Pentecost XIV

Forgiveness is needed, desired, costly & required. Forgiveness requires honesty, a letting go & grace. Harming another is a sin; however, holding a grudge is sinful as well.

Peter, “How should I forgive, 7 times 7; Jesus, no 70 times 70”. Why 7 & 70? Plucked from the air?

Adan, Zillan & Lamech

Adan, Zillan & Lamech

No, back in Genesis 4 we find the hot-head Lamech.

In verse 23 Lamech said to his wives: … I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’

Jesus means to undo the rule of revenge by instituting a rule of forgiveness Now does that mean that we mosey along until we see the magic number 4900 on the moral speedometer & then rise up and smite them asunder? Forgiveness must be unlimited.

Servant

Jesus tells a parable about a servant who got upside down in debt. His boss cancelled his delinquent, un-payable debt. The same servant put a fellow in jail for a small sum. The Boss was so angry that he un-cancelled the jerk’s debt & threw him in jail.

Why, because the Master instituted the comprehenive Economy of Forgiveness by cancelling the debt of the first man. The first man didn’t “get it,” the directive here is, “go you therefore and do likewise.” He could have said, “The master has forgiven ALL that I owed him. Therefore, I cancel your debt to me out of gratitude. He could have done that without it costing him much at all. But he did not. I think it just never occurred to him and so he did what he always did, think only of himself. Jesus says in the punchline in the Parable of the Fool, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” — Luke 12:16-21

Terry Anderson
On this Sunday after the anniversary of the (9/11 Attacks) I find my mind going back near half a generation to another time where the world worried about western captives in the Middle East. Those of you of a certain maturity will remember Terry Anderson, now forgotten by most, was an American journalist, held hostage in Lebanon from March 16, 1985 until December 4, 1991. What did he do for 7 years? Read, for one,

“You know, my fundamentalist, radical Shiite Muslim kidnappers went out and bought me a brand new Bible, and I kept it for six and a half years. That was very strange, but I read that, and read that, and read that. And you know, it was kind of like, what do you mean forgive your enemies? Now? How about we wait until they unchain me and stop beating on me, and then I’ll work on it, you know. But it doesn’t work that way. … I am a Christian, and I am required to forgive as a part of the bargain, as a part of the contract.”

unforgiving_servant1.jpg 2It is part of the contract, but it is not an unfunded mandate. What forgiveness costs (& it is very costly at times) is only possible because of grace. The magnitude of God’s saving grace is the proper mode for forgiveness.

Any forgiveness we really give costs us to give and it comes always wrapped in the gift paper of grace. Amen. JWS+

Charles Carroll Parsons

Charles Carroll Parsons

There will come to each of you a time, I trust far away, when the scourge of affliction may fall heavily upon you…wealth, or power, or skill, or even fond affection in the utmost stretch of tenderness, can supply no companion to a soul in its journey through the valley of death.

– Charles Carroll Parsons (via The American Plague)

from a sermon only weeks before the Yellow Fever Epidemic carried off almost half of Memphis, Tennessee (including Fr. Parsons).  This plague in the late Summer of 1878 is the worst such epidemic in US history.

Constance & Her Companions: Martyrs of Memphis

Van Gough

Van Gogh – Crows and Field

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone. John 12:24 KJV

THE PART OF US THAT CALLS US – “I” VALUES SAFETY ABOVE ALL THINGS.

As a child it is a shock to learn that things end. For example a pet dies and we learn a couple of things:
• One is that parents are not as omnipotent as we had thought they were AND
• Some things can’t be fixed!

No amount of yelling, weeping, begging, threatening, hoping or screaming at the heavens with our fist shaking with rage phases the smooth impenetrable walk of reality.

Having bounced off that wall, we propose not to let that happen again. You want to know from whence control- freaks come? Right then, right there, reality shall not come nigh me again, thank you very much.

Through careful planning and enough money; you do realize that is really why money is so important. Money will keep many wolves away from the door and keep them at bay for a long long time. But the longer we live and the safer we become — shielded by the investment of the CORPUS (interesting expression that) of our assets we find ourselves strangely alone.How we get out of this solitary confinement of ego safety?

David Richio says that there are five universal truths we must KNOW AND EMBRACE in order to live healthy and productive lives.
1. THINGS CHANGE AND END.
This is not fun. My hair is a victim of change and ending. You may not know it but today is international RedHead Day. My hair was copper red as a child. Do you think anyone will wish me a happy Redhead Day? No, my hair faded and then let go.
You our ego we can retreat into the past, the good ole days of our memory. Of course these days never existed except in our selective memory. Sam Keen calls selective memory, nostalgia. Nostalgia, he calls, “diseased memory.” Our beloved South has been trapped in that flytrap for pushing two centuries and you see what that has gotten us. As native Memphian, Alan Lichtman puts it, “IF YOU GET STUCK IN THE PAST YOU ARE STUCK ALONE.”

