Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

What is it about Christmas? It commands an entire retail season without which many small businesses and corporations alike might not make it through the rest of the year. It has become an incubator of sorts to kick start an entire world into consumer-mode, Black Friday Frenzies, and multiple visits a day from UPS, Fedex and your local US Post Office.

Christmas sets millions if not billions of people out to risk life and limb stringing endless miles of lights – white lights, red and green lights, icicle lights, blue lights, large bulb lights, small bulb lights, LED lights, light up figures of Santa and Dickensian Choir Boys, blow-up interior lit two-story tall Nutcrackers, whole villages, towns illuminated  - leaving one wondering just what it all looks like from the International Space Station as we increase our consumption of fossil fuels by some unimaginable percentage of our usual gluttonous kilowatt hours.

Light in the darkness during what is for the Northern Hemisphere the shortest days of the year, the Sun playing its annual game of hide-n-seek, bracing itself for a return visit as we prepare to spin ourselves madly, steadily around our own personal nuclear furnace one more time.

A sudden outburst of generosity as Red-Kettles spring up everywhere with Santas of all shapes and sizes, uniformed Salvation Army volunteers and charities of all kinds offer every possible opportunity for the once a year outpouring of cold, hard cash to help those in need – those poor, those homeless, those outcast and imprisoned ones that the child in the manger would remind us, just days before his own state sponsored execution, will always be with us.

One must at one time or another stop and wonder: what would he make of all of this? This orgy of celebration, consumption and charity that in a few short days and nights will all be boxed up and placed upon the shelf, in the garage, or up in the attic until that sacred moment we finish the last bite of Turkey on Thanksgiving night next year. Would he be at all impressed? Honored? Pleased that we at least, if nothing else, recall that morning that a young woman, a girl really, an unmarried pregnant teenager “betrothed” (do we even recall what that means) to an older gentleman gave birth to a baby boy whose arrival caused such a stir in a backwater village of the once strong and mighty Roman Empire that a civil servant on behalf of Caesar would slaughter millions of innocent children in an attempt to prevent this child who now is seemingly lost in the midst of our annual Dionysian carryings on from ever growing up to become a savior of the world.

 “A Thrill of Hope,” a DVD that offers an in-depth glimpse into the story via the artwork of one John August Swanson who strives to connect our story to his story to God’s story in paintings and prints that seeks to depict the sacredness of the ordinary – a young Mary feeding chickens as part of a community of people baking bread, lighting candles, doing the things we do every day without thinking just how miraculous it all is. How the miracle of photosynthesis in the cells of a single leaf can simultaneously feed a tree and make it grow while creating the very oxygen we need to breath, to sustain life, while in other plants providing food for creatures whose fat becomes tallow that when lit becomes light in the very darkness which although it arrives every evening on a daily basis still causes some often imperceptible fear to creep into our supposedly sophisticated but really quite primitive mind.

As our disgust with the machinery of politics deepens like the night itself at this time of Winter Solstice, we all too easily forget that the story as told by Luke and Matthew is as much a political story as it is religious. Things like religion, politics and money were not so easily compartmentalized back then as we try to pretend they are today. How odd that an historic moment like the enlightenment ends up clouding and darkening our view of just how holistic, interconnected and interdependent all things are and by necessity must be if we are to survive. The child Jesus, who as a boy would delight as well as confound the local scholars in Jerusalem – then an armed camp under severe military occupation. A young Jesus who would echo the likes of the Buddha, Lao T’zu, Socrates, Confucius, the Hebrew prophets and others who also drew our attention to our necessary interdependence as pleas to somehow create a world without warfare, a world without wanton killing, a world in which all people everywhere attend to one another’s needs and develop an awareness that we are also inter-related to the Earth, the environment,  in a precarious balancing act that makes life possible and also makes it possible to shine light in the darkness.

I have been told that James Carroll, scholar and columnist for the Boston Glove, recently called our attention to the militaristic atmosphere into which God inserted God’s self into our lives, that the birth of Jesus took place in the midst of a paranoid and power hungry military empire, a detail that cannot be clouded over with endless strings of lights and an economic orgy of consumption. Jesus, the Thrill of Hope, came as an alternative view of how life can be lived in a world of war and darkness. Consider: not only Christianity, but all the world’s living religions arose in such an atmosphere of military dominance, economic chaos and overall darkness.

