurt, or are you hurting?

    And do you use this information
    Against yourself?
    There’s one word for that:
    And four more:
    “It’s not worth it.”

    “Do not pander,”
    Says Evelyn,
    “To a morbid interest in your own misdeeds.”
    A wise one, that Evelyn.
    “Pick yourself up,
    Shake yourself,
    And move on.”
    She says.

    And so grounded in the beginning
    Of a grown understanding
    Of who we might be,
    And perhaps what that says
    About who we could be, from now on
    If we so chose,
    Let’s take a look beyond ourselves
    Out, into the collective consciousness
    Out into the rest of the world.

    You know, I was raised in a pretty literate household – I read a lot, even as a child, and I was always drawn to dramas, mysteries, and romances set in upper middle class, or even upper upper class societies around the world. There came a point when I realized, however, that the lovely literate world that seemed so vivid in my head, and that to a certain extent I saw supported in the conservative middle class suburbia in which I grew up, there came the point that I realized that most of the world didn’t live like I did. Most of the world didn’t partake in the lovely literate world constructed as in my head. In fact, a huge chunk of the world couldn’t even read, much less complete whatever schooling was available to them.

    Now, this isn’t a rant.
    This is perspective, where I’m coming from.
    And so I ask you, even as I ask myself:
    Can we be truly free
    No matter how successfully we travel
    Down this spiritual path
    Can we be truly free, if others are not free?
    And if we answer “no”
    Then what is it we intend to do?

    Please understand, I’m not telling you
    To go save the world, single-handedly
    But I am encouraging you to consider
    That there’s only so much work you can do
    On your own
    For yourself
    Before you-we-all-of-us have to
    Step outside
    And make a different for someone else

    Friday, February 1, 2008

    Lent, Yay! (Lent, Yay?)

    To whomever is in the neighborhood,

    You are all cordially invited to Ash Wednesday services at Trinity Church on Delaware Ave. This year, Ash Wednesday is February 6th. Services are being held at noon, and 6pm. (Yours truly will be preaching and presiding at 6pm.)

    To whomever is listening, neighborhood or no,


    I think I might have started my lenten stuff early this year. I find this sort of exciting and wonderful, not that I don't like Epiphany, of course. I've got nothing against Epiphany. But a sanctified opportunity for reflection and redirection/repentance? Oh, sign me up. Sign me up twice.

    So, according to the BCP (yes, we at Trinity are aware of its existence, contrary to popular opinion), we have four tasks before us in Lent. No, giving up Chocolate is strangely not among them. Here we go:

  • engage in self-examination & an internal process of repentance
  • engage in special & focused prayers and meditation
  • practice fasting & other acts of discipline
  • read and intwardly recieve God's Word in Scripture

    Now, the BCP isn't the bible, but it's pretty specific in that it lists all four things, not a multiple choice, that we're invited to do. And as I say, in for a penny, in for a pound. Or, a dollar. Or with inflation these days, 20 bucks.

    So, as I was going over Trinity's worship guide (based on the BCP, yes), and reviewing it, I came across these words. And so I made myself a list, because if I'm going to ask anyone else to do something, I had better be doing it myself. (It might not shock you to know that I think this way.) And I thought, okay...

    Number one - check! I started that back up a few weeks ago, and it'll still be going strong through the season of Lent.

    Number two - check! Although, if I'm honest, a little more discipline in the meditate-every-day plan could be instituted. I'll work on that through Lent.

    Number four - check! How else, I ask you, could I preach with any integrity. Still going strong on this.

    Number three - erm... Won't it be lovely that I can start this in Lent? ::sigh:: And I know just what sort of fasting I'll be doing. Because of my slightly wonky cardiovascular system, horribly bad things happen if I fast entirely, but I can fast somewhat - bread, pasta, rice... ::sigh:: How I love thee. Inordinately so, as Augustine might think of it, if Augustine could ever get his mind out of the gutter. You know, if he were alive. So, I shall fast from carbs. And other acts of discipline? I think 6am at the BAC has my name on it. ...I wonder if healthclub attendance spikes at the beginning of Lent, as it does right after new years day...

    So, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. The first three are positive changes I've worked into the fabric of my life. The carbs and the BAC one would think I could also easily work into the fabric of my life, but if that sort of thing were easy, America would not have the obesity issue that it currently does...

    Not that all of America would fit into the Buffalo Athletic Club, but you get my point.

    So, what are you going to do?