Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Proposal for a Flexible Form of the Office - Part I, Section B

Part I:  Psalter
Section B:  Weekly Psalter without repetition

For the weekly Psalter scheme that mostly eliminates repetition, this is what I propose.  I actually have two sub-options – one that would preserve the practice of eight offices a day, and one that would reduce the number to five, with one day office replacing Prime, Terce, Sext, and None (in the tradition of some Anglican orders, I will call this Diurnum). 

Since Matins and Vespers do not include repetition (other than the Invitatory Psalm 95), I have left these untouched.  For Lauds, I have used one of the repeating Psalms for each weekday, with the unique daily Psalm, using 51 for Fridays.  For Compline, I use the longest Psalm, 91, for Sunday, with the other three used successively on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and again on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

For the eight-office option, Prime has the daily Psalm (with 54 on Saturday, which has no daily Psalm) and 119 is distributed among Terce, Sext, and None.  For the five-office option, Psalm 119 is included with the Prime option for the one office of Diurnum. 

Here is the scheme in full:


Daily:  Invitatory: 95
Sunday: First Nocturn:  1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9-10 (one Psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate), 11, 12, 13, 14, 15
Second Nocturn:  16, 17, 18
Third Nocturn:  19, 20, 21
Monday: 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38
Tuesday: 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52
Wednesday: 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 66, 68
Thursday:  69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80
Friday: 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 94, 96, 97
Saturday: 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109

Sunday:  93, 100 – during Pre-Lent and Lent, 51 and 118 are recited instead
Monday: 5, 63
Tuesday: 43, 67
Wednesday: 65, 148
Thursday: 90, 149
Friday: 51, 143
Saturday: 92, 150


Sunday:  118 (except Pre-Lent and Lent, 93 & 100 recited instead), Athanasian Creed recited as last Psalm (this was superseded on certain Sundays – however, I would require it every Sunday as part of the weekly Psalter recitation)
Monday: 24
Tuesday: 25
Wednesday: 26
Thursday: 23
Friday: 22
Saturday: 54

Sunday: 119:1-8
Monday:  119:33-40
Tuesday:  119:57-64
Wednesday:  119:81-88
Thursday:  119:105-112
Friday:  119:129-136
Saturday:  119:153-160

Sunday:  119:9-16
Monday:  119:41-48
Tuesday:  119:65-72
Wednesday:  119:89-96
Thursday:  119:113-120
Friday:  119:137-144
Saturday:  119:161-168

Sunday:  119:17-32 (two sections instead of the usual one)
Monday:  119:49-56
Tuesday:  119:73-80
Wednesday:  119:97-104
Thursday:  119:121-128
Friday:  119:145-152
Saturday:  119:169-176


Diurnum (replaces Prime, Terce, Sext, None)
Sunday:  118 (except Pre-Lent and Lent, 93 & 100 recited instead), 119: 1-32, Athanasian Creed recited as last Psalm (this was superseded on certain Sundays – however, I would require it every Sunday as part of the weekly Psalter recitation)
Monday: 24, 119:33-56
Tuesday: 25, 119:57-80
Wednesday: 26, 119:81-104
Thursday: 23, 119:105-128
Friday: 22, 119:129-152
Saturday: 54, 119:153-176


Sunday:  110, 111, 112, 113, 114-115 (one psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate)
Monday: 116:1-9 (separate psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate, verse division as in Hebrew), 116:10-19 (separate psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate, verse division as in Hebrew), 117, 120, 121
Tuesday: 122, 123, 124, 125, 126
Wednesday:  127, 128, 129, 130, 131
Thursday: 132, 133, 135, 136, 137
Friday: 138, 139, 140, 141, 142
Saturday: 144, 145, 146, 147:1-11(separate psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate, verse division as in Hebrew), 147:12-20 (separate psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate, verse division as in Hebrew).