So, what is it about Christmas? I believe that like the Hindu deity Agni who is relied upon to light sacred fires in ancient Vedic rituals, Christmas reignites our sense of what it means to truly be human. Whether we can get our heads around the child whose birth we recall is divine, human, or both, the fact is that we are not entirely through with him – nor he with us. Jesus continues to insert himself into our world, a world still beset with serious and dangerous military actions, state sponsored executions and torture (of a kind he himself endured and endures), and a world awash with political refugees, homelessness and those in need of all kinds of charity and compassion. Yes, as he observed so long ago, the poor are still with us. And yet, inspired by his example of what it means to be human, what it means to be created imago Dei, in the image of God, so too do we have the means to relieve suffering once and for all.

Light a candle and consider the miracles that make that possible. Then become a light in the darkness. Each of us can and do make a difference every day. Celebrate the sacred in the ordinary. Feed chickens with Mary. Confound the scholars like the Christ child. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s. And guess what? It does not matter whether or not you believe in God. You can still live a life created in God’s image shining a little more light into the dark places. Our collective interdependent beams of radiant light together can and do make a difference. And that is what Christmas is about. God bless us every one.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ The King Sunday?

Christ The King Sunday: Matthew 25:31-46

It is Christ the King Sunday, and I just finished listening to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a trilogy of books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) about a revolt against God (?) and The Church (a sort of conglomeration of the Catholic and Calvin-styled Protestantism) set in some sort of 19th (?) century version of Oxford and other multi-worlds and or parallel universes.  Although its focus is on two twelve-year-olds, Lyra from one world and Will from another, the conclusion (if there is one) seems to be to replace “The Authority” (a rather decrepit angel on his last legs) and the Kingdom of God with a Republic of Heaven  - presumably more of a representative democracy than a kingdom as we would think of it. Given Pullman’s stated atheism and disdain for organized religion, the Republic of Heaven sounds an awful much like the Anglican or Episcopal Churches which already exist! It is all a wonderfully riotous, gripping and engaging adventure which seeks to un-throne (no pun intended) the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter all at once.

Despite the all too expected criticism and warnings from certain quarters of, dare I say, Christendom, Pullman’s books raise a number of important ideas and questions, not the least of which ought to be just what do we mean by the Kingdom of God, and on the last Sunday of the Christian Year, what do we mean by Christ the King?

It’s all too easy to agree with what appears to be Pullman’s assertion that The Church (capital T, capital C) has got it all wrong – and we ought to agree that throughout its history The Church has done and/or allowed many awful, evil and horrendous things. Think The inquisition, pogroms, The Crusades, and the sexual abuse of children to just name a few. Although one ought to be intelligent enough by the 21st century to know that no institution can honestly be judged by the actions of a relative few individuals. And we may as well face it, the malcontent , evil and misguided individuals who do bad things in the name of religion are a minute minority of the billions of other people of faith who have made the world a better place whether they be Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Confucian, Taoist, Jainist, Sikh, Yoruba, Shinto or any other of the many wonderful cultural variations of world religions and what is being called perennial philosophy and wisdom traditions.

Designating this Christ the King Sunday is rather recent. Pope Pius XI instituted the idea in 1925 and placing it on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time is even more recent. It strikes me as curious. Curious in that Jesus makes for a peculiar king – he who appears to have shunned all attempts at making him a king. Jesus, like the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, and Muhammad (to name just a few) wrote nothing down. No books, not treatises, no doctrines, no philosophy. He was a teacher who seems mostly to have traveled by foot with the lone attested depiction of him riding a donkey into Jerusalem on that fateful Passover week – an act which in itself appears to be some sort of ironic street theatre mockery of kingship, the Imperial Religion of Rome, and flies in the face of all authorities: here is a “king” who is close to the people, riding a humble beast of burden instead of a mighty steed of war, who welcomes prostitute, tax collector and sinners to sit with him at table as he hosts the blind, the lame, the outcast, soldier, foreigners, strangers,  and quite honestly anyone and everyone who wishes to sit on his right and his left.

Jesus commanded no armies and specifically orders his disciples, that is, all those who would follow him in his way, to put down their swords and love their enemies. And he routinely calls people to follow him without any requirement of knowledge of the traditions, scriptures or beliefs of any sort. We are commanded quite simply to “follow” him. It continues to seem strange to me that Pullman, Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling and others all seem to feel that for the world to be put right requires some sort of cosmic warfare when those who call us to such a vision of shalom, peace and justice always employ peaceful,  non-aggressive strategies of non-violent civil disobedience: think Palm Sunday, Ghandhi, Martin King, the Buddha, Thich Nhat Hanh and others.

