Sunday, November 20, 2011

OWS and Matthew

So, one of my major problems with Occupy Wall Street is it's tendency to make the 1% an Other, the Them against Us. As a Christian, I have a problem with the thought of making anyone an Other. If we have two primary commandments, Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, and mind & Love your neighbor as yourself, then making anyone Other says unhealthy things about our obedience to Part 2. It says that either 1) I have a problem with an explained-in-next-couple-verses, expansive view of neighbor, obeying the commandment to love them, and by extension loving *all* people or 2) because I don't love and appreciate myself as a whole child of God, I don't have a problem not loving someone else and making them an Other. Both of those are legitimate issues. Actually, I think both of those are perfectly human issues – we have a tendency to not always like ourselves, and we have a tendency to organize into tribes of Us and Them. One of the points of Christianity, though, is to help us overcome those natural, destructive human tendencies. The vilification of the 1% as inhuman, objectivist, and/or evil, is not healthy. It has the potential to eat away at our souls, to cause us to be petty or mean to another child of God. I'm pretty sure that's not the point of the movement, though.

What I hear as a point is that those in power remember the “least of these” from this morning's lectionary. In Matthew, it's the last reading before we begin the passion narrative. It's the final public teaching of this rabbi who is finding himself persecuted by power and authority, knowing he's about to die of his words.

You know, I'm just going to quote the whole thing. It's one of the most powerful pieces of scripture I know, and informs my faith, and hopefully my practice of faith.
Matthew 25:31-46
25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Yeah, that final justice? Is a long way off, at least for a lot of people. And that justice being standard in the corporeal world* is what I hear as one of the goals of Occupy – that the hungry be fed, the homeless, sheltered, the sick, tended. That the least of these be cared for and loved and appreciated as the child of God that they are, as the human being that they are. That we love our neighbor as ourselves. What I hear as the danger is that by our anger we forget that every member of the 1% will, at some point, be a stranger in trouble, needing the help of people they have never met. It is hubris, to put ourselves in the place of God in judging the worth and worthiness of our neighbor. And if we say of the people in that upper niche that they don't deserve our help when they are in need, we have lost something of our own Christianity.

This is not to say that we should not condemn actions that are counter to bringing justice for all into the corporeal world. As much as our brethren to my right have co-opted the phrase “hate the sin, not the sinner,” it's still a biblical truth. It's also against human nature and extremely hard to actually pull off. (Christianity ain't easy on a good day.)

Protest is a good thing. Notifying those in power that this is Not Right, that we have Noticed, and we're going to stay here until you Make It Right is epitome of the Occupy movement. We're supposed to tell our brethren when we feel we have been sinned against, so that they may have the opportunity to correct their error. Sometimes we need to tell them very loudly, or with witnesses. If they still don't listen, we are commanded to tell them this isn't a Christian way to act, we forgive you for failing the ideal, but please come back when you are ready to make amends. Forgiveness is not forgetfulness or acceptance of behavior patterns. It is what has been done that is the wrong, the person/actor is still a child of God, worthy by definition of our love, because they are worthy of God's love, and He's got a bigger grievance list than we do. On the other hand, my church's theology says that even God has standards for rejoining the community, even as He loves those who have moved away from it. Those standards are that you have to really understand what has been done is wrong, that you are sincerely sorry that it happened, and that you ask forgiveness of the people you wronged, always including God.**

At this point, I see the Occupy movement as sitting at part two, starting towards three. In general, Christians have a really, really hard time with part three in-community. I don't know if the clergy of those in power (who may have a better chance of being heard as reasonable people or authority figures) have talked to their congregants about the behaviors that got us into this situation, and the consequences in this world for oppressing those their faith enjoins them to lift up. The fact that few of the clergy of those in power have come out saying “this is wrong, and I've told them that this is wrong and not Christian behavior” is suggestive, and that saddens me for the faith of all those involved. Clergy have the mandate even more than laity to speak truth to power. And not everyone who is responsible for this mess is even a Christian, to be rebuked by the Christian community. However, many profess this as their faith, which means that *I* am required to tell them that I think they're really, really, really wrong.