Sunday:  91
Monday:  4
Tuesday:  31:2-6 (Hebrew verse numbers)
Wednesday:  134
Thursday:  4
Friday:  31:2-6 (Hebrew verse numbers)
Saturday:  134

Monday, August 15, 2016

Proposal for a Flexible Form of the Office - Part I, Section A

Part I:  Psalter
Section A:  The Psalter Scheme that serves as the Basis for all Psalter Scheme Options

The jurisdiction I serve has as one of its hallmarks "liturgical diversity", meaning that a wide variety of liturgical rites are in use.  The great thing about this is that people have the freedom to draw upon the vast and varied riches of liturgical tradition to find what is most meaningful for them. The disadvantage, as our seminarians have complained, is that different people will be praying different psalms in the Office on a given day, and in other ways the mythical "unity" (really uniformity, not unity) that the Office supposedly has had will not exist.  (I say this because there was always more diversity than realized – the monastic Office has a different Psalm scheme than the secular Office did, for example, although there were some commonalities.)

Another disadvantage is that not all versions of the Office are created equal.  Ideally, the Psalms should be prayed through regularly, Scripture read through regularly, and substantial prayer be offered.  Not all versions of the Office do these things equally well.

I have no intention of imposing one version of the Office, or allowing it to be imposed.  But if I were to come up with a common breviary, this is how I'd go about it.

First, the Psalms.  Ideally, these would be said weekly, keeping Psalms whole (with the exception of Psalm 119, the longest, which has 22 natural sections of 8 verses apiece, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which is distributed over the Prime, Terce, Sext, and None, and of the small portion of Psalm 31 recited at Compline, which doesn't really "count" since the complete Psalm 31 is recited at Matins on Mondays), and repeating some of the Psalms daily or near-daily.  The pre-1911 secular Roman breviary does this (with the caveat that the whole Psalms are according to the Septuagint/Vulgate division, not the Hebrew division).  The monastic Office eliminates the integrity of keeping Psalms whole, and splits Psalm 145 between Vespers on Friday and Saturday, as well as having a number of Psalms split within an Office, with multiple antiphons.  The 1911 Office eliminates all weekly repetition other than feast days, Psalm 95 as the Invitatory, and Psalm 51 in Lauds on penitential days.

Of course, living in the modern world with a full-time job and often a family makes the weekly Psalter all but impossible.  The Book of Common Prayer, beginning in 1549, has divided the Psalter into 60 sections, one for Morning and Evening Prayer for each day of the month.  (Unfortunately, recent BCP's have come up with new schemes that have even less recitation of the Psalms, such as the 1943 American lectionary option for the 1928 BCP that omits some Psalms entirely, and the seven-week scheme in the 1979 BCP.)  The Liturgy of the Hours produced by the Roman denomination after Vatican II has a four-week scheme that unfortunately omits 3 psalms entirely as well as verses of other Psalms.  And, unfortunately, many now say only Lauds and Vespers, thus leaving out many of the Psalms.  It does retain a nod to repetition with some weekly repetition of a few Psalms.

The Monastic psalter does have a lot of commonalities with the pre-1911 Secular scheme (many liturgical scholars believe the latter is older, and that the Monastic scheme was essentially a revision of it).  However, the 1911 scheme only retains a few similarities, particularly on Sundays and feast days, and the same could be said of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The BCP scheme has nothing in common with the Roman schemes.  Thus, those using these different Psalm schemes are not saying Psalms in common.

The idea of making a flexible Psalm scheme has been tried before, in at least one place.  Oxford University Press put out the Monastic Diurnal for the use of Anglican religious communities and edited by Canon Winfred Douglas.  This followed the Monastic use, but using the Book of Common Prayer and King James Bible translations.  It contained the texts for all of the offices except Matins. Canon Douglas later produced the Monastic Diurnal Noted, which contained plainchant melodies for the texts in the Monastic Diurnal, and an Anglican community of women put out Monastic Matins, containing Matins to complement the Diurnal.  All of these books have been reprinted by Lancelot Andrewes Press.  In the mid-1960's, another version of Monastic Matins was produced that divided the Matins psalms into a four-week scheme.  Each day's Matins traditionally has 12 psalms in the Monastic scheme, and this version put 3 psalms from each day for a particular week – so the first three sections of Monday's psalms would be for week 1, the second three for week 2, and so on.