And despite the indisputable fact that Jesus begins this vision of a great judgment at the end of the age with the Son of Man sitting on a throne, once again like Palm Sunday itself, he reinterprets the shape and meanings of “kingship” and “judgment”  in radical new ways.  For instance, those being judged judge themselves by their actions, and even more so by their non-actions: they welcome strangers, visit prisoners, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, offer relief to the thirsty and so forth, or they don’t. Note also that those who do these things are completely unaware that what they do is extraordinary and worthy of reward. And neither those who act not those who fail to act realize that the poor, sick, homeless strangers they do or do not respond to with compassion are the very embodiment of the “king,” the anointed one, the messiah, or are, quite simply, God in the flesh.

This is the scandal of Christianity – that our God sits not on a throne but walks the streets with the poorest of the poor like a Mother Theresa. That our God is the mother who lives on the streets with no place to lie her head let alone the heads of her starving children. Or, the veteran who after multiple tours of duty sees no way out short of leaving this world behind in hopes of a much better hereafter. Our God is a very strange “king’ after all.

I have no idea what Pius XI had in mind. Although I can hope that he wanted us to reflect on just what sort of “king” Jesus is, one suspects it was to shore up the authority of The Church on Earth. I am content to let the Philip Pullman’s of the world continue to fight that cosmic battle. As to the Kingdom of God, or even the Buddha’s nirvana, Jesus and the Buddha depict this notion of the Earth’s Shalom as a very real presence here and now, not some sort of life beyond the blue.  Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism are insistent on the very real presence of the “kingdom” in our midst – in and amongst us all, in the very things that we do every day, things that we do not even recognize that we do them because to do them is quite simply the right thing to do. We just lay down our swords, open our hands and our hearts and offer healing, love and compassion to those in need, completely unaware that we serve our God, our Christ, our King in so doing. Amen. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

For Alex

i can still hear hear Jud calling out
with that characteristic upward inflection
as we play Daisy a Day
one more time
one more time to ride the night winds
in the Subaru chariot
like a Homing Pigeon
(now banned by the Taliban)
we kept the innate homing ability
of the wild rock pigeon alive
it would be
of course
a Rock pigeon
not a jazz or rap or hiphop pigeon
when around that curve on
route 2
around 2 or 3 am
when what did our bleary eyes see
a moose staring at us
on the center line
then turning
slowly leading us
a mile or so down the road
before turning off into the woods
talking talking talking thru the night
music, philosophy, religion
or the latest gestalt-rock issue of the day
tucked into the cabin at last
on the couch
window to the world of loons
Flagstaff Lake
the first sounds of the new day
wood in the stove
begin again
plot the departure time
to the next gig
the next opportunity
to communicate
with nothing but notes and rhythm inflection nuance and spirit
but first
tend the flower beds
the tomato beds
but first
touch the earth itself
the earth even now recalls his touch
his care
his music left to vibrate on to infinity and beyond
i miss you
and will raise a glass of rye
as i
once again
for that inimitable
for your reliable
and spirit
hear the fiddle commence
the trombone blast
top hat on his head
legs akimbo
will never
and Alex
as always
is leading
the way

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dark Energy Is The Holy Spirit

Until recently faith has been seen as the unverifiable field of religion and theology and somewhat outside the realm of science. Yet, in reality religion and science are both attempts to understand the world we live in and the universe it inhabits. Both seek to discover great truths about where we are and why we are here. Science tends to focus on how things are while religion seeks to focus on why things are. Both fields utilize human reason to interpret experiential observations and imagine new ways of understanding things. It is what one Scientist-Priest, John Polkinghorne, calls Binocular Vision, a Binocular World View, and one might even say a Binocular Faith.

Christians have affirmed for centuries a faith that God is the maker of “heaven and earth, all that is, seen and unseen.” Until early in the 2oth century it was believed that creation, the universe, was static. What could be seen by the naked eye and early telescopes was in place, set and in a sense finished. We just needed to apply Newtonian principles to mapping it and understanding how it all works.

Thanks Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble and others, however, the paradigm shifted – radically. Hubble suggested that the universe is still expanding. As this dynamic view of creation took hold several things emerged. First, there is now a sense that creation continues, is fluid, is evolving. As this view has taken hold it is now believed that 70% of the expanding universe is Dark Energy – dark only because we cannot see it, yet it can be measured in particular ways – which is somehow the foundation of expansion. Another 25% of the universe is Dark Matter – only dark because we cannot see it, but can measure the fact that it exerts gravitational forces upon nearby matter. This leaves only 5% of the known universe to consist of matter as we know it: rocks, trees, animals, people, stars, planets, galaxies – that which can be seen.

