land of rest

Land of Rest is a blog of Peter Jenks. Poems, quotes and photos are by Peter Jenks (unless otherwise noted or I miss noting an older post's photo) and are copyrighted, you are free to use these if you acknowledge their source.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Violence and our American Culture

In the wake of the Newtown shooting there have been biblical connections to the passages of Jesus, when he spoke to his disciples who were trying to keep the children from bothering him, Suffer not the children from coming to me. More recently there have been connections to the massacre of the innocents, whose feast day is right after Christmas, remembering when Herod had the children slaughtered in an attempt to rid him from the new messiah/king. The trouble with this connection is that it is the established government fearful of a new ruler that perpetrated the violence. The violence in Newtown was from a lone child himself attacking the most vulnerable. There is a connection that can be seen, but there is more. Personally, I am drawn to William Butler Yeats poem, the Second Coming, and how this monster is being born upon us and our world that we have unleashed by the The best lacking in all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats TURNING and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of i{Spiritus Mundi} Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

dec 24 devotional

December 24: Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. The Christmas story is often acted out by people in the church in pageants and dramas. It is a story begging to be staged. The Church service, or what we call our ‘liturgy’, is a weekly drama in which we participate. We are the actors and God the audience. And just as in any play, when the actors and the audience connect, it can be magic. The acting or “play” is important, as any play is important. It is a way in which we can practice in a safe environment, those things we will need later on. It is a way to establish good habits and healthy patterns, and for everyone to have experience. Just as firefighters drill with their equipment, so that when fighting a fire emergency, they know what to do and how to work together. We enter the drama of God, and we have our lines to speak; it is play, it is drama, it is practice, it opens and prepares us for the intimate encounter with God. And we all say, “Come”, knowing as the story goes, that it will not be what we expect, but what we have always been.

dec 23 devotional

December 23: Music is like a great mother who holds our memories and traditions together, and making sure our most important events are experienced with great dignity, and showing we are each extraordinarily gifted to be present. Music is used by young people to help define their collective generation, and to bind them in a common experience. Music is used by the military to instill both fear and courage. Markets use it to enhance experience and motivate people when shopping. It is used by some hospitals to facilitate healing. We speak of the essentials of life as being in terms of things like food, clothing and shelter. But throughout human history we also have found that the sounds of our music are an essential component to our common life. Birds, too, and other species, have ways of using sound to express their life together. Can there be a Christmas without music? God came into our world and we have been singing about it ever since.

dec 22 devotional

December 22: Isaiah 10:21 A remnant will return. It has been said, and I have come to experience, that one cannot go home again. Once we have grown up, we cannot go back to childhood. Returning to a place in our past only shows us that life has gone on without us. I once heard someone say that we are only remembered as long as it takes for water to fill the area left after we pull out our arm from the water. That may be so, but the scripture today reminds us that there is also a remnant that will return. Our arm was made wet; there may be germs we left in the water, or flakes of dead skin. Our childhood may be over, but it continues to influence and shade all of our present moments. God does not forget deep memories. There are some we might wish to forget, but God will bring them into the arms of loving healing and bring that which was never allowed to grow to become the great oaks that will shade the next Abraham as he greets angels. We can never relive past gatherings and holidays, but we know that they are and will always be part of our soul’s DNA, and part of God’s heart.

dec 21 devotional

December 21: The Feast Day of St. Thomas - Thomas always seems to me to be a great example of mistaken accusation. He is accused of being a doubter, thus “doubting Thomas”. When, in fact, he really was one who did not experience what everyone else experienced, and could not assent to something to which he himself had not been witness. He seems, to me, to be more like the person at a meeting where the momentum to take a certain action carries everyone along, except one brave soul who asks, “why?” or says “I don’t feel the same way”. Lasting faith does not come from simply accepting what others have told us, but must also be experienced and understood for ourselves. Thomas is the beacon in the gospel, the voice that demands that we do not agree because others tell us to, but because we deeply agree, or have come to know that which we profess. Thomas always went his own way. While the other apostles stayed in the near east, or went toward Rome, he went to India. The season leading up to Christmas is filled with traditions and familial expectations. The feast of St. Thomas reminds us to not just go along, but to insist that we belong.

dec 20 devotional

December 20: As one who feels overwhelmed and under-impressed with the ever earlier onslaught of Christmas marketing, I would like to take a moment to stand up for the commercial Christmas and all the hype and hoopla. During the days of December leading up to Christmas, I find that the added haste, busyness and elevated expectation to be exciting. I like to think about people I love and what I gift I may give them. Gathering with friends for a party is nice. Driving down a familiar road and seeing that some people have put more energy than necessary into their house decorations and it makes me smile. It is easy to be critical of the commercialized hype and to view a more meditative alternative style holiday as a better and more “spiritual” experience. But for a moment I would like to propose that perhaps even in the commercialized and frenzied activity we create, God’s grace helps guide us, and helps us to feel important and a part of something larger and more connected to life.

dec 19 devotional

December 19: The Feast Day of Lillian Trasher - The feast days of the Church introduce me to people I would never have known about. Lillian Trasher is one of these people. She was born in 1887, and at 23 she felt called to go to Africa to serve God. Against the will of her family and with only $100, she settled in Egypt, and led by circumstances seen to be God’s guidance, she founded an orphanage, and ran it until the late 1950’s. It is still in operation today, and is funded almost entirely by the churches in Egypt . A story like this reminds me that sometimes we need to go far away to find ourselves; to break away from our culture and traditions to find them. And sometimes what others think is best for us is not always what is best for us. Her journey also is a great reminder that we do not always know what we are getting into when we begin our journey; sometimes we just need to make the first step.

dec 18 devotional

December 18: Change isn’t the ship on which we sail, nor the destination to which we head; but rather the compromises and course corrections that have to be made due to climate, resources and geography causing us to view our journey differently. To go out simply seeking change will lead us nowhere, endlessly wandering without purpose. And yet, to make any pilgrimage, of which all of our lives are one, means we need to travel with the companion of change. It will show us the impossible when we feel there is no way out. It will tempt us to find another way when we are faced with the challenges that are ours to bear and which will be the defining vista of our lives. We seem to be living in a time of phenomenal change, in so many different aspects of our lives. This doesn’t detract us from the goal of being faithful to our God, rather it is what reminds us that this faithfulness is what is more important than the path we feel so sure about traveling.

dec 17 devotional

December 17: The Feast Day of William Lloyd Garrison and Maria Stewart - These two very vocal prophets and anti-slavery advocates of the 18th century were voices that helped change our nation. I cannot imagine any way in which one can justify slavery and Christianity, and this is in large part to their work. The Episcopal Church did not make a stand, but tried to hold everyone together during the civil war. A southern bishop also served as a general in the Confederacy. Today, when people make strong prophetic stands and speak out on social issues, I usually try to look at all sides and if possible avoid conflict. If I do not need to make a stand then I will do everything I can to avoid it, whatever the issue of the day. But I am reminded by the witness of William Lloyd Garrison and Maria Stewart that the voices which I might want to avoid might be the voices that are speaking a new and more clear understanding of God’s will. I agree with their work, but would I have done so if I were living in their era? Possibly not. With this in mind, I listen to the prophets and social reformers of today.

dec 16 devotional

December 16: John 3:27 ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. There are many ways we seek to be fulfilled or find peace and/or meaning and yet we so often choose another way. We try to use a tool for the wrong purpose, make clothes that are too tight fit, work at jobs that we shouldn’t be doing, assume responsibility for things which we have no responsibility over, and in so doing, we find ourselves frustrated. When we shop and buy things to make us feel better, it only lasts for a short while. When we use various drugs or substances to find peace or happiness, we eventually find isolation and sorrow. When we see relationships as the answer for who we are, then we often find ourselves frustrated with others as we become frustrated with ourselves. But when we are open to circumstances, people, and opportunities that are from heaven, all seems to fit into place. I might see it differently by seeing it as when I am with someone who helps me be more of who I am, or find a job that reveals what I love, or a place that strengthens my heart, or an opportunity that might be hard, but drives me to stand in my courage; then I know what has been from God, what is needed, and what sates the inner hunger of my soul.

dec 15 devotional

December 15: Isaiah 8:1-15 The passages of scripture for today includes this one from Isaiah, in which he describes an impending exile. Things are going to get very difficult. We want God to rescue and keep us from illness and suffering, yet, time and time again, scripture relates how God does not do that. In fact, the stories and writings, like today’s, reflects not a God who keeps us safe, but rather one that is with us through great challenges, pain and ordeals. God promises to strengthen us, if we are willing, to go into the hard dimensions of mortal life and travel to deeper places of truth in the process. God has never promised to save us from our mortality, rather, He assures us that through the depths of our journey we will find the gate and path to that which is life surpassing all barriers, even death.

