Monday, December 27, 2010

The Theology of Carbon

Christmas 1, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Killeen, TX, December 26, 2010, The Rev. Paul Moore

Recently Fort Hood has been doing controlled burns on the range. It is a conservation technique replicating the processes that controlled this area before extensive human settlement. I'm familiar with the healthful results of fire. The people among whom I grew up in Ecuador practiced a slash-and-burn agriculture when I was a child. They would clear out the understory of brushy vines and shrubs, and knock down the trees, and wait until the dry season when they would torch it all. The potash and carbon left in the soil acted as fertilizer for their crops. I was with a paleo-anthropologist one time when she turned up some pieces of charred wood at a dig. She got really excited.

Apparently this was left over from just such a slash-and-burn effort, and the carbon present would allow her to date it with Carbon 14 dating. Whatever your opinion of Carbon 14 dating is, it is true that carbon is ubiquitous. In fact, carbon is that one element that distinguishes life forms as we know it from forms that are not alive.

When the evangelist begins to construct his Gospel of John he borrows language from Genesis 1. But he backs up the words to refer to events that happen before Genesis 1. Genesis begins, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..." Yes, but before that, in the beginning... "In the beginning was the Word, and the word was God, and the word was with God," And the Word created...the heavens and the earth. In theological language the Word is the carbon of all existence. One cannot understand existence without referring to the Word—the Logos—that creative, expressive, relational side of God that we call the Second Person of the Trinity. That Word came among us. The Principle of existence became an existent One, and we beheld His glory.

And that changes everything.

I remember when I first began experimenting with falconry in High School in Ecuador in the early 70's. I took a kestrel chick out of the nest, built a nest box in the dorm where I lived, and tried to learn falconry. The bird became a very cute, exotic, and sometimes noisy pet who eventually returned to the wild relatively unharmed for its stay with me, but I was unsuccessful in getting it to hunt. In retrospect, it's a miracle I did not lose it the first time I took it out of the house. There is a very essential piece of knowledge that I didn't have. Hawks want to hunt when they get hungry, and their hunger is directly related to their body weight. Manage the weight, manage the bird. I had a really fat hawk who returned only out of the goodness of its heart, and nothing more! So when you know about body weight you have the essential piece of information that allows you to practice falconry successfully. The Incarnation is the same kind of essential ingredient in our faith. When you understand the Incarnation you understand our faith, and when you understand our faith you know how to live as a Christian.

The Incarnation does two great things:

It reveals the heart of the Father. My eldest son can always find a Christmas present for you that fits you perfectly. Don't bother to give him lists or suggestions, he doesn't need them, they'd just be in the way. When he gives you a gift it reveals something profound about him: He has his eyes open, he reads you like a book. He understands you, and he loves you! When the Father sent the Son it revealed something profound about the Father. God the Father has His eyes open. He reads you like a book, He loves you and He wants to communicate with you! St. Paul writes to the Romans in chapter 1 that the nature of God is known by the things that are made, that is Creation. In John 1 we see that the creative person in the Trinity is the Son. The Son reveals the Father in creation and in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus tells Thomas in the upper room. "Why do you say, 'Show us the Father?' If you've seen me you've seen the Father." The babe in the manger is the great revealer of the Father.

It reveals the nature of our existence. Some people have clean desks, some people have cluttered desks. They say a clean desk is the sign of an empty mind. (I keep telling myself that!) I know a retired Army officer that served for a time as lay canon in the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. He was a full colonel when he retired, he did NOT have an empty mind, but when you went to see him all there was on his desk was material pertinent to the discussion at hand. (I have no earthly idea how in the world he did it!) Under his leadership the diocese worked like a well-oiled machine. You could tell how the diocesan offices worked by looking at his desk: clear, uncluttered and to the point—not always creative or imaginative, but clear. When you know who the Father is you know what kind of world we live in.

We live in a world that is full of the holy. Recently Karisse and I visited a young couple in the hospital after the birth of their daughter. It's impossible to look on the face of newborn and not wonder at the mystery of life. Just beneath the surface lurks the numinous, God is never far away.

We live in the world that is moving toward an end. 3000 years ago this area looked entirely different than it does now. Enormous herds of bison moved through the area. They were preyed upon by prairie wolves and small bands of Indian hunters who moved from one hunting-ground to another. 30,000 years ago it wasn't the bison we know now but enormous beasts that weighed as much as an elephant, with horns that spanned 6 feet. They were preyed upon by dire-wolves that stood almost 4 feet at the shoulders and weighed over 300 lbs., and small bands of wandering human hunters who moved from one hunting ground to another. The world is headed has a beginning and it has an end. Until it reaches its end it is incomplete, under construction and destined to change. God is always, constantly, continuously involved.

We matter in the world. The world today doesn't even look like it did 3000 years ago. Instead of bison we have people and cows. Instead of wolves we have coyotes. Instead of prairie we have city and forest. We have an impact on our environment, and we have an impact on our society. The decisions we make become the building blocks of tomorrow's world. When we make decisions that fall in line with the nature of the Creator we build up life, when we make decisions that contradict the nature of the Creator we destroy it. God the Creator takes us seriously. He has entrusted to us an almost godlike power to create tomorrow's world. When we create as He creates we make Him present once again in creation. We continue the Incarnation.

Just like carbon, the Incarnation turns up everywhere you look. It is at the heart of God's revelation of Himself, it is at the heart of God's redemption of the world, and the Babe in the Manger makes all the difference.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holy Child, Holy World

Christmas Midnight Mass, December 24, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church    , Rev. Paul Moore

There are two icons of Christmas in my home. They inhabit opposite sides of the same room. On one side is a 6-foot artificial Christmas tree. For convenience' sake it is pre-lit, and if I had my druthers, now that the kids are out of the house, it would come pre-decorated. There are delightful legends of how the Christmas Tree began being used as a symbol of this day that come from northern Europe, but they are not in my head when I set it up. I set it up because across the street my neighbor has his tree up, and the neighbors to each side. I don't want to feel out of place. There are no illusions of symbols of life in the midst of the death of winter, no, the tree is where we put the presents. It has become, as I am sure it has for you, a cultural icon of our society's manner of celebrating this holiday. We call it crass materialism.

On the other side of the room is a stretch of display about 6 feet long. It begins low, and builds up to the highest part in two sweeping paths. At the bottom is the town, with all the townspeople in it, along with dogs, chickens and ducks. At the top is a large crèche, larger than the whole town itself. All the people in the town and along the path are headed toward the crèche. Tonight the Baby Jesus will appear in the manger, and the wise men will begin a 12-day journey up the path. It is not an American cultural icon, it is an Ecuadorian one. Existing as it does, outside its context, it is in a sense stripped of its cultural baggage. We do not put presents under it. We use the same figurines year after year. It is a statement of faith, nothing more and nothing less, using material things. I would like to think of this as holy materialism.

Ivan Illich has rightly noted that as Christian Americans we are not materialistic, And Christmas is not a celebration of crass materialism. If that were so we would not throw away the precious material things that we acquired last year, we would carefully and reverently take them out of storage and display them once again. No, Christmas as the world celebrates it is anti-materialist. The ads for the last three months on TV have been asking us to acquire. What we do with last year's acquisitions is immaterial, most of us take them (as we did this year) to the Good Will. (And herein is the proof. We make a multimillion dollar industry of disposing of our acquisitions in a way that lets someone else acquire them, and we call it "Good Will.") We do not worship material things, we worship the act of acquiring. It is not materialism, but consumerism. We quickly dispose of and acquire everything in life: houses and cars, jobs and careers, husbands and wives, children and cousins.

But what we celebrate this night is not consumeristic, it is materialistic. Jesus was not born so He could go to Wal-Mart and buy strawberries in November and apples in April. We've almost forgotten that strawberries bear in the Spring and apples in the Fall. To buy strawberries in November and apples in April they are imported from Chile and Argentina. Many locals don't buy these nutritious food items because the prices we are willing to pay put them out of their reach.

And Jesus was not born so that He could come back and be born again, only this time bigger and better, at 25% off, or with 30% more in the package, or even so He could come back green and earth-friendly. He was born because God looked at His creation at the beginning of time and said, "It is good." And it is good—not entirely good, it got messed up, but God believes it is worth trying to redeem rather than recycle, and so Jesus is born. Jesus is born so that the stuff of our earthly lives can become holy, that the material in which we are all cast in this existence can be in relationship with God.

What does that mean? It means that the presents under your tree are worth more than their depreciation value. I knew a woman who said that the forks in her kitchen "lived in THAT drawer," –funky and strange, but strangely, theologically accurate. If God can make bread and wine into the food of our spiritual pilgrimage from earth to heaven, then all material things have the potential of communicating Him to us.

It means that the people around your tree are more valuable than the things under it. We look at a babe in a manger and we see the perfect icon or image of God. We look in one another's faces and we see that same visage, painted in different colors and shapes, to be sure, but there, nonetheless. If our relationship with this human being, this babe in a manger is holy, then all relationships have the capacity of reflecting God to us.

It means the world around you is worth doing something about. If God has so valued the material creation that He became part of it to redeem it, and if your materiality is holy before God, then that part of the material creation that you inhabit is caught up in your holiness. The way you handle your materiality and your material world speaks about how you feel and think about God. If creation has the capacity of reflecting God to you, it also has the capacity to reflect your heart back to God.

It has been said that what is important about the economic recession is not how we can get out of it, but how it will change us. Equally, this Christmas season is important, not for what we can get out of it, but for how it will change us. Can we begin to value the material world in which we share and which we have received as a holy gift? And can we begin to treat the world like the sacrament of God that it is because of this babe this night?

