Wednesday, December 26, 2012

God is Love in the New York Times

My husband and I have an ongoing conversation about the New York Times.  I contend that it is editorially anti-religious.  He regularly shares opinion pieces that contradict that claim. (I respond that the odd opinion piece doesn't change the fact that the editors, on the whole, are anti-religious.  But that isn't really the point of this post...)

So it was this morning.  Nguyen showed me two opinion pieces that any Christian would appreciate.  The first was a guest piece in Maureen Dowd's column.  She invited a priest friend to write about the nature of suffering and death and God's role in it.  It is a beautiful column.


http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/opinion/dowd-why-god.html?smid=pl-share


The second ran in the paper on Christmas Eve about a physics teacher who takes one class period per year to discuss some of the bigger issues of life that the study of physics doesn't address.  What is the meaning of all of this?  Why are we here?  His answer is humble.  It is about love.  To illustrate his point, he shares with his class about his disabled son and his son's ability to communicate love regardless of his inability to speak.  


http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/24/laws-of-physics-cant-trump-the-bonds-of-love/?smid=pl-share


So what do these two love-filled columns have in common?  


The vitriol and anger with which they were received by the readers of the Times.  



This comment is from the essay about God's role in suffering:


I guess you haven't noticed, there is no god.
Believing in one is no different from believing in Santa, or the tooth fairy.
They are psychological construction of the mind, to bring comfort in distress, nothing more than that and nothing less.



    About the physics teacher, T of London wrote:


    This is religious indoctrination in disguise. Love is a physical phenomenon, a direct result of evolution and not some magical force of the universe. The universe doesn’t care about us, and our emotions are all tools evolved to enhance our probability of survival. A shame that a physics teacher doesn’t understand what he teaches and chooses to bring into the classroom a dose of good old, irrational, misguided and factually wrong sermoning.


    Apparently we are no longer even allowed to discuss emotions, never mind faith.  Love is now the enemy. Love must be reduced to a chemical reaction and nothing more... and if you believe there is even a tiny bit of mystery to it, you have gone off into the realm of dangerous mythology.  


    For all you garden variety atheists and agnostics who still believe in the power of man's goodness, beware.  Pretty soon you, too, will be villified in the public square for believing in something as irrational as kindness or love.


    The snarky sarcasm that runs through the responses to both columns might be enough to scare anyone from writing about love or faith in the Times.  I hope and pray that will not be the case.  It takes courage to speak about faith, these days.  And I pray that the haters will not be so loud that they silence those who speak love.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    Advent vs. Christmas smackdown

    Ok, the truth is I have never been that good at Christmas.  And when I say Christmas, I really mean the XmasHolidayBlueLightSpecialSuperDiscountEverythingONSALENOW cavalcade that is Christmas in America.  Even before becoming a Christian, the Christmas season was, for me, a challenge to my wait til the  last minute then rush around like a maniac vibe.

    But since becoming a Jesus Freak, Christmas has been way MORE of a challenge.  I mean, here we are in Advent, a season of penitence, self reflection, meditation, and yes, I will say it, darkness.  For those of us in the liturgical tradition, it isn't even proper to sing a Christmas carol until Christmas Eve.  This is a time for preparing, not in the 'gotta get a tree and decorate it' sense, but in the far more spiritual sense.  If Jesus came back TODAY, am I ready? The gospel readings have all been about being ready, spiritually, to meet our maker.  These are strident John the Baptist readings.  Get it together, people.  Don't stand around waiting until it is too late.  NOW is the time to repent and change your ways.  John pulled no punches, then or now.

    For me, this year has been a delicious Advent.  I have spent time in deep reflection.  I have been grappling and letting go.  Jesus has been calling to me.  Unlike his cousin John, his is not a strident voice, but a gentle one.  He isn't demanding anything, but inviting me, ever so quietly, to trust him.  Trust him.  Which is, perhaps, the hardest thing any Christian can do.

    I have been reading scripture.  Like a thirst that only the word of God can quench.  Every day I wake up and  sit at my dining room table and start my day in the word.  And it is delicious.

    And I have been going to church.  Lots of church.  Weekdays and Saturdays and Sunday.  Quiet, rhythmic, freezing cold, or bright and vibrant and filled with beautiful music.  Sitting and letting the presence of Our Lord wash over me.  