dec 14 devotional

December 14: The Feast Day of St. John of the Cross - The mystic poet and spiritual leader of the 16th century Spain, St. John of the Cross, wrote a classic of Spanish poetry and spiritual mysticism in his great work “The Dark Night of the Soul”. In it he uses language that one might mistake for two lovers describing their union. In this poetic work, he uses language that one might mistake for two lovers describing their union. The passionate life and love weaves closely together in cautious ways between the prudishness of traditional religion and the sensual expressions of the mystical journeys. Even in our Scripture we feel an awkward sense when graphic portions of the Song of Songs are read in church. Our faith and religion is not just a compartment for certain aspects of our life, but an expression and framework for all the aspects of our life. And through all the experiences of living in our mortal bodies, we can see and express an image or entrance into the mystery of unity with God. It is not neat, it is not always proper, it is sometimes passionate, it is intimate, and it is always very personal.

dec 13 devotional

December 13: The Feast Day of St. Lucy - It has always seemed a bit morbid to me that the feast day for a saint is on the day of their martyrdom or death, and they often become patron saints of things related to that which had been their torture. St. Lucy was a young woman who had her eyes gouged out, and she was made the patron saint of eyes and light in the dark season of winter. St. Lawrence was burnt to death and is the patron saint of grilling. It all gives me a bit of the chills. And, yet, it also makes a point. The things that wound us can become the thing that heals us or perhaps eventually ends up being the thing that defines us. Homeopathy is a system of healing that sees the cure as possibly coming from the cause. There are things that I have tried to master and be good at, and offer to others so that they might see how great I am. This does not often impress as much as when I am able to express my vulnerability and weaknesses. There is an old song verse: “I am weak, but He is strong”. St. Lucy lost her sight while she held onto her oneness with God, and in doing so reminded us that losing anything apart from God is endurable, but losing our sight of God is unendurable.

dec 12 devotional

December 12: John 7:53-8:11 ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. There is an old joke about the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. After making this comment, a stone is thrown, Jesus turns around, see who threw it, and says, “Mother!”. It is no surprise it was a sexual sin that caused all the commotion. Such is true even to this day. It is my opinion, or experience, that so many of the sins we view as terrible are not seen so by God. In fact, most of the things I confess to God, and feel so badly about, are probably not even a concern to God. They are really just things that make me look bad, or not as good as I want others to see me. Rarely are my first regrets that I have not spent enough time in prayer, or that I haven’t been seeking longingly enough to deepen my relationship with God. In fact, forgetting to return a phone call will cause me to grieve more, than my drifting from my connection to God. So, not only should we be careful what sins we are crusading against, and where we are hurling our stones, but we should be mindful and concerned about that which is truly more important

dec 11 devotional

December 11: Psalm 36:9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. As an artist I am always moved and fascinated by light, what it does, how it reflects, and how we are affected by it. We experience light, as it strikes an object and reflects towards our eyes and everywhere else with some of the rays absorbed and others reflected. And by what light is reflected we are able to determine the objects around us. So we see light, but we interpret and understand it through the objects it strikes and the pathways it journeys upon. Without light we will cease to be. When the sun shuts down its manufacturing capabilities we, too, will move on. The experience of God as the fountain of life and the source of light, from which all we see is derived, is crucial. As an artist I may paint a portrait, but also I paint the experience of God as revealed by the light of God’s life reflected off of the sitter, and onto me, with some absorbed, and some reflected. And how I experience it, and then reflect it in my art, again is all about the attempt to see God; and it is interpreted by the people whom God has touched.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

dec 10 advent devotional

December 10: The Feast Day of Thomas Merton - The American monk, Thomas Merton has had a lasting influence on 20th century Christianity. He also had a profound effect upon my own personal journey of faith. I remember reading his book about his life, The Seven Story Mountain, when I was a young man. It was a profound encounter with someone who was able to talk personally about his life and coming to faith in a way in which I could relate. His poetry opened me up to the idea of Christian poetry. His openness of faith that brought him into relationship with the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, challenged me to open up my own faith to a broader horizon of understanding. Thomas Merton never knew me, but he had a profound effect upon my life. How many people have been touched or will be touched by our life that we will never know, nor have any idea about? We cannot travel through the water without leaving a wake, nor love without leaving a mark.

dec 9 advent devotional

December 9: 1 Peter 3:14 …regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. My aunt once gave various family members a card with our name, the meaning of our name, and a biblical verse on it, entitled “your life verse”. Mine was Psalm 27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. It was not a verse that I would have chosen, and in fact I remember groaning when I saw it and immediately looked to compare mine with other members of the family. Since that time I have discovered that an extremely large portion of my life has been spent waiting. I would like to say that I have developed great patience from this experience. But, in fact, I have found that too often the opposite is true. So when the understanding of the patience of the Lord as salvation appears in the reading for the day, I once again groan and look for other verses. And yet waiting and patience is not something that is passive. By definition it means waiting will be lengthy, and one will need patience for a long time. It is the ability to be still and wait until the right time. Like a skilled musician who knows exactly when to join along in the music, the patience of the Lord will wait and listen while I go on for hours with my concerns. And when God knows I have said all that I can, God simply responds with a word or two (all I might be able to handle), and no more. And then God is still again, in patience, while I find my life upended.

dec 8 advent devotional

December 8: Psalm117:2 For great is his steadfast love towards us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever. Praise the Lord! Some memories etch themselves deeply into our mind. While rock climbing in college up a steep cliff, I remember getting nearly ten feet from the top and my fingers began feeling like soggy carrots and my muscles just couldn’t hold any more. It was scary, even knowing I had a rope around me and that there was someone on the other end. I had come to the end of all I could do. It was a complete feeling of exhaustion. It was hard to know even what to say, as I had never had this experience before. Finally the person holding the rope realized that nothing was happening and cried out to me. In a weak voice I tried to shout that I needed help and could not go any further. I remember that there was some sort of challenge for me to try some more, but also sudden realization from the sound of my voice that it was time to help. Several people had to pull me up to the top. I was so very thankful, a bit embarrassed, but happy to be alive. It is also very reassuring that the steadfast love of the Lord never ends. It is stronger than the rope holding me that day, and knows when my cry is too weak to be heard.

dec 7 advent devotional

December 7: Psalm 22:1-2 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? …O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. This Psalm was written years before Jesus, at a time of deep depression and feeling of abandonment. Jesus knew these words and quoted them on the cross. He, too, dove deep into the well of an interior place of loneliness and isolation. Mental health issues are the least funded area of our health care system. The stigmas of mental health problems can haunt us in our careers and relationships. Our health care solution these days is to find the medication to stabilize one from such incidents, often with severe long term consequences. Focusing one’s faith on a Lord, who, in embracing his mortality and human nature, made sure that such feelings and experiences were a part of his vocabulary. I do not know of any other faith that has God entering into the human form and in so doing, does not just exhibit magic healing, but also opens himself up to the depths of our fears and anxiety. The hand of Christ does not just come from above to lift us up, but also from below to let us know that it is all right and will be all right.

dec 6 advent devotional

December 6: The Feast of St. Nicholas - We have come to know this 4th century bishop as the great bearded fellow of Santa Claus. But he was a bishop in the early church, reportedly one of the bishops at the council at Nicaea when they formulated the Nicene Creed we say to this day. He is not only the patron saint of children, but also of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, pawnbrokers, and students in various countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe (Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia), as well as in parts of Western Europe (Belgium, France, Netherlands, Portugal). He is also the patron saint of Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Fribourg, Huguenots, and Liverpool. The Christian Church certainly has some odd bedfellows. Ain’t it grand?

dec 5 advent devotional

December 5: Colossians 1:16 …for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible,… I know that God is not an old man in a beard up in the sky, and yet it is hard not to put human attributes or characteristics to my understanding of God. I am human and all I know is from that perspective. It is important to allow our imagination to soar into new realms. C.S. Lewis wrote a poem about a similar problem with science fiction writing. An Expostulation Against too many writers of science fiction Why did you lure us on like this, Light-year on light-year, through the abyss, Building (as though we cared for size!) Empires that cover galaxies If at the journey's end we find The same old stuff we left behind, Well-worn Tellurian stories of Crooks, spies, conspirators, or love, Whose setting might as well have been The Bronx, Montmartre, or Bedinal Green? Why should I leave this green-floored cell, Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell, Unless, outside its guarded gates, Long, long desired, the Unearthly waits Strangeness that moves us more than fear, Beauty that stabs with tingling spear, Or Wonder, laying on one's heart That finger-tip at which we start As if some thought too swift and shy For reason's grasp had just gone by?

