Archives for the month of: November, 2013

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We are celebrating the feast of Christ the King.  Basically it celebrates ritually the end of time that all of our time is heading toward: the reign of Christ.   There is clearly an aspect of fulfillment about this feast, but not one note of triumphalism in the sense of Christ dominating anything. 

The Non-Dominator

The word “dominate” comes from the word dominus, or lord.  Luke paints a picture tonight of a Christ who is the Lord and who surrenders all lording.  This is a constant shock in the gospel.

Let me make an aside about the word king.  The king was the ruler of the people of Israel; the ceremony of making him a king involved an anointing; the word Messiah means “the anointed one” and is equivalent to the word king.  So too the phrase “Son of God” was a term used of the King. 

Notice the sexism here.  Only men were kings.  In the Christian tradition men and women are anointed as a sign that each of us participates in the life of Christ.  Since we all participate in it, let’s think about what it means and doesn’t mean for all of us.

At the beginning of Luke’s gospel, the Devil questions whether Jesus is the Messiah/King/Son of God.  Later in the gospel the Sanhedrin (the supreme religious body in ancient Israel) similarly questions whether Jesus is really the Son of God/Messiah/King.  Now, in tonight’s text, those around Jesus at his death question whether he is the Son of God/Messiah/King.  And they do it in an insulting way.  They are insulting him because he clearly is not measuring up to their idea of a king; he is about to be crucified in ignominy.  That is not how a king is supposed to die.  This is not glory, they assume.

From the perspective of the hierarchical culture of the day the way he is insulted is particularly nasty.  First the leaders insult him, then the soldiers, then a criminal.  The lowest of the low (from their perspective) is even insulting Jesus!  Of course that is not Jesus’ perspective. 

Jesus Is (and We Are?) Seeing Things Differently

Jesus has known since that experience he had at his baptism that he is God’s child and that God is his parent.  This is not about power in the sense of domination.  This is about relationship, power in the sense of knowing exactly who he is and how he is related.  Jesus is on fire with an eternal flame that comes from within him and which he knows he does not produce for himself.  He loves this flame and the love that is behind its existence. 

He totally operates out of this power.  He forgives those around him; the flame inside keeps giving meaning to his life.  He loves while they are dominating.  This is the real power and glory that only some are able to see.

Luke paints a detail that represents a growing breakthrough in his story.  A little while before this episode, he painted Simon of Cyrene into the canvas, telling us that there was at least one who was not scandalized by the cross, at least one who was willing to pick up the cross and follow Jesus.  Now Luke does it again.  There is this criminal who is not focusing on the ignominy of Jesus death, but on his evident goodness.  The cross does not prohibit this criminal from seeing the lover who will not dominate, but who cannot stop loving.  He sees the goodness and says, “Remember me when you come into the reign that you are building.”    Jesus is a new kind of lover-king who brings about wholeness by loving despite the inevitable suffering of this world. 

Contemporary Gospel Paintings

It was a joy for me this week to visit Dave Winkler’s mom, Helen, and to visit Dorothy Armbruster as well.  These two women in their nineties are living in a complex phase of their lives.  On the one hand they are grateful for all they have known and loved in this life; on the other hand they are slowly surrendering one object of their love after another and indeed even their ability to function.  In the face of this inevitable suffering of life they find time for a joke, for an inquisitive question about someone else’s life, for some effort to love.  What icons of God they are!

We are not ashamed of the cross.  We are not ashamed to trace it on our bodies when we pray or to trace it on the forehead of those who are being baptized or those who are transitioning into the next life.  The cross is never a reason not to love, even to love those who may be putting you on it.  This is power.  This is glory.  This is where the world is heading for people of faith…not toward a world of fear and domination.  Amen?