Christmas All Year Long

Christmas Day, December 25, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

We all love our bodies. Well, some of us would like to change the way our body looks or works, but none of us wishes we didn't have one. More than having bodies, we are bodies. We cannot think of a disembodied existence without a sense of profound horror. Bodies are the aspect of our being that locate us and make us accessible to other people. This is why the Incarnation is so important to us. In the Incarnation God becomes a human body. The angels sang about it, the shepherds went and saw it, Mary bore it and Joseph worshipped at its manger cradle. St. Paul, in his great hymn to the Incarnate Christ in Philippians 2 talks about God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, coming and being made in the likeness of you and me. The Incarnation makes God accessible—God with us, Emmanuel.

I recently watched a show on the National Geographic channel about the resurrection of Christ. Funny thing to run during this season, really, but then, it's not, really. This season is all about a very important Body, one in which we recognize not just ourselves as bodies, but God as the maker and redeemer of bodies. The issue with the resurrection, of course, is ultimately about a Body. Like a who-done-it, the question is, where's the body? What happened to the body? The show, of course, was not willing to admit that perhaps a dead body was delivered to the grave, and a living body left it, but it was fair to us Christians in our belief in the resurrection.

For us Christians, however, the question of "Where's the body?" is not solved by the resurrection. It is solved only after the Ascension. In one sense the Incarnation ended at the Ascension, in that God embodied is now back in heaven, where we will one day be. But in another very important way it did not. St. Paul says, "Don't you know that you are the body of Christ?" Augustine of Hippo in a great sermon to converts about to take communion for the first time, cites this passage and explains that when we take communion we are partaking of the Body of Christ, and that body is us.

Once again, this is why the Incarnation is so important. In the Incarnation God became one of us, joined His own creation as a creature. In the Ascension God transferred that bodily presence to us creatures. The Incarnation has not ended, it goes on and on. In continues in the Body of Christ, the Church Mystical.

Sometime during this Christmastide you have or will hear schmaltzy songs about living Christmas all year and not just in December. They are, of course, a call to generosity of spirit and warmth of affection for one another and that does not entirely miss the point at all. However, we Christians are called to live Christmas all year in a very concrete way: Every time a Christian acts like a Christian God is present in a body. In fact, any time that anyone acts like Christ, no matter where or when or how, Emmanuel has returned.

O come, o come, o come Emmanuel!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Living Gratefully in an Age of Ungratefulness

Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Killeen, TX, the     Rev. Paul Moore

Mark Mitchell in a new book called "Ingratitude and the Death of Freedom" insightfully notes: "We can choose to be friendly regardless of how others treat us. We can choose to act justly even if we have been wronged. But gratitude is different. It's a response to goodness." The Christian recognizes that all goodness begins with God, so that John Calvin can write that gratitude goes to the heart of the Christian response to God. In theological terms we call it contingency. Our being is contingent on something else. Our society, our nation, our church, even creation itself is contingent on something, and that something is the ongoing, continuous providential involvement of the divine will in the existence of things. In other words, the fact that you are, that you are what you are, and have what you have, is an active action of God, right now, on your behalf, and the writer of Genesis puts in the mouth of God those timeless words about God's creative work, "And behold, it was very good."

Contingency sits uneasily on the contemporary soul. Mostly, we are too busy to think that deeply. In the 1930's two brothers by the last name of McDonald invented something new in the food industry. They took the common hamburger and mechanized its production. They hired cheap labor and trained each person to perform one function, produced exactly the same burger in the same process, and sold it at rock-bottom prices. In doing so they invented fast food, and launched an epoch. Food became no longer an occasion for social interaction, it dropped its symbolic value as a reminder of providential provision. It became a cog in the wheel of keeping the machine called our bodies greased and fueled.

They would not have been successful if we had not already begun to think of our bodies as merely machines. The industrial revolution had already bequeathed us a demythologized existence. The fact that we are was severed from the why, allowing us to see our bodies as sources of activities that we can sell to make a living. And so now we do not ask where our food comes from, or how it was produced, we are just happy to buy it at low prices, unconcerned with the international consequences of the government subsidies involved, or the illegal workforce and its characteristic abuses, or the lack of concern for the environment and eventually, our very health. We do not consider that of the 12.1 billion bushels of corn produced by the U.S. in 2008, according to the USDA:

  • 5.25 billion bu. - Livestock feed
  • 3.65 billion bu. - Ethanol production
  • 1.85 billion bu. – Exports
  • 943 million bu. - Production of Starch, Corn Oil, Sweeteners (HFCS, etc.)
  • 327 million bu. - Human consumption - grits, corn flower, corn meal, beverage alcohol

We ate 3% of the corn crop. We used more corn to feed livestock than anything else (43%), of which the lions' share went to cows in feedlots. Feedlots produce 17% of the greenhouse gasses produced by humans in the world. Cows were not designed to eat corn, creating huge health issues for feedlot operators that are not always resolved by the time the beef gets to the supermarkets. If we are merely machines we can market none of this matters. But if we are something else, something more, if we are called to live in relationship with our Creator, with one another and with the rest of creation, it may very well matter a great deal.

More profoundly, if we can think of ourselves as a commodity, then our egos become the agents who buy, sell and manage that commodity. An agent works for the bottom line of the commodity involved. The idea that there might be a higher authority to which to respond is an inconvenient bother. It's much more useful to think of ourselves as captains of our own souls.

Our faith tells us that we are more than just machines we can market at will. We are contingent: We are creations, bearing the image of the Creator and for that reason alone, holy, called into holy relationships with the Creator, with one another, and with the rest of creation, and commissioned with a divine mandate in the world—holy work for a holy people.

The importance of this day called "Thanksgiving" for the Christian then, lies as much in our self-definition as in our feasts. We are the people who recognize our contingency, who make time out to think deeply. At the heart of our worship is a meal for which the "why" and the "how" are of the essence. The Eucharist for the Christian is the primordial meal, the one that is meant to orient us to every meal. It is not merely to fuel and oil a spiritual machine as it cranks through this life into the next. It is a recognition of the source of our eternal hope, in the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The bread that we eat represents not just Christ, but ourselves as His body and His constant provision of all we need, materially, socially and spiritually. The wine that we partake is not merely the memory of a cruel death, but the Spirit that we all share, the Spirit that forgives us as we forgive our debtors in the same spirit. The very word "Eucharist" means "Thanksgiving." We are a people whose central act of worship is an act of transforming gratitude.

And so it is right this day to give thanks to God for the goodness of creation—our creation as much as the turkeys on our tables, to take time to look at where our food comes from and how we eat it—ultimately as well as immediately, and to determine how to live profoundly gratefully in the earth.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What it Means to be a Christian

Pentecost 26, Proper 29, November 21, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

What it Means to be a Christian at St. Christopher's

It is often asked of you, and it makes sense that I answer the question for me as well. What does being a good steward do for me? It might be easy to say it pays my salary, but I'm a Christian before I am a priest. Being a priest is the best way I can be a Christian, and being a priest at St. Christopher's is what God has me doing right now. My priesthood, then, is part and parcel with my stewardship.

Stewardship does three things for me:

First, it gives me a sense of purpose in life. This morning we baptize two adults and two children. Baptism officially marks a person's walk with Christ in the context of the church. It's not that God has not already been active in these peoples' lives, of course that is true, but this marks the moment when the relationship between the person and God as we Christians know Him in Jesus Christ takes official form. It is a covenant, an agreement between God and a person. In every covenant God promises to do something, and so does the person. What a person does because he or she is baptized is called stewardship. I am a steward because I am a baptized person.

Therefore, my service in the church is a function of my baptism: I work because I belong. What I actually do is a function of who I am as a person. I have a particular history and a particular sense of myself. These particularities fit into the great scheme of the world, and the best fit between myself and the world is priesthood, a bridge-builder between God and people, between people and people, and between people and the rest of creation. Exercising my gifts in the context of the Church gives life to my baptismal covenant and purpose to my living.

Second, it challenges me to grow: My greatest challenge as a priest is to be an example. My first example to you is the sincerity of my confession. Confession is at the heart of baptism. Ongoing Christian confession is an extension of our baptism. It is only as I confess with an honest and sincere heart that I can call you all to honest and sincere confession. My second example is in my humanity. In Jesus we see what humanity is supposed to be like. The closer we get to Christ the more human we become. The less human we are the further we are from God. It is a Christian thing, then to strive toward a healthy, balanced human life. The healthier my body, soul and spirit are, the better my example of Christian living.

Finally, it calls me to share what I have. I have studied what many of you have not. I continue to do so, as you probably know, as I pursue a Master's Degree in Spiritual Formation at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. I seek to integrate what I have come to know over the years and what I am learning now into what I teach you all. You need to get it, and I seem to have brainer.

A good friend of mine, and one-time preacher at our Guadalupe Event one year is the Rt. Rev. Bob Hibbs. He has on his office wall a big frame that contains all his religious certifications. At the very bottom is his baptismal certificate, small and unassuming. Above that is his confirmation certificate, a little more elaborate. Above this are his ordination certificates, to the deaconate, then to the priesthood, and finally to the order of Bishops, the largest and most ostentatious of them all. But he explains it like this: Baptism, though the certificate may be unassuming in appearance, is really the foundation for the rest. All of what he does in the church constitutes an effort to live into the fullness of his baptismal covenant.