Monday, December 3, 2012

tuesday advent devotional dec 4

December 4: Ecclesiastes 3:9-14 I know that whatever God does endures for ever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. Over the years I have watched a number of Presidents become very conscious of their legacy at the end of their term. When I was in college I was always aware of people who gave money to the school and had their name given to a building as a memorial. A few years ago, when they tore down the old RFK stadium in Washington, D.C., I was reminded of folly of holding on. I did not think this stadium was that old, but it was. All our buildings will go, our nations, our lives, all we hold dear. Eventually, we may simply be the fossils for some future fuel, like the dinosaurs became. And then there is the action of God, which endures forever. It may be a simple moment of epiphany down at the water while we sit alone. But the moment that is touched by God is forever emblazoned upon eternity.

Monday advent devotional thought dec. 3

December 3: Luke 20:1-2 One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders and said to him, ‘Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?’ I cannot imagine that I would not question someone’s authority, who does not have what I consider the proper credentials and who speaks out with great authority and whom people listen and follow. The religious leaders did not know Jesus as the one who was raised from the dead, the Lord of Lords, and they were not raised in a Christian Sunday School. What Jesus said challenged their upbringing and beliefs and most of all their power. Does the Jesus I know and worship challenge my power and beliefs or do I expect what I have always thought to always be true? Traditions are important, but the living word and love of God is the ground of my being. Is what I question only questionable because I did not think of it? I believe in a living God, and with that belief I must question where and through whom such a power is challenging me, and the community in which I live?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent devotional thought Dec. 2

December 2: When I hear people prophesy about a date that the world will end I am reminded of the many, many people who have done this over the centuries and how Jesus said that we will not know the day or time of such an event. Likewise when I hear people put down the prophesies and possibility of end times and such catastrophes I am reminded of the scripture, like 1 Peter 3:3 First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ I do not know what is worse, scoffing at scripture or using it to incite fear and bolstering one’s own ego. Everything we have will pass from us, our homes, our lives, even the world as we know it. The Word of God, or the ignited passion of creation, or the light of all being; that which we try to describe, with our very limited words of the limitless and eternal existence that is God, continues.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

need to support

There are certain things within a community that will be present one way or another: how we educate, how we heal, how we govern, and how we worship. Wanting politicians who are not good politicians is like wanting doctors who are not good doctors, or teachers who are not good teachers. Saying, “I do not agree with the way things are, so I will not participate”, only allows others to control the direction of various aspects of our common life. If we do not support good religious leaders, others will emerge. Maine has been listed as the least religious state in the country. With the abandonment of moderate people and their support from our places of worship, these will close or other groups will take them over. This is happening, and has been for some time. In driving through small communities I have found places where the old Methodist Churches are now home to a group of independent worshipers. Often these people are not a true reflection of the larger community but rather a fringe group that is drawing like-minded people together. When more individualistic religious groups emerge, they have less accountability to others; tending to adhere strictly to the belief of their own thoughts and biases. We are quick to attack and denounce the extreme beliefs found in Islam, but, by avoiding religion here at home we only fertilize the field for our own version of the same extremist views and actions. One way or another religion will be expressed and interjected into our common life. It is important that we do not simply sit back and complain, but support the positive and creative life giving efforts that are in our midst.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

not like before

One in five American adults now have no religious affiliation, according to the report released Tuesday from the Pew Forum. This combined with news of religious fundamentalism gaining more and more momentum around the world, from the Republican Christian fundamentalist in the United States to the Muslim brotherhood, to Hindu fundamentalist to radical Jewish settlers driving Palestinians from their land, is a sign of a major religious transformation. If there was no reaction there would be action that was of any effect. The age of Constantinian Christianity, where church and state led the charge, ended in the last century with the end of the nation states and the rise of science and technology as our primary hopes for health, and knowledge. A hundred years ago it would have been unthinkable to imagine the nation state and influence of Israel; or the global effect of Buddhism – that there would be Buddhist Christians and Jews; that the majority of Muslims would be non Arab; or the Hindu faith as one around the world and not just in India; or Europe as being barely, if at all, a Christian Continent. We are in changing times, not like a Reformation, but more like the birthing time of Christianity, or Buddhism. What we are experiencing is nothing short of complete rewiring of our corporate souls. It is a time to beware of charlatans and charismatic demigods. It is a very rare time in human history when we have actually faced and understood ourselves as possibly becoming extinct because of the changes in our planet. I have been following politics and the state of Michigan has been going through a major political transformation and upheaval. Liberals and conservatives are fighting each other for control, when it is not about either of their agendas. The state was a logging and farming state that suddenly before the second World War became a major industrial center for the auto industry. Now that industry has left and the state is being fundamentally redefined, it cannot go back to the industrial time, nor the logging and farming as it once was, nor the frontier land before that. It will be different from what we know and whoever is able to help the people of that state to see a positive and possible future will be the key for them. Many will try with good ideas and dreams of riches. Likewise, in religion, we cannot go backward as we move ahead, we cannot become a nation of Christian imperialism, nor a missionary venture to uncharted territories. We are moving into a different way of knowing ourselves. Before I got married, a friend advised me; he said that whatever I thought it would be, it will not be that. This does not mean that God’s love, mercy, nor forgiveness is any less than before. It might mean that God’s sense of humor is expanding some. But the structure, the institutions, the previous experience we may have known will not be the same. Retooling ourselves with new technology can be effective, but only if it is first initiated by a new experience of grace and faith. We need to receive again the vision, the connection and the oneness with the unrelenting passion and forgiveness of Christ. The Christian faith began by redefining the understanding of Judaism in a much more broad, inclusive and renewed faithfulness to God. Such precedence is challenging, unnerving and exciting.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

a reflection on Sundays gospel Oct 7 2012

Mark 10:2-16 Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. The following is a sermon or statement prepared for St. John’s today by the Rev. Peter Jenks on today’s gospel lesson. When the Bible supports what I think and do, when it justifies me and those I love, then I hoist it like a flag and feel like charging forth into the world to make things better. When the Bible challenges me, my actions, and the lifestyle I have enjoyed, then I find it easy to use educated critiques to show how things can be interpreted in many different ways. According to today’s gospel I have committed adultery. Also, this week, according to the gospel, I have committed murder by wishing the death of those who attacked and shot Anne Williams' (a parishioner here at St. John's) son-in-law in New Orleans, this last week. I am not going to heaven because of my righteous deeds, nor my politics, ideology, nor philosophical perspectives; nor my gender, race, sexual orientation, education, nor even my religious denomination. And likewise, I am not going to hell because of my shortcomings, sins, associations, or votes. The kingdom of God is at hand, nearer than the clothes we wear, closer than the secrets we keep. I, and we all here, are at the entrance to the mystery of love, forgiveness and life. It is our choice today to find a way to rise up and enter, or remain fearful. I want God to do what I think right and to agree with the plans that I have made for myself and the world in which I live. With such a desire I can sit and pout and become cynical and judgmental when there is not an appropriate response to me. I want to be heard, understood and have an effect upon the direction of things. The love of God, the forgiveness of Jesus and the living pulse of the Holy Spirit is not deaf, like the newspaper, television or computer to which I also try to speak my wisdom. I have been heard, understood, and the rage at injustice from my perspective has been deeply felt by God, and with such I have joined the great assembly of history shouting “crucify him, crucify him”. My children do not always understand what is most important to me, and have not always done or followed what I thought to be the best path. I have participated in a failed marriage, which will always be a part of who I am. I have remarried, knowing full well what the gospel has pointed out today about adultery, and yet joined again in another marriage with full abandon and dedicated delight. My finances are challenged, my politics flawed, my judgments sometimes quick to condemn, and yet I still will rise to come to the cross of Jesus. We are not going to heaven or hell. We are rising with Christ as we rise to accept forgiveness and to forgive; we are entering into the court of God’s kingdom as we honesty accept what we have done, left undone, and realize we have absolutely no right or reason to be here other than the desire of God to have us here; we are walking the streets of the heavenly city as we find the strength to sing when no one else dare’s, and dance when no one else seems to be able to move. Or we continue to rot and stew and decompose in our own wounds, our old hurts and patterns of control, and fear. This last week I saw a video of a group of penguins at a zoo. All of the penguins were huddled together standing looking around at things, while one young bird decided to hop, jump, skip, and dance all around. It was a joyous and very funny sight to watch. This one bird continued to dance while the others stared at her. I want to be the one to dance with such joy. This last week I found myself singing a hymn while I was walking through the church and then went to unlock the door. I opened the door still singing and noticed two people walking by. I quickly took a breath and for a moment stopped, but then continued at a quieter tone. I was embarrassed, I wasn’t even sure I knew the words anymore. It is not the Bible I need to justify my actions, it is the love and joy I know or want to embrace within my heart that keeps me trying to sing, but I want to do so better next time when I open the door and see people walking by looking at me. And whether the other penguins of my world are watching or not, I am entering heaven this day not clothed with my goodness, but wrapped in forgiveness. Yes, my heart has been hard, but is being melted by the song of God’s love. We’re here. Amen

