Tuesday, March 30, 2010

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The Most Important Things

This was passed on to me by a friend, and I recommend it to you. I found it very telling.


Monday, March 29, 2010

The Body of Christ

In the 5th Century the Bishop of Hippo was a man named Augustine. Augustine was one of the really great Christian thinkers of all time. He preached a sermon one Easter to people who had been baptized the night before at the Great Vigil. Until now they had been dismissed just before the Eucharistic Prayer. They were not allowed to even witness the Holy Meal. Now they are to partake for the very first time. The bread and wine are already placed on the altar. In this sermon he says,

These things, my brothers, are called sacraments because there is a difference between their appearance and their true meaning. In appearance they have a physical form; in their true meaning they have a spiritual effect. If you want to understand what is meant by 'the body of Christ', you must attend to the words of the apostle: You are the body of Christ and his members [I Cor. 12:27]. So then if you are the body of Christ and his members it is the mystery of yourselves that is placed on the Lord's Table; it is the mystery of yourselves that you receive. It is to what you are that you make the response, 'Amen', and in making that response you give your personal assent. You hear 'the body of Christ' and you answer, 'Amen.' Be a member of Christ's body and make your 'Amen' true. Be a member of the body of Christ then, and make your Amen true.

The mystery of the table is the mystery of what you are in Christ. It is the mystery of the Church that we celebrate when we celebrate the Eucharist. In our John 13 we see that John does not tell the story of bread and wine, of body and blood. This we get from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. What John talks about is who we are in Christ. He first gives an object lesson: He washes the disciples' feet. Then He teaches: "If I as your rabbi have done this to you, then you should wash one another's feet." (NIV) He is their Lord, but He makes Himself their servant. The nature of this new humanity that Jesus creates is one predicated on loving service, not force of will. He ends with, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." This, then, is the Church: We are not the people in whom Jesus is known because of our pure theology, or our political stance, or our connections in the community, or our moral superiority. We are a people in whom Jesus is known through the way we love one another.

The community of love is a godly community, for God is love. Jesus is about to go into that great ordeal which shows just how much He loves us. He will suffer and die the cruelest death known in His day. He will rise again and send the Holy Spirit, by whose presence He will continue with the disciples in love and power. His loving heart has one goal reflected in John 14:1-3: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (NIV) He extends us the hospitality of His own home, and that home is none other than the mystery of the Trinity itself.

  • Being the Body of Christ gathered around His Table to be a community predicated on that great loving hospitality of Christ.
  • Being a member of the Body of Christ means Belonging: We belong at the table--there is a place for YOU. We belong to one another, we all belong.
  • Being a member of the Body of Christ means Participating: We approach confidently, for this is our true home. We take our place, each of us bringing what is unique to our own selves.
  • Being a member of the Body of Christ means Sharing: We share one cup and one bread with one another, the symbol of our unity, we share His love with the world around us; for that purpose we are in the world.


The Eucharist that we celebrate tonight, then, is the pattern in symbolic form for everything to come in the next weeks: Good Friday is the price God paid to welcome us at His table. Holy Saturday is the preparation time any meal takes. Easter is the beginning of the banquet. Pentecost is the strength given by the food. Come, then, and open your hearts to the presence of the God who shares Himself to make us truly ourselves.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care Reform: Surgery or Bandaid?

Well, they did it! The Democrats crammed it through Congress and are now crowing on Capital Hill. History has been made! Yes, history has been made as it always is made--by repeating the past. There have been other draconian victories, some have proven prophetic, setting patterns for the future and others have been more reflective--as in "comin' back to bite you in the butt!" Partisan Democrats are feeling decidedly triumphant, confident of having blazed trails into the fuure that will be trod by many generations, partisan Republicans are feeling strong-armed, sure that this will seal their victory in November, and moderates aren't real sure what's just happened.

Either way, I'm not convinced that the real issue has been addressed. The real issue, that which has caused the mess we're in is what Edmund Friedman termed, the failure of nerve. There is an ad on TV about a Honda place in Waco, TX who will sell you a "safe car with no recalls." Everything is about safety, and nothing is about personal responsibility. There comes a time when the option for safety at all costs runs afoul of that great American value, the foundation of our country, freedom. Freedom implies responsibility, which is the ability to make sound decisions for myself and those with whom I have influence. Safety may or may not be the "sound" course of action, especially in the short run. Perhaps great risk is needed.