Who, here, is baptized? YOU are a minister of the Gospel here, YOU have gifts to give and work to do. YOU matter, you're important to the work of the Kingdom, right here, right now, at St. Christopher's, Killeen. The Holy Spirit is counting you YOU!

Well finally!

This morning on Good Morning America George Stephanopoulos interviewed Mr. Bowles, co-chair of the President's Deficit Commission talked about the solution to the escalating deficit that they will be laying before Congress soon. He mentioned something very interesting—and refreshing to hear in government circles. He talked about listening.

He didn't talk about just noting what someone said. He talked about spending months listening to members of Congress, to build trust and uncover a bipartisan consensus on what can be done.

Finally, Congress is leading the way rather than reacting to the public's anxious reactions. Quick fixes almost never work, but hard, long-term decisions are almost always hard to sell to people who want quick fixes. We're a nation of quick-fixers. We're in a bind! But these leaders took time to listen, to build consensus, and to try to figure a way through.

Now I'm no economist and I don't really know whether their idea will fly or not, but if we would all do as they did and take some time to listen to one another for a lot longer than we normally think is necessary, this whole nation would settle down, relax and let some real leadership emerge. With that kind of leadership we can figure out a way to live decisively and confidently into the challenges of the second decade of this century and beyond.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

PETA…irony is still alive and well!

One-time Playboy Playmate of the Year and enduring icon of men's fascination with women's bodies is in Israel lobbying the Israeli government to ban the use of animal skins in human garments. The ones for whom the consequences are perhaps most compelling are the ultra-orthodox Jewish men who could no longer wear their fur hats. Mrs. Anderson has also been recently named an honorary director of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

I find it highly ironic that a person who has made millions of dollars off her own skin would be opposed to the use of other animal's skins. Furthermore, it should not surprise us that PETA asked her to be an honorary director. PETA has been charged with criminal trespassing in efforts to rescue experimental animals from labs. They have destroyed personal property by throwing paint on fur coats. They have hazed patrons of zoos and animal shelters that are not "no-kill." Their rap sheet of violence against the general public that does not believe as they do is long indeed. For an organization that claims to work against cruelty to animals it seems we unbelievers fall too low on the evolutionary ladder to qualify.

PETA should find another word for their name that starts with "E." The one they use doesn't fit.

For All the Saints

All Saints' Sunday, November 7, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

Communion of Saints

Never in the history of humanity have we believed seriously that death was the end of significance. A year and two days ago 13 people died and 30 were wounded on Fort Hood. They were victims of an angry man who thought God had sanctioned the killing 1of those who did not follow his religious path. His trial is a high profile case coming up later this month. This week has been a week of remembering the fallen and the heroes of that day. The effect has been one of binding us all together again as a community, one in which we share pain and glory and a common purpose—liberty, and in this case, freedom of religion. Across the span of the last 12 months St. Christopher's has lost 6 of its cherished members. They were not taken prematurely by twisted theology, but passed on into the larger life after a lifetime of love and living. Nonetheless, their loss binds us together in a community of pain and glory, and their memory gives us a common purpose. In fact, in view of these two sets of memories, death is only superficially about loss. The last word in death is not grief, it is community.

The Church has taught ever since the resurrection of Christ that death is the gateway to greater life. Rightly do we draw hope and peace in our loss, so that as Paul says in I Thessalonians that we do not grieve as those who have no hope, but that just as our eternal life begins at the moment of baptism, so the eternal life of those who enjoy it fully is not separated from the shadow that we now live. And so the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that they sit in the grandstands watching us finish our race, cheering us on. Orthodox churches around the world place an iconostasis behind the altar to remind us that they share in our worship of God every Sunday.

For this reason our Hispanic brothers and sisters celebrate this day with special acts of devotion. In the Parish Hall you will find an "ofrenda," an altar to loved ones who have passed on. It is replete with symbols: A cross of dirt reminds us of our own mortality. Photos of deceased loved ones, and food items they enjoyed bring their memory vividly to life, and sugar skulls remind us that death is bitter-sweet, mixing the pangs of a loved one gone with the assurance that the separation is neither complete nor final. Central to that figure is Catrín and Catrina, man and woman skeletons, dressed often in party or even wedding dress, dancing, kissing, partying, always enjoying themselves, the dead defiantly sharing life with the living, powerful cultural symbols of Christ's victory over death and our hope in His resurrection.

Ours is a community of those whose lives testify to the transforming work of the Cross of Christ. Consequently, it has a particular cut and slant, a characteristic that stands it apart from all other communities. The biblical images used to describe that difference are many: temple, body, family, priesthood, nation, wife. I would like to take up one that is perhaps particularly meaningful to a community like ours: We are an army.

As with all armies, we have a hierarchy. We have a Commander, Christ, We have officers (bishops) and sergeants (priests and deacons) and troops (laity) but the hierarchy works differently from that of Fort Hood, one could perhaps more accurately call it a lowerarchy. As Christ taught His disciples the night before He suffered when He washed their feet, the greatest one is the one who most serves.

We have a mission, but our mission is different from that of Fort Hood. It is at once more daring and impossible, yet simple and easy: Take back creation for the Creator, redeem the world from sin. The mission has an eternal dimension to it, but you cannot separate the eternal from the temporal, for we are to bring the temporal into alignment with the eternal. We cannot accomplish this mission on our own, we require the help of every member, and the power of the Holy Spirit; we are not an Army of One.

We have weapons, but our weapons are not like the weapons of Fort Hood. Our weapons are not earthly (II Cor. 10,) but heavenly, and all the more powerful for it. In Ephesians 6 the author describes the armor of God, which are the various practices and articles of our faith. Our weaponry is different not so much in nature as in character. The Cross is the power behind all of our weaponry. As Christ gave Himself on the cross for our redemption, so we give ourselves for the redemption of the world. The conquering force behind our weaponry is not greater strength, but deeper love, the very love of God.

There is much in our world which does not conform to the love of God. There are many ways in which we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. There are inequities related to race, there are injustices perpetrated on foreigners, people of color, people who do not follow our religious path, and people who act differently than we. Much of these injustices are institutionalized in our law...there is a difference between legal and ethical. There is much in our church that does not reflect our love for all God's children. Hierarchy wielded as such rather than lowerarchy, programs that exclude, prejudices that preclude, and those seven deadly words, "We've always done it that way before." There is much in our individual lives that betrays our integrity. We do not love as we are loved. We do not give as we have received. We do not live the world that God designed.

Think of someone in your own life who has passed on whose faith you respect. Now, as they stand in the full presence of God, think how they would conceive of our community, and pledge yourself to live into that reality now.

Father of all, we pray to you for all those whom we love but no longer see. Grant them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


Pentecost 25, Proper 28, November 14, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church    , Rev. Paul Moore

Spiritual Veterans

What is a veteran? A veteran is one who has fought in a war for our country. A veteran is one who is experienced in the struggles of life. Like anyone who has looked death in the face, a veteran has the unique opportunity in life to see life clearly for what it is, to make clear choices as to values and priorities, and to live life unencumbered by unnecessary concerns. Described like that, Jesus is a veteran, you could almost call Him a veteran of a civil war. Jesus has weathered the war, stared death in the face, and has clear priorities and values.

You see that simple straightforward life in today's Gospel lesson. He is standing in Herod's Temple while people described the beauty of it. Recently in our Tuesday morning Bible Study we learned about some of the stones to which they referred. They are estimated to weigh more than 570 metric tons. How Herod got them where they are is truly baffling and amazing. But Jesus is unmoved. Even these large stones will be thrown down, says Jesus. The world itself will be shaken to its foundations.

Jesus' disciples are rather moved instead...When will these things be? How will we know when they are about to happen? Jesus' answer is long, so I summarize: Beware, Be ready, Be confident. We will take each one in turn.

Beware: A couple of weeks ago there was an article in the newspaper about the C12, the Committee of 12 prominent businessmen around town who seek in their own way to influence the political actions taken. The article calls them a "secret society." I'm not really sure how "secret" they are, but the circles of power in any town are usually entered only by invitation, and proffered to those whose control of resources and opportunities make them assets to the group. Jesus would never have been invited to be part of the C12. He had a lot to say about politics, but He was never in the circles of power, in fact, the circles of power tended to keep him at arm's length. He preached different priorities. The edifices of human culture are ultimately of little concern, says Jesus in today's Gospel. Economic opportunities come and go, and today's golden dream is tomorrow's ruined millionaire. Systems will fight against systems, and plans against programs. But all of that is penultimate in view of eternity.

Jesus rightly taught us to hold the values of this world lightly in our hands; to not get overly concerned with them, for in the end they are passing away.

Be ready: If you stand your political aspirations and the economics behind them beneath the shadow of the Cross there will be consequences. The world does not march to the beat of this drum, they will oppose you for it. Company managers and CEO's will challenge your allegiance. Community leaders will assume all sorts of false things about you. The difference between your stance as a Christian and the values of the world will only get more clearly defined over time, not less so.

But all is certainly not lost. When life gives you lemons make lemonade. The very differences which cause the tension grant opportunities to proclaim the Gospel. The best preparation you can have is to know your faith intimately and live it confidently.

That is not the same as holding it defensively. Defensiveness is a position of fear, not of faith. Defensive religion becomes polarized and radicalized, defensive religion ultimately betrays itself by resorting to anti-religious behavior. Our trust is in the love of God for all of God's creation. That love is open enough to engage, brave enough to face danger, and strong enough to even be wounded in the process—and confident enough to know in the end it will be OK.