2. LIFE IS NOT FAIR
The most unfair that American parents teach their children is that Life IS far! You sign up for soccer and at the registration there is a fee for a trophy! What? You know that children aren’t stupid. When everybody gets a trophy it doesn’t mean anything! Life is not fair.
The Rain falls on the just and the unjust.

3. THINGS DO NOT GO ACCORDING TO PLAN.
If you want to make God laugh just tell him your plans. Expectations – it has to be just this way.
• Psychosis – 2 +2 = 6
• Neurosis is 2 + 2 = 4 But I won’t have it!
Psychosis will get you medicated
For Neurosis there is no cure.

4. PEOPLE WILL LOVE YOU BUT ALSO LET YOU DOWN.
People don’t have to want to let us down – it’s just inevitable – The Church is a laboratory of relationships. Here we learn the discipline of forgiving each other and ourselves. It’s messy but like democracy better than any alternative. This is why people get married, you know. Not, because you won’t get let down, cause you will. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” Marriage is a container for love.

5. GROWTH COMES THROUGH SUFFERING.
Suffering is the promise life always keeps. If you don’t know that yet you will. No one gets out of this life alive!

Today we celebrate the feast day of Constance and her companions the martyrs of Memphis. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, Constance, the other Episcopal sisters and priests remained in the stricken Tennessee city nursing the sick and burying the dead until one by one they too sickened and died. Charles Carroll Parsons is a good example of what I’m getting at.

  • Things Change and End
    He was in the West Point Class of 1861 – Those cadets studied together in the Fall Semester and tried to kill each other in the Spring.
  • Life is not Fair: He watched friends, comrades die – He almost died himself. Battle of Perryville
  • Things do not go according to plan
    He left the army and became a priest,  He embraced the vocation of peace only to become with the violence of plague.
  • People will love you but will also let you down
    His wife died.
  • Growth comes through Suffering
    Yellow Fever in 1878

The Reverend Charles Carroll Parsons He got sick. All the priests were sick – knowing that he was dying (he had seen that enough times) he prayed the prayers for the dying for himself

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Charkes. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen

 

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringth forth much fruit. John 12:24

We do not die just once, you know, death comes to us many many times before the hour of our personal demise. Every time we bump up against things changing and ending. Whenever we realize yet again that life is not fair; When our plans go awry, when people let us down and when we suffer – When by grace we know and embrace these truths, the words of Jesus describes us “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” We get lots of practice laying down our lives IF we will embrace the truth of our Lord’s words.

That sounds like bad news doesn’t it. The good news is that if we embrace our many little deaths a different, new kind of life, sprouts in us. It is a kind of life based not on our merit or achievement. It’s a kind of life that is free of the competition that so rules our ordinary existence. It is a life of grace — where the energy for our being begins at the end of our striving. Our Lord promised us that if we believe in him he will not let us go.

Frederick Buechner said it best, I think, when he wrote, “The worst thing that ever happens to us will not be the last thing that happens to us.”

“Can’t Outsmart Dogma”

John StewardJon Stewart on whether he’s a “self-hating Jew” …

“Look, there’s a lot of reasons why I hate myself — being Jewish isn’t one of them,” Stewart told the reporter. “So when someone starts throwing that around, or throwing around you’re pro-terrorist, it’s more just disappointing than anything else. I’ve made a living for 16 years criticizing certain policies that I think are not good for America. That doesn’t make me anti-American. And if I do the same with Israel, that doesn’t make me anti-Israel.

You can’t outsmart dogma!

If there is something constructive in what they’re saying, hopefully I’m still open enough … to take it in and let it further inform my position. But I’m pretty impermeable to yelling. As soon as they go to, ‘Your real name is Leibowitz!’ that’s when I change the channel.”

— Josh Marshall (via Talking Points Memo)

This is the overwhelming issue facing any thinking person (mental activity is not proof of thinking).  How do you deal with the “dogma” of others without resorting to ideological dogma yourself?”   i ask myself that question daily (several times most days). Here my best hope lies in what my teacher Ed Friedman (Rabbi by the way) taught many through Family Systems (Bowen) Theory.  The best contribution a thinking person can do is focus on their own their own functioning, working to maintain a “non-anxious presence” in the face of the dogma of chronic anxiety.  How to “do” the non-anxious presence gig? 

Begin by reading and inwardly digesting Richard Rohr’s teaching on Non-dual thinking. It can be found on his website https://cac.org/  More about non-dual thinking soon. 

In hope, in spite of the facts.

JWS

Bill, the Loitering Bishop, Blessed Be He

The Rt. Rev. Furman (Bill) Stough,  Eigth Bishop of Alabama

The Rt. Rev. Furman (Bill) Stough, Eigth Bishop of Alabama

One of the gifts of  living past sixty is coming to know people who help you along the way; you see Christ in them and remarkably enough, they see Christ in you!   Bill Stough was one of the chief stewards of my life, ordaining me, first a deacon and then a priest. 