I would propose doing something similar with the pre-1911 Secular scheme.  I would have four general options:  the scheme as it stands – weekly with quite a bit of repetition, a weekly scheme without repetition, a two-week version, and a four-week version.  Everyone doing the first three would automatically, as part of that, be doing the psalms done in the four-week version, thus ensuring that there would be common palms done on a daily basis by everyone.  Within the two- and four-week options, I would have further options to do two offices a day or more – the daily psalms in the general option would be done, but the number of offices they are distributed among would differ based on whether only two offices are recited or more.  (Even within the weekly non-repeating scheme, fewer than eight offices could be an option.)

In the pre-1911 and Monastic offices, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, and Compline have mostly fixed Psalms each day (with a little variation in Lauds and Prime, and in the Monastic Office, Terce, Sext, and None as well), while Matins and Vespers have a lot of variation, the majority of the Psalms being recited in these two offices.  Of course, on double feasts, the scheme is interrupted, and as time went on, more and more feasts became doubles, doing increasing violence to the weekly Psalter scheme.  One of the commendable reforms of 1911's Divino Afflatu was to direct that most doubles would use the weekday Psalter, with the exception of first- and second-class doubles and some greater doubles.  I would be tempted to suppress the use of feast day Psalter schemes (with the antiphons providing the needed material for celebrating the feast day), and would, at the very least, strictly limit their use.

More specifically, here is the pre-1911 scheme. (All Psalms are given in the Hebrew numbering.)

Daily:  Invitatory: 95
Sunday: First Nocturn:  1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9-10 (one Psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate), 11, 12, 13, 14, 15
Second Nocturn:  16, 17, 18
Third Nocturn:  19, 20, 21
Monday: 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38
Tuesday: 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52
Wednesday: 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 66, 68
Thursday:  69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80
Friday: 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 94, 96, 97
Saturday: 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109

Daily:  51 (except Sundays outside of Pre-Lent and Lent), daily psalm, 63, 67, daily Old Testament canticle, 148, 149, 150 (the last three are recited as one psalm under one Gloria and antiphon)
Daily Psalm:
Sunday:  93 (in place of 51), 100 – during Pre-Lent and Lent, 51 and 118 are recited instead
Monday: 5
Tuesday: 43
Wednesday: 65
Thursday: 90
Friday: 143
Saturday: 92

(I will address the daily Old Testament canticles in another post.)

54, daily psalm, 119:1-16, 119:17-32
Daily Psalm:
Sunday:  118 (except Pre-Lent and Lent, 93 & 100 recited instead), Athanasian Creed recited as last Psalm (this was superseded on certain Sundays – however, I would require it every Sunday as part of the weekly Psalter recitation)
Monday: 24
Tuesday: 25
Wednesday: 26
Thursday: 23
Friday: 22
Saturday: none
Note:  some maintain that, prior to the post-Trent reform of the office, psalms 22 -26 were recited daily, rather than distributed through the week – if anyone were to prefer that option, that would be acceptable

119:33-48, 119:49-64, 119:65-80

119:81-96, 119:97-112, 119:113-128

119:129-144, 119:145-160, 119:161-176

Sunday:  110, 111, 112, 113, 114-115 (one psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate)
Monday: 116:1-9 (separate psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate, verse division as in Hebrew), 116:10-19 (separate psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate, verse division as in Hebrew), 117, 120, 121
Tuesday: 122, 123, 124, 125, 126
Wednesday:  127, 128, 129, 130, 131
Thursday: 132, 133, 135, 136, 137
Friday: 138, 139, 140, 141, 142
Saturday: 144, 145, 146, 147:1-11(separate psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate, verse division as in Hebrew), 147:12-20 (separate psalm in Septuagint/Vulgate, verse division as in Hebrew).