Be confident: In High School I was never really good at organized sports, but I could run. I couldn't sprint, but if you put me on a track I could keep going a long time. In one mile-long race at a field day in our school I was matched with a bigger, stronger boy. We started the run and he pulled out in front of me a long ways. I kept plugging away, and soon the distance began to shorten. By the end of the race he won by a hairs-breadth, and almost collapsed afterwards. The tortoise almost beat the hare! I did not have speed, but I did have something the other boy did not have. I had long-term stamina.

What the world's systems do not have is eternal stamina. What wins the day for us is not our offensive moves as much as our determination to hang on. Consequently, we can confidently trust the love of God.

The love of God is eternal. When all the cities of this world lie in ashes the love of God will still be there. What the world most fears and most needs are people that are confident that the Kingdom of God is on its way, people that are free to work for its coming confidently and openly, generously and freely, people who act like veterans of the ultimate war!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fear or Faith? A Christian Understanding of Halloween

Pentecost 23, Proper 26, October 31, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

Anthropological evidence suggests that the evergreen was a symbol of hope in the midst of the cold of winter for the ancient Germanic tribes from very long ago, from which we get the Christmas Tree. However, there is a more interesting story of its origin. St. Boniface was an Welsh missionary bishop to the Germans in the early 8th century. A story about Boniface tells us that a child was about to be sacrificed at the root of a large oak sacred to the Norse gods. The bishop cut down the tree to prevent the sacrifice and prove the power of Jesus Christ over the Norse gods. He noticed that a spruce tree sprang up among the roots of the felled oak. He used the tree as a teaching symbol to the Germans about the birth of hope. Thus, says the story, we get the Christmas Tree.

The two sources, Boniface and anthropology, are certainly not mutually exclusive. As with the Easter Egg and many other symbols we have lost, pre-Christian symbols were often "baptized" with Christian meanings in the missionary setting in order to help pre-Christian peoples understand the faith. The same thing goes on today. The men of the Tsachi people among whom I grew up used to die their hair with achiote die and Vaseline as a symbol of masculinity and dress. With contact from the outside the practice has died almost completely away...except for in the church where it has become a symbol of cultural pride that says, "As Christians we are confident enough to wear the achiote in spite of what the world may say about us because we know what God thinks of us."

Halloween from a Christian perspective has to do with love and faith vs. fear. Ancient Celtic peoples celebrated the fall equinox as the beginning of their new year. They called it "Samhain," and it was one of the four great feasts of the year coinciding with the equinoxes and the solstices. Feast days were understood by the ancient Celts to be a time when the veil between this life and the other life was thin. On the other side live the gods and the spirits, and also the souls of the dead. This one in particular was known to be prone to a mixing of the other world and this one. There existed the very real possibility that one could slip unawares into the other side, and this was uniformly a horrifying experience, but also the spirits and the souls of the dead would slip into our world and torment us. The only way to keep them at bay was to appease them with sweet things to eat. This was play-acted by people who would dress up as the dead and the spirits and go from house to house asking for treats, which is where we get trick-or-treating. But in the long run it was a day of solemnity and import, and also of great fear. There was fear one might be sucked into the horrific experience of the other side, and there was fear that if one did not appease the spirits that bad things would happen to them.

When Patrick and his friends began to preach the Gospel in Ireland they recognized several things right off the bat (being Celts themselves.) Samhain contained much error from the Christian standpoint, but also some truth. The truth is that the spirits of the faithful departed are not far away, the lie is in the motivation of fear. God has not given a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.

The early Christian missionaries to Ireland could have used the precedent set by our Lord with Zacchaeus. (Recently I asked what link people could make between Zacchaeus and Halloween, and prize for the most creative answer has to go to the one who suggested that Zacchaeus would make a good Halloween costume for short people…unless you wanted to be the tree as well, and then it would work for tall people!) But I submit the following as a tad more helpful: Zacchaeus was far from a good man. He had lived many years under the power of greed, which is the devil's work. He had cheated his fellow Jews and sold out on the hope of Israel. And yet there was something worth redeeming in Zacchaeus. It turned out that his greed was merely his generous heart bound by fear. When the fear was defeated the generosity of a large soul made its appearance, and the Kingdom of God came near that home that day.

And so Patrick and his followers did what Christians have done around the world. They worked to defeat the fear. They baptized the practice and infused it with Christian meaning. The spirits of the dead are not to be feared, for they are in the hand of God. The spirits of the other world are not to be feared, for Christ has conquered their kingdom as well. Now we are free to share sweet things with those who have gone before (and their present actors) as an act of Christian generosity and love rather than fear.

We believe that generosity is more than its own reward, as all virtue is. Not only is it right and therefore pleasing, it builds community—in this case community with all God's saints, living and dead. The basis of Christian community is faith, not fear. Hence we place the celebration of the feast of All Saints on this date. Halloween is an abbreviation of All Hallows' Eve, or, the night before All Saints'. It is a day when we celebrate the communion of saints, living and dead, with acts of generosity and love born of faith.

I have often heard from Christian sources that Halloween should not be celebrated by Christians because it is the devil's day. I believe that statement is riddled with hidden faithlessness and fear. The Church won the day for the Kingdom 1500 years ago, and it is perfectly fitting to celebrate it in a Christian way by Christians. To call it the devil's day is to give it back to the enemy after we won it in fair fight with the divine weapons of faith and love and grace! It would make just as much sense to sign a soul back over to the enemy after winning it for Christ. It gives in to the fear that the conquering of the day overcame. It's just cowardly. (To substitute a "Fall Festival" in the church is to dishonor those saints who labored so long to make it what it is. A Fall Festival is an entirely different event, and we celebrate that on Thanksgiving.)

Have faith, my brothers and sisters, do not give in to fear in this or any place in your life. Do not fear the economic system of our day. Do not fear those who oppose your position politically. Do not fear those whose religious beliefs drive them to horrific acts against humanity. Do not fear those who know your heart and could ruin you. Instead, be generous. Give to those who take. Believe in those you don't agree with. Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you. Believe in the Zacchaeus in your life, be the holy fool, shining with the light of God's grace, know that knowledge is limited, but love is infinite, and share the incredible, irrefutable, and inexhaustible love of God in the world.

Hang in There!

Pentecost 21, Proper 24, October 17, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

I have a very persistent dog. She believes that if she can just get close enough to one she can eat a cow. She believes that any dog on the block that is talking must be answered in like manner, only louder. She believes that absolutely no one should pass our house un-greeted, and she desperately believes that there is buried treasure in my woodpile. Nothing I have done to influence her has been much more than marginally successful.

We worship a God that is persistent. God makes my dog look like a roll-over washout of a wimp. God's persistence is inexorably present, it is unmovable and unstoppable, and nothing the human race has done in the whole history of existence has managed to deflect it. Today's readings illustrate persistence.

In today's first lesson Jacob is not exactly on the right path. Jacob has been in Haran at his uncle Laban's for last couple of decades. He went there ostensibly to find a wife, but the real reason is that he had tricked his older brother Esau out of his birthright (the lion's share of the inheritance) and he was running for his life. While in Haran Jacob has managed to take control of the household flocks and herds. With Laban less than happy with him, he steals away at night with two of Laban's daughters that are his wives, and the family idols. Now he is headed back to Canaan to his father's house. He gets word that Esau has not forgotten. He is coming with 400 armed men, and Jacob is terrified. The lesson says he wrestled with a man all night long. We find out in the morning that the man is an angel. But the wrestling is not with God as much as it is with his own self, and God is a player in that struggle. But he persists and the angel blesses him.

In the Epistle lesson Paul writes to Timothy, his protégé in Ephesus. He warns him about coming apostasy in the church, and he urges Timothy in several different ways to persevere in the face of adversity. "Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or unfavorable," he writes. Timothy needs a blessing, and like Jacob, he is going to have to wrestle for it.

In the Gospel Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow. She has a case to bring before the judge, but the judge has the integrity of some of the judges in Williamson County. She is so persistent that she wears him down. He grants her justice, not because it is just, but because the woman won't leave him alone. If this is how the world works how much more eagerly will your heavenly Father grant us justice? Luke gives us the moral of the story before we begin: Prayer should be constant without losing heart.

Today, persistence is a spiritual virtue but a social vice. We live in an instant world. We want faster and faster internet connections, instant breakfast, instant oil changes, instant pictures, instant marriage and instant divorce. If it takes until tomorrow to get what I want I'll change what I want. Here is where our culture today is really quite broken.

God asks us to be persistent, not to change His mind, but to change ours. When we struggle for something and hang on through the dark nights of the soul until we emerge to a new day, something happens within us that can only happen that way. We are purged of our short-sighted impatience, and granted wisdom and blessings we cannot imagine. Cases in point: Jacob meets Esau and the meeting does not end in a bloodbath, but a reconciliation. Timothy hangs on and the church in Ephesus becomes one of the pillars of the ancient Christian world. The widow hangs on and gets justice. Jesus hangs on through the cross and the tomb to win for us abundant life—and this, ultimately, is the paradigm, the explaining model. Jesus conquers the sin and brokenness of our living by persistence through suffering, and so do we. Jesus is not teaching us to do something he has not already done in spades. He sets the example.

The example goes straight to the heart of God. Look at the whole trajectory of salvation. Adam and Eve have it good and mess it up, and God promises redemption. Think of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the kings, the return from exile, and finally, Jesus. The whole Bible can be read as a story of God's persistence in redeeming His fallen creation.