Friday, October 5, 2012

a threat to my faith

More and more I have found over the last few years that technology and politics have become interwoven and the unintended consequence of such a fabric is the unraveling it has done to my faith. It is so easy to follow political events on a national stage with the advent of the internet. Candidates become celebrities and issues have become deluded and clouded with the way they are presented. The news is presented in such a way as to engage, enrapt and encourage what I want to believe, or think. It is not that interested in informing or educating me. Sensationalism is what is served, not content. I do not fault the internet, this is what we want. If there is a news story on yahoo that has some sensational item, we go for it. It is what sells. If I get worked up and angry with the news, I will go back and watch more and more. It becomes addictive. It pulls my faith into to picture, I feel that my religion needs to be given over to the political party's agenda, and with such I go down a rabbit hole of deception and adulterated faith. I have said before that the greatest threat to our faith is not a liberal bias, but rather the political party's agenda to use Christianity to get votes through the use of fear and the two very limited and manipulative issues of homosexuality and abortion. I also see the capitalist system and addiction to debt as other great threats to our faith. I wish I could say I am free of these addictions and pitfalls, but I am as much entangled with their ways as so many others. National politics have become a great diversion, local politics have far more impact and effect on my life but are less glamorous and as such seen as boring and unimportant. It is the opposite in reality, they are more important and more engaging and I can have more effect on a local level. Technology has made me feel that the national level is more accessible to be, by my reading or following it on facebook. Facebook and Google are simply sand castles that have caught our fancy for a few moments. So quickly they have become so great, and so quickly they can be erased by new and different technology. The tedious actions of faithful routines of care and intent are what transform my soul.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

the eyes have it

The healing of the deaf, the opening the eyes of the blind are what Jesus did and does. Though, there is always the question of whether we really want to see or hear. If I suddenly can hear, it means that what I have come to know and understand without hearing others, now has to include actually listening. If suddenly I see, that means that the world which I have come to know without light will forever be lost.                     There are many opinions, understandings and perceptions that I hold onto, that have given my life meaning and have defined who I am in relation to others. Changing how and what I hear and see means that this all will change. Those who already can see or hear cannot imagine why I might be hesitant to embrace such a change. But if it is all I have ever known, then there is a great fear I have of letting go. And, with a fear of change, I have also found, that there is a great longing for change. I listen to my prayers and hear pleas for healing, miraculous cures, help in crisis, financial support, and somehow someone to make the unease and problems of life to go away. So many of these are offered to alleviate or avoid pain, suffering and conflict. The opening of my blind eyes, though, causes me not to avoid the pain and hardships, but rather finally allows me to see them. And in honestly and clearly seeing them, I can finally face them and see them not in the haze of my fear but rather in the light of God’s love and presence. When Jesus opens my ears to hear, it is not so that everything can be back to an ideal state, but that I will be able to hear the voice, cries, longings of others and with such, be birthed into a life of compassion and empathy, rather than denial and avoidance. The healing that Jesus is still spreading through this life is one that keeps sending us back into relationship with our communities we sometimes want to avoid because of the old wounds and memories. Show yourself to the priests, to the community. In sharing our wounds and how we have been healed and touched by Jesus is the gift of the gospel writer. Rarely was a healing story identical to another. There are new ways and circumstances that Jesus exhibits in his healing touch. Like water finding its course, so too, does the grace of God find a way around our hardness and walls of fear. But the earth shall be filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Why I am in the Episcopal Church and my opinions on how to find a church home

The reason I am serving in the Episcopal Church is threefold. 1. I love Jesus 2. I am a servant of Jesus 3. This is where I understand and feel that Jesus wants me to be It is not because I agree with the church, nor because of programs or stands that the church has made. I personally think that the Episcopal Church has some great theology, but very few people in the church could say what that is. Likewise, the Episcopal Church has more Bible passages read in a service than most churches, yet I would venture the guess that most Episcopalians have very little understanding of the Bible. Every denomination has its positives and negatives. Every denomination has her great gift to Christendom and her great heresy, a denomination is simply a human institution bringing together the human element onto the same stage as the divine. Like a ferry boat bringing people to the mainland. The church is simply a vessel on which we travel together toward such a goal, eventually the boat is left behind, but the unity and community upon this shore with God will continue. To choose a church, look first at where one is located. Where are you? Do not look to the best programs, the most dynamic personalities, but rather to where you feel called. Where is your history, where are your gifts that can be used, where are you most challenged, where are you not always comfortable, what community seems to be one that will speak truth to you, where can you speak your truth? A church should not be a place where you agree with people, rather a place you are confronted with people, need to forgive people, and are led to pray with these same people from the depths of your being. Like a family, one does not chose one’s siblings or parents, a church family is one where you are brought into and where you emerge – for better or worse, and where you find your place in the family of God. We do not shop for a church, nor a love, nor a friend; we discover them, are brought together by circumstances and need. Sometimes we are called to move and find new homes, this should not be because of anger or disagreement; but because it is time to move motivated from our calling and leading of God.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why So Shy?

The apostle Paul, when writing letters to people to introduce himself almost always prefaced his remarks by saying he was a “servant of the Lord Jesus”. What a clear and concise statement of one’s being. Over the years, I have read a number of articles, resume’s and descriptions of people who have been elected bishop or rector of a parish in the Episcopal Church, and I have never seen that statement expressed so clearly. I also look for someone saying that they love Jesus, or have found that their life is only understood in the love and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ. This to me is my whole being. And when I read very touching stories of people’s lives and all the great things that they have done, I am impressed, but I still want to know how they feel about Jesus. What I do read is the story and examples of people who deeply question God, and the faith that has been handed down through the ages. This seems to be the approved and appropriate response. It is good to question, to persevere in probing one’s motives and assumptions. But the basis of giving one’s whole being to the oneness of God, to the fullness of joy found in the service of Jesus as Lord, doesn’t seem to be that important. Why not? Social issues are all right to speak out on, but for me, they only make sense because of my obedience to Jesus. Why are we in the Episcopal Church so shy?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

to sea and back

It is easy to get caught up in the everyday details of one’s life. Pretty soon the same roads and sights become simply the backdrop of one’s thoughts. The people with whom we live become part of the process of accomplishing tasks and getting things done. For about four days last week we were able to go for a sail from Camden to Cushing and back. What a treat! Seeing my familiar world from a very different perspective is always a rich stimulant to my mind. Taking time to be with a friend, to just be with my wife; these things are so quickly overlooked in the day to day world. We can talk for longer times, be quiet together and have enough time to play games together, when out on a boat for an extended time. The limited parameters of the boat restricts everyone in such a way that being together and relating is the only option. No one can go run errands, attend to work, or be busy in such a way as to avoid others. The blessings of a boat mean we are thrust into the throes of what we actually long for all along. What a great time, great weather, and a most beautiful boat – which I think sets the perfect stage for perfect moments together.