The Feast of Christ the King
Sts. Clare & Francis
November 23, 2013
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Stuart Williams on flickr.com

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In 70 A.D., two generations after the death of Jesus, the wondrous Temple of Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans and thousands perished.  For the Jewish and early church community this was a loss beyond description.  The Temple was a source of national identity and pride.  The people literally believed that God resided there in a special way.  For many it seemed that God had died.

Luke’s community was living through this difficult transition.  Many early Christians were Jewish and shared in this loss.  In addition, as a result of the loss the Jewish community reset its boundaries and the Christian sect was no longer welcome.  Tonight we consider Jesus’ words In Luke’s gospel reflecting on this historic loss and providing instruction and comfort for us when life brings us difficult transitions.

Healthy Transitions

Each week we remember people going through transitions due to illness, age, job loss, relationship loss etc.  Those who study the transitions in life say our culture is particularly bad at managing normal transitions, much less traumatic ones!  The ancients were better at creating space to manage change and creating rituals to mark the moment, such as Jesus going into the desert for 40 days as he transitioned to public ministry.  Books on this topic (a good one cited below) talk about three stages in healthy transitions:

– Letting go of the attachment to what was lost.  We have a tendency to go back to where the Temple was a pretend nothing has changed!  Worse we hang on the anger etc. toward  those we blame for the loss.

– Embracing the emptiness of in between time.  We hate emptiness and immediately try to fill it up by building a new “temple.”

– Having courage to begin something new.  Taking risks is hard anytime, but it is really hard after a loss.

Hope to Persist

Jesus offers a few kernels of comfort and wisdom for the spiritual person going through transition.  First, he says we are not alone, we do not have to do this all by ourselves.  Because we are not alone the emptiness of transition can be a holy place, not a place to run from.  Jesus says here that God is so close that it will seem that God is speaking for us.  At our best we do this for each other during transition.  We companion each other and provide words when a brother or sister has none.

Then Jesus says “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”  Interesting statement, as Jesus just said some will suffer and die!  While there is no rescue promised from painful transitions, Jesus is saying  there is part of us that cannot be touched, cannot be destroyed.  Jesus pointed the way – they took everything from Jesus, his freedom, his dignity, his meager possessions, even his life.  But they could not reduce Him.

Finally Jesus says that if we persist through the transition, we will actually become aware of this part of ourselves that cannot be destroyed and “find our life.”  That diamond of life that came from God and is returning to God is not dependent on the Temple or military success or anything else that we may want to rely on.  Our Life is not in the corner office, the cancer free body, the perfect romantic partner.  It is when we stop trusting in “temples” for meaning and identity we find our life.

While some transitions are, of course, inevitable, it is better to have fewer of them!  Some painful transitions are self-created, and some folks are in crisis more than others.  We need to build fewer “temples” to promote, protect and project ourselves into the world.  Fr. Tony De Mello is fond of saying that the mystic steps lightly on the earth and is wary of attachment.  There are fewer painful transitions that way!

In a few moments we will pray together and we will hear about typhoons, injury, disease, loss of work and aging.  We may not hear this out loud, but I expect some folks here are even experiencing a transition in faith in God.  In all these experiences we are tempted to press the eject button and skip over the work of endings, emptiness and new beginnings.  May this Eucharist give us hope and eyes to see that we are not alone, our authentic self cannot be touched and we can persist and find our lives.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Saturday Evening, November 16, 2013

Focus text:  Luke 21:5-19 (the Temple destroyed and tough times)

Photo by Filip Maljkovic on flickr.com

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The only future for us is to have a contemplative mind like Jesus had and to become a lover like he was and is.  I am more and more convinced of this.  Let’s look again tonight at this ability to see things in a new way.[i] 

Crying and Laughing at the Same Time

I will never forget an experience I had as a college student doing a student teaching stint.  A wonderful woman who headed the religious ed program at her church picked a group of us up at the seminary.  I was sitting in the front seat with her.  My classmates in the backseat could not see her face.  They were laughing and cutting up about something and she was laughing along with them.  There were also tears rolling down her face.  I did not know at the time that she had suffered a loss in her family.  But she was entering into the joy of those in the backseat.  This had a profound influence on me.  I have since seen this quality in many parents who seem to have a space inside themselves for every one of their children who may each be in a different place.  Paul encourages us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15); maybe as we think of the examples of parents like that, we realize it is possible to do this simultaneously.