And think how many times God has called out to you, keeping you safe in adversity and danger, granting you people to love, work to inspire and challenges that bring out the best in you? And how many times will He forgive you when you turn to him in repentance? Michael Card has a song about Jacob called Asleep on Holy Ground. The chorus says it all:

He limped away on holy ground awakened from the dream,

Having learned his costly lesson from the way of the Nazarene;

That pain's the path to blessing, love will fight us to be found,

And God remains a dream to those who sleep on holy ground.

Love will fight us to be found, over and over and over again. Can we respond with anything less?

I recently read one of the earliest reliable sources we have about the ancient Celtic Saints. If there was anything in the life of Cuthbert that traces a golden thread through his days it was persistence. As a child he was always in front. He won in sports, in school and at play, he was the best and he knew it. So when God called him to a life of prayer he was naturally going to do it with all his heart. He would spend night after night in prayer, he would submerge himself in the icy waves all night long in order to calm the fire of his passions. When things got just too worldly around him he moved to the island of Farne to set up a hermitage. There he lived out his days in virtual isolation, spending the time in prayer. And the miracles attributed to his prayer include house-fires quenched, healings, evil men converted, crops saved from devastation, ships saved at sea, and a host of other things.

We're not persistent in order for God to grant us our selfish desires, no, we're persistent because God is persistent in loving the world, and we want to be the same.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

So who is surprised?

Telemundo's Despierta America just launched a new program called Mira Quien Baila. It's kind of a take-off of Dancing with the Stars. One of the judges is known to have a rather caustic tongue, which has upset some of the dancers, and consequently, lent pathos to the program and gained viewers. It happened again, but this time the dancer got even.

The dancer is Cuban singer, dancer and erotic model Niuka Marcos, even while riding on the shoulder of her partner, shot the finger at the judge with both hands. Afterwards, as she left, she flipped up her skirt in the back at him. When questioned about it she said, "Those are natural human reactions."

She's right, they are, just like punching someone in the nose for stepping on my toe, and cutting someone off in traffic because they cut me off, or shooting someone at a red light because they flipped me off. Just because we have the reactions doesn't mean we act on them. The reactions promise a lot of things: a sense of satisfaction, supremacy over another, justice served, but too often they move us away from those goals instead of toward them. Human society serves many functions, and one of them is helping us to determine the proper behavior in light of a given inner reaction, one that is helpful rather than hurtful in the longest run.

I hear people say, "Follow your inner inclinations, for they always tell you the wisest path." "Your instincts will never let you down." "Your heart understands what your head does not." Joseph Campbell is famous for his phrase, "Follow your bliss." All of these statements are true on the deepest level to which you can take them. The reactions described above are rather superficial, and we get into trouble when our superficial reactions masquerade as deeper inclinations of the heart.

One of the functions of religious disciplines is to get us in touch with the deepest parts of ourselves so that we can learn to tell the difference. Maybe Ms. Marcos needs more church.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Listening to Wusses

When it comes to chips I am neither a connoisseur nor a major consumer. For me there are two categories of chips: Frito Scoops and all others. Fritos are delightfully and sinfully salty and greasy, and they hold a LOT of guacamole. The others are all pretty much the same, but less, and all chips in the final analysis are merely edible spoons by which to get guac or pico from the plate to the palate. And so, when we wanted to take chips to a function the other day I glanced up and down the interminable row at the grocery store, at the interminable variety of chips, grabbed the necessary Scoops, and then two other bags—Frito Lays in the new crinkly biodegradable bags. The fact that the bags were biodegradable was the only feature that made them stand above the masses.

So this morning I learned that Frito Lay is pulling the bags. They say people don't like the sound of the crinkly bags. Apparently there are some people out there that care more for their tender ears than the death of the planet…I guess when the planet explodes they won't have to listen to crinkly bags, or anything else, for that matter. This is major evidence of wuss-hood. These people are talking from somewhere else than their heads or even hearts, and that is a major issue, but there have always been wusses in the world. The bigger issue arises when leaders listen to them. Why in **** should the world be run by wusses?

Frito Lay could have turned it in their favor and done the earth one at the same time by running an ad: [crinkle, crinkle, crinkle] and a sexy girl croons in a soft British accent, "Love the sound of a healthy planet!"

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Love You Can Trust

Pentecost 18, Proper 21    September 26, 2010

St. Christopher's Episcopal Church    Rev. Paul Moore

A Love You Can Trust

It was late, the light was beginning to fade. In the tropics when the light fades it goes quickly. I knew we were relatively close to the car, but it had been a while since I was in this neck of the Andes mountains. I picked a ridge and we burned muscle getting to the top. I looked around and groaned! There was the car, alright, on the next ridge over, separated by a large, steep, brushy draw—with no trail.

Have you ever felt that way, like whenever you rushed to get somewhere you ended up just out of reach of your goal? Like you climb and climb to the top of the ladder, only to discover it's leaning on the wrong wall? Julian of Norwich, English mystic of the 13th century called knowledge the sense of something, wisdom the right use of it. I have on my desk an article titled, "Trendspotting the Quick and Easy Way: How savvy executives stay on top of the latest trends, crushing the competition and multiplying profits." But is crushed competition and multiplied profits really what it's all about? Or will that put you on the wrong ridge?

I'm sure the rich man felt that way in Jesus' parable today. Notice how the poor man has a name: Lazarus. We know him. He has an identity that is rooted and solid. You see him every time you pass the street corner downtown. He holds a placard asking for a handout. He shuffles by you, hair tousled and unkempt, (ever notice how the homeless are never overweight?) We all know who Lazarus is. In fact, this parable is so definite that in Argentina a "lazaro" is any street beggar. It should not surprise us, then, when Lazarus dies, that the angels carry him to Abraham's bosom. In this life he had no rest, but in the life to come he does. In spite of appearances, he wasn't a bad man.

By contrast, the rich man is not named. He could be anyone or everyone. He shifts around, just out of sight of the needy. He prefers to ignore the ways he is hurting people for his own gain. He explains it away: If Lazarus would only work harder he would have a good life like me. And no, he doesn't have work for Lazarus, he doesn't hire people like him. So when he dies he is laid to rest...end of story...almost. Now he is in torment. The "good upstanding citizen" has become the one judged and condemned. It's not merely that there is a certain amount of good and ill that each of us will experience, and in the afterlife the books are balanced. No, if the moral of the story means anything at all it means the way we live here does affect the way we will live there. It matters what wall your ladder leans against, it matters what ridge you choose to climb. And the rich man saw nothing in this life that oriented him to the truth of the next.

So where is the good news in this? Abraham tells the rich man that his brothers have the testimony of Moses and the prophets. Ah, there WAS something in this life that could have oriented him for the next. He just didn't pay attention to it. It is the gift of revelation, the revelation of the heart of God. We, too, have revelation. Jesus also died, like Lazarus and the rich man. But unlike the rich man, He did come back. He conquered death, and redeemed all our dyings. In His hands is the final resolution of all things. Jesus' life, death and resurrection is the sum total of what God is like. The love that drove Jesus to the Cross is the love of God for creation. The power that raised Him from the dead is the power of God on our behalf. The wisdom that designed such a redemption is the wisdom that orients our lives now. This, then, is a love we can trust.

The rich man trusted in the love of his money and it didn't work out very well in the end. Lazarus had no one else to trust but the good hearts of generous souls who drifted in and out of his life. These good hearts knew and expressed the love of God, as ours can and ought to today. And in the end it worked. We, too, can trust the love of God. It will anchor us in life's storms. It will orient us to the ridge we need to climb. And in the end it will serve us well.

My hawk is now back in the air. Most of you know I'm a falconer, and I have a hawk with which I hunt small game. It's one of those things I do to keep myself sane and grounded. Some of you have doubts as to its effectiveness, but that's another story. The month of September has one of learning to trust. During the summer months I have kept the bird hog fat, relieved of his hunting duties. His sole task was to direct all his body's energies to growing good, strong new feathers for this coming year. And he has had little use for me... Now, however, it's time to go back into the woods. And I've had to reestablish the trust we had last year. It's a trust that orients and grounds our activities. He trusts the dogs and me to produce game for you to chase. He trusts me to help him with whatever he catch so he doesn't break feathers or get hurt. He trusts me to keep him safe and to bring him back to a safe, warm and dry place to sleep at night. I trust him to do his thing where I can watch, and not to fly away,

Trust in God, my brothers and sisters. Like the great falconer in heaven, He can be trusted. He will ground your life and give it purpose, direction and meaning. He will orient you to what is important in this life and the next. He will place you in a community of fellow-pilgrims with whom to share the journey, all He asks is that you trust His direction, and not fly away!

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Joke?

On Telemundo a commentator they call "Papa Rush" was discussing the disgusting situation with Lindsay Lohan. He switched to English to say, "the U.S. court system is a joke." Another commentator called the media and legal system treatment of the situation tantamount to using her celebrity status in an immoral way to put forward their political or marketing agendas. She advised that if the courts were serious about helping this troubled young actor they would send her away to a rehab program far enough away from her previous life that she could actually get her feet on the ground, rather than playing revolving door with her.

Point well taken about Lindsay. I think their assessment of the situation is not far from the truth. I would agree that in many instances our legal system has reduced itself to a laughing matter.

But it sounds funny coming from the source it does. There's a TV show called "Locked Up Abroad" flouting the conditions in third-world country jails (implying not-so-gently that here in the US we're "enlightened" enough to have a humane corrections system....) Understood, Mexican jails are more of a deterrent to crime than U.S. jails are. But Mexico has lost control of its northern border to the drug cartels who have the whole legal system in the area under their thumb.