Daily: 4, 31:2-6 (Hebrew verse numbers), 91, 134

Note:  The next posts in this series will present the modified options for non-repeating weekly, biweekly, and four-week recitations of the Psalter, as well as the Scripture lectionary question and prayers.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Good Samaritan and the Good Independent Sacramental Christian

Sermon text:  Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best-known and most well-beloved stories in the Bible. The term "Good Samaritan" has entered our language to describe someone who helps others.  There are even a number of charitable organizations that have adopted "Good Samaritan" or just "Samaritan" as part of their name.

The Samaritans are a religious and ethnic group closely related to the Jews, considered a branch of the Jews by some.  They still exist today, living in two villages in Israel, although their numbers are much reduced from the time of Jesus – there are around 750 – 800 Samaritans today, while there may have been as many as a million in the time of Jesus.  The Samaritan story of origin is that they are descendants of the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Levi who remained true to the Israelite religion after the Kingdom of Israel came to an end, and that the mainstream Jewish people added to and altered the religion.  The rabbinic understanding is that the Israelites not taken into captivity intermarried with non-Israelites and were influenced by them.  There are a couple of significant differences between Samaritan and mainstream Jewish religious understandings – the Samaritans accept only the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, as canonical, rather than the entire Hebrew Bible accepted within mainstream Judaism.  There are a number of textual variants in the text of the Torah, most fairly minor.  Another major difference is that while mainstream Judaism regards Mount Zion in Jerusalem as the place chosen by God for the Temple, Samaritans believe it is Mount Gerizim, where they still to this day offer sacrifices.

In the time of Jesus, the Judaism centered around the Temple and the rabbis was the mainstream religion, while Samaritanism was an outsider, marginalized religion.  Jesus was clearly part of mainstream Judaism – he makes this clear in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.  But the compelling point he makes in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that it's not the particular form of the religion that is important – it's how one lives out that religion in one's daily life that is important, through acts of mercy and lovingkindness to one's neighbor.  Holding the highest religious offices in the "right religion" (in this case, the priest and the Levite) is less important than being in the "wrong" form of the religion but taking care of one's neighbor.

One form of the obsession with "right religion" that Christianity has unfortunately engaged in is supersessionism, the idea that the Christian church has replaced the Jewish people as the people in covenant with God, rather than the much more theologically accurate idea that we have an additional covenant with God while the eternal covenant made at Sinai between God and the Jewish people remains in effect.  It would be a mistake to read this story in an anti-Jewish light – indeed, retelling it with a Christian priest and Christian deacon passing by on the other side while a Jewish person stops to help the person robbed would make the identical point.

I think we can agree that we who are Independent Catholics, members of the Independent Sacramental Movement, are in no way part of "mainstream religion" – we are outsiders, much like the Samaritans were in Jesus's day.  The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we will take up Jesus's call to be like the Good Samaritan – without worrying so much about what the mainstream churches are doing (unless, of course, they are involved in works of mercy with which we can collaborate!).  I don't think we need to rehearse how our help is needed, or who we need to help – any look at the headlines will give us many ideas.  Just this past week, Alton Stirling and Philando Castile were killed by police because, as African-American men, they were perceived as dangerous.  Dismantling racism is one of the tasks to which we are called.  Certainly, there are many others.

Jesus, in telling the story of the Good Samaritan, gives us several principles to guide our works of mercy.

First, the Samaritan man, when he saw the man beaten by the robber, came near to investigate what had happened to him.  He did not just look at the situation from a distance – as the priest and Levite did – he got close and saw firsthand what had happened.  Next, the text says that when he saw him, he had compassion.  He was moved by what he saw.  He allowed himself to be affected by it emotionally.