Bill had this way of lottering by the door of this faith we share and lie in wait for the unsuspecting traveler.  Even though we may not even have known at the time, we were looking for God, Bill knew. More importantly, Bill knew God was looking for us.

The day I wandered by tugged by the longing of my heart for home. One Sunday at Christ Church, Lexington, Kentucky,  I knelt down to say my prayers before the Eucharist began and looking at the altar I suddenly knew this was my place and i wanted what I sensed there. 

It was that very longing that drew me the day I made an appointment to meet with the Bishop of Alabama.  We were seated and Bill, asked what I had come for and I told him.  He took me seriously, which the is greatest gift one can give to another. My memory is that he took almost two hours, an unheard of waste of a Bishop’s time.  He told me candidly that many people seek ordination, more than he could employ.  But he also said,  “If you are still interested come back in a year.”  I left that day affirmed by the fellow who lottered by the door.  I did go back a year later and that story is for another posting.

I learned the most important things from Bill by watching him, especailly when no one was watching. What was he like in the unguarded moments.  He was a wise man, kind, direct and terrifying when rightously angry.  I came across his blessing a couple of days ago.  I share it with you becasue it tells you all you need know about this man, whom I love(d).  He said it always, in a small group in the woods or at the altar of his cathedral. 

“Let us depart from this place in peace, and as we go on our way, forget not the poor, pray for the sick, make no peace with oppression, and love one another as Jesus has loved us. And the Blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you and upon all God’s people this day and forevermore. Amen.”

- The Right Reverend Furman (Bill) Stough, Eighth Bishop of Alabama

Give Me an N!

You may have noticed in the last few days what appears to be an Arabic sign popping up all over the place.  I checked it out and immediately changed my profile picture on Facebook to this sign.  Why?

The sign is the letter N (nun)  in Arabic.  It is the first letter of the word Nazarene, the name by which Christians are known in the Middle East.  This letter has taken on sinister meaning as the forces of IS or ISIS mark people, property or chattel with an N meaning that the property or persons now belong to the ISIS.  Fellow Christians are given the ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax or die.  Many have taken a fourth option of fleeing for their lives.  The tax of Christians and Jews by Muslims is an ancient practice from the early days of Islam.  Check it out.  I am unaware that this is the practice of modern Islamic states but it has been a  teaching of the religion.

arabic nThis reflects the problem of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists of any variety have in common a desire to regain the golden age of their faith. For Muslims it is the seventh century for many Christians 1950, but be that as it may such golden ages never existed. These fanatics (check my posting from August 9th – The True Believer) are setting out to remake the Caliphate of the Seventh Century in the Twenty-first.  Pray God they fail. It will require someone stop them as they cannot be reasoned with by honorable men. .

I have learned in my long study of Family Systems Theory that what my teacher, Rabbi Friedman, said about such is painfully true. In systems thinking all living things composed of protoplasm organize themselves in the same ways.  What is true on a cellular level is metaphor for all other levels of living things. They will behave in predictable ways.  Ed Friedman labelled them pathogens.

  • Pathogens do not self-regulate
  • Since they do not self-regulate they ooze into their neighbors space
  • Also, since they do not self-regulate themselves they never learn from their experience
  • They do not have to be hostile in order to be malignant.  Oozing into others space is sufficient.
  • Pathogens achieve their conscious or unconscious effect because those around them allow them to ooze into the others space.  Remember Munich in 1939.

It really does not matter if we are talking about cancer cells,  packs of dogs or ISIS: they all function the same.  Something will have to be done about them for the cancer they represent in the body politic.

I invite you to wear, wave or affix the Arabic Letter N to Facebook, your lapel or the bill board down the street as a mark of solidarity with our fellow Christians.  If someone reading this is not a believer please do so because the weak and innocent should not be murdered, enslaved nor raped and tortured. Call on those who have power and the responsibility for leading nations to stop these fanatics before the region is in flames not only of churches but of everything in their path. For this is a Caliphate of Evil. Muslims who do not welcome them are destroyed as well. What I say is not about the content of their belief as it is a critique of their succumbing to ideology.  Succumbing always leads to trouble (Carl Jung).

The Holy Innocents

The Holy Innocents

Please join me all of you of good will in praying for these Christians and othersr, indeed all in danger on account of their faith. I propose the collect for Holy Innocents as a place to begin.

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of  ISIS [Bethlehem by King Herod.] Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

God grant us and to his whole world peace and the knowledge of His love for the doing of His will. . JWS

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Keeping Faith — Remaining Passionate

NOTE:  I looked back through old posts today and found this one from 2007 and it speaks to 2014. As we press forward in the RenewalWorks process the discipline of holding the course and choosing passion keeps the fun going. Hang on for the ride.  