This bill is billed as making all Americans "safe," by forcing us all into some sort or other of a health insurance policy. Like automobile insurance without the liability factor, we've opted for safety rather than responsibility. Responsibility would require that we reinfuse the vocation of physician with respect and honor that reserves malpractice suits to that which is truly malintentioned, and then require the physician to make house visits and do his or her best by us, and make themselves trustworthy once again. It would require that medical professionals return to the spirit of the Hippocratic oath, and charge enough to reflect their status, but not their vacations. It would require pharmaceutical companies to manufacture medicines and sell them for what they are worth, and not what insurance companies will pay for them. It would require that lawyers have the guts to look a fool in the eye and say, "I won't take that to court."

It would require the nerve of all Americans to take a hit to the chin now and again and stand up again with pride without trying to knock someone else down just because we hurt a bit, to hold out a helping hand to someone else who couldn't get up right away, and stop the madness of always trying to find someone else to blame for our stupidity.

I don't think that's in this bill, or in any of the alternatives that have bantered around Washington for the last 13 months. I don't think Congress has the nerve to do such a thing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Right Response

Our last Baptismal Covenant promise reads, "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?" We respond with, "I will with God's help." In this promise we commit ourselves to living out the Kingdom of God on earth. In it we divorce ourselves from the narrow notion that since the fullness of the Kingdom comes only in heaven, and that sin and brokenness will always be part of this earth, then the Kingdom is not intended for this earthly life, and injustices must be tolerated. It reminds us of the contribution of one of the Anglican Great Thinkers of which I spoke during Epiphany Season, F. D. Maurice believed that Christ's death and resurrection redeemed all people, and that therefore a society that did not reflect that redemption was untrue to its true nature and calling, and must be changed.

There is a great Anglican of our day who is an icon of what this is all about. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was born to working class parents in a township in South Africa in 1931. His father was a teacher, his mother a cleaning lady in a school for the blind. One day a white Anglican priest, Trevor Huddleston, met him and his mother on the road and the cleric tipped his hat to his mother. It impressed him that a white man would do so,

Huddleston became one of his heroes throughout life. His family could not afford to send him to medical school, so he went into teaching instead. From there he eventually studied theology and was ordained, he sought degrees in divinity from Kings College, London, and served parishes in England for a few years, then he returned to South Africa and began the career which is so well known to us. His activism for the fall of apartheid was predicated on peaceful resistance, winning him eventually the Gandhi Peace Prize, among others. He is most well known for his Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and he has even been criticized for forgiving those who had maintained Apartheid. He is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and has received numerous honorary doctorate degrees. He is currently Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, unique in all the Anglican Communion.

Perhaps what is most salient about his activism is his emphasis on peaceful resistance and forgiveness. The model of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been replicated in the Solomon Islands and in other places in the world. He is an outspoken critic of corruption in governments around the globe, and yet quick to offer forgiveness as the way forward rather than violence.

Maybe someone here is a future Desmond Tutu, and I would welcome that possibility with gratitude. But in another way all of us are, even if the sphere of our influence is not global. Hints at how this can be done are to be found in John 12. Jesus is once again in the home of his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. True to form, Martha is serving the meal and Lazarus is reclining at table with Jesus. Mary, also true to form, comes in and lavishes on Jesus an incredibly extravagant act of worship and adoration. A denarius was a day’s minimum wage, so a pound of nard cost about a year's wage. It would be the equivalent of a five oz. jar of Clive Christian's No. 1 perfume. Judas Iscariot chides her for her opulence, citing a very charitable motive—to help the poor, but the writer lets us in on a dirty secret. Judas' intentions are far from noble, he is a thief and this puts more within his reach. Jesus' response trumps even Judas' disingenuous subterfuge. “Leave her alone. She is acting in a way that testifies to my death and burial. The poor you will always have, but you will not always have me.” And the lesson is, "Treat the poor in the light of my death and resurrection."