Next, the text says "he went to him".  He did not stop at merely being affected by the sight, and moved by it – he went to the man to get personally involved in his situation, and help him.  He bound up his wounds.  He poured wine and oil in the wounds.  Wine and oil were not cheap -- he was willing to use his own precious resources, and share them, administering them in a way that would bring healing.  

He put the man on his own animal – further using his resources, in this case living resources, to help him.  He then brought him to an inn and took care of him.  It's significant that, from the interactions he had with the innkeeper, it seems that the Samaritan had some sort of ongoing relationship with him.  The innkeeper clearly trusts him, and is willing to be enlisted into the cause of helping the man beaten and robbed.

The Samaritan gives the innkeeper two denarii when he leaves, promising to pay anything additional upon his return.  It's significant that, as we known from another passage in the gospels, a denarius is a day's wages for many – so this is not an insignificant amount of money.  The Samaritan continues to be deeply involved, committing significant financial resources to the injured man.

Finally, by saying that he will come back, he is committing himself to an ongoing relationship.  This is not a one-time incident; rather, he commits to following up with the injured man to continue to help him return to health and wholeness.

So, as we strive to follow the teachings of Jesus, and be neighbors to those who need our help, let us follow the example of the Good Samaritan.  Rather than being obsessed with the right form of religion, let us be committed fully to helping our neighbor, committing our time, our resources, and our relationships to the task.  Let us enter into relationships with those we help.  Let us show mercy, like the Good Samaritan did, so that Jesus can point to our works, and say, "Go thou and do likewise".

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

In Memoriam – Bp. Peter Brennan

Twenty years ago yesterday, I entered the Atonement Friars, a Roman Catholic religious order. It was not a good fit -- and that is an understatement -- but I eventually found the ecclesiastical place where I belong, in the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM). Interestingly enough, although the Graymoor Friars (as they are sometimes known, for their motherhouse in Putnam County, NY) have never been large -- perhaps 300 at their largest in the late 50's/early 60's, less than 100 now -- at least 7 former Atonement Friars, to my knowledge, are now ISM clergy.
One person who was an important figure in the ISM these last several decades, a gracious and peace-loving bishop who attempted to enter into good relations with all in our movement, was +Peter Brennan. Interestingly enough, he was also an Atonement Friar, although he left a quarter century before me. I met him at an ISM dinner that +Lynn Walker and I organized, and sat next to him -- once we found the Graymoor connection, we were fast friends. The day after my first weddings in New Paltz as part of the New Paltz Equality Initiative, an effort to give legal marriage to same-sex couples, I was at a consecration of three bishops at which Peter was the primary consecrator, and we, +John Plummer, and another bishop exchanged consecrations sub-conditionally. (That's how I got the Thuc line.) It felt like a blessing on that aspect of my ministry, one of its first non-eremitical expressions.
+Peter Brennan died yesterday. I am profoundly grateful to have known him, and to have had him lay hands on me in (re-)consecration. The fact that he died on the 20th anniversary of my becoming postulant at Graymoor will always remind me of how Graymoor was a waystation for so many of us on our way to this wonderful part of Christ's Church, the Independent Sacramental Movement, and of the profound impact for good that +Peter had on all who knew him, an example of that peace and grace we are called to express.

Requiescat in pacem.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

A Clue about the Meaning of Easter

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,
And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.
Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:
And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.
So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.
And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.
Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
11 Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.
12 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.
13 And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,
14 And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord. - Ezekiel 37:1-14
One of my favorite movies is Clue, based on the board game, and starring some comedy greats, such as Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, and Madeline Kahn, among others. It brings to life the game, with the characters, such as Colonel Mustard, the rooms, and the weapons, as they try to figure out who committed the murder where and with what weapon. But one of the best things about the movie is that there are three endings, each done after the other – so the viewer is free to pick the one they like best.