    And I have been reading Teresa of Avila and a book about the Exercises of St. Ignatius and the Desert Fathers and St. Ignatius of Antioch and a whole bunch of other really amazing Christians. (The letters of Ignatius of Antioch were written while he was being taken to Rome to die in the Colosseum.  Which makes me cry to think of it.)

    And meditating on The Virgin.  

    And none of this helps me to prepare for the Big Day, which for us stretches from church on Christmas Eve until the last moment of collapse from exhaustion on Christmas night.  

    Because maybe the Big Day is actually already starting to happen in my heart.  

    Blessed Advent.  You win.


    Saturday, December 08, 2012

    Time is running out!

    Every day in my email inbox I receive frantic emails from retailers trying to get me off my Advent duff and start shopping in earnest.  Last Chance!  Don't miss out!  Time is running out!!!!!

    But this year, Advent is another time in another country.  My heart and head are about love.  About preparing myself and my family for the celebration of Christmas and, indeed, the second coming.  Our house is yet bare.  We haven't bought a tree... and maybe won't until Christmas Eve.  We are embracing the beauty and slightly bittersweet sense of anticipation.

    I love the Gospel readings that go with this time of year.  Tomorrow we learn of John, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.

    I am crying out to you, Lord.  I lift my voice with countless others and cry to you, Come, Emmanuel, Come.

    For in a strange way, time really IS running out.  We must always be prepared for Him.

    Tuesday, December 04, 2012

    Hurry, slow, go, stop, go

    Shifting taking place, and as things get clear, my normal response is to plow ahead, headlong.  But these things take time, don't they?  Like a marriage, there is a long engagement time.  Partly that is for planning for the wedding.  But partly it is to get used to the new reality that once those vows are spoken, you are transformed.  You are different.  You will never be single again.

    So it seems to be with all spiritual landmarks.

    Sunday, December 02, 2012

    Advent

    This is such a Holy and mysterious time in the church year.   The gospel reading today was apocalyptic.   Christ says that people will literally die of fright when the end is near.

    This morning happened to be the day for healing prayer at Grace Church.  Every month, on the first Sunday, our little team of prayer warriors head over to the Messiah chapel with our anointing oil and pray for folks who come after they have taken communion.  Most months we get one or two folks.  Some months we haven't had any.  Today, we had a line.  So much fear, sadness, despair, pain.  It was unusual to have so many in need of prayer.  I wonder if the beginning of Advent has brought things to the surface.  I know it has for me.  I have found myself very close to God lately.  Which by definition is a very vulnerable place indeed.


    Saturday, December 01, 2012

    Standing on the banks

    When I first became a Christian, I remember the point when I was about to take communion in the Anglo-Catholic church for the first time.  There was a sense that I was standing on the banks of a river and to dip my toe in was to enter the stream of the church, which was at once history and present for thousands of years.  I could see my friends Peter and the apostles.  I could see the dusty, cold, wet monasteries, the huge cathedrals and the tiny home churches.  Candles and incense and the voices of the faithful singing to God, HOLY HOLY HOLY.  Perhaps I could even see the liturgy happening in Heaven at that very moment, beautiful and terrifying and full of LOVE as it is described in the scriptures, with the angels and saints falling down before his throne.  I remember knowing that once I dipped my toe into the stream, there was no turning back.  I would, forever more, be a tiny part of a magnificent stream of Christendom, which has existed for centuries, forever, and right this very moment.

    And so, I stand on the banks, having dipped my toes for years.  Wondering if it is time to dive in head first.

    Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    Diving into the Word

    For a couple of months now I have been doing a 'read the bible in a year' daily reading plan.  When I started, I decided to go ahead and pick up where I was.  At first, I was doing this on my Kindle, but lately I bought a new, larger print, ESV and have been doing my daily readings there.  This allows me to make notes in the margins and underline things that pop out at me.  I know in a few years, this beautiful bible will be tatty and covered with chicken scratch.