So once again, our fight for justice and peace springs from the nature of God, more specifically, as revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ. Those who suffer injustice suffer as Christ suffered. Those who are victims of violence suffer as Christ suffered. His suffering led to resurrection and victory. We must work to make their suffering redemptive also, or we have denied the power of the resurrection. The way to do this is the way of self sacrifice. To fight apartheid Desmond Tutu pushed for a policy of disinvestment, asking western companies to refuse to invest in South Africa. He knew it would hit the poor the hardest, but in his words, then the suffering of the poor would have a purpose. It would become a Good Friday, with the hope of Easter Sunday's resurrection. Disinvestment produced a resurrection 1985 when precipitous inflation and street demonstrations triggered the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison.

The reality of injustice is often most hidden from the eyes of the powerful. To live into this Baptismal Covenant Promise we must listen to those less powerful than we. Some are more powerful than we. Healthcare insurance abuse and bad lawyers are in a runaway Toyota and nobody seems to be able to un-stick the accelerator. More than one politician in Washington has resigned in the last months citing out-of-control corruption in our government that they can no longer fight. But others are less so. How about the Chelsea Kings and the Amber Dubois's? How about the undocumented workers who are underpaid and overworked? How about the fact that crimes committed by minorities still get higher penalties than whites for the same crimes? How about banks that charge overdraft fees by the day and mail your notices by snail mail that takes 3 days? How about housing policies that keep people on the streets? To do nothing at all, or worse, to continue the injustice, betrays our faith, it declares our conviction that the resurrection of Christ has no power in this world. But if it has no power in this world of shadows, how can it have power in the real world of the eternal realm?

So what can we do? On March 10, Archbishop Tutu and his daughter, the Rev. Mpho Tutu, appeared on Good Morning America to tout their new book: Made for Goodness. In it they show how each of us is made for goodness, that badness makes us ill and depletes us, but doing good strengthens and builds us up. The Archbishop offered this example, and I paraphrase, “Say someone really roughs you up, and you want to give as good as you got, but you don’t. In the quietness afterwards there comes over you a real peace, a serenity that is really indescribable.” His daughter told how a smile can be a blessing, a kind word or a gesture, can encourage goodness in others as well. To die to the impulse to reflect back the pain, to absorb it instead and redirect the energy into goodness and the encouragement of goodness in others, this is to live the power of the resurrection in the land of the living.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wind Power in West Texas

We recently went to visit our son and daughter-in-law in New Mexico. Driving toward Lubbock we were startled to see the extent to which the electric companies have begun harnessing the wind for electric power. We drove miles and miles through what seemed to be a forest of tall, stately wind turbines, each one with deceptively fast blades cranking smoothly around in the ever-present west-Texas wind.

I had a sudden feeling of claustrophobia in the middle of the wide-open prairie of west Texas--a most disconcerting feeling!

It's great to see power produced in a way that does not depend on fossil fuels, but what unknown and unseen damage is being done in this, one more greedy grab for resources on our fragile earth?

The Drive to Los Alamos via the North Pole

We left sunny and hot central Texas shortly after 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 14th, with almost 700 miles and what we assumed would be 12 hours of driving ahead of us. We would arrive at our son and daughter-in-law's late, but with three dogs and two hawks in tow, a night in a motel would be more bother than it was worth.

We made good time to Lubbock, TX. True to form, we were half-way through the miles and still well inside Texas. The flat, flat flatness of west Texas is a sight to behold--for 200 miles. By the time we ate some supper and ran the dogs a bit it was pushing nightfall, even after springing our clocks ahead an hour for daylight savings' time the night before. We had to assume that after we passed Muleshoe, TX and Farewell, TX, and pushed into New Mexico that the scenery didn't really change all that much. One expects a big blue line splitting the landscape, with dry, hot Texas Mesquite on one side and dry hot New Mexico desert on the other, but the maps are deceiving in that regard.

They are deceiving in another regard. It seems it just takes forever to get anywhere in Texas, but once in New Mexico, although the state is 400 miles from north to south and just a tad shorter east to west, it just seems things are much closer. The drive from Amarillo to the state line takes what feels like a week, whereas from the line to Albuquerque is something you would do before dinner. (Well, not quite, but you get the drift.)

