Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Right Questions


I am more akin to a Pablo Neruda poem
than a Georgia O'Keeffe painting.
I am full and fleshly.
My genitals do not look like a flower.

What if my partner does not like the way I look?
     ...the way I smell?
     ...the way I taste?

(What if I end up judging myself by the standards of church culture rather than the standards of the divine?)

What if these "what ifs" do not matter?

What if I open myself completely to whatever the moment holds?

What if I invite my partner to see in me that which I see in myself?
     That I am beautiful, lovely, and worthy.
     That I am powerful and mighty.
     That I am tender and soft-hearted.

That I am the best there is
     and I share myself freely with my partner
as a gift.

Never to be diminished
     in either the offering or accepting.

Because I am still wholly me:
     tender and soft-hearted
     powerful and mighty
     beautiful, lovely, and worthy.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fulfilling the Scriptures as the Body of Christ

Today’s gospel lesson, the good news, begins with “Then Jesus….”  It is curious this word, “Then.”  It begs the question, “Then….when?”  When precisely does our story take place?  This morning, I’m going to start with a recap of what has come before.

The gospel of Luke begins with the prophecy of Jesus’s birth, the story of his birth, a fascinating account from childhood in which Jesus himself claims to be the Son of God.  We then fast forward to Jesus at 30 years of age being introduced by his cousin John, he is baptized in the Jordan, at which point a voice from heaven is reported to have declared, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”   

We are given Jesus’s genealogy declaring Jesus comes not only from the Jewish royal line as a descendant of David, but reaches further back to Adam (the first man) and ultimately to God, establishing for the reader the validity of these reports that Jesus has been declared God’s son by a disembodied voice from heaven. 

Jesus, having been filled with the Holy Spirit during his baptism, is then driven into the wilderness for forty days, where he is tempted by Satan, and engages in fasting and prayer.  At the end of forty days, Satan leaves Jesus until a more opportune time. 

“Then….”  Then Jesus, still filled with the power of the Spirit, returns to Galilee, and starts his ministry of preaching. 

Having traveled around a bit (we are not told how long), Jesus returns to his home town, Nazareth, and he goes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath.  Jesus was a regular there, we are told.  He’s a good Jewish boy.  Minds his manners, holds to the law, treats his elders with respect, he behaves himself; keeps his nose, and in a cultural context steeped in religious purity every other part of his body, clean.

Jesus is handed a scroll this day, from the prophet Isaiah.  Contextually speaking, it would not be a stretch to assume that Jesus reads in the Synagogue on a regular basis as well.  Typically, when scriptures were read publicly, discussion followed.  The discussion, however, was not a lecture or sermon given by the reader.  If a homily was supplied, it would have been done by a rabbi.  More often, some scholars postulate, those gathered were encouraged to discuss the implications of the day’s text as a community, a single body of believers. 

On this day, however, Jesus breaks from tradition.  He reads the scroll handed to him, from the prophet Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  He rolls up the scroll, hands it back and sits down.  He does not invite public discourse, nor does anyone begin to offer a homily.

Instead, his reputation preceding him, everyone looks at him, and Jesus says, “Yeah, what you’ve just heard is true.  And it’s referring to me."

We share this with Jesus.  This scripture, which was “fulfilled” in the hearing of those present in that synagogue then is not a static script held in a single time, in a single place.  Scripture, by its very nature, is dynamic, active, alive.  The fulfillment of Scripture, therefore is not something that happened then.  It is very much something that is happening now.  Here.  Today.  In your hearing.  But not just in your hearing. 

We know that this scripture is relevant today because of the words of one of Jesus’s contemporaries:  the apostle Paul.  For as the body is one and has many members….so it is with Christ.  The church is the body of Christ.  Jesus is the head.  We are the members. The members of his body. 

If Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy then, what are we to conclude but that Jesus is the fulfillment of that same prophecy now?  And if we are the literal embodiment of Christ today, then it stands to reason that we also are called to be the fulfillment of that prophecy now.

And each of us has a part to play in this.  Paul tells us that we cannot say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.”  We have no right to make excuses.  We cannot rightly declare that the gifts God has given each of us are not sufficient.  We each have a part to play. 

God has arranged the members in the body; God has chosen each of us.  The design is God’s and God’s alone.  What right do we have to try to alter it or undermine it?  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  Every member is important. 

Similarly, as “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’” we cannot declare that the gifts God has given another are not sufficient, that they do not also have role to play.  In fact, those whose gifts seem small and insignificant by our standards, belong to those who deserve the greatest honor. 

In our culture, it is easy to exalt those who are most visible, most successful in the corporate world, those who hold the greatest material wealth.  Too often, our culture overlooks those who have less, who are seen less, who appear culturally less successful.  But these are the ones who make the world go round. 

Certainly we are not to cast the eyes, or the ears, or the feet from the body.  They are the members of the body who see and hear and move.  But ask anyone who’s been born blind or deaf or those who are missing limbs.  The body can go on, the body can compensate, the body can survive—not whole certainly—but it will go on without its most visible members. 

But it is the members of the body seen as less worthy of honor and praise on which the whole operation turns.  Without the kidneys, the liver, the pancreas, the body would stop working altogether.  The body cannot function if those members who are less visible, and often less exalted, are not intimately involved. 

God has arranged the members in the body; God has chosen each of us.  The design is God’s and God’s alone.  What right do we have to try to alter it or undermine it?  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  Every member is important.

We, collectively, are the body of Christ.  We, individually, are the members of that body.  We are the hands, the feet, the eyes, the ears, the kidneys and liver and pancreas.  We are called, as the body of Christ, to be the literal fulfillment of Scripture.  We are each to play our own part. 