Looks to me like a fine case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The guy was a jerk!

The officer in California was definitely out-of-line. He blurred the lines of authority in using his police persona to confront the boy for boinkin' his daughter. He set a lousy example. If he wanted to straighten out the younger generation he should have had the cohones to do it as a father and not hide behind the power of the city. If he wanted to straighten out the younger generation maybe he should have had a better line on what his precious little girl was doing. Instead he let his frustration become anger at the wrong target—the hormone-soaked 15 year-old instead of his own testosterone-waning self.

Is the boy innocent? This brings up an anomaly in our culture. We turn a blind eye when consenting "adults" engage in all kinds of kinky stuff, even when such actions violate promises and ruin long-term relationships. And all the while we're looking at our kids and saying, "Do as I say, don't do as I do." We're all wusses.

The policeman threatened charges of sexual assault on his precious girl. Hmm…if I don't miss my guess he's teaching her that she can taunt and tease all she wants, but as soon as they guy initiates something that afterwards she feels guilty about she can cry wolf and society will charge to her rescue—or her father, anyway, borrowing the sword of the state. No fair again. We're all wusses.

I think it's pretty clear what happened. A couple of sets of parents were not really watching and a couple of hormone-crazed kids crossed the line. It's wrong of the kids, it has a way of ruining lives for a long time to come. (That's why the church says it's not a good idea.) And it was negligent of us parents, who could have had better communications with our kids to point them to examples of the power of restraint (preferably our own,) and then of parents who couldn't sit down and talk this out like adults, renegotiate limits, help the kids mop up the consequences and move on—like in 99% of these cases nationwide.

The guy doesn't have the cohones to be a cop.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Good God

Pentecost 17, Proper 20, September 19, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church    , the Rev. Paul Moore

Good God

Some researchers in Germany ran an experiment with some chimpanzees. They made it necessary to cooperate with another monkey in order to obtain a food reward. That wasn't so hard, until the dominant member of the team hogged all the food. Then the first monkey was unwilling to cooperate anymore! They ran the same experiment with human children. The children were much more apt to cooperate and share, and repeat the cooperative behavior even if they didn't get any reward for it. We seem to be hard-wired for altruistic behavior, and chimpanzees are not. Perhaps it is the real difference between the great apes and humans.

It is a big topic, one addressed repeatedly in Scripture. In the Old Testament lesson the prophet calls the people to honest living. The issue was not in what they were doing, but why they were doing it. They were following the letter of the law, but twisting it around to serve their own ends. Not much different from the dominant monkey! In the Epistle Lesson Paul calls on us to pray for those in authority. They draw any real authority they have from heaven itself. When the government is at peace the people are at peace. When the people are at peace it is easier to preach the Gospel of peace with God.

In the Gospel lesson Jesus addresses it directly. He uses a parable to set the stage. A manager mismanages the assets of the company. When he is caught he goes to the customers of the company and negotiates a deal with them on their outstanding invoices. His aim is really selfish--he wants to be able to have connections when he is unemployed! Then Jesus puts a twist on it: This man was shrewd in serving his own ends, but we should be shrewd in serving the kingdom's ends. In the end, serving one's own ends (wealth) is incompatible with serving God. Our faith calls us to be fully human. You can't be half and half.

So how do we serve God? You serve God by being like God. God has given us the good earth on which to live. God has given us people who know and love us. God has given us government that allows us to serve Him. God has given us the truth of His Son, Jesus, by which we have peace with God, with one another and with the creation itself. Jesus is the prime example of altruistic self-sacrificing love. He said, "Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend." He gave His own life on the cross for us, only to take it up again for us. He sent the Holy Spirit to call us into life with Him, which is our own best life. God has set the example.

And so we serve others as we have been served, in gratitude and love. We need not be overly concerned with our own good, since we have Someone who is watching over that. Some concern is wise—it allows us to maintain the resources necessary to serve others. Paul says in Ephesians 4 that we should not steal, but work with our hands in order to have something to share. This idea is not restricted to merely thievery and shoplifting. We steal whenever we exclude another from resources that they could rightfully use in order to consume them ourselves, like using up all the ground-water in cities when the ranches that produce our food are in drought, or polluting the air that the world breathes because we can afford the fossil fuels. We steal when we throw thousands of tons of uneaten food scraps in the landfill (we won't even feed them to our pigs) and build a wall along our southern border to keep the hungry and starving out (unless the famous plaque on Lady Liberty somehow applies to Ellis Island and not to the Rio Grande,) and when we deport workers who would willingly do the work we will not and then turn and buy cheap apples and live in homes we can afford because of the below-standard wages we pay them. It's the difference between being a monkey or a human. Paul enjoins us to make an honest living in the context of our community so that we give rather than take. It must always be a means to a larger end—that of serving others in Christ's name.

We can do this because, in that God pours Himself into us, we are free to pour ourselves into another. Suddenly it's not really important who gets the reward or even the praise. It's important that people are OK. And that means that they are supplied, it means that they have community, and it means that they have the justice that leads to peace.

We don't get it in our newspaper, but I really like the comic strip, Kudzu. In one episode a couple is sitting across the desk from the Rev. Will B. Dunn. They magnanimously announce, "We've decided that it's time to start a family. We just have so much love to give. Besides, the gold fish died!" We do have so much love to give, not because we have an open slot in our list of recipients, but because we have received so much love. And love is not a substance that one saves up and then dishes out. It is a stream of altruistic concern that, like a river, is enhanced by how much it delivers.

Dios Bueno

Pentecostés 17, Propio 20, Septiembre 19, 2010, Iglesia Episcopal de San Cristóbal,     El Rev. Paul Moore

Dios Bueno

Científicos en Alemania han realizado un experimento con chimpancés. Les pusieron en una situación en que la cooperación con otro era necesario para obtener el premio de comida. No fue difícil hasta que el más grande robó todo el premio, entonces el primero ya no quiso cooperar. Hicieron igual con niños humanos, y los humanos eran mucho más listos a cooperar y compartir el premio, y también repetían la cooperación aún si no compartían en el galardón. Parece que en el cerebro tenemos una predisposición a comportamiento altruista y el chimpancé no lo tiene. Tal vez esto es la diferencia entre el humano y los monos.

Esto es un tema grande en la biblia. En la lectura del Antiguo Testamento el profeta llama a la gente a vivir honestamente. La cuestión tenía que ver no tanto con el qué hacían, sino el porqué. Seguían a pie de la letra de la ley, pero la torcían para servir a sus propios fines egoístas. En eso no les quedaba mucha diferencia con el mono. En la Epístola San Pablo nos pide orar por los que tienen autoridad, pues la tienen directamente del cielo. Cuando el gobierno está en paz el pueblo está en paz, y cuando el pueblo está en paz es más fácil predicar el evangelio de la paz con Dios.

En el evangelio Jesús va al grano. Con una parábola nos ayuda a entender. Un mayordomo malgasta los bienes de su patrón. Cuando el patrón lo descubre él va a los clientes de su patrón y les rebaja sus deudas. Su fin es muy egoísta al fin, pues cuando ya no tiene trabajo quiere que la gente le reciba. Entonces Jesús da su aplicación que va a otro rumbo. Este hombre fue muy listo en servir a sus propios fines. Seamos listos en servir los fines del reino de Dios. Al fin, un puede servir a sus propios fines, que se simboliza por el dinero, o se puede servir a Dios. Nuestra fe nos llama a una humanidad completa, uno no debe ser medio hombre y medio mono.

¿Cómo servimos a Dios? Servimos a Dios en ser como Dios. Dios nos ha dado esta buena tierra en que vivir. Dios nos ha dado gente que nos conoce y nos ama. Dios nos ha dado un gobierno que nos permite servirle a Él. Dios nos ha dado la verdad de su hijo Jesucristo en quien tenemos paz con Él, el uno con el otro, y con la creación. Jesús es el ejemplo primario de un amor altruista. Él dijo, «Amor más grande no hay que esto, que un hombre da su vida por su amigo.» Él dio su vida por nosotros en la cruz, y luego la tomó vuelta por nosotros. Él mandó al Espíritu Santo a vivir con nosotros para compartir con nosotros su vida, que es nuestra mejor vida. Dios nos pone el ejemplo.

Por tanto, servimos a otros como hemos sido servidos, en gratitud y amor. No nos concierne mucho nuestro propio bien, porque hay Quién lo guarda. Si hay por qué cuidar según la necesidad, pues esto nos permite obtener los recursos necesarios para servir a otros. San Pablo dice en Efesios 4 que no debemos robar, sino labrar con las manos para que tengamos qué compartir. Esta idea no se aplica simplemente al robo, sino que cualquier situación en que le quitamos a otros recursos que bien y por derecho podrían usar para consumirlos nosotros, como tomar toda el agua del suelo para las ciudades dejando a los ranchos que nos producen los alimentos en sequía, y dañando el aire que respire todo el planeta porque nosotros tenemos con qué pagar los combustibles carboníferos. Robamos cuando tiramos a la basura toneladas diarias de migajas de comida mientras se construye una cerca para que los hambrientos no entren al país (acaso la placa que existe en la estatua de la libertad aplica solamente a Ellis Island y no al Rio Grande,) y robamos cuando deportamos a los que hicieran los trabajos que nosotros no queremos hacer y luego compramos manzanas baratas y compramos casas lujosas que ellos construyen pagándoles bajo el sueldo mínimo. Es la diferencia entre ser mono o ser humano. San Pablo nos urge trabajar en sentido honesto en el contexto de la comunidad para que damos más de lo que tomamos. Siempre los bienes de uno sirven un fin mayor, que es servir a otros en nombre de Cristo.