Encounter at Nazareth - a sermon by Andrew Eddy

Encounter at Nazareth Mark 6: 1-13 July 8, 2012 Good morning! Right after I signed up to preach I thought – Andrew - what have you done?! A few days later I received the readings for today. I had to chuckle when I read the Gospel – Jesus returning to his home town to preach! There was – I’m guessing - one major difference – when Jesus got up to speak in front of all the people who had known him – he probably wasn’t quite as - nervous - as I am. + + + As I read the first half of the today’s Gospel – I have to tell you - there is a part of me that went right to the mind, in a little fantasy, of one of the fellows who confronted him in the Synagogue in Nazareth. I imagined, this now bitter man, remembering Jesus when they were both kids – hearing his mother – on more than one occasion – saying– “Andrew - Andrew - Andrew – why can’t you be more like Jesus ? . . . You know very well who I’m talking about. Mary’s son?. He’s such a good boy!” Would I hold a grudge - be a little jealous? Perhaps . . . From what we know, Jesus was a good kid – and certainly an intelligent one. We’re told: As Jesus grew up he advanced in wisdom and in favor with God and men. That’s great and good . . . but . . . He was also one of us – human. For some reason I’ve never really thought of Jesus as having been one of those ‘squeeky clean’ - obnoxiously perfect kids. For me – I’m thinking that he probably got himself into one fix after another as a kid – lost a mantle – ripped his tunic and got it dirty just before going to the synagogue. And don’t we all remember what happened when he was twelve – the time when he and his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival . . . Let me remind you . . . this is a good one! When the festive season was over and they started for home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know of this; but thinking that he was with the party they journeyed on for a whole day, and only then did they begin looking for him among their friends and relations. As they could not find him they returned to Jerusalem to look for him; and after three days they found him sitting in the temple surrounded by the teachers . . . enough said. He was - I’m sure - a good kid . . . doing what kids do! And as a teenager - - - can you imagine what he must have been like to live with?! Now . . . Imagine . . . all the mental & emotional & spiritual changes that Jesus had to have gone through as a devout young Jewish man - in order for him to be willing - and - able - to step forward into His destiny . . . into his divinity. + Why on earth would Jesus choose to go back to Nazareth – his home town – knowing that there was a pretty good chance that the reception he was going to get was going to be pretty dicey? He must have known that his reputation was going to precede him. Jesus wasn’t just another great ‘teacher’ on the lecture circuit – His words – his actions – they were radical – they were dangerous – and they were scary! His powerful message of repentance and the many miracles he was performing as he moved from village to village were wondrous to the throngs of people who gathered around him – and worrisome to the powers that be. We saw in the gospel several weeks ago how His own family out of fear or embarrassment – or both - “went out (to the hill-country where he was staying) to restrain him” because “the scribes who had come down from Jerusalem” to check him out were saying he was possessed by the “prince of devils.” How surprised – and perhaps upset and even shocked - they must have been to see their Jesus talking back to the learned scribes of Jerusalem – speaking to them with parables! He was pushing a lot of peoples buttons – So – why did he go back to Nazareth? It was necessary - even critical that he go. What he knew he would encounter at Nazareth would become a crash course, if you will, for his disciples on how they were to face their future as his followers - a future that would confront them with all the jealousy, hate and fear that the world could and would throw at them. I can imagine – Jesus and his disciples - they’ve been walking all day toward Nazareth - they’re hot, tired, dirty, hungry - and maybe even a little cranky. Turning to his disciples at the edge of town he says, “Listen up! Pay attention! And, yes, there will be a test! “ On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! And then the fateful moment came – the crowds astonishment awakened their jealousy – their envy and their fear. Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him. And what are the people offended by? They are offended by the gifts he has, the wisdom he has and the healing power he displays. They are offended by his authority. In their minds - Jesus is no longer ‘one of them’. + Jesus then transforms this awkward rejection into a teaching moment for his disciples – and for us. How did he react? He faced the derision and hatred and jealousy straight on. He said to the congregation - and to his disciples who were with him: Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house. He called the situation for what it was. He showed his disciples what they were up against. Teaching moment two: Jesus and his disciples stayed in Nazareth - even though the lack of faith among the people meant that he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. Sadly - not even those acts of compassion among their own people could change the hearts of those who had taken offense at him. And he was amazed at their unbelief. + Jesus had shown his disciples how to face fear and find the faithful. Then he went about among the villages teaching. Test time! He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two (apostolos means ‘sent’ in Greek), and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Jesus was getting them used to the power and responsibility that they would hold in the future. After carefully instructing them on the details for their first mission he sent them on their way. They were on the ‘the radical simplicity prayer plan’ - guaranteed to foster faith and humility among them through their total reliance on God for their direction and protection. They were available - and they were vulnerable. This would be their first great undertaking of faith. So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. + We are on our own great undertaking of faith. We long for spiritual perfection - we live - by God’s grace - with spiritual progress . The Last Word Come to the edge, he said. They said, We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them . . . And they flew. Peter McWilliams

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Parish Churches

So often, when we host an event or fund raiser or gather together in the church we feel we need to do such to help others. The list of services for others can be quite long. There seems to be an embarrassment to do something for ourselves. For us to say that this event is to raise money for the church, in order to keep it going, seems inappropriate. And, yet, for parishes in Maine (which was recently listed as the least religious state in the United States) doing things to stay alive and active is probably one of the most important things that can be done. Raising money for other non-profit organizations is good, but we sometimes feel that they are more important. And in doing so we miss what is our most vital strength. To be a praying community that offers our prayers for them is of more worth and power for them in their work than would be a few dollars now and again. And the need to be helping others - which is crucial, biblical and part of our calling, cannot be done unless we first are able to receive and accept ourselves for who and what we are in the community. Our communities need the place to gather for prayer, to meet and eat together, to share our lives with each other and in doing so discover the wonders of God in our humanity.

Jesus

There are times when I am talking with my siblings about growing up together, and how we saw our parents, when I wonder whether we even had the same parents. My memories and perceptions sometimes seem vastly different than theirs.  Some of this has to do with gender, birth order and personality; but some of it also is the result of different people experiencing similar circumstances with very different perceptions. There is no more important person in Christianity than Jesus. The experience of God in our lives, not just through thoughts, doctrine, laws, or institutions; but in the living reality of a love and presence that has been one with us is crucial to the Christian journey. And, yet, as with the differing experiences siblings might have with their parents; so, too, are the experiences of Jesus seen and known in different ways. For some people the liberating and authority challenging figure of Jesus gives strength and deep meaning; for others it is his healing touch that defines and makes everything real for them.  Sometimes we seek out the figure of Jesus that fits our own desire and who might justify our opinions and beliefs that we have come to know. When there is a controversy of some sort, it is always good to feel that what we are thinking or advocating is perhaps the godly way, the right way, the side Jesus is also advocating. But this desire to have Jesus with us is oftentimes a desire to have Jesus serve us. This desire to control God can be found in our prayers, sometimes, when we petition God with specific expectations and conditions. What has propelled Christianity through millennia, is not the response of a serving God, waiting to meet our desires and orders; but an experience of God that can convert, transform, redefine, and heal us from our desires and controlling ways. My prayers might be to keep me from pain and ill health. But, the journey and companionship I have found with Jesus is one that in fact leads me into the conflict and through the pain and to find the illnesses I might face to, in fact, be the seed for my deeper healing. I might want Jesus to change someone with whom I am struggling, but it always comes back to me and my need to forgive and pray into a place of loving again. Recently I found a picture of my father when he was a young teenager, I have it hanging on my wall. It accompanies other pictures of him that I have in various places. It is fun to see him as a young man. But each of these pictures of him, reflect changes he has made over the years, but in each picture is an image of the person I know and love. There are many images of Jesus, from a wide range of cultures and experiences. There are many stories people have shared of how their life has been changed and made new because of his love. But in each of these is the essence, the understanding or perhaps the vibrating of harmonic similarities to my own stories and experiences. I might not have experienced Jesus the same way as someone else, but then when I look at the picture of my father as a young teenager I am reminded that I also did not experience my father is this way either. But I know both, and am thankful and have been deepened by such love. I might, from time to time, encourage Jesus to follow me and take my lead; but always come back to the realization that he is leading, and that his lead is always back into the faithfulness of our relationship. The very limited scope of my desires is always dwarfed and made inconsequential when I open my heart to the eyes of Jesus looking through me. I usually want something to happen, while Jesus wants us to happen.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The time of Faith

Faith carries us into the uncharted territories into which we know we need to venture. Faith is not about practicalities and common sense, rather it lies in the courage to see and think something new and different. Watching Jesus rise up before them, like a slow moving rocket; going out into the streets of a city where they were fearful for their lives and speaking languages they never knew before: these are a few acts of faith in which the apostles took part. Faith is the journey led by Jesus into the fears of rejection and death in order to find and discover new life. Faith is the vehicle which carries us beyond time itself. In all the movies, and in an age of technology, we see and read of the exotic opportunities of time travel through the powers of a unique ma-chine. Yet it is not technology that transforms, and crosses such boundaries, but the experience of faith. Every time we share communion, we are sharing a meal with those who have gone before us and those who are yet to be born. The time travel of faith is not about reliving history as we know it in the present, but joining in relationship with life on a larger plane. Sometimes it feels like everything is changing, being challenged or upended. The annual journey of faith with Christ Jesus brings us again to the season of Pentecost. It is in this season, that has been traveled for thousands of times by millions of people, that we weave our lives, our hearts, minds and souls, with the power and presence of God known in the Holy Spirit. With the grounding of such a union we can find deep peace and stillness in the storms of overwhelming change. And in the stillness we can hear the voice of our longing and the longing of a, more powerful than the storm, love of God for us. Faith is also what moves our prayers from being a spoken or thought hope or desire to the under-standing of a living with God in every breath and every beating of our heart. It is the moving of our minds out of their framework of understandings and into a field of mystery and possibility, even in the stress, confusion and deep anxiety we might find otherwise overwhelming. In faith everything becomes valuable, even the blades of grass we walk upon.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Plant Sale

What a joyous and amazing array of plant and people on a most glorious day!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why Jesus and Christianity are vital to good science and better technology; or why we need strong faith, not stubborn belief.