That is, 95% of the universe is “unseen” – an article of Christian faith since the third and fourth centuries.  And it may be argued that this truth is also an article of scientific faith – faith that the observations and calculations that have led us to these understandings are correct – replacing scientific principles that also were once thought to be “the way things are”.

As religion and theology have evolved, once thought to be immutable aspects of the nature of God have been revised and replaced as well. Whereas once gods were thought to control and interfere in the lives of men and women – think Prometheus and Pandora for instance – the idea that a God creates us with free will emerged, placing us more in a partnership with God than as puppets on cosmic strings. 

An early Christian writer once defined faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” Hebrews 11:1 Faith is grounded in hope and an understanding that much remains unseen. Whether one’s faith is that God uttered the word, “Light!” and suddenly there was light, or that in an instant nearly 14 billion years ago there was an explosion of light we call The Big Bang, in either case it remains an article of faith, and the source of the mutual hope of science and religion that we can and will continue to sort out how we came to be here and why we are here.  Binocular faith, binocular vision, a binocular world view – religion and science have much to share as we ponder the vast unseen reaches of a creation that continues to unfold and in which we have become co-creators as a result of our scientific and religious pursuits. 

And ponder this: my dear late friend and scientific mentor, Richard Chiroff, after years of contemplation concluded that Dark Energy is the Holy Spirit. I have been trying to get my head around that for several years and rapidly coming to believe he very well may be right. Amen.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Where Are We?

A meditation on where we are as a way of beginning to understand who we are.

Radical Amazement

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Beloved Not Fade Away

Love Not Fade Away
In Matthew chapter 16 we read, "24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?"

In some Bibles it is sur-titled The Cross and Self Denial. I would take issue with that. I would title it The Cross and Our True Self. Or, The Cross and Denial of our False Self.

In Hinduism and Buddhism there is a clear understanding of a divided self - an outer self and an inner self if you will. Some have called it our False Self and our True Self. It has to do with how we see and present our selves. This of course determines how others see us as well.

In Jnana Yoga there is an exercise in which when you are walking down a path you try to watch your self walking down the path. It is in exercise in discovering that among all God's creatures, we alone are capable of stepping outside ourselves to look at our selves.  All religious and wisdom traditions have acknowledged this one way or another. All religious and wisdom traditions have established some form of spiritual exercise like Mindfulness Meditation or Centering Prayer to enable us to access this capability to step outside ourselves and see our selves – our outer self and our inner self.

Freud, Jung, Reich and their disciples have forged new modes of accessing our inner and true selves. In the modern era they have helped us to see how we hide our inner or true self not only from others but even from our selves. When we do this we become a divided self which eventually takes a toll on us spiritually, mentally, emotionally and of course socially.

We become a problem to ourselves. Professor James Carpenter at The General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America often used to begin our Systematic Theology classes by declaring, "Man (sic) is irreducibly a social creature since we are created imago Dei, in the image of God." For Christians this lies at the very heart of our understanding of God as Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Earth Maker, Pain Bearer, Life Giver.

Other monotheists find this baffling, as do many Christians. Simply put, however, it suggests that even God is a social creature - God desires and chooses to live in community - within God's self and with God's creation and creatures. To be created imago Dei is to irreducibly live in community with God and with others - all others.

I believe Jesus is getting at just this. After Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Christ, God's anointed one, Peter immediately demonstrates that he still does not "get it." Note that Jesus had anticipated just this when he instructs Peter and the others not to reveal this to anyone. Jesus is clear that he is and must be a Pain Bearer. Peter rebukes and "corrects" Jesus. No way! This cannot be! Jesus' reply strikes us moderns as harsh. "Get behind me, Satan!"

Yet, this could simply be a way of saying, "I need you to follow me, not lead me. You must line up behind me here and now. You must let your false and divided self die, accept and claim your true self, and gain life – eternal life with God."

Find your true imago Dei, your inner self which you will discover is aligned with who I am and what I am telling you. Be a divided self no longer and be free.

It starts at the very beginning, which is seen perhaps most clearly in how Mark begins the story. There are no angels, not wise men, no Mary and Joseph, no stable, no manger. John the baptizer is in the wilderness, which of course is where Moses is commissioned by the Bush, the great I AM, to take the people into the wilderness so that they might be schooled for 40 years in just what it means to be imago Dei. As John is inviting people to repent, that is to turn away from their false self, turn away from their divided self and recommit themselves to the lessons forged long ago in the wilderness.