Now you may be wondering why I am talking about such a ridiculous movie at the Easter Vigil. But here's why – thanks to the resurrection, we have a different ending as well.

We just heard a wonderful set of some of the best readings from the Old Testament, which describe the creation and exodus from Egypt and other major points in the story of God's relationship with the people of Israel. They are all my favorites – but one I especially love to hear at Easter is the story of the valley of the dry bones from Ezekiel. In one church I attended, in college, the choir would sing the old spiritual "the knee bone connects to the foot bone" as the response to this reading.  Maybe we can do that one year!

What I love about that story is the way that God gives a different ending to the story. The people in the story are dead.  Not just dead, but so dead that all that is left is very dry bones.  No flesh. No muscle. No fat. Just dry bones.

But then God asks Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, and they start connecting with each other, and are covered with muscles and skin, and become people again.  But there is no breath in them. So God asks Ezekiel to prophesy again, and the breath enters them, and they are alive again!

I think we have all been in the valley of the dry bones.  We have been in situations where we feel like all that is left is dry bones. 

When we think of the sins we've committed – the way we've hurt others, ourselves, the planet.  When we think of the ways in which we've been sinned against, and hurt, and wounded.

But that isn't the ending.  There's another ending.  Jesus Christ took our sins, and put them to death on the cross, and rose again, victorious over sin and death.  We are now forgiven, absolved.  Those sins no longer exist in our lives. 

That is the power of Easter.  A new ending.

We've been in other situations where we feel like all that is left is dry bones.  The relationship that didn't work out.  The job that didn't pan out.  The ways we beat up ourselves for being failures.  We've all been there, or at least had loved ones who have been there.
But thanks to Easter, that isn't the ending.  There's another ending.  We know that our self-worth doesn't depend on our relationships, or jobs, or successes, or failures.  We were created by God, and we were redeemed by Jesus Christ.  Our self-worth comes from being created in the image of God, and being redeemed by Christ's death and resurrection.  

We've all been trapped by sickness, or known someone who was.  We've had loved ones who have died.  And that story is very depressing, very sad – no one will be permanent in our lives, because they will all eventually die – unless we ourselves die first.

But thanks to Easter, that isn't the ending.  There's another ending.  We know that Jesus Christ, through his glorious resurrection, has conquered death, and enabled us to do likewise.  We will see our loved ones again. We will live in joy in eternity with God.

We celebrate this Easter, because the ending of our story has been changed to a new ending – a much, much better ending – of life, joy, and companionship with God and one another.  Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ who gives us the victory!

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Monday, June 27, 2016

The pope's Request for Forgiveness from the LGBT Community

Sacramental theology refresher: if you come to confession and confess a sin and seek forgiveness, but tell the priest that you will continue to commit the sin and have absolutely no intention of changing your behavior, the priest must withhold absolution, because you're not sorry for your sin, you just want a "get outta hell free" card. Your "confession" is actually in and of itself sinful. (Note -- I'm NOT talking about people confessing habitual sins they find it very difficult to quit, but who have every intention of doing what they can to change, even though they believe the efforts will not be completely effective. I'm talking about people who have NO intention of changing their behavior.)
So when pope Francis is saying the Roman denomination should seek the lgbt community's forgiveness, but will continue to refuse to marry same-sex couples and will continue to work to prevent-laws giving rights to same-sex couples (as he himself has done recently in both Italy and Slovenia), and will continue to write anti-transgender encyclicals (such as his environmental encyclical), he is NOT sorry for the actions of his denomination at all. He is worried that, post-Orlando, people will connect the dots between religious hatred of lgbt people and violence against lgbt people.
Until and unless he officiates at same-sex marriages, requires all Roman clergy to do so as well as a condition of continuing in their ministry, announces his denomination's support of legalizing same-sex marriage and laws against discrimination, rewrites his environmental encyclical to remove the anti-transgender portions, and otherwise changes his behavior and that of his denomination to stop hurting lgbt people, his apology is meaningless and nothing but a "get outta just criticism free" card.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Meal and the Oil That Don't Run Out