Faith isn’t wishing something to happen, it is diving fully into what is happening. While out at a local restaurant, I was startled to see the waitress take my order on a cell phone. Likewise, when my wife is able to take a payment from the parents of one of her students with a credit card swipe on her phone, I realize that my world has changed – profoundly. Is my religion only a remnant of past eras, causing me to sigh with a desire to escape or go back to an imagined time; or is it the vital core and open door of my present world to see and love more deeply now. Christianity is a religion that is based and understood only in the experience of our humanity. It is the story of God joining us, with love, to be incarnate – part of our very flesh and blood. It was in the recurring events of the resurrection, when Jesus came back from the dead and his followers were able to see, touch and eat with Him that the faith was born. Christianity is not about believing things because they were told to us, but because we have come to see, touch and know the love of God in the world in which actually live. The life of Christian faith is one that cannot be understood or lived by ideas of love or forgiveness; but, by the actual experience of being in love, loving, forgiving and being forgiven. Christianity should be the source of the strength which elevates us beyond our preconceived notions, our biased thoughts, and our cultural understandings; and be open to new possibilities of grace and truth. The journey of Jesus Christ began with the herald of John the Baptist, crying out for all to repent, to return to a God who is active now. Repentance is the act of turning, the possibility of thinking differently, the experience of change in our life. For the new technology, for science and advancements in communica-tions to proceed we cannot rely solely upon new gadgets, restless frustration, isolation, and simply a desire to make more money, if we are to truly progress. Like any good journey, we need both our right and left feet to keep us walking great distances. So, too, we not only need new things but also a capacity for growth, in love and a deeper and more engaged presence – with people who are physically present. We need to have more actual engagement with people beside ourself, where we forgive, learn and listen in ways that can change us. We need to eat together, make music, love, walk and look into each other’s eyes. And with such experiences of intimacy we can find the grounding, the footing that makes other innovation possible. And I can share with joy the moment with a waitress who is excited to show me how her phone takes my order, and with such build a stronger community.

Thoughts on the end times

It was in the 1800’s that the great waves of feeling that Jesus was coming back became a major movement in our religious history. And when it appeared that he wasn’t or hadn’t come back there was the “great disappointment”. From this emerged the Adventist Church and others. Later the Scottish theologian Darby wrote an understanding of this disappointment into a way of viewing the faith with terminology that brought into our language, “the rapture”. And now this way of thinking is a major understanding in the American Church. I have read and understood our religious history, but never tied it in very closely with other ways of reading history. And when I began doing such it was startling. How much of this way of thinking of the return of Christ was ignited by the change in our thinking that came about because of the Industrial Revolution, the emergence of Darwinian thought, and the pre-eminence of science and technology as the governing or driving force of society.

hearing God some more

It is my experience that in order to hear God, I need to be especially observant; with a unbiased eye that will not just see what I want to see, but what is there before me. I need to let go of my desire to be heard in order to hear, and to be still long enough to actually observe, feel, sense and understand what is being said. Hearing God is not a passive experience, nor is it a simple process: though when God speaks, it is clear enough for any one of any ability to hear, if we so choose.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hearing God

Listening to God mandates an unrelenting determination to overlook what we want, what we think to be true, how we have done things before, and what should happen; and to embrace a longing to be faithful to a deeper love and the radical exclamation that God has an unconditional love for us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sermon by Larry Rotch, April 15, 2012 Faith and Bicycles

Faith and Bicycles The Easter season readings have always been particularly rich and powerful for me, and today’s Gospel is no exception. In fact today’s reading is really sort of a twofer. First, we have what’s often called the Great Commission, where the disciples joyfully recognize the risen Jesus, and Jesus breaths on them, filling them with the Holy Spirit and empowering them for their ministries. And next we’re jolted by the famous doubting Thomas passage, where Thomas comes in like the Grinch and won’t believe a word of it without proof. There’s a ton of sermon material here. You’re lucky I’m not long-winded. I think many of the commentaries give Thomas a bad rap. One of them suggests that he was a little slow on the uptake, another describes him as “belligerently pessimistic.” Personally, I think that each of us comes to our own understanding of faith, or maybe un-faith, in our own way, depending on who were are and how we think, whether we’re a Thomas who wants hard proof, or somebody who accepts faith as a miraculous gift without the need of anything more. The fact is, I’ve always had a soft spot for Thomas because I tend to think of him as being the pragmatist, the engineer’s disciple. Obviously Thomas didn’t expect Jesus to come back as a living, breathing person - some kind of ethereal, Ghost-Busters-like spirit, maybe, but not the living Jesus. Since it was so unexpected, Thomas, like any good engineer, demanded proof - an examination of the phenomenon before he could believe it. Having proved to himself that his eyes weren’t deceiving him, Thomas goes, in a flash, from total disbelief to total acceptance. And this wasn’t the sort of wishy-washy flip-flop that politicians are so good at, either. This was the real thing. He was no longer a doubting Thomas. He became a convinced Thomas. He knew that Jesus was the risen Lord. The thing is that most of us are doubting Thomases to some degree. It’s simple human nature to question what we don’t understand and to seek proof that it’s real. Unlike us, the Disciples, even doubting Thomas, had proof of the Resurrection in the form of the risen Jesus standing in their midst. But Jesus challenges us when he says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” How do we come to believe today, two thousand years later? I thought a lot about the readings - about faith, proof, and belief while I was filling out my taxes last week. And in the end, I decided to talk about bicycles today. I grew up on a forty acre “spare time farm” in what was in those days a semi-rural suburb of Boston where kids rode bicycles all over town. We had a work horse, a pony, a couple of cows, half a dozen pigs, a hundred chickens, and a big old barn. In the back of the barn was the usual collection of stuff: crates of chipped china, boxes of old books, worn out furniture, and broken farm utensils. The kind of stuff that Mainers call cultch, or what Bostonians (and some unscrupulous antique dealers) call heirlooms. Anyway, leaning against the wall amongst the family heirlooms was an old-fashioned bicycle - what used to be called an “ordinary” or a “bonebreaker.” It had a six-foot-high front wheel, a tiny rear wheel, and a little set of steps leading up to a seat on top. I used to be fascinated by this thing, wondering who dreamed up such an unlikely contraption, and more important, who was crazy enough to first try riding it. Luckily for me, the wheels were too rusted up to turn, or I might never have reached adulthood. In spite of that bone breaker, though, I knew for certain that I could learn to ride a regular bicycle. After all, my older sister had learned and if she could do it, I certainly could. They didn’t have training wheels back then, so my long-suffering father would jog alongside the rear wheel and steady the bike while I pedaled. We had a long driveway, and after a while I’d feel his breath panting a little on the back of my head. Eventually, his breath would fade and I’d realize with terror that he’d let go and I would have to fend for myself. It didn’t always end well at first. Bicycles have come a long way since my first balloon-tired Schwinn, not to mention that old bone-breaker. Today we have multi-speed bicycles, ergonomically shaped handlebars, and computer-designed frames made out of titanium, or carbon-fiber, or even, as I discovered recently, bamboo. There are mountain bicycles, cross-country bicycles, street bicycles, racing bicycles - something for every purpose. Yet, in spite of all that variety, they share one common unknown. The fact is that for all our sophistication, we still don’t completely understand the fundamental mystery of how a bicycle works. Of course we know that bicycles do work because we see people riding them all the time. But how is it possible? After all, if we step back from our culture and look at a bicycle objectively all by itself, it’s a pretty improbable object. It can’t even stand up on its own. Just imagine some intrepid anthropologist showing a bicycle to an Inuit settlement high in the arctic, or an isolated tribe deep in the Amazon jungle. Would they believe that such a thing could be ridden? How many doubting Thomases would demand proof before they tried it? The embarrassing thing is that we don’t have any proof, other than by demonstration. For decades it was thought that a bicycle’s wheels acted like gyroscopes, and the angle of the front wheel fork helped to steady things. Then a couple of years ago, a group of Danish engineers came along, modern day doubting Thomases, who cleverly designed some sort of counterrotating wheels that had no gyroscopic effect, and they angled the front wheel forks to minimize stability. Guess what? Their invention worked just fine. So it was back to the drawing board for bicycle theory. Present thinking, buttressed by the latest super-computer analysis and theories of human biomechanics, is that bicycles work by an incredibly complex dynamic interaction between the rider and the bicycle. Now this might sound like simple common sense to most of us, but then we’re not all doubting Thomases. As a kid, I never worried much about dynamic interactions, gyroscopes, or forks. Except maybe dinner forks. Instead, I focused on what was really important, the riding itself: the feeling of freedom, the sense of excitement and exploration, the hum of the tires on the pavement, the wind blowing in my hair, the joy of cresting a long steep hill and seeing that delightful downslope before the next, distant rise. But above all, I treasured the chance to see new places and do new things. I think bicycles can teach us a lot about faith, and not just because we believe in them without knowing - or caring - exactly how they work. Bicycles, like faith, are communal. We’re inspired to ride one because our older sister, or our best friend does and we want to join in the adventure, to be part of a group exploring and doing new things together. Also, we need the support and encouragement of somebody else as we learn to ride. Bicycles, like faith, can leave us bruised and in need of support. Bicycles, like faith, empower us to go where we are called to go and do what we are called to do. Whether we are a seeker of mountaintops, a doer, a dreamer, or even a Doubting Thomas, each of us, like the Apostles in today’s reading from Acts, brings something, some ministry, to share in our life of faith together. What we sometimes forget, though, is the fact that a bicycle needs us as much as we need it. Unused, a bicycle is nothing but an inanimate object, worthy perhaps of computer analysis, but not much more. We are commissioned through faith to do God’s work in the world, whatever that work might be, whether it’s saving the world, caring for a loved one, or simply saying a kind word to a stranger. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” Jesus said. So, how do we explain our faith in the mystery of the risen Jesus to a skeptical Inuit, or even to our own inner doubting Thomas? The pragmatic bicycle rider might point out that two-thousand years after the Resurrection, the Good News still flourishes. It works. We have demonstrated that it works. And that is our answer - that is our proof. Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Amen.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What a friend we have