Esto lo podemos hacer porque en que Dios se ha dado a sí mismo a nosotros, podemos darnos a nosotros mismos a otros. Ya nos importa quién recoja el premio o las gracias. Nos importa que la gente estén bien. Esto quiere decir que tienen lo que necesitan, que tienen comunidad, y que viven una justicia que lleva a la paz.

En nuestro periódico no nos llega esta tira cómica, pero me gusta Kudzu. En una tira una pareja está con el Rev. Suvo Lunta. Con gran palabrería le anuncian que han de comenzar una familia. Es que tienen tanto amor para compartir, y también se les murió el pez dorado! Nosotros también tenemos tanto amor para compartir, no porque nos sobra para los que tenemos para amar, sino porque hemos recibido tanto. El amor no es una substancia que podemos almacenar y luego distribuir. El amor es un flujo de intención altruista, que como un río, se hace más grande según cuanto da.

Un Amor de Confianza

Pentecostés 18, Propio 21, Septiembre 26, 2010, Iglesia Episcopal de San Cristóbal,     El Rev. Paul Moore

Un Amor de Confianza

Ya era tarde, y la luz del día se nos iba. En latitudes trópicos el día termina pronto. Supe que el carro estaba cerca, pero era tiempos que andaba en esas zonas de los Andes. Elegí una montaña y la subimos, quemándonos los muslos de las piernas. Al llegar encima espié al carro—a otro lado de la quebrada estrecha, honda y llena de montes espesos, y no había camino para allá.

Tal vez te has sentido así, que corres para llegar a cierto lugar, pero al llegar tu meta está fuera de tu alcance. Es como subes y subes una escalera, solo para descubrir que está arrimado en la pared equivocada. Julian de Norwich, mística inglesa del siglo 13, describió el conocimiento como el sentido de una cosa, y la sabiduría, el buen uso del mismo. Tengo en mi escritorio un artículo titulado, «Cómo detectar las modas del día: Así lo hacen ejecutivos buenos para estar al tanto de la honda, aplastar a la competencia, y multiplicar las ganancias.» Pero, ¿la vida es aplastar a la competencia y multiplicar ganancias y nada más? O, en ese camino, ¿te hallarás en la montaña equivocada?

Seguro que el hombre rico en la parábola de Jesús de hoy se sintió así. Vale notar que el pobre tiene nombre: Lázaro. Le conocemos bien, tiene una identidad sólida, enraizada en la sociedad. Lo ves en las esquinas del centro de la ciudad. Se para allí con un letrero malhecho pidiendo limosnas. Tiene el pelo sucio y la ropa arrugada (¿te has dado cuenta que el que no tiene domicilio nunca es gordo?) Sabemos todos quién es Lázaro, tan bien que en Argentina un «lázaro» es cualquier mendigo. No nos ha de sorprender, pues, que cuando muere los ángeles le llevan al lado de Abraham. En esta vida no tuvo su descanso, pero en el venidero sí lo tiene. No obstante las apariencias no fue mal hombre.

En contraste, el rico no tiene nombre. Puede ser cualquier. Siempre está esquivando, evadiendo la vista hambrienta del necesitado. Prefiere ignorar las maneras en que sus maniobras para la ganancia dañan a la gente. Lo justifica diciendo que hasta Lázaro tuviera una vida mejor si trabajara. Pero a la vez, no tiene trabajo para Lázaro, pues el no da trabajo a tales gentes. Por tanto cuando muere lo entierren y ahí termina el cuento…casi. Ahora él sufre. Este «buen ciudadano» ha llegado a ser el juzgado y el condenado. No es que todos tenemos que sufrir y gozar, y se igualan las cosas o aquí o allá. No, si le moral de esta parábola tiene un sentido es que la manera en que vivimos aquí tiene un efecto en cómo se vive allá. Si importa en qué pared está arrimado tu escalera, si importa qué montaña piensas subir. Y el rico no vio nada en la vida que le oriente a la verdad de la vida venidera.

Entonces, ¿aquí dónde está la buena noticia? Abraham le dice al rico que sus hermanos tienen el testimonio de Moisés y los profetas. Ah, pues si hubo qué le oriente en esta vida a la venidera, solo que no lo prestó atención. Esa orientación la tenemos en la revelación del corazón de Dios. Nosotros también tenemos esa revelación. Jesús también murió, como estos dos, pero Él volvió de la muerte. El arruinó la muerte y trajo una redención a todas nuestras muertes. En sus manos está la resolución de todo al fin de los tiempos. La vida, muerte y resurrección de Jesús es reflejo total de cómo es Dios Padre. El amor que mandó a Jesús a la cruz es el amor de Dios para su creación. El poder que le resucitó de los muertos es el poder de Dios para con nosotros. La sabiduría que diseñó tal redención es la sabiduría que nos orienta en la vida ahora. Esto es, pues, un amor de confianza.

El rico puso su confianza en su amor a su dinero y al fin no le sirvió bien. Lázaro no tuvo en qué poner su confianza menos en los corazones de gente generosa que de vez en vez le vieron. Estos corazones conocieron y expresaron el amor de Dios, tal como hoy deben los nuestros. Y al fin sí le sirvió. Nosotros también podemos confiar en el amor de Dios. Nos orienta en las tormentas de la vida. Nos indicará qué montaña subir en la vida, y al fin nos ha de servir bien.

Mi aguililla está otra vez saliendo a cazar. Soy cetrero, y tengo una aguililla con qué cazo animales pequeños. Es uno de las cosas que hago para mantener la sanidad. Tal vez tengan sus dudas en cuanto a su eficacia, pero eso es otro cuento. El mes de septiembre es un mes de restablecer la confianza. Durante el verano lo tengo gordo, y no tiene que cazar nada. Su único trabajo es deshacerse de las plumas gastadas del año anterior y crecer nuevas que son sanas y fuertes para este año. Y en mí él no ha tenido mucho interés. Pero ahora es tiempo de volver a la caza. He tenido que restablecer la confianza que tuvimos el año pasado, y esa confianza es lo que nos orienta en el campo. El confía de que los perros y yo hemos de producir algo para perseguir. El confía de que le he de ayudar con lo que caza para que no se lastime ni dañe sus plumas. El confía de que le he de traer otra vez a la casa a dormir en un lugar seco y sano. Y yo confío que él ha de hacer lo que le es natural donde yo le pueda observar, y que no me vaya a ir.

Confían en Dios, hermanos y hermanas. Como el gran cetrero celestial, a Él se le puede confiar. El te orientará en la vida y te dará una dirección. Él te indicará lo que te es importante para esta vida y la venidera. Él te pondrá en una comunidad de otros que también confían en Él, con quien compartir el camino al cielo, y a ti te pide que confíes de su dirección y que no te vayas a ir.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Slay the Messenger!

On Good Morning America this morning Congressman Mike Pence responded to Christine O'Donnell's admission that she had dabbled in witchcraft by saying she had an obligation to explain herself to the voting public (and I agree.) He then went on to make an interesting appeal. He asked us to look at the message, not the messenger. It's interesting because humanity has never been good at that. We're far more prone to attack the messenger.

Socrates was executed for his message.

Jesus was crucified for His message.

The apostle Paul was persecuted and finally executed for his message.

Mohammed fought wars launched by his enemies with the intent of killing him for his message.

Martin Luther was hounded by conservative elements in the church for his message.

Martin Luther King was murdered for his message.

Why? Because it works. In the majority of cases if you close the mouth of the messenger you no longer hear the message. Of course, this doesn't mean the message was or was not worth hearing, and it doesn't necessarily mean the message won't find another mouthpiece, as in the case of all of the above (save Mohammed who was not killed by his enemies.) But we have learned a skepticism about messages and messengers gleaned from messages that were incomplete, inaccurate, or even downright maliciously misleading. We hold to an assumption that if the messenger is untrustworthy then the message is suspect (and therefore not worthy of being heard.) Of course, this does not mean that the message is in fact untrustworthy, but perhaps because it has proved so in enough cases we are willing to risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

One problem comes when the messenger IS the message. Not all messengers claim this, but some do. Socrates was so caught up in his message that when offered exile instead of death he chose death as a lasting testimony to his conviction that he was not guilty of wrong-doing—he chose death for his message. Jesus brought the message that He IS the message, very confusing to those who condemn him. So then maybe, just maybe, slaying the messenger is a kind of Medieval test of the message. If the message can survive the messenger it is worth hearing. Barbaric, unscientific, and in the end horribly unjust, I submit, but perhaps we've found that it works. In the case of Jesus it did—He is the only messenger I know that survived His execution!

So am I saying we should slay the messenger? No, absolutely not. With the one notable exception above, the message may not be the messenger, but the two are inextricably intertwined and related. Judge each one separately, but then put them together and take a second look. Try that one on for size, Mike.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

She Could Have Known

Reporter Inez Sainz, who calls herself the hottest reporter in Mexico, entered the Jets' locker room after a tense game against the Baltimore Ravens (which they lost.) She got "harassed" by the players, and Jets' owner Woody Johnson, has publically apologized. I don't condone unwelcome sexual advances of any kind, and the apology publically upholds that ideal of our culture. The men were out of line.