Fast Comapanyhttp://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/53/december-2001

I was going through my collection of periodicals this week and came across this quote in an article in the December 2001 issue of Fast Company a smart business magazine. Seth Godwin in the special issue on leadership after 9/11 said,

“If our faith in our system goes away, our passion disappears- as well.”

That had resonance and my mind immediately applied it to the Church (as my mind does everything) and I realized that if I allow myself to get too caught up in the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’’  – to borrow a phrase – my passion disappears.  Yep, that’s true and if it is true for me I suspect it is true for at least half of the Episcopal Church.  That being said, I refuse to allow myself to be terminally distracted, choosing to continue in faith the way that I have begun.  And so have the people of Saint John’s Parish.

The True Believer

Those with a death wish have an advantage over those who have a life.

The term “True Believer” is a common expression in American speech.  What most people do not reaize is that the turm comes from a book of that titile.  Eric Hoffer published this study of the nature of mass movements in 1951 (the year of my birth).

t b 2Given the rise of increasingly violent groups fueled by pathological ideology, Hoffer tells us that the content of the ideology is less important than the process of fanaticism.  This is a distinction that we really must learn.  It is not really about Islam, though the ideology in this case is Islamic. ISIS’s fighters, having sucumbed to ideology do not fear death. Actually dying is martyrdom for these young men.  Their opponents fight to protect their families.  Those with a death wish have an advantage over those who have a life. Thus in the short run evil has an edge.  In time, God willing, the rest of us will rise up and put an end to this most recent eruption of a chronic infection of a will to power.

Fundamentalism longs for a golden age that in fact never existed. Deep belief in fantasy promotes delusian. Delusion demands not faith, but rather a kind of “sccumbing” that produces fanatics.  I also recommend Carl Jung’s insights in the last chapter of his book,  Memories, Dreams and Reflections, where he lays out the dangers of succumbing to or being addicted to anything.

I highly recomend Eric Hoffer’s classic and  the insights of Carl Jung on fanaticsim.

Shift of Culture

“Just what is it you are trying to do here?” A good question, I get it in some variety regularly. What would this shift produce? What would we look like if our culture shifted?
1. The first and most importantly, each person takes maximum responsibility for his or her own soul.
2. The clergy and congregation understand that the clergy are not the paid Christians to go and do the ministry in the name of this community.

What are the consequences of these two shifts? Paradoxically the church would look like is goes now and at the same time be radically different in function, For one thing there would be fewer programs! Hearing this many will wonder if we are too lazy to do our jobs? I will confess that we do many things because they have been done that way in the past. I remember at least five years ago the staff here worked hard, came up with ideas (good ones), crafted programs, arranged dinner and provided offering so that everyone of every age group had a place to go and something to do when they got there.

After Labor Day we launched our creation and in only a matter of weeks we were down to a handful of souls. Guilt and shame rose up among us at staff meeting like a bad odor from the cellar. Finally, we did a non-scientific survey and what we overwhelmingly learned was that people were tired and children needed to be home. We pulled the plug. My colleagues (you know the professional Christians) and I felt guilty but we dealt with it privately. We have had no sustained education on Wednesday evening since and largely no one ever mentions it to me.

This is hard. The “professional Christians” – hereafter to known as PC (layers of irony, that) work hard producing programs, classes and groups. Do not misunderstand me – formation is essential. However, formation must be initiated by the laity. When the laity discerns the slow leak in their souls and wants to do something about it, we will not have offer programs, will people to come and nurse your resentment when they do not.

background checks

As hard as it is, the PC’s must lay down the professional sole-practitioner persona and become ordinary priests and deacons fulfilling our proper role (that we were ordained to do). Above all those of the white collars must know that, contrary to the wisdom of this age, they are not MBA’s in dog collars.

As hard as it is, laity must move beyond a sort of “fashionable ignorance” of the scriptures and the faith. At least in the South, Episcopalians live in a closed loop system of anxious, and reactive fundamentalism. Since many of us are converts, refugees from catastrophic certitude; even exposure to garden variety Christianity produces an allergic reaction. Like all allergies, of course, it is an overreaction and with proper soul work recovery is assured.

The last thing that people need is another thing to do at night. Families need to be together. But what about their souls; isn’t the decline of programs bad? If you are living in 1975 it is bad. When people take responsibly for the feeding and caring of their souls most of the education takes place in home, offices and vehicles.

It happens at 5:00am when a man rises an hour early to drink coffee and read his Bible in the Bible challenge. When he has a question he will call me and I will be my best to get him what he needs. That is very different than chasing him down the street begging him to come to class that addresses nothing he needs for his soul at this point and in this time.

Naturally,  this will not necessarily fill the pews.