The part each of us plays is different, to be sure.  The role you are called to fulfill is one you are called by God to fulfill.  But as members of the body of Christ, we are called collectively to be the fulfillment of Scripture.  We are called collectively to seek:
  • to bring good news to the poor
  • to proclaim release to captives
  • recovery of sight for the blind
  • to let the oppressed go free
  • and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor
As the body of Christ, are we doing this?  Are we truly a gospel people, who preach the good news in all that we do?  Or when we leave church on Sunday, do we find ourselves believing that we are the stronger members of the body?  Do we believe we can do without the “lesser parts”?  Are we instead a people who declare that:
  • the poor are lazy and undeserving of basic care
  • those who are bound by sin have made their choices and deserve what they get
  • the blind must have done something to earn God's wrath and this is their just punishment
  • the oppressed are not so bad off and it isn't our responsibility anyway
  • God is a god of judgment, and as God's people, we have a right, a duty, and an obligation to judge as well? 
Are we members who make up a body that reflects the image of Christ?  Or something else?  I know too often my membership in the body does not reflect the image of Christ. 

Only you know what is in your heart and your head when you meet those who are poor, captive, blind or oppressed.  Only you and God.  If you find this week that what you’re proclaiming is something other than good news, I would encourage you to think back to all that God has done for you, extend your hand in compassion and fellowship, and do the same for those God puts in your path. 

We each have a part play.  None of us can survive without the others.  God has arranged the members in the body; God has chosen each of us.  The design is God’s and God’s alone.  What right do we have to try to alter it or undermine it?  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 

When you encounter suffering this week, as a member of the body of Christ, enter in, just God entered our suffering in the person of Jesus.  When you do, as a member of the body of Christ, honor that person, honor their story, honor their experience, honor their life; just as Jesus honored us by doing the same.  For when you do, you truly will be the embodiment of Christ today, you too will be the fulfillment of Scripture, and all will rejoice in God’s love together.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Complicated Loss

My foster father died this week.

This is complicated for me.

I cried when I heard.  I cried when I talked about it.  I cried when I asked my boss for time off to attend the funeral.

This man cared for me for a brief period of time 21 years ago.  My contact with him has been sporadic in the intervening years.

When I would run into this man, however, he always treated me kindly.  He always seemed delighted to see me, was more than willing to go out of his way to greet me, was always good for a hug.

This is complicated for me.

Foster care was hard for me.  I didn't really belong there.  The circumstances that led to my placement changed immediately after I was placed.  There was no reason for me to not return to my mother's care.

But during my time in this man's house, I felt safe with, and welcomed and accepted by him.  I felt that I was cared for as a unique person, rather than resented as a problem to be dealt with the way I did with my first foster family.

I wanted to return home, and cried for my mother often.  I felt safe and comfortable and happy in this man's presence.

This is complicated for me.

"The world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters."

In many ways I feel as though I have a better understanding of what this means since his death than I ever had before.

There are things that happened in that house that I cannot speak of, cannot even bear to write about.  Only a select few know the shame I carry.  Believe me, I know that the shame is not mine.  But I cannot let it go.  Perhaps the most ridiculous thing about this is that if I were to share this with people, no one would think it was that big a deal.  No one would be stopped in their tracks.  No one would be horrified by the tale.  I think there may be only one other person who might understand the gravitas of the story.

For 21 years I have split my foster family into "good people" (my foster father) and "Death Eaters" (my foster mother and foster brother).

I know that my foster father was a very good man.  He died in an effort to save another man's life.  He was always giving of himself for others.  It's just who he was.  But I also know that he was not perfect.

I know that my foster mother was not a Death Eater.  In reality, she probably isn't even a bad person.  I have no interest in canonizing him while demonizing her.  (But if the horns and forked tail fit....)  But I do know that as a 10 year old child, I felt utterly destroyed by what she did.

This is complicated for me.

I knew my foster father to be a kind, gracious, generous, ebullient man.  He was firm, certainly.  As a child this mystified me.  But, he was a very, very good man.  In my own way, I loved my foster father.  I am extraordinarily grateful for the role he played in my life.

My own father shares few, if any, characteristics with my foster father.  He is a good man, to be sure.  He tries very hard at times.  I love him, certainly.  I love my father.

But he is the reason I ended up in foster care.

Today, 21 years later, the choices he made during my childhood and adolescence seem to haunt him.  At times, the comments he makes and the questions he asks leave me believing he carries significant insecurities about his abilities as a father.

This is complicated for me.

I feel as though I cannot grieve openly because I fear that my father will interpret it as a snub.  I am afraid that my sorrow at the loss of man who cared so well for me for such a short period of time will deeply hurt my father.

This is complicated for me.

By rights, I should not mourn this man's passing so deeply.  There is no rationale for it.  It was a brief time 21 years ago!  I cannot even explain to myself why it is so sad.  I'm not even sure I could adequately explain to myself why I feel as though I lost something more than a connection to a relationship I had so long ago.  Except that, when good men have historically been hard to come by and safe spaces even harder, what he gave me 21 years ago was so much more profound and important than a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, family meals at the dinner table....  Because if time really is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey...stuff...then the 10 year old me then has also lost him now.

This is complicated for me.

As a child I would never have thought to have thanked this man for his care.  As an adult, I never took the time, and I never had the courage to revisit that time in his home with him.  I never told him how much I appreciated it, how much I appreciated him.

Still, I have hope that there is a God, one who loves us, calls us, cares for us, holds us dear.

Still, I have hope that this same God enacts a resurrection, somewhere, somehow, somewhen.

 I have hope that a future me will meet up with the now him and the then child I was, and we'll be able to say, "Thank you.  It made a difference.  You made a difference in our life, and we are forever grateful."

Oh, that gratitude would mean more to me than my desire to avoid awkwardness and my fear of appearing foolish.