Take It All In…Lovingly

Teachers of meditation speak of how we learn to look “at the whole field of vision.”  That is because the part of our mind that we need when we (you’ve heard me say it before) buy bananas is only one part of our mind.  We need to be able to say, “This is a good banana; this is a bad banana.” so that we can purchase food wisely for ourselves and our families.    It is a very different part of ourselves that is the realm of contemplation and prayer and loving other persons.  Here we see everything with all the labels we are otherwise tempted to use and we accept it all lovingly.  Sorrow?  I experience and allow it to be.  Joy?  I experience and allow it to be.  This is not the time, not while loving, to decide which is better joy or sorrow?  This is not the time for ranking.  This is the time for accepting the whole field exactly as it is. 

Why is this so important and so freeing?  Because when I look at myself I see that sometimes I am really judgmental; sometimes I am really forgiving.  This is how I am.  If I can look at the whole field and love it all and not choose between  what I name as “judgmental” or “forgiving,” then I am entering into the heart of God who gives life to all things and who lets her “sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) 

Of course what flows from this is that if I can love the one in the mirror, I can love the ones around me who are similarly “all across the board” all at the same time.

What Does This Have To Do With The Resurrection?

This is the resurrection, which the gospel points us to tonight.  The Orthodox church has never lost this important Christian understanding: God became human that we might become God-like to the point of living God’s own life as our own.  This is what the early Christians celebrated in their midnight baptismal revelry.  This is what Paul means by our becoming a new creation.    Jesus says, “God is the God of the living!” We experience the resurrection now if we awake to it.

We don’t become like God because we become perfect; we become like God because we can accept the imperfect with the perfect.  This is what loving is.  And we know that loving is what brings out the best in ourselves and others.  So, yes, we then become “perfected” because we become more loving by forgiving reality for being so the way it is.  Of course the more we actually become more loving, the more we see reality changing around us.  Love, then change; not change, then love. 

And this is such a freeing life that we are called to.  My partner, Art, told me about some research where they have shown dynamic urban scenes and nature-evident rural scenes to persons who have been in disturbing situations.  Guess which they found more restorative?  The scenes of forests and fields.  Why?  Because there was nothing to fix, just lots to fix the senses upon and take in.  This is the contemplative gaze.  It restores us to wholeness.

Sts. Clare & Francis
Saturday, November 9, 2013
The 32nd Sunday of the Year
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
2 Thessalonians 2:16 – 3:5
Luke 20:27-38
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by moominmolly on flickr.com


[i] I cannot read tonight’s gospel and not see the amazing soul of Jesus seeing things quite differently than those who were trying to trap him.  I believe he is saying very deep things about the resurrection that may not be apparent.  That is why I developed this homily the way I have.

 

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When persons get out of prison, should we (A) welcome them with open arms back into society? Or (B) view them as pariahs for the rest of their lives?  Michelle Alexander basically asked that question last night at a lecture in St. Louis[i].  Jesus is asking a somewhat similar question tonight: If we know someone is a notorious evil doer should we (A) have dinner with them? Or should we (B) shun them?

Actually Jesus and Michelle Alexander are talking about somewhat different issues; but it is instructive to look at them together.  Both of them would choose the “open arms” and “have dinner” options; so it is also instructive to ask, “What drives Jesus and Michelle Alexander to see people the way they do?” 

What Happens when Jesus Takes a Look?