Jesus arrives in the wilderness as an adult and chooses to participate. Jesus goes under the water of the River Jordan. That is when it is revealed. That is when it happens. That is where we are meant to see and hear what it means to be imago Dei. As he comes up out of the water the Holy Spirit, that part of God's own community, descends upon Jesus "like a dove." It is not a dove, it is "like a dove." The Bible, more than any other literature, speaks in metaphor since it is impossible to describe or explain these things any other way. Then a voice from heaven declares, "You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Literary note: this is the first time that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are on the stage all at one time. That is, at Jesus' baptism by John God's full and undivided self is revealed.

This moment in time on the banks of a lazy river that connects the Sea of Galilee with the Dead Sea is so powerful and transformative that the very first thing Jesus does is to allow himself to be lead deeper into the wilderness for 40 days to ponder just what this means and what he is going to do about it. When he returns he announces the beginning of God's kingdom and invites everyone to repent, to turn away from their divided and false selves to enter into the fullness of God - Earth Maker, Pain Bearer, Life Giver.

In the Christian rite of baptism we are once and for all incorporated into the Body of Christ, and this bond we believe is indisoluable. After pondering this for some time I finally got it. When we come up out of the waters of our baptism – water that we say is the water over which God’s Spirit hovered in creation, the water through which the Spirit led the people of Israel out of bondage in the empire into the land of promise, and the water of Jesus’ baptism - a voice says to us, "You are my beloved; I am well pleased with you." It is the "I am" of the burning bush speaking to us.

And I have come to believe that at our baptism angels, cherubim and seraphim fly around us whispering and singing into our ears, "You are God's beloved; God is well please with you!" It is the first thing we hear as we are incorporated into the Body of Christ. Then we “grow up,” things happen, life gets complicated and we forget that we ever heard that voice – the voice that tells us who we are and whose we are – the voice that announces the fact of our undivided self: We are God’s Beloved; God is well pleased with us. Even when we are reminded of this we cannot believe it is really true. Yet, Jesus not only wants us to get behind him. He wants us to accept the gift of our belovedness. It is not easy to accept such a generous gift, but when we do our inner self, our hidden self, our undivided self that is incorporated into the fullness of God’s own undivided self begins to emerge. We begin to know what it means to be imago Dei. Made in the image of God.  Our belovedness is eternal, grounded in God’s eternal love for all creation – a love that never fades away. Amen.   

Saturday, August 23, 2014


At one time bracelets with WWJD were all the rage. What would Jesus do?  Just last month Tyler Perry won the rights to use WWJD as a trademark. From our Lord’s mouth to trademark in less than 2000 years! And yet, what kind of hubris does it take to presume to know in any given situation just what Jesus would do. Zealous and patriotic American Christians might be surprised to know that the phrase they proudly wear on their wrists has its origins in Charles Sheldon’s 1896 book, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? And that Sheldon’s theology was shaped by his commitment to Christian Socialism.

For my money WDYSTIA is more to the point. But it will never sell. It’s too long, and it is too close to WYBMADIITY. I’ll have to let you figure that one out. It used to hang on the wall at the Warwick Inn, Warwick, MA in the late 1970’s.

WDYSTIA – Who do you say that I am? There have been as many answers to this question as there are Christians. Even in the New Testament there is a broad range of answers: Jesus is John the Baptist, one of the prophets, Christ, Lord, King, Judge, Rabbi, Teacher, Prophet, Prince of Peace, Glutton, Drunkard, Lamb of God, the Slain Lamb… the list is nearly endless. It is the central question in the gospels, and within years of his life, death and resurrection the number of titles grew exponentially and continues to this day. Recent books have added names like Zealot, Revolutionary, and from no less than Bill O’Reilly, one sent to liberate his people from taxation – we might call him the original Tea Party organizer!

I have come to believe that the question as posed at Caesarea Philippi to the disciples (always a placeholder for the reader, for us) is meant to have us ponder who in fact we are. Who am I? Who are we? Are we the Body of Christ? Or not?

For on page 298 in the Book of Common Prayer it states that those who are baptized are incorporated into His Body. In Christian parlance it has come to mean something like we are his hands and feet and heart in the world – we are to be his continuing presence. I think it is this notion of our being His body, His ongoing presence which is how some early Christians understood Isaiah when the poet writes, “…my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.” Isaiah 51:6

My personal ah-ha moment on this central gospel question came from the mouth of a four or five year-old girl named Eleanor. It was my first baptism. Eleanor and her mother were being baptized on the same day. Afterwards, we were invited to Eleanor’s house for brunch where, like good Episcopalians, we enjoyed quiche and a glass of wine. While talking to another guest, I felt a tug on the back of my pants leg. I turned around and there was Eleanor.