Hopefully, OWS won't have such a hard time succeeding at part three in the governmental sphere, though I would hope that as a people the focus is less on “throw the idiots, criminals, incompetents out!” than “Let us try to solve the problem.” The first again makes an Other, implying that the speaker has never been and will never be wrong, the second looks towards solutions that include everyone. Acknowledging that the problem is huge, beyond what any one person could solve enables us to find people who are trying or who will try if given power their level best to seek justice for “the least of these”.

*Long standing pet peeve. God and Religion should not be visited on Sunday morning and left behind in that building when you go home. There is not a Secular world and a Sacred world. And if 'material world' and 'real world' didn't have so many other anti-religious connotations, I'd use them.

** also, notice that forgiveness on the part of the community is necessary before it's asked for, otherwise the non-forgiveness can have toxic effects on the rest of the community.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Oh God, at times such as this,
when we realize that the ground beneath our feet
is not as solid as we had imagined, we plead for your mercy.

As the things we have built crumble about us,
we know too well how small we truly are
on this ever-changing, ever-moving, fragile planet we call home.
Yet you never forget us.

Oh God, come to our assistance

Today, so many people are afraid.
They wait in fear of the next tremor.
They hear the cries of the injured amid the rubble.
They roam the streets in shock at what they see.
And they fill the dusty air with wails of grief and the names of missing dead.

Comfort them, Oh God, in this disaster.
Be their rock when the earth refuses to stand still,
and shelter them under your wings when homes no longer exist.

Embrace in your arms those who died so suddenly in this tragedy.
Console the hearts of those who mourn,
and ease the pain of bodies on the brink of death.

Fill our hearts with compassion,
we who watch from afar,
as the poorest on this side of the earth
find only misery upon misery.
Move us to act swiftly this day,
to give generously every day, to work for justice always,
and to pray unceasingly for those without hope.

And once the shaking has ceased,
the images of destruction have stopped filling the news,
and our thoughts return to life's daily rumblings,
let us not forget that we are all your children
and they, our brothers and sisters.
We are all the work of your hands.

For though the mountains leave their place
and the hills be tossed to the ground, your love shall never leave us,
and your promise of peace will never be shaken.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Blessed be the name of the Lord, now and forever. Amen

Author unknown. Found at

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Placeholder post

My God is a god who transfigures things (changes essential nature so they look different)

Great Flood - transformed by water
Moses' face - by the presence of God
Earth - in her seasons
Wedding at Cana - water to wine
Christ on the Mountain - Transfiguration, the

Will pull/elaborate more later.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

David Weber and the Liturgy

I was reminded Sunday morning of one of my "When Geekdoms Collide" moments, and they did so badly.

David Weber has been writing an excellent SF series set on the world called Safehold. The premise is that they are the last colony of humans in the galaxy, the other worlds having been destroyed by an evil alien race who is bent on crushing any other group who achieves spaceflight. Having been sent here in coldsleep and needing to build a low-tech planet, some of the administrators of the colony brainwashed the helpless colonists that the admins were Archangels and messengers of God, and set up this religion, compiling the 'best parts' version of a human religion, with themselves venerated as much as God. (yes, there is an opposition, and we'll not get into their cliches.) Most of the story takes place in a early-industrial-revolution tech level with a medieval church.

So, early in Book Four (A Mighty Fortress) is a mass. And here's where I run into an issue with the fact that I listen to these as audiobooks.

"Lift up your voice."
"We lift them up to the Lord, and to his Archangels"
"Let us give thanks to the Lord our God Who made us, and unto Archangel Langhorne, who was, is, and always shall be His servant"
"It is meet and right so to do"
"It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto You, O Lord, Creator and Builder of the Universe, Everlasting God. Therefore, with the Archangel Langhorne and the Archangel B├ędard, and all the blessed company of Archangels, we laud and magnify Your glorious Name; evermore praising You and saying—”
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory: Glory be to You, O Lord Most High. Amen.”