1 Kings 17:8-16

And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. 11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. 12 And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. 13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. 14 For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lordsendeth rain upon the earth. 15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. 16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.
I still remember the first time I heard the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, when I was about three years old.  I was in the den of the parsonage where we lived, the house provided by the Baptist church my father pastored, and my father read the story to me.  I heard that they were preparing their last meal, and gathering sticks, and I thought they were going to eat the sticks – that's how my three-year-old brain worked.  My father was not amused.

It's a very odd story on a number of levels.  First, Zarephath, in Sidon, was not part of Israel, so it was strange that God sent Elijah not to an Israelite household, but to one outside of Israel, to live until God lifted the drought they were experiencing.  Second, she was obviously very poor, since she was preparing what she thought would be her last meal for herself and her son.  Why would God not send Elijah to a wealthy benefactor?  If you read the stories of Elisha, his successor – and they are some of the most entertaining stories in the Bible! – he had wealthy benefactors.  And then there was the way the miracle went down – there was never much meal or oil, yet they never ran out, and there was always enough to eat, until the drought was over, and the rain came again.

In our modern-day culture, we are taught to plan ahead.  Days, weeks, months, years, and – in the case of retirement planning – decades.  You've probably heard the saying "To fail to plan is to plan to fail."  And that advice has much merit in the secular world.

But it is not so with our spiritual lives, as much as we may want it to be.

Instead, God provides us with what we need, when we need it.  Not what we will need for the next 30 years.  What we will need for today. 

Which can be frustrating.  Our spiritual journey is not mapped out for us – it is something that we must make our way forward on each day, only going where God leads us.  When the Israelites were in the desert, the pillar of cloud (by day – pillar of fire by night) would rest on the tabernacle – they would only leave and move forward when it raised up and led them.  They did not know from day to day when this would happen, or where they would go next – not even Moses, Aaron, or Miriam.  Similarly, they were fed with manna – and they could only gather one day's supply at a time – it would go bad otherwise (except on the day before the Sabbath, when they were to gather for two days). 

Similarly, Elijah, the widow, and her son were given what they needed each day.  I'm sure the widow found it nerve-wracking at the end of preparing each meal, wondering if the miracle would continue.  But it did.

We are given the spiritual sustenance we need each day – through scripture, through the Eucharist, through prayer, through our fellow human beings.  We may want more, but we are called to sustain ourselves with what God gives us each day, and do the tasks God sets before us, not worrying about tomorrow.

With our finances, yes – we should plan for the future.  And in our career.  But in our spiritual lives, let us find the courage to trust that God will provide, and that the meal and the oil will not run out, but will continue to feed us until God sends the rain.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Holy Boredom

Rather than the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Benedictines take vows of stability, conversion of life, and obedience, and the call to remain in the cell is a call to stability.  (Actually, you can probably see all three vows in the call to the cell, but I want to talk about stability.)

In our modern culture, we are used to constant stimulation and excitement.  Boredom is the enemy -- we are terrified of it.  This spills over into the spiritual life, and there is the danger of always being on the lookout for the next spiritual "high".  I myself certainly spent my twenties and much of my thirties in this quest for the next spiritual "high", for that magic bullet that would transform my spiritual life.  The right denomination, or congregation, or liturgy.

But, in reality, there is a "holy boredom" that we must experience if we are ever to experience authentic spiritual maturity.  Prayer will be boring much of the time -- at least if we're doing it right.  We show our love for God most clearly when we pray even though we don't feel like it -- and when we do that task that we would really rather not do, but know we should.  We must commit ourselves to the mundane, the ordinary, the plain, even the uncomfortable.  And that is found in a commitment to one's daily life.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Go to the Desert -- See a Burning Bush -- God Will Call You by Name

Exodus 3:1-15King James Version (KJV)

Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. 11 And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? 12 And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain. 13 And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? 14 And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you. 15 And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
As Christians, we are called to go out into the desert to meet God.  Moses shows us what that looks like in his encounter with God in the burning bush.  When we look at the burning bush, we learn the signs to recognize our own encounters with God.