“Can you still see the cross on my forehead?” she asked. You see since the earliest days of the church, those who were baptized have the sign of the cross traced on their foreheads – chrismation it is called. It is meant as a sign and a seal that you are Christ’s own forever. One can readily see the resonance with Isaiah in this anointing with oil, blessed by a bishop. Forever tends to be a very long time. We say this bond is indissoluble.

I looked at Eleanor who eagerly anticipated my answer. Eleanor who at age five when asked if all she said and all she did would proclaim the good news of God in Christ had answered in front of the entire congregation, “I will with God’s help.” And when asked if she would strive for justice and peace for all people, not some people, not a lot of people, but all people, and respect the dignity of every human being she replied, “I will with God’s help.”

I said, “Yes, Eleanor, I can still see the cross on your forehead.” Her face erupted in a joyful smile and she went skipping across the room as pleased as could be that we could still see the cross on her forehead. And I thought to myself, “That is the question for all of us. Do all the things I say and do proclaim the good news of God in Christ? Do I strive for justice and peace for all people? By the way I live my life can people see the cross on my forehead?” Then I went back to eating quiche and drinking wine.

During the week I attended to such important kingdom tasks as laying out the parish newsletter, taking it to the printer, and all the other minutia of parish life. The following Sunday I was vesting for the 9:00 AM service when there was a tug on the back of my alb. It was Eleanor. “Can you still see the cross on my forehead?” she asked. She had remembered all week! I said, “Yes, I can still see the cross on your forehead.” And then I got it. It was the ah-ha moment I had evidently been waiting for. The gospel that day said that those who want to follow me must pick up their cross and follow me.

After a lifetime in Sunday School and church, four years undergraduate studies in religion, three years of seminary, ordination exams, psychological exams, canonical exams and what-not I had totally misunderstood Jesus. I thought that the cross I was to carry were all those sad, difficult and lonely things that befall us. We say, “He has had to bear this cross for so many years.” Or, “She has had so many crosses to carry.”

It took a little girl named Eleanor to cut through all of that and help me to understand, this cross traced on our foreheads at baptism, and retraced with ashes on Ashe Wednesday, is the cross we are meant to carry. We are to live our lives in such a way that others can see it. It says I am yours and you are mine. It says we are the body of Christ in the world. It says that we do respect the dignity of every, not some, not many, but every human being. It says we know the answer to the question Who Do You Say That I Am.  And that we are that answer.

It begins in our being created imago Dei, in the image of God. It begins with a Bedouin named Abraham who sets out on a  journey from home with the promise of being a blessing to all people everywhere. It begins with Moses’ sister Miriam and the sisters breaking out the tambourines on the far side of the Red Sea and dancing and singing their way to freedom from the Empire. It begins with Isaiah proclaiming that God’s deliverance will never end. It begins with Jesus who asks us each and every day, “Who do you say that I am?”

We are called to be the answer to that question. Many times the church has failed to live up to that answer. More often than not the people of God have made the world a better place.

WDYSTIA? Answering this central question leads us to live lives so that people can see the cross on our foreheads.

Eleanor is all grown up now. She is married. And everyday people who know her still see the cross on her forehead. We are all better for her having asked the question, “Can you still see the cross on my forehead?”  Amen.

Can you see the cross / On my forehead
Sayin’ Jesus lives inside of me
Can you see the cross / On my forehead
There for all the world to see

To see how we are meant to love
To see how we are meant to live
To see how we are meant to share
To see how we are meant to give

That he is Lord of all that is
That he is mine and I am His
As I strive for justice, peace and dignity
I share in his every ministry

That I am God’s beloved child
That our God is well pleased with me
That we can laugh and dance and sing
Nothing can separate the love of Christ from me

Can you see the cross / On my forehead
Sayin’ Jesus lives inside of me
Can you see the cross / On my forehead
There for all the world to see

Copyright Sounds Divine
Kirk Alan Kubicek

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Crumbs - Matthew 15:21-28
Crumbs. How many of us are satisfied with crumbs? Yet, here is a woman in great need, great distress, and deeply desperate to find help for her daughter, who seemingly needs greater things than we might ever hope for, willing to settle for crumbs. How many of us are satisfied with crumbs?

It is interesting to note that this fifteenth chapter of Matthew begins with a dispute over “the tradition of the elders.” Specifically, it is a dispute that occurs in households throughout modern America every day: washing one’s hands before meals. Evidently Jesus’ disciples were not washing their hands before every meal. It is equally interesting to note that Jesus does not defend the disciples, but rather attacks back at his questioners pointing to traditions they regularly ignore or find clever ways to get around and brands them hypocrites.