I have to say, this was one of the more jarring moments I've ever had reading science fiction. The additions just...took something which is sacred to me, a liturgy that I know and love, and twisting it. I found myself dropping into the conditioned call-and-response about a third of the way through the second line. To have them altered that way, for a religion that feels false and that also feels like a screed against Catholicism. And here was where it would be most apparent to someone who knows the forms - the screed against the corrupt and venal medieval church has been obvious from the beginning, but this is supposedly a service by a reformer and proto-saint, one of the good guys. And this is when it hit home that DW/the charecters had just taken the good bits and pieces and twisted. What is DW saying - that it was a good liturgy twisted by the evil admins or the whole of the liturgy is wrong?

Having the wrong words there was like a bucket of ice water dropped on my head. And I had to stop the iPod and shake with shock for a bit. Yeah, most people, not going to have that reaction.

But I was reminded of this Sunday morning by Hymn 525 in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, from which two of the series' titles were pulled.

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed;
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, "How long?"
and soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song

Wait, was I supposed to have a point? It's not "Don't change the liturgy" or even "Don't use the liturgy in SF." It may be "Don't blaspheme using the liturgy, you idiot!" I can't tell. But it happens.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Definitions of the Mass

This came in an email forward this morning, and I laughed. A lot. As I nodded. It's supposed to be about catholics, but, really....

The only part of a prayer that everyone knows.
Your receipt for attending Mass.
A group of people whose singing allows the rest of the Parish to lip-sync.
A liquid whose chemical formula is H2OLY.
A song of praise usually sung in a key three octaves higher than that of the
congregation's range.
The last song at Mass often sung a little more quietly,
since many of the people have already left.
Holy Smoke!
An order of priests known for their ability to find colleges
with good basketball teams.
The original 'Jaws' story.
When kids have kids of their own.
Kyrie Eleison:
The only Greek words that most Catholics can recognize besides gyros and
baklava. (for you non-Catholics it means Lord have mercy)

The most famous trio to attend a baby shower.
Where Mary gave birth to Jesus because Joseph wasn't covered by an HMO.
(Bible's way of showing us that holiday travel has always been rough.)
A medieval torture device still found in Catholic churches.
The ceremonial formation at the beginning of Mass consisting of altar
servers, the celebrant, and late parishioners looking for seats.
The ceremonial procession at the conclusion of Mass led by
parishioners trying to beat the crowd to the parking lot.
People who have been going to Mass for so long, they actually know when to
sit, kneel, and stand.
The most important Top Ten list not given by David Letterman.
The only people in the parish who don't know the seating capacity of a pew.

Little known facts about the Catholic Church in Las Vegas:
There are more churches in Las Vegas than casinos. During Sunday
services at the offertory, some worshippers contribute casino
chips as opposed to cash. Some are sharing their winnings - some
are hoping to win. Since they get chips from so many different
casinos, and they are worth money, the Catholic churches are
required to send all the chips into the diocese for sorting. Once
sorted into the respective casino chips, one junior priest takes
the chips and makes the rounds to the casinos turning chips into
cash. He, of course, is known as "The Chip Monk."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Micah 6:6-8

What does it mean to be a Christian? What am I supposed to do?

It's really simple. It was today's reading.

With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

On Religion in Early America

A good friend of mine posted earlier this week, hypothesizing on the reasons for a lack of socialized medicine in this country. He was blaming the Calvinist tendencies of the Puritans.

As it happens, I'm in Church History II this semester, making this very subject top-of-the mind. Last week we were going over colonial religion and movements in England and America during and after the Reformation.

I don't disagree with his basic premise, that there is a very definite Calvinist thread through the American meta-culture, that if you're poor, then it's because you deserve to be poor, and if you're sick, that's because you did something to deserve to be sick. It hearkens back to the doctrine of the Elect, that God chose the saved before the beginning of time and you cannot know if you are saved from Hell or not, so you better act as if you were. After a while, to justify theologically rulership, wealth, and power, things shifted. If you were healthy, rich, and well-born, you were obviously favored of God. Conversely, if you were poor or sick, it was because of your sins or the sins of your parents. In larger terms, America is the nation of the Elect because it was founded by Christians and brought the gospel to all corners of the world. Also, we're wealthier and more influential than anyone else.