You might say, "Why do I need to go to the desert?  God is omnipresent – can't I hear the voice of God somewhere else?"  Of course, God is omnipotent.  Of course God can speak to us anywhere.  The question is, rather, where can we hear God?

Moses had quite a life before he went to the desert. He was born at a time when Jewish boys were supposed to be killed as soon as they were born.  He was not – he was hidden in a basket in the river, and the Pharaoh's daughter found him, and he was raised in palaces, raised to be powerful. But he felt the oppression of his people, and decided to do something about it.  When an Egyptian was fighting with an Israelite, Moses intervened, and killed the Egyptian. The trouble is that word got out, and Moses feared for his life.  So, broken and scared, he retreated to the desert, and took a job as a shepherd, and married.

And then one day, as he was out with his flock, the unimaginable happened – he saw a scrub bush burning – but rather than being consumed in a few minutes, it kept burning!  Curious, Moses approached.  And God spoke to him.  God called him by name.  "Moses, Moses!"  Moses answered, "Here I am."  Then God called Moses to take off his sandals, because the ground he stood on was holy ground.  Yes – the hot desert sand, filled with scrub brush, was holy ground.  And then God gave Moses a task – to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and bondage – out of Egypt – into the Promised Land.  In Hebrew, Egypt, "Mitzrayim", means "narrow places" – and many Jews, as they observe Passover, reflect on what the narrow places in their lives are, and how God leads them from the narrow places into redemption.  And then God tells Moses the most sacred name of God – "I will be what I will be" – a name that reveals God as the source of all existence.

And so it is with us.

In our daily lives, we are inundated with lots of voices.  The voices of our friends and family.  The voices of our boss, our coworkers, our customers.  The voices of the media.  The voices inside of us – criticizing ourselves, worrying, wanting.  Yes, God is speaking – but how can we hear the voice of God over the noise that constantly surrounds us?

So we're called to go out into the desert, where the external voices are silenced. We go out into the emptiness, the dryness, the quiet – where we can hear the Spirit move, blowing as the wind. Of course, just because the external voices are silenced doesn’t mean the internal ones are silenced.  The early desert fathers and mothers in the Christian tradition went into the desert, and spent the time fighting demons.  Jesus went into the desert and was tempted by Satan for forty days. 

But the demons aren't the only ones there.  So is God.

And God will come to us, in the most unlikely of ways.  In burning dry brush, which seems like an act of destruction, God speaks to us – and brings forth life in abundance.

God calls us by name – when we are in the desert, retreating from our mistakes (maybe not as bad as Moses killing a man, but still bad), fighting our demons – that is when the Creator of the Universe comes to us and calls us by name. 

And we're called to remove our sandals – our defenses against the desert sand and the creatures – snakes, scorpions, thorns – that inhabit it – because only then can we be vulnerable to God, and open ourselves to the transforming power of God.

And at that moment, when God calls us by name, and we respond, the desert becomes holy ground.  Not the magnificent temple or cathedral, not the palace with its soft carpets – the desert.  Because all is stripped away, and we are free to face God with our mistakes, our demons – and our openness, and our possibilities.

And it is that moment that God calls us to our mission – a mission of liberation, of redemption, of bringing people from slavery, bondage, narrow places – into the promised land of freedom and abundance and the joy of serving God in a community of the redeemed.  And in committing to that mission, God reveals to us the sacred name of God.

Let us go to the desert.  Let us keep our eyes open for the burning bush. And let us be prepared for God to call us by name, give us our mission, and make known to us the sacred name of God.