During challenging, painful and traumatic times, the people with whom we share these experiences can become our lasting friends. There is an intimacy of the shared moment. Deep memories of monumental moments engrave themselves into our minds and with them the people who were with us. Friends and colleagues become even more important to us at such times.
The companions of Jesus who knew him, watched him, and followed him, were thrust onto the stage of events very dramatically during the week leading up to his arrest and execution. The bonds they formed with each other defined them. The way in which Jesus returned and sought them out after his resurrection was as a friend making sure the relationships were restored, because they meant so much to him. These were the people who were with Him during his greatest challenge. We name so many of our churches after these people who were with Him during these times. What an enormous privilege and overwhelming upending of their lives it was to be the friends of Jesus, especially when the ful-fillment of his journey came to pass.
We, too, look to, or express, the knowledge of Jesus as being our friend. There is a great sense of encour-agement in this knowledge. We are not alone, we have the companionship of such a higher power, a love that possesses an unrelenting penchant for forgiveness and mercy.

Here are some thoughts I have had about being friends with Jesus:

1. Friends are people who can be honest with me, can challenge me in my thinking – am I letting Jesus chal-lenge me in what I think, or do I use Jesus to justify what I think?
2. Friends are people with whom I laugh and share my joy, is it fun for me to be with Jesus, or is it a formal affair, like visiting a relative with whom I have to be polite?
3. Friends are people with whom I spend my time, make time to be with whenever I can, and look forward to such times – do I seek out time with Jesus, savor it and look forward to it?
4. Friends are ones who call upon me when they need help and to whom I respond to when I am in need – am I there for my God and do I seek out God to walk with me, instead of fix everything?

Having the presence of God with us during our tragedies and challenges can give us strength. The friend-ship of God can keep us from blaming God and being resentful as we have to face the mortal journey that is thrust upon us. Yet, as we hold onto this friendship we can find the fulfillment of his journey continuing to be fulfilled in our time, thrusting us upon the stage of events beyond our control. Being perfect is not what is ex-pected, but rather being present. We remember the original Holy Week, because it is a guide to us as we make our way through our own journey, with our friends and the friend who does not spare us, but is with us to re-move the fear of moving forward.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Simple things, simple sights


In getting ready for the day, recently, I found myself walking past an arrangement of washcloths. It was an odd sight, one that reminded me of the ordinary things that position themselves around us in ways that help us see differently. In Michael Polin's book, The Botany of Desire, he makes the twisted perception that plants such as the potato, or the tulip have used us to help them in their evolutionary process. By offering beauty or taste in such a way as to catch our eye and taste so that we want to savor and enhance it is a great way to further their cause. So much of life is waiting for us to see differently, for us to be changed, to be transformed and as such help to transform all of life. When we do so in love, greater beauty can emerge. For all of life, and form upon this planet waits, watches and holds its breath in anticipation for us to see and be seen in brand new ways, ways that were always before us, and ways never yet imaged by us.

Friday, February 24, 2012

God in our life or we in God's?

Oftentimes I pray that God would help me or guide me or protect loved ones. It is like an invitation that I offer, hoping for a positive reply. It would be nice to have God at my disposal, like knowing someone famous that would be willing to stop by when I needed to impress people, or a rich uncle that would help out when I called.

Not as often do I pray that I would more fully know and surrender and serve what God has planned for me. Where do I fit in and am needed in the eyes and activity of God. It might not be in the center, where I chose to be oftentimes. Whether it is vacuuming or clearing dishes or being still, am I where the Lord wants me?

The mission field is ripe for workers, and I am here in the one beneath my feet; yet so often farther places look more appealing. Yet the love is before me, not beyond me.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

giving and receiving

No matter how hard I try, I cannot receive by giving. I can hope that I might receive something in return, a reciprocal gift or attention. But for my giving to be giving it needs simply to be for the joy and behalf of those to whom I give. And ultimately that is why I give. But the deep longing, wishes, or perceived needs will never be met by giving and giving. Perhaps asking might get me what I am seeking, but to simply give and give and hope someone will know what it is I am seeking is probably not going to happen.
Sometimes I think that if I do enough for someone, they might love me. This way of thinking even applies to my relationship with God. Somehow, I need to simply receive, because others wish to give, most of all God has already given. If it is something that I have earned than it is no longer a gift, but a wage or an earning. And in holding onto an earning I feel justified and have power. Love is not about power, and it is love or connection that I ultimately seek.
Receiving is being vulnerable enough to let someone else be allowed to be intimate or connected with us and not having to control everyone and thing. There is much to let go of in order to receive.

rethinking

There is an old joke about a monk coming out of the archives crying to his fellow monks, saying, “We mistranslated something! It should read celebrate, not celibate.” How do we know when we have made a mistake? When driving somewhere new with only written directions, I find that there is always a moment when I ask if we have gone too far, or if this is the right road. Oftentimes, the location is just a bit further ahead. But there are times when I have gone many miles in the wrong direction.
Could there be aspects of our institutional faith that has been mistranslated, or now misunderstood? What if we have been doing something for thousands of years and that a prayer, or understanding is misguided? Would we have the strength and courage to change? The rethinking of slavery was one moment when we rethought and changed the way we had always understood something, but it took a civil war to make the change.
What got me thinking about this possibility was hearing various Christian leaders speaking out on political issues in regards to what was right and wrong. A group of Christian leaders were speaking for political action to be taken, speaking on behalf of their people as people of power. Speaking from a political authority, with the mantle of righteousness, is always problematic for me; especially as a Christian. To do such always has an air of we are right, we are better and we know what others need to do. My experience has always found that we all have problems, shortcomings and have fallen short, and still God offered unconditional love and by doing so, transformed my life. This has changed everything for me. A law, a mandate, or an edict by an authority, rarely makes such a change in my life. It might modify my behavior, but only so as not to experience the consequence.
Not insisting on political dominance but witnessing to the experience of faith is where I sense and have experienced the effects of faith most profoundly. Being right might not always open the door for evangelism as well as simply witnessing what we have heard and seen. Advocating a position of political authority opens one up to the scrutiny of examination of one’s own history. To tell someone else what to do, how to behave and not have a very good record oneself tends to leave one open to ridicule. It is important to speak against injustice, yet raising questions, speaking from one’s experience, and trying to shine light seems to me to be more reflective of our faith than dictating doctrine, dogma and legislation. Having been the dominant political religious force, oftentimes as ruling head of state, our history is checkered with a clouded arena of actions that might be seen as more for political gain than religious renewal. Perhaps our need for power is a thing of the past that we need to get over. Perhaps it is time to rediscover where our true power rests, and it might not be in earthly dominance.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Adoration