This is an older idea than the Doctrine of the Elect. This type of thinking, which has it's modern form in the "prosperity gospel" churches, is older than Rome. The empire one. Caesar is favored by the gods, so much so, he's almost a god himself. Citizens of Rome are favored of the gods, otherwise, they wouldn't be citizens. Those who are slaves deserve to be enslaved. Athens is favored of Athena, thus is the center of scholarship and wisdom and trade. The Children of Israel are chosen by God to inhabit a land of milk and honey. The doctrine of the Elect was twisted to fit within human preconceptions and our need to have reasons for the class systems we like to build, but we needed that justification and we'd thrown out the Roman one. (Luther was much more egalitarian. We all suck, we all sin, undeserved grace is the only path to salvation, and it's open to anyone who asks).

On the other hand, I think it is massively unfair to blame the Calvinist threads on the Puritans.

The Puritan movement started really during the reign of Elizabeth I, after the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559, which appointed the monarch as the head of the church and did away with many of the more physical Catholic trappings of Mass and instituted the Book of Common Prayer as the format for all worship in England. At this point, there were two main factions of the reformed Anglican church - those who believed that the church had gone far enough, in the formation of the Book of Common Prayer, the changes in the theology to make it more accessible to the people, and the slimming of the trimmings of the Catholic Church. The other crowd wanted to further purify the church of anything that looked vaguely Catholic - skip liturgical seasons, vestments, crucifixes, communion wafers, bishops, etc. - and put the laity in charge of almost all decisions. They did pick up the Calvinist theology about simplicity in worship and a congregationalist stance on Church government, but stayed kinda out on much of his other points and added quite a bit about sanctity of God's law in the lives of men, including the purity of the sabbath, and a high emphasis on works. Charles, unlike Elizabeth and James, took sides in this particular argument, and the Puritans left in something between a voluntary and involuntary exile to the Netherlands, where it was acceptable to be any Christian denomination other than Armenian. While there, they solidified their doctrines. The Puritans came into significant theological and social conflict with the Dutch Reform Church, a Calvinist/Zwinglian branch of the Protestant Reformation and the predominant church of the Netherlands. So much so, in fact, that they have the distinction of being one of the few groups the Dutch invited to leave as intolerable in their intolerance. They came to America because they wanted to found the perfect society, where everyone agreed with their theology.

No, we can blame those Calvinist threads in the American zeitgeist on the Dutch Reform Church, the English Reform Church, and the Presbyterians - contemporaries of the Puritans, but people who were never a serious part of the Anglican church. They were always Calvinist and bent on true reform of the church from without instead of the original Puritan view of reform from within. As such, many had much more hardline views about the position of the Elect in the world, and that because they had accepted and believed the one true way as revealed through scripture by Calvin and Zwingli, they were obviously the elect. They were founding their own colonies in the New World at the same time and those threads of justification dug in hard and deep.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


(I have a strong aversion to the transferal of church feast days to the following, more 'convenient,' Sunday. This gets really tricky at the end of October, when you end up with Reformation Day, Feast of All Souls, and Feast of All Saints in a three day period...which can spread those three days over more than a week. However, given my current computer woes, the moving of the celebration from Thursday to today gives me a bit of an excuse. Really.)

Epiphany is a season of joy, the counterpoint to Advent before and Lent to follow. All things cycle, and Epiphany is one of the high points. It is about things revealed, acknowledged, known, and brought forth into the light.

The story opens with wise men from the east coming before Herod, having followed a star westward. These are men of learning, astrologers who have discerned that this star, a light shining in the darkness, heralds the birth of the King of the Jews. Who better to ask than Herod, current ruler? He'd know, right?

And the sages of his court did know - the prophets had foretold it. Bethlehem, in Judea.

This is not a sudden knowledge. This is something studied, learned, consulted about. Slowly, bits and pieces revealed to scholars on a hunt. Having talked with their colleagues and continuing to use the star for more specific navigation, they came to the house where Jesus and Mary were staying.