    One interesting side effect of my weekend of silence is that I am incredibly thirsty for the scriptures.  I have been reading quite a bit more than the standard daily plan... at least 2 or 3 chapters of the Hebrew scriptures, 1 or 2 of the New Testament, a psalm... and then some third book from Paul's letters.  So today, for example, I read 2 chapters of Daniel, psalm 126, a chapter of Revelation and 2 chapters from Paul's first letter to Timothy.  One great side effect of reading this way is that I am beginning to see themes emerge.  I noticed, for example, that the exact same phrase occurred in Daniel and Revelation.. that the people had gone astray by worshiping the idols of gold and silver, wood and stone.  If I hadn't read them on the same day, I might not have noticed the connection.

    It is interesting to me that even as I am feeling drawn more deeply into liturgy, at the same time, I am being drawn more deeply into scripture.  For me, the supposed distinction between the two is a false dichotomy.  The actual word dichotomy implies that something is split into two parts that cannot overlap and are mutually exclusive.  My sense is that there is nothing BUT overlap.  They are two parts that weave into each other and are complimented by each other.


    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    What is God asking me to do?

    As I reread yesterday's post, I was struck by the simple question my spiritual director at the retreat asked.

    -What is God asking you to do?

    What, indeed.

    And what am I willing to do?  Am I willing to carry the cross?  Am I willing?




    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    Silence

    9 years ago, my spiritual mentor suggested I take a silent retreat.  I am not sure why, but I never did it until last weekend.  I can now categorically state that I will not wait another 9 years to do this again.  In fact, I want to make a 5 or 8 day retreat next time.

    I went with very little expectation.  I truly wasn't sure what to expect.  For me, talking comes naturally and silence doesn't.  And lately, silence has been even more elusive than usual.  I have found myself distracted by many things.  I have avoided empty space and filled it with all manner of mindless (and, frankly, Godless) entertainment.  (Whole seasons of bad tv shows on Netflix comes to mind.)  So the idea of 32 hours of no distractions was a tiny bit intimidating.

    But most of all, I was relieved.  I felt as though I was going to just fall into my Love's arms and let him hold me for awhile.  On the first night we met with our spiritual director for an orientation.  She shared some scripture about Jesus doing a healing.  'What do you want to ask God to do for you?' She asked us.  'And what do you think God is asking YOU to do?' I had no idea.  I didn't have an agenda at all except to rest.  And the greatest rest is with him.

    After meeting with my director, I went to the Holy Ghost chapel to pray.  It is a huge church, and was in complete darkness except for the light behind the tabernacle illuminating a beautiful crucifix on the wall.  I sat up front and wondered if it would be weird for me to go right up to the tabernacle... but ended up staying in the pew.

    In the church, in the darkness, just me alone, I began to feel the longing.  The yearning. Oh Jesus, how I long for you.  The box was there, behind the altar.  Tears began to fall.  And snot.  I didn't have a tissue.  Oh how I long.

    The next morning I attended the Mass.  It was so sweet and lovely.  The center is an old Jesuit college that is now a home for retired Jesuits and a retreat center.  So at the Mass, there were many old priests, most of them wearing stoles.  They spoke the consecration words together, even as one priest was standing at the altar.

    I wept through the whole service.  I do that at almost every Catholic Mass I attend.  And long to take communion.  Long for the Eucharist.  And weep.

    I confessed this to my spiritual director.  The longing for the Eucharist.  The pain I feel that I can't take it.  She gently suggested that I might even be a little angry.  I am not sure about that. Mostly I feel as sense of deep sadness and... thirst.

    And so it went for the weekend.  Moments of joy entwined with moments of bittersweet longing.  I ate alone.  I spent time alone.  I walked the stations of the cross in the Jesuit cemetery.  I was particularly taken with the image of Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross for Our Lord. Would I be willing to do that, I wondered?  Am I willing to carry your cross, Jesus? I meditated on the crucifix.  I communed with the ducks and swans in the pond and napped in my little room.  I read Henri Nouwen and the scriptures.  James and Peter and Ezekiel and psalms.  I wrote in my journal and was surprised that I hadn't written anything about the intense pain I have been through this year.  I wrote and wrote and wrote.  Scribbling notes in the margins of my bible.  Savoring the words.  Seeing the world.  Resting.

    And then, too soon.  It was over.  I packed my bags and loaded my car and came home to my family.  Yesterday I went to work and spent the day in the in-between place, trying to find a balance between the mystical otherworldliness of the weekend with the day to day demands of the work.  Today I am buying a turkey.  And giving Thanks. And savoring the twinges of longing that lie just beneath the surface.