It has struck me how much of my prayer time is spent in intercession, praying for others, and in being silent, trying to calm my soul to listen and let go. What I am not engaging much in is adoration. These other aspects of prayer are the shell, the outer pathways in which we move deeper in relationship and intimacy with God: the great power of love, life and light. But in offering my intercessions and quieting my soul it is then time to move to the place of adoration and worship. This is the place where art is grasped and enters our deep soul. When the music touches us deeply or the dance moves us or the image is etched within our soul. To be one with God is to know the beauty of adoration, awe and wonder.
What an amazing day, what amazing people with whom I live, there are mysteries beyond my comprehension and so much more to learn. In my haste I blind myself, in my need I refuse that for which I desire, in my longings I so often fill myself with the appetizers of convenience and am so often then unprepared for the banquet of deep love waiting for me.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

how do we communicate

It is interesting to me to watch how the magazines are getting thinner and thinner. Newspapers are becoming obsolete, the local papers do not have reporters per se anymore, we send our stories to them with a picture for them to print. Maybe they will have one or two people writing things. But the days when a local paper had a number of people doing various sections are gone. More and more local organizations, like the church, are publishing their own newsletters and blogs are becoming a way to write and share thoughts.
The occupation of editor is fast disappearing, which is very tragic for most writers. We need you!
Facebook, Twitter and text messaging has replaced the Post Office. Occasionally I get a letter, mostly just cards. I do know someone who writes notes and cards that seems almost archaic in that her handwriting is so beautiful and her thoughts well structured and nicely put together. I savor her notes.
We have lost so much, yet is it that we have lost these things or simply forgetting to bring them along with us in our journey to the next place?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

a confession

Lord God of all mercy, you came to make the path straight;
Yet we have complicated our lives,
and assumed responsibility for those things
for which you did not want us to be responsible.
You came to clear away mountains so we might come to you more easily;
And still we have made mountains again out of molehills,
and put our possessions and habits in the way of your path.
You have offered your forgiveness again and again;
And we have turned it aside and held grudges, anger, and judgment
upon ourselves and others.
During the days ahead, open our eyes to your unrelenting forgiveness,
and to the self destructive ways which we can be reluctant to release.
We are yours, O Lord, have mercy upon us. Amen.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Definitions

Oftentimes I hear or speak of people by what they have done,
or where they come from, or maybe what they look like - but perhaps we might know each other better not from our looks or where we stood or what we have left behind but rather those with whom we have been in relationship.


We are defined by our relationships:
the people we love, and the people we hate;
the people we forgive and the people we ignore;
those things we eat and those things that revolt us;
those things we cherish and our trash;
the animals we tame and the creatures we fear;
the life that leaves us in awe;
and that which we cause to be extinct without any concern;
how we let go and what we hold onto;
how we become one and how we keep separate;
who we serve and who we expect to serve us;
who is our God and who is our devil and who is our neighbor;
we are defined by our relationships.

Certain Thoughts

"Whenever people are certain they understand our peculiar situation here on this planet, it is because they have accepted a religious Faith or a secular Ideology (Ideologies are the modern form of Faiths) and just stopped thinking." - Robert Anton Wilson (as found on the website boingboing.net)

This quote reflects the reason why I oftentimes find faith and religious depth to be greatly lacking. Feeling that we understand God, life and what we are all about; or feeling so certain about our knowledge and experience that we peddle it as truth and divine is dangerous. Certainty does not make us one with God. In fact certainty shields me more often than not from the grace and humor of God. To be in love, to be alive, to be engaged, to grow, and be surprised by the endless compassion of the divine is what I long for within my soul; and that can never be found in certainty.
Certainty is when I stop walking with God in order to tell others that I once met God; so that I might impress someone with my experience. Uncertainty is continuing to walk with God, to fall in love with those I meet, and to discover who they are and be surprised by their blessings.

This is especially evident when local or national politics enters the realm of the church, and I get very nervous. It is such a dangerous and slippery slope that can quickly slide a congregation or an individual away from facing one’s own issues, and instead be so certain about someone else’s need. It is impossible to separate faith from our political sphere, the act of voting or involving oneself in efforts to make our civic life better is deeply rooted in our beliefs. And though it is dangerous, it is still necessary. This is why humility and uncertainty are so crucial to being actually faithful and open to God.

It seems that politics has also been sidetracked by the misuse of religion. What should be a platform for compromise and collaboration, has instead become a pulpit for intransigence. The expectations for politicians to make a hard line stand on issues of sexuality, when life begins, the needs of the poor, and environmental concerns in order to be supported by various religious groups is misguided. Rather than seeking endorsements, politicians perhaps could seek the questions from the religious communities that might help guide them in the process of discovering new routes and possibilities to solving our problems.

Rather than claiming the answer or the “right way” and expecting politicians to follow, we in the religious community should be insisting on raising the questions. Making a statement of faith and morality define our civic discussion is like making one’s scientific hypothesis define one’s observations. Our observations and discussions should help us see more clearly our morality and our faith. Questions of integrity can and should be raised by scientific and faith communities. As an example, rather than siding with oppressed minorities to change someone else, perhaps we should be asking the question why we are the one’s in the majority and they are not. When the prophetic role of questioner is supplanted by an insistence on being right, we avoid changing ourselves in efforts to change others. In expressing our knowledge and certainty, we lack the ability to learn anything more, and prove that we are not growing in anyway with our God.

He has shown thee, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:8

Friday, January 13, 2012

rainy day/snowy day reflection january 13 2012

So much change seems to be impending upon so much of life these days. From the structures of our civic institutions like government, religion, education, health care to the way in which we eat and communicate there seems to be deep change and unease because of this impending transformation. Often I hear the comparison of our time to the time when the printing press changed society hundreds of years ago. Now it is computers and technology that is changing things.
On one level I try to brace myself for the change and try to adapt, on the other level I find myself seeing the dangers of the changes and what might be unintended consequences. But I also know that what I think or wish to happen will actually make that great of a change in the outcome. Like complaining about the national government, what I think really doesn’t effect the actions or outcomes of national politics.
What I can control or have some sense of engagement is the way I respond and how I let it effect me. There is a storm of energy trying to make me accept the new ways, technology and ideas and there is a landslide behind me washing the ground beneath me towards the way things were, or how I envisioned them to be in the past. These are not my only two options, no matter what I might feel. There is also the deep rooted present experience that exists now, and is the platform for my response. Perhaps this platform, or the people with whom I address these concerns are my base of transformation. It is not in the future or the past, but in the ever blown present moment that I hold to truth and love. My experience of the mysteries of God, the holiness of life and the coming of grace is not found in what I once knew or what is coming barreling down on me, but rather with whom I hold onto in the midst of the storm. A situational morality that might make something work for the future good by compromising myself now only continues to compromise myself in the future. It is only the integrity of now, that I can connect to the eternal. It is not found in what feels good, not what feels right, but on the deep rooted and timeless branch of connection to the larger life beyond my limits. The seed for hope is not found to the left or to the right, above or below; rather it is where we are, as we are the seed and the soil.
The change I am seeking is to lead me back to what I have always longed for, what I have always known and to what has been my source all along. The tradition I hold onto is not in the past or the ways I have done things or the way things were but in the integrity and faithfulness to what has always been inspiring me and holding me.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

making decisions

They called off school today, before any snow was falling. There were weather reports of impending snow then snow and rain which they felt would be a dangerous scenario for the buses and others traveling. Making decisions for others oftentimes makes us more cautious, it is when we are making decisions for ourselves that we tend to be more reckless, it is just a quick trip or this will just take a minute. Though when we make decisions with only ourselves in mind we forget that if anything happens to us, it effects profoundly those others we would have most certainly wished to have used more caution.

Monday, January 9, 2012

morning reflection, 1/09/12

It is hard for me to lose at games, or arguments. When I do there is a part of me that wants to get back and try again until I figure out a way to win, or to present myself in such a way as to do better. I also have to consciously find strength and a stillness that lets me realize that I need to pay attention to the other person and their strength, value and the importance of their moment of victory or the point that they are making. Sometimes this struggle causes me to not want to compete at all, unless I am rather certain that I can win. There are times when I find myself in such situations unexpectedly or because of circumstances and I find myself responding quickly with an overwhelming offensive reaction so as to knock out any sense of conflict at all. There is a growth and maturity that comes from a healthy acceptance of competition and of the value of those who challenge us.
Recently I found myself discovering a new twist to this dimension of my life and the challenge to grow and mature with regards to this area of my life. While joking with my wife she began an attempt to tickle me. As one who is very ticklish, I quickly responded by grabbing her hands and not letting go of her, so that she could not tickle me. There was not even going to be the chance of such an experience. It was all simple a fun and games time, yet I suddenly had a reaction stronger than the playfulness and was in a reactionary defensive mode. She had absolutely no desire to hurt me, simply responding with a playful give and take. I was suddenly aware of my need to be able to give but not receive.
If I cannot lose graciously, then I cannot win graciously. If I cannot receive than I cannot give. If I have to always be in control, than perhaps I really have no control at all. The walls of my defensiveness rejected any possibility of vulnerability. And once I shut down an openness to being vulnerable I stop the journey to a deeper intimacy.
I still do not like to be tickled, I still do not like to lose. But allowing for a moments laughter and someone’s power over me, or someone’s better ability or luck in a game opens me up to even being in a game or relationship with someone else.
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