The only big, dramatic, instant divine 'epiphany' was the dream that told the wise men to go home a different way than they had come.

Herod also spend time in thought about this situation, and obviously concluded that whatever had happened in Bethlehem was a threat. Someone besides those visitors might read the signs in the same way, and that was a danger to his power base, to have someone wandering around Judea claiming to be the King of the Jews (or having it claimed in his name). The slaughter of all the children under two years old ensured that no one could claim to have been born under those stars in the right time frame to threaten him.

Neither the wise men or Herod acted in haste, without deliberation. They both looked for the answers, and found solutions to the problems they perceived. But it wasn't anything sudden, it didn't happen overnight or in an instant. Slowly, through what they found, lives were changed...both selfless and selfish ideas espoused after careful, thought out plans, both centered around revelations about a small child in Bethlehem.

Christ himself was revealed piece by piece, his ministry starting out small, his status recognized by few, slowly growing until the crowds followed him everywhere and he could not get away. His was a life that led people, slowly convincing by word and deed that he really was special, someone to follow, a light in the world, no matter how cruel life seemed. The feeling of 'it doesn't have to be this way' present in so many ways...the difference between what is and what could be made more obvious in every step he walked.

Epiphany is not only the time of sudden insight, but also a season of the slow reveal and of acknowledgment of contrasts. The wise men and Herod both worked to pull information together and came to wildly different conclusions as to what to do with the information. And as we gather our information, search our hearts, and discern God's will in the world, we have some questions we need to ask: What are we called to do? What insights into our lives, into our hearts, do we need to face? Where does the difference lie for us between who we are as sinners and who God wants us to be? In light, darkness, and in darkness, light. In the liturgical year, the foil of Advent's somber waiting or of Lent's dark sorrow is the night against which a single star shines brightly, leading the way.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sacred Places

Ok. You know I'm a geek. Here's where it becomes obvious.

I've spent the last couple of days at a workshop put on by Partners for Sacred Places, a non-sectarian non-profit dedicated to helping places of worship use their spaces more efficiently and for the betterment of the community.

If you follow that link, there are a lot of resources that they publish, as well as the results of a study they did a couple of years ago. Some of the numbers that struck me that I intend to be quoting a lot:

93% of urban congregations open their doors to outside ministries
On average, congregations use the building 19% of the time. 81% of building use is by community organizations.

Also, everybody needs a roof.

Much of it focused on being able to tell the story of a congregation clearly in three steps:
Who we are - the heritage and culture of the congregation
What we have - buildings, grounds, and other resources
What we do - areas of ministry

So, both the cocktail party version and the one page case story and the ten page grant proposal all come out of knowing those three things.

Further, break it down:
What is the heritage and culture of the space? Why was it founded? Who founded it/built it? Who spoke there? Who paid to put stuff there? Who's buried there? What role has it historically had in the community it serves? Who worships there?

What are the buildings? What shape are the buildings in? What needs to be done for the physical plant? What are the available rooms? What are the resources of the congregation? What do members of the congregation like to do? What are they good at? What are the gifts of God within the congregation? Where do they work? What are their other interests/activities outside of church?

What happens inside our building outside of Sunday morning? How many people who are not members/attendees use our building? What's that percentage? What ministries do we run as a congregation? What is the value to the community in dollars, if the community had to replace our space and staff and pay the volunteers?

Once you figure out the story and what you have, you can figure out what you need, who to ask, and how to do it efficiently.

Other people are doing our programs better, somewhere. How do we start conversations so that we can all work towards the betterment of all our communities?

Life, health, and safety issues first. Then the rest of it.

I have shiny tools for asset mapping, finding money, and writing grants. I'm still processing a lot of things.

One of the suggestions put forth was to do a historic church tour of St. Louis. There are enough of them around that each neighborhood could probably come up with their own. If you ran it in conjunction with another neighborhood event (say, Taste of South Grand or the Shaw Art Fair), we could probably manage to make at least a little money off of it.

This is supposed to be about conversations in the community. What conversations should we be having?