So having crossed the line we knew that, though it was 10:00 p.m. by then, it was not a cause for concern. We wended our way through Clovis to Fort Sumner, and north toward Santa Rosa. It sprinkled on us a bit, but we weren't worried, all the really important stuff was in the cab of the truck. But as we approached Santa Rosa the wind picked up considerably. More than once tumbleweeds tumbled across in the headlights ahead of us. Traffic was light, so we enjoyed the time talking and otherwise just watched the miles appear in the headlights and drift off into the night.

At Santa Rosa we got up on I-40, knowing now that the time was short. Only 150 miles to go--until it began to rain in earnest. The rain turned in a space of about 5 minutes max to hail to sleet and then to a blinding, thick wet snow. We slowed our pace to 30 miles an hour, and I kicked the truck into 4X4 for good measure. Before you knew it the road began to accumulate the white stuff, and I began looking for semi tracks to help me plow what was quickly pushing 3 inches. When the last exit for Santa Rosa drifted by I wondered if we shouldn't have bothered with a motel for the night and challenge the elements in the morning when they'd spent their fury, but I let it drift on by and thought I'd get off at the next exit...well, that was 6 miles down the road, about 20 minutes' white-knuckled drive with the fog lights on, and by then we figured we were committed anyway. Leni told us we should be driving out of the snow soon enough, so we chose to soldier on.

Clines' Corners and our exit lies 54 miles to the west of Santa Rosa. At about mile 20 we came to a halt. Cars and red tail-lights lined the road ahead for as far as we could see in the snowfall. We sat, we talked, we discussed crossing the median and heading back, and finally we figured the dogs needed to relieve themselves once more and that I should brave the elements to offer them some relief. I dug my frozen boots out of the back and crammed my toasty toes into them, and let the dogs out--well, they as much as burst out of the box, it was all I could do to keep them in line long enough to leash the larger two. They romped in what had now become 6 inches of snow, I saw at least one do her business, and then Karisse yelled, "We're moving!" I had the key on my belt, she couldn't move the truck, and besides, if we were really moving I needed to be in the truck, not outside of it! So I dashed back, crammed the poor dogs into their box once again, and jumped in the cab--and drove 20 yards and stopped again....for another 30 minutes. Finally, an hour and a quarter after we had stopped, a state trooper released us to move forward, one at a time so we didn't cause another problem, and we were on our way again. The snow slowed, and we actually got up to about 50 miles an hour. I actually took the truck out of 4X4 for a while, but then as we approached Clines' Corners it began to snow in earnest once again, and when we got onto highway 285 that road had not been plowed. Clines' Corners is only a glorified truck stop, so we had to see what we could do.

We drove into the night, thankful for a relatively heavy vehicle and four-wheel-drive. In no time at all we left all other traffic behind us. I kept checking the temperature outside, fearful most of all of the sudden appearance of black ice on the road. The temperature hovered at the freezing point, and, thanks be to God, there seemed to be enough heat in the ground to keep the roadway itself ice-free. Bridges, on the other hand, were another matter. The wind whipped in from the north-east driving snow across them in drifts. My white-knuckled grip on the wheel would then get downright intense until we drifted off onto terra more firma. At one point tracks led over the edge of the other side of the road into a gully. We had no idea whether it was a ranch-truck tending to cold cattle, or someone in desperate trouble. But we whizzed by them before I thought to stop and check, and with the advancing hour and the cold I turned more cowardly than noble. Finally the snow stopped altogether and we descended toward Santa Fe, I actually turned the brights on for the first time since Santa Rosa, and at 2:00 a.m., just to hedge our bets, we stopped for gas.

We threaded our way through a very sound-asleep capital of the state, and called the kids when we were at the turn-off to Los Alamos. At about 3:30 we finally collapsed into a toasty bed, and slept well into the morning. When I went out to get the final stuff from the truck in the morning I figure we were carrying 50 lbs. of extra ice and road gravel stuck to the various parts of the vehicle! But we had arrived safe and sound, the dogs were thrilled to once again be released from the box, and we were ready to begin our days with our kids in a very beautiful land!