Thursday, October 25, 2012
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
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
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
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.