Jesus grew up reading and being influenced by things like tonight’s first reading.  The author of the book of Wisdom says that God loves the livingbecause God sees God’s own undying spirit in all living things.  Jesus saw, and we can see if we look closely and carefully enough, that all living things (including ourselves) are dependent on life coming from outside themselves.  Our life is not our own.  And the same pulsing reality of life that is in you is in me; we share a life which is beyond ourselves.  And as we experience the next pulse of life, we feel as loved as if a lover had touched us…because a Lover has.  God loves the living, Wisdom tells us (and told Jesus). 

When Jesus sees Zacheus, Jesus first of all sees a living human person and Jesus feels connected.  He knows that he does not breath air or drink water or eat food from a different source than Zacheus .  Jesus knows that the same Lover that touches him, touches Zacheus.  Presumably Jesus understood the further wisdom that once a person feels loved, she is able to love.  If Jesus didn’t know that, he certainly found it out when Zacheus started giving away his possessions to the poor.  So Jesus didn’t criticize the fact that he was a tax collector; he loved Zacheus and watched as the loving-Zacheus emerged.  All of this happened because Jesus was open to seeing things on a much deeper level.  Note too that this “seeing things” is not a philosophical understanding of things but a raw experience of looking closely at life as it is.  As someone said, the harder you look, the harder you look.  Because Jesus saw things deeply and saw that he was connected with Zacheus, he wanted to have dinner with him.

Looking Hard and Harder Still

Perhaps an example will help with this notion of looking hard and harder still.  Artists seem to be masters at this.  Monet painted a series of paintings with haystacks as the subject.  When I first viewed them, they appeared “unrealistic” to me.  They had these bursts of color coming out of each haystack.  In my mind the color of hay is sort of a nondescript beige or khaki.  It certainly isn’t rainbow-like.  But as the old adage goes, artists teach us to see what we are looking at.  One day I was in a rural area where there were rolls of hay under a bright sun.  The sun refracted off of the hay (it was not wet) forming a dazzling array of color.  All my life I had not looked hard enough because, well, I “knew” what the color of hay was.

Michelle Alexander Took a Deeper Look

Now let’s look at Michelle Alexander.  I don’t know enough to know why Michelle Alexander had the openness that she had.  She was upset that so many blacks were being pulled over by the police for no apparent reason—driving while black (DWB).  She was looking for people who had been harassed in this way to be the poster boys and girls for an organization in California committed to stopping DWBs.  When someone volunteered to be the poster boy, Ms. Alexander found out that he was a drug felon.  That nixed the deal for her.  He claimed to have drugs planted on his person.  She didn’t believe him or at least thought that no one else would believe him.  It turned out that he was telling the truth.  She had not looked hard enough.  She believed that if the law said he was guilty, he was guilty.  That was a turning point for her.  Her sense of justice moved her to look more closely at our whole justice system and how it has been disproportionately disadvantaging blacks over whites in startling ways since the end of the Jim Crow era.  The harder she looked, the harder she looked.  She began seeing for-profit prison systems selling stock on wall street, small predominantly white towns whose main source of income is the incarceration of predominantly black prisoners, she began seeing minority blacks arrested more often than whites, convicted more often than whites, put in prison with longer sentences than whites, put to death more often than whites, etc., etc.  But maybe most importantly she saw that when the prison system turned them out, there was nowhere for them to go because they had been branded as “felons.”  Society was no longer able to see them for the human beings that they were—and in many cases because of a brand they received unjustly. 

Jesus knew, and Michelle Alexander knows, how to look and to look hard.  We are not called to be a people who make quick exclusions; we are called to be a people who look hard and harder still. 

Sts. Clare & Francis
Saturday, November 2, 2013
31st Sunday of the Year
Wisdom 11:22- 12.1
2 Thessalonians 1:11 – 2:2
Luke 19:1-10
Homily by Frank Krebs

“Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer)” by Claude Monet via William Cromar on flickr.com


[i] Michelle Alexander is the author of , The New Jim Crow, a book which a number of us at SCF have been reading.