On the other hand, she said she wasn't too concerned about what happened…understandably. That kind of behavior in Mexico is quite common and not seen as offensive. Perhaps they have a better sense of the real vs. the ideal. Ideally players will act the gentleman and ignore the cleavage and the tight jeans. Reality, however, is often quite different. Football is driven by testosterone, in the males who play and in the males who watch. (The women's side of that story is another one altogether.) Pumped up like that, they go into their "cave" (the locker room) to nurse their wounds, and low and behold, into their space comes a female, an attractive one at that, wearing what our culture deems suggestive clothing. We men are culturally and physiologically wired to be the initiators. Granted, the substance of the initiative behavior was out of bounds, and is not OK, but it is certainly understandable given the circumstances.

If she doesn't want this to happen in the future (which is not at all clear at this point) perhaps she shouldn't combine testosterone with suggestion. After all, we men are rather hard-wired to be the initiators.

But it does launch the dialog about the ideal vs. the real. Ideally we are redeemed in Christ, fully forgiven and acceptable to a holy God. Reality, however, is that we continue to struggle against sin. We must be honest about both, and we must not confuse the two. And finally, we must recognize that our struggling is a grace given by God, and even our failings can work His will in the world. What that will might be in terms of Sainz and the Jets is yet to be seen, but perhaps it can help us not be so uptight about our own failings without losing sight of the goal.

Monday, September 13, 2010

To Keep a Promise

30 years ago Nancy (now) Brinker promised her sister the world. At a time when people thought breast cancer was contagious, her sister, Susan, died of it. On her death bed she asked Nancy to make it so her death was not meaningless, and Nancy promised to find a cure. She launched the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation with just $200 and a shoebox full of contacts. Now, 30 years later, her foundation has assets of 1.5 billion and is the largest non-profit non-governmental source of funding for breast cancer research. Due partly to research funded by the foundation, survival rates have risen to %98 in developed countries. The reality today speaks volumes about Susan's relationship with her sister, but it is most eloquent about Nancy. She is a woman of incredible vision and drive.

God saw the relationship between divinity and creation crack and crumble in an instant one day in a garden, and promised to redeem it. Over the millennia in countless ways God has been up to fulfilling the promise. Now, through Christ, the tension that seems so natural between being human and being divine is an unnecessary burden to bear, we can lay it down and be finally truly free, not that we become gods, but that we participate and harmonize with the divine in such a way that we begin to share divine characteristics and properties. The ancient doctors of the Christian faith called it "theosis," from "theo," the Greek word for God.

Nancy shares a bit of that theosis, in that she also dreamed big for the good of creation, and made it happen. Hats off to a powerful woman who shows us something of what God is like.

Like Water to a Fish

You've all seen it before. The little boy sits in his high chair glaring. He didn't want to play "airplane" with his peas. He threw chicken nuggets on the floor, he even turned his nose up at ice cream for dessert! And to all his nastiness his mother forces her frustration out of sight, and looks for another way to engage, another way to break through the barrier of tiredness and willfulness. All of a sudden his eyes begin to droop, and before you know it his head is headed for the mashed potatoes that still remain on the tray. A quick hand catches him, and soon he is nestling into mommy's warm shoulder on his way to bath and bed. All through the frustrating scene there is a constant. Mommy loves her little boy, and there's nothing in the world that can change that.

A mother's love is one image of God's love, but there are others in Scripture. In today's Gospel lesson. Jesus is criticized by the Jewish leaders for mixing with the wrong crowd. In response Jesus tells them the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Which one gives greater joy in heaven, the righteous one or the sinner who repents? The righteous already knows the love of God, when the sinner comes to accept the love of God it is clear that it has always been there. You get the point now. The love of God is like water to a fish, like air to a bird, always there, always sustaining, always life-giving, and relentless in its desire to be known and to be in relationship.

So what difference does it make? Ask a fish or a bird! A fish will die without water, a bird is earth-bound without the air. You and I are nothing without the love of God, in it we can become everything we should be. More concretely, the Love God makes us free.

The love of God makes us to be OK. The love of God prods us to move.

The Love of God makes us free. The same little boy who had such a bad time at supper one day learned to walk. As he took his first steps his mother was right there ready to keep his head from colliding with the corner of the coffee table. He may or may not know it, but his mother's love is giving him the freedom to learn to walk. We are children of our heavenly Father. The love He has for us is the very love that created the world. As we learn to live as we were made to live His loving hands are right there around us. We can risk, make mistakes, even fall—God will always be there. The cave that you fear contains the treasure that you seek. The love of God gives us the courage to face the fear and find the treasure, which is relationship with Him, with one another, with ourselves, and with the earth.

The Love of God makes us to be OK. Thomas Harris, MD published a book in 1969 that became a New York Best Seller. I'm OK, You're OK, was a transactional analysis approach to human maturity. The late Bishop Donis Patterson of Dallas once rephrased the title. I'm not OK, you're not OK, but because of Christ, that's OK! He missed the point of the book, but he nailed redemption right on the money! Our creation is good, we start out OK. But sin corrupts us and then we're not OK. So God did something about it, something we couldn't do—He sent His Son to redeem us. Now in Christ, we're OK with God, and we can become OK with one another, with ourselves and with the earth.

The Love of God prods us to move. Movement is part of healthy human existence. Learning to walk, becoming OK…when you stop moving you're dead. The question is, where are we going? Things are not as they should be. We are ignorant of wisdom, we are short-sighted in action, and sometimes we're just out-of-sorts bad, like the little boy at the beginning of this sermon. Where we need to go is toward what God made us to be. His greatest glory is shown when we are who we should be, the greatest bliss is ours when we are as we should be. It's a win-win, who wouldn't want it? Sometimes God entices us. I had an administrator once who was a past master at facilitating my action. I told myself that when I grew up I wanted to be like him...God entices us into what is good for us. Sometimes God pushes us. In Ecuador once I ran across a pack train on a trail. One donkey wouldn't climb the muddy hill. One of the drivers took his tail, bent it in half, and squeezed. All of a sudden the donkey thought better of his stubbornness! But we can know this, whatever God prods us into is for His best glory and our greatest happiness. We can depend on that.

The love of God is everywhere, even in money. Your pledge tells the world that you are free to do with what is yours what you believe is consistent with who you are. At the very core of you is your relationship with God. You are not bound by the expectations of a consumeristic world. You are free to manage your finances in such a way that they reflect that inner truth of who you are. You are free to give.

Your pledge tells the world that in Christ you are OK. The world makes demands on your material possessions, but you are the owner of them, not the world. YOU are capable of choosing what you buy, not your television set. You can also choose to live on less than 110% of your income by trimming things that are really not necessary. You're OK, you can do that. You can even choose to tithe.

Your pledge pushes you to move. God has set a pattern for giving that is a picture of the heart's relationship with Him. 10% for God's peoples' needs, 90% for your own needs. If you are giving less than 10% then here's your push—see what you can do to move it toward that goal. I'll tell you now that Karisse and I give 10% and more, and we are not in need.

The love of God is the very foundation of our being. What is the area in which you feel bound? God wants you to know that if you just relax in His love you will be free. What is the area in which you do not feel OK? God's love for you holds you to be well worth the effort of loving. What is the area in which you need to move? God wants you to move, God will push you to move, because He loves you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The God Gene

Scientists in Germany have isolated the ability of humans to be altruistic with one another as one of the primary differences between ourselves and the great apes. If this ability is the place where we are pre-programmed to seek the highest good possible, it makes us incorrigibly religious—homo orans, the praying man.

Genesis portrays us as the pinnacle of creation, not just last, but strategically balanced between creation and eternity—breath of God, clay of the earth. The King James misleads us moderns with the words, "fill the earth and subdue it." They reflect the last vestiges of a medieval understanding of society which was highly hierarchical, with God at the top and everything below serving the next step higher. A better rendering for today would be "fill the earth and manage it."

Here in we are called to offer creation precisely what it largely cannot offer itself—the call to serve the higher good. It falls to us to manage, to keep as to keep a garden, but not our own garden, though we are sustained by it, but the garden belonging to that higher good.

"Good", "God," one word is the shorter version of the other, as if the first is the particular, the latter is the general. That which is good by definition draws its goodness from God, and in that it partakes of godness, and so we call it good. The priest is the one who stands between the divine and the community of faith. Humanity stands as priest of creation. When we fail we are merely animals.

Of Monkeys and Men

Researchers in Germany are exploring the real difference between the great apes and humans. It's part of a particularly Western quest to establish the real meaning of what it means to be human. Other cultures around the world do not concern themselves with the question. After all, monkeys are part of the community in their own rite and in their own niche, and humans occupy another part of the community in our own right and in our own niche. But since the Reformation when the church's definition of human as having a soul found itself without scientific support, our increasingly empirical society has wondered what functional difference sets us apart from our closest relatives, the great apes.

Their findings are quite telling. It seems the difference lies in our ability to put ourselves in another's skin and see the world from the other's point of view. Empathy. The ability to relate to you and not merely use you or work out a mutually beneficial truce that lasts as long as my perceived benefit outweighs my perceived investment, the desire to cooperate even at my own expense, is clearly present in children from an early age, but absent in the great apes at any age.

So the missing link has been found. Depth psychologists like Jung talk about the concepts of the higher self vs. the lower or darker self. We acclaim the one who gives of him/herself without seeking reward, and call those who use others "inhuman." No matter how unjust the war, the self-sacrificing soldier is a hero. The difference between a politician and a statesman is the clear trust we place in a statesman to serve the larger good and not some hidden personal or local agenda. And Jesus said, "There is no greater love than when a man lays down his life for his friend."

Have these scientists discovered the place where we are genetically programmed to relate to the highest good possible? Could we call it the God gene?