    Tuesday, November 06, 2012

    Pro Woman, Pro Man, Pro LIFE


    Now that I have voted, I will share that I voted pro-life... which for me, IS pro-woman.  And man.  And children. And culture.

    Everyday, I see the devastation that is wreaked by abortion.  I see the women and men who have suffered for years.  I see the pain and agony, first hand.

    Every day I see a culture that has decided that death is a solution for that which ails us.  A culture that has chosen violence to solve it's problems.  And I believe that our culture has been irreparably harmed by the choices we have made.

    Many, especially those who disagree with my position, accuse me of being a single issue voter.  That is not precisely true.  BUT because of the gravity of this issue, it is a deal breaker for me if a candidate is pro-abortion.  Just like the abolitionists would never vote for a pro-slavery candidate, so it is with me.

    I am not anti-woman.  I am not anti-gay.  I am not a person who wants to hurt the poor.  And I am not stupid or ignorant.  I am not evil or misguided... or any of  the awful things my friends have been posting for months about those who are voting differently than them.

    I am a woman who works in the trenches with women and men who have been terribly damaged by a culture that has lost all respect for life. I am someone who believes that we, as a society, can do better.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012

    Hate mail

    No, no one is sending me hate mail personally, but on my facebook feed there is a relentless stream of anti-Christian vitriol that is getting harder and harder to take.  It is often disguised in the form of liberal politics, but the underlying hatefulness is so shocking I really have been stunned. 

    I cannot imagine any other group being the object of so much derision.  I can't imagine people feeling that it is acceptable to call anyone else idiots, nuts, vultures.

    And I am not saying that Christians, as a group, are always above criticism.  Of course not.  Any group made up of....humans... is bound to have it's faults.  But the kind of stuff being bandied around is just not loving or kind in any way, shape, or form.  It adds nothing to the conversation.  It doesn't open the door to understanding.  It is amazing how closed minded ''tolerant'' people can be.

    Christianity is an easy target, I know.  Any group that lives outside the world of conventional wisdom is suspect.  Some of the things we believe are incomprehensible to the world.  But wouldn't that be a great opportunity to have a dialogue?  And how can dialogue happen when there is so much bitterness and polarization?

    I admit I am struggling with this because these people were friends from another life.  I used to go to church, worship, and socialize with many of the folks who seem to think nothing of vilifying Christians.  It makes it all the more painful for me.  But I am also aware that I need to be praying for them.... and praying for myself to get over it.

    Proverbs 19:11 A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

    Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

    John 13:34 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

    Lord, help me to pray for those who write these hurtful words.  Let me be an instrument of peace, not of discord.  I pray that I will joyfully lay down my past and take up that which you have for me.  I pray for healing and strength in the face of anger and hatred.  I pray that I will be willing to be a fool for you, my Savior, Lord, Friend. 

    Tuesday, June 26, 2012

    Religious Freedom

    I have seen a lot of Christian folks talking about defending our freedom of religion lately.  And while there are certain things I totally agree with, I don't know if that is the point.  For example, requiring religious organizations to pay for healthcare coverage that includes abortifacient contraception and abortion is odious.  And on the surface, it makes perfect sense to fight this with every means available.

    But I wonder if, as people of faith, we have put too much stock into the idea that we have a right to expect religious freedom in this world?  Is there ANY scripture describing Jesus or the disciples defending their rights?  And aren't those rights basically man-made laws to begin with?  Jesus himself did not promise us rights.  In fact, he promised abuse, torture, and death in his name.  He promised that we would take up our cross daily if we wanted to follow him.  Our reward is a different kind of reward.  Our life is one that comes, not from the government or elected officials, but from Christ himself.

    So, what am I suggesting here?  That we just meekly comply with the outrageous laws that are being passed?

    Nope.  Not at all.  I am suggesting that we refuse to comply... and risk jail, fines, and everything else that attends it.

    What if, for example, Georgetown simply refused to comply with the law?  What if all the Catholic hospitals, Christian ministries, and other like-minded organizations simply refused to comply?  What would the government do if some of the greatest institutions of learning and medicine in our country simply refused to comply with a law that is obscene?