After some more back and forth with them about the traditions of the community of faith, Jesus decides to get away from it all and heads up the coast into Gentile territory. Surely no one will hassle him there. Wrong. Along comes this woman. She has no name in our text. That could be a result of male dominated discrimination on the part of those who managed the texts. Or, it could be the story intends  for any one of us to be this woman, give her our own name, encouraging us to come to Jesus on our knees with our real needs: healing, salvation, and to be fed. We all, like her, seek to be fed, healed and saved.

The woman’s need is in fact on her daughter’s behalf, not so much her own. But then again, what mother, what parent, does not want their child to be made well and whole and safe? The daughter has a demon. We know about demons. We know how they can drive everyone crazy.  She cries out, “Lord, have mercy on me and my daughter.”

The Lord of infinite mercy and compassion, the God of Love, ignores her. There is no getting around this.  Perhaps if I don’t respond, he thinks, she will go away. We have all tried this strategy before. It rarely works. And, no doubt, we have all gone to the Lord with a plea and have felt ignored. We know what that feels like. It can make us sad, and it can make us angry with God. And that sadness and anger can spill over into everything else we do and say.

Then the disciples, that always means us, demand that Jesus send her away. She is interrupting their time alone with Jesus.  So Jesus answers their plea, hoping I guess that she will hear his response to them, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” Translated that sounds to her something like, “People outside our community and outside our tradition need not apply. Unless you are just like us, bug off!” Which is a bit odd. He has specifically gone off to Gentile territory and is now complaining of being hassled by Gentiles. Now he adheres to tradition.

Her response is instructive. She gets on her knees and simply pleads, “Lord, help me.”  She is on her knees. How often do we forget to get down on our knees? Only when all other solutions are found wanting and ineffective, when there is nowhere else to go, only then do we remember our knees. And that our Lord is the one Lord who gets on his knees and washes feet.

This woman is persistent. She will not take “no” for an answer. She has taken assertiveness training and learned the “broken record” strategy, and now has fallen on her knees on behalf of her poor demon possessed daughter. Being ignored and put down does not faze her. Her heart is undivided. She is, in a word, amazing! Awesome! A model for us all.

She does not allow her own hurt feelings to get in the way of her daughter’s need for healing. Yet, how does Jesus respond to her humble and persistent gesture: Jesus insults her further. He calls her a dog. He calls all her people, all Gentiles, dogs. Whenever people read this story, really really read this story, they cannot believe Jesus could be so cruel. There it is. “I cannot take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” That has to hurt. But our woman’s heart remains undivided. When your heart is turned radically to the needs of others, there is no time to feel sorry for yourself.

And suddenly she has vision. For a single moment she has greater vision than Jesus himself. She can see crumbs under the table. She has seen children eat. There are always crumbs under the table. Crumbs are just tiny bits of something larger. Crumbs are insignificant. We often sweep them away. Crumbs are what most of us overlook, especially in the spiritual life. We are so busy looking for ways to grab the whole loaf.

She seems to be the only one in the room who has the vision to see that those crumbs are enough. She says, “OK, you can save the loaves for your family, your people, your children, and I’ll settle for just the crumbs. Even dogs like me get the crumbs that fall off the table.”

Talk about taking lemons and making lemonade! Wow! She is perhaps the most amazing person in the whole Bible. Maybe even the most important person in all of history!

Why? Because she changes Jesus’ mind. Jesus was moved to a new place. He let her in. He forgot about tradition for a moment and opened the door and gave her a place at the table. Suddenly he could see only her love for her daughter and the daughter’s need. He could not allow the law or the tradition to get in the way of love and need. He saw her faith. The daughter was healed. So was Jesus. Jesus was healed of being enslaved to the tradition, of bigotry and of blindness to the needs of all people.

Because of her perseverance, her undivided heart, her love and her daughter’s need, Jesus was moved, his mission was changed, and the world has never been the same. Because of the radical turning of her thoughts for others, Jesus radically turned his attention to the needs of others, all others. Because she could see great promise in just the crumbs, her daughter was healed, Jesus was moved to a new place. Gentiles were allowed to sit at the table. All because of the crumbs.

What a wonderful story! And it can be our story! It can be the church’s story, and it can be your story. It all begins with crumbs. When we are hungry enough the crumbs will do. And we will be fed, healed and saved.