    In Toronto there is a grandmother who has spent YEARS in jail because she has refused to comply with the laws requiring a designated perimeter around abortion clinics.  Linda Gibbons wants to pray on the sidewalk outside the clinic and is regularly carted off to jail because she refuses to stop.  She'll serve her time, get let out and the next day is right back at the clinic, on the sidewalk (which is, incidentally, public property) and gets hauled back to court and thrown back in jail.  She is NOT in court fighting the rules to try and make is safer for her to pray.  She just prays.

    I am still really grappling with all this and invite comments on the issue, especially from Christians who may disagree with me.


    Tuesday, March 06, 2012

    Dance class

    I am excited that I have been offered my first regular gig as a drummer.  Starting this week, I am going to be playing dunun for an African Dance class in Providence.  I couldn't be more thrilled.

    Drumming for a dance class is one of the very best ways to improve as a drummer.  For one thing, it is extremely physical... almost as demanding as the dancing.  I will play at a good clip for an hour straight, with no breaks.  Each week we will probably work on a new dance, which means I will be playing a variety of pieces.  One week, Madan.  The next, Sunu.  It is going to put me through my paces.

    In West Africa, drumming and dancing go hand in hand.  They are two parts of a single experience.  Playing for dancers is the perfect next step to hone my skills.  I am really happy about it.

    Tuesday, February 28, 2012

    The Religious Institute

    I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that there is a 'religious' organization that supports abortion.  But how, I wonder, do they not see the confusion in their statement on 'reproductive rights'?

    Their website says:

    Our religious traditions affirm that life is sacred. Our faiths celebrate the divinely bestowed blessings of generating life and assuring that life can be sustained and nurtured. We support responsible procreation, the widespread availability of contraception, prenatal care, access to abortion services and intentional parenting.  (My italics.)

    How, I ask, does one affirm that life is sacred in one breath, and advocate the taking of it in the next? Seriously?


    Friday, February 24, 2012

    Daily readings from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

    http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022412.cfm

    The litany of penitence from the Ash Wednesday service

    Psalm 51    Miserere mei, Deus
      1     Have mercy on me, O God, according to your
                                          loving-kindness; *
               in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

      2     Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
               and cleanse me from my sin.

       3     For I know my transgressions, *
               and my sin is ever before me.

      4     Against you only have I sinned *
               and done what is evil in your sight.

      5     And so you are justified when you speak *
               and upright in your judgment

      6     Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
               a sinner from my mother's womb.

      7     For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
               and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

      8     Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
               wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

      9     Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
               that the body you have broken may rejoice.

    10     Hide your face from my sins *
               and blot out all my iniquities.

    11     Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
               and renew a right spirit within me.

    12     Cast me not away from your presence *
               and take not your holy Spirit from me.

    13     Give me the joy of your saving help again *
               and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

    14     I shall teach your ways to the wicked, *
               and sinners shall return to you.

    15     Deliver me from death, O God, *
               and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,
               O God of my salvation.

    16     Open my lips, O Lord, *
               and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

    17     Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice; *
               but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.

    18     The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; *
               a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.


    Litany of Penitence
    The Celebrant and People together, all kneeling
    Most holy and merciful Father:
    We confess to you and to one another,
    and to the whole communion of saints
    in heaven and on earth,
    that we have sinned by our own fault
    in thought, word, and deed;
    by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

    The Celebrant continues
    We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and
    strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We
    have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
    Have mercy on us, Lord.

    We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
    We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved
    your Holy Spirit.
    Have mercy on us, Lord.

    We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the
    pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
    We confess to you, Lord.

    Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation
    of other people,
    We confess to you, Lord.

    Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those
    more fortunate than ourselves,
    We confess to you, Lord.

    Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and
    our dishonesty in daily life and work,
    We confess to you, Lord.

    Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to
    commend the faith that is in us,
    We confess to you, Lord.

    Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
    for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our
    indifference to injustice and cruelty,
    Accept our repentance, Lord.

    For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our
    neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those
    who differ from us,
    Accept our repentance, Lord.

    For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of
    concern for those who come after us,
    Accept our repentance, Lord.

    Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
    Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

    Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
    That we may show forth your glory in the world.


    By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
    Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

    Thursday, February 23, 2012