Remember this woman in your prayers each day. Remember her heart. Remember her faith. Remember her vision. Remember her persistence. Remember your knees. Remember that when we radically turn our thoughts to the needs of others we have little time to feel sorry for

ourselves. Remember that little bits of grace will be more than enough to sustain us this day and every day. It all begins with crumbs. Amen.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Be Still

Be Still
I want you to think for a moment. Just let go of all that is happening here and go deep into yourself and remember. Remember a time when you heard that still small voice Elijah heard so long long ago. There may have been wind and rain and fire swirling all around. You may have been frightened. Or, perhaps it was very very quiet – gazing at the sunset or sunrise when suddenly you heard that voice call you by name.

Or, maybe you never have heard that still small voice, but can remember a time when you really needed to, really wanted to, hear it calling you by name. You felt that just hearing that voice would make all the difference. And perhaps just wanting and needing to hear it was enough.

Elijah was fleeing for his life. The people did not want to hear what the prophet has to say. The king does not want to hear what the prophet needs to say. Elijah is hiding, not knowing where to turn next when suddenly he becomes aware – aware of a Presence. The Presence.

Or, the disciples are instructed to get in the boat and head over to the other side of the sea – that is to Gentile territory, enemy territory, unclean territory. Notice how diligently they are on their way, and despite the rough seas they persevere. They are rowing against the wind. How often do we feel like that? We know these guys. We are these guys!

Out of nowhere – previously, we are told, he is off alone, praying alone, getting some alone time with Abba, Father, YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus – suddenly someone approaches the boat walking on the water – the stormy water, the wind driven rough waters. It is dawn - recalling the dawn of creation when Abba-Father-YHWH’s Spirit blew across the face of the deep, dark, chaotic waters – now it seems to be a ghost. But that will come later – afterwards, after the cross and the tomb they will again suppose him to be a ghost. But it is Jesus out for a morning stroll to check in on the lads. He is there. He is with them in the midst of the storm on rough waters. They stop rowing against the wind and see that He is there.

 “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter walks toward him on the water. Only modern liberals ask, How can this be? As if it is a miracle. The miracle is coming to know He is there, He is here – He is with us. He is never not with us. With such knowledge we can hear His voice, we can see His presence, we can walk towards him wherever we are.

I used to have these dreams in which I was flying. I would wake up in the morning fully convinced that I had been flying, that I could, if you will, swim the breast stroke through the air with the greatest of ease. And there was the time I was sitting in the sanctuary at St. Peter’s, others were distributing communion at the rail, the rest of us were singing a communion hymn, I was sitting quietly listening to the music because one afternoon Bob Duggan had encouraged me to find ways to worship with the congregation, not just lead worship. So I was sitting there experiencing worship when all of a sudden I could hear only one small voice – it was as if someone had turned down the volume knob on the entire congregation and all I could hear was the lone voice of our youngest daughter Cerny who was sitting across from me as one of the acolytes – just her and her alone, a still, small, voice. The next day I mentioned this to my Senior Warden who stopped and said, “That’s funny, I heard that too.”

Elijah stopped running. I stopped leading worship. The disciples stopped rowing against the wind. It is not that God suddenly shows up. Meister Eckhart says, God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk.

We tend to live our lives, writes Evelyn Underhill, out of three verbs: To Want, To Have and To Do. “Craving, clutching and fussing, on the material, political, emotional, intellectual – even on the religious – plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb To Be – and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of a spiritual life.”
(Underhill, The Spiritual Life, p.20)

The most important thing I learned in seminary, the most important thing I teach at St. Tim’s every day in every class, is how to Be. Jim Fenhagen would have us begin with the Psalm that says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Then we would sit for several minutes of mindfulness meditation, centering prayer. Stopping. Listening.

We have lost the capacity to be still. Whereby, we have lost the capacity to be aware of God’s eternal Presence – that still small voice within. Every now and then it manages to pierce our busyness. When all along we simply need to be still to hear that voice and feel that presence. Stop running, stop doing, stop wanting, stop clutching, craving and fussing. Be still, and know that I am God. Listen and  hear the voice which lives within of the God who lives within, the God with whom we are One. The God who is always here.

A week or so ago I was sitting on a dock on Lake Sunapee, NH. This is what I saw and learned:

Let us sit still. Let us say, “Be still, and know that I am God.” We will be quiet for a few minutes. Then we will sing our way back.

Have faith and have no fear
Be still and know that I Am God
You are mine, I am always here

Tho wind and rain will rock your boat
And you feel so all alone
Reach out your hand and I’ll be there
To lead you safely home

God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk. It’s time to go home. Amen.