Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tiger Moms

Much buzz is going around about the book on Tiger Moms. The author has had death threats by her detractors, and has been elevated to star status by her supporters. It's obviously a hot-button issue. Most hot-button issues are driven by emotions, and most emotions are aroused by our perception of our realities. We feel strongly about our kids and we feel strongly about how to raise them. Sometimes that has to do with imitating Mom and Dad, other times it has to do with precisely the opposite.

What seems abundantly clear, however, is that we don't agree on how it should be done. It's part of a bigger issue. There has been in our society a rather widespread breakdown of the consensus on morality and values that undergirds a cohesive and stable society. That's another way of saying that we're going through massive changes. There are the conservative voices like the Tiger Mom that seeks to maintain values from times past that have proven themselves effective in some ways. There are progressive voices that try to explore new options in light of values from the past that from a current perspective were not helpful. But we're not at all in agreement about the things that should and shouldn't be changed. Consequently, there is widespread experimentation with all kinds of models, and the most volatile of them all are the models we employ when we seek to form and socialize the next generation. No wonder the buzz.

So what now? I think the saving issue lies in energetic and brutally honest, but mutually respectful dialog. This morning on Good Morning America Juju Chang interviewed the author of the book Tiger Moms. Both are Korean in background, both were raised by the arch-typical "tiger mom," and each came to conclusions on how to raise their children almost diametrically opposite one another. They were straight-forward about their differences, but also respectful of one another. Each could see in the end strengths in the others' perspective, but maintained the core of their own at the same time. It left me with a sense that the dialog itself is the key to the future. We could get polarized more and more on a greater and greater number of issues until we fracture and fall apart as a society. Our political structure will follow and that is usually a rather bellicose and bloody military road, one we walked one day in our past and are still feeling the effects. We don't want to go there again. It seems the only way forward is an all-out concerted effort to rebuild a social consensus. That has to happen through this kind of dialog. It will take a long time, perhaps even 20 years, but it will not happen if we don't begin to talk to one another now.

In my humble opinion the interpersonal values that have become paramount in our society are 1) a willingness to reflect and develop as deep a sense of self-awareness we possibly can (Socrates said that un unreflected life is not worth living) 2) an eagerness to engage, to speak genuinely and energetically about what we believe to be right and helpful in society and what we find to be destructive, and then 3) be willing to listen carefully to the other, consider their opinions respectfully and reflectively, and seek to find common ground.

That's my buzz about the topic.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Leveling the Earth

Epiphany 4, January 30, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

It seems that in the time of the prophet Micah there was an especially gifted shepherd named Ishmael. By his special skills and not a little finagling and horse-trading he had managed to bring into his flock a whole line of really special animals. The rams were big, burly and masculine, the ewes were dainty and feminine, and the lambs they produced were almost always perfect. This worked greatly to Ishmael's advantage. Since he had managed to get a corner on most of the good breeders in the land, the rest of the shepherds of Israel didn't have quite the same quality in theirs. Seeing as the law required that for sacrifices one had to bring a lamb without blemish, this gave him quite an advantage at the temple.

Soon, however, his neighbors began to come by before the time of sacrifice to ask a favor. Would he trade of his fine lambs for one of their older, yet perhaps not quite so special lambs? They truly had nothing to offer, and everyone knew that Ishmael's lambs were of the best quality. In fact, there was buzz that the Almighty had specially blessed Ishmael, so that a lamb from his flock would garner more merit, more favor, perhaps even a special place in the heart of the Holy One of Israel. But what use had Ishmael for another lamb of poorer quality than his own? He instead named a price. Not just any price, but a price that reflected the perfect nature of his lambs. Reluctantly, his neighbors lined up outside his tent. Quite soon Ishmael was taking quite a bundle of shekels to the bank every week. He looked forward to the times of sacrifice, because they tended to suit him quite well.

One day he ran out of lambs truly without blemish. There was still one neighbor at his door. He agreed to sell him one with a tiny spot just under his left front leg where the Levite who certified the animals was not likely to notice. But the Levite was good to his job. "Where did you get this animal? It is an outrage to the Lord!"

"Ishmael sold it to me for half price," the man admitted.

"I'll have a word with Ishmael," replied the angry Levite, but since the man had truly nothing else to bring, not even two young pigeons, he let him through. "No guarantees with the Almighty, now, you know."

When the Levite met with Ishmael they had a little chat. Over the best wine that Ishmael had to offer (and not just a little of it,) they struck a deal. The Levite's eyes would be blinded to certain insignificant blemishes by a certain quantity of wool delivered to his tent in the middle of the night. Soon the Levite was also looking forward to the times of sacrifice. And with time most of the priests were in on it as well.

This all went along quite well for some time, until the pesky prophet Micah came along. Prophets never have any fun. Their business is usually to ruin things for folks. Sure enough, Micah is true to his nature. "God doesn't want any more sacrifices," he declares.

"What?! No more sacrifices?" Ishmael went and had a little talk with him, the Levite had a talk with him, too. All the neighbors had a talk with him… But he was resolute. He could not change the word of the Lord.

"Well, what are we to do?" They all asked.

And Micah replied with the enigmatic words the Lord had given him, "Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God." Didn't really help a thing… Who can make money doing that!

But it is true, God is the great leveler. When things get out of whack, when the point gets lost in the shuffle, when the tail starts wagging the dog, the word of prophecy always says: "Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God." In the Epistle lesson today St. Paul argues clearly for the leveling action of God. The powers of this world don't hold a candle to God, he argues. God's weakness is stronger than our strength, God's foolishness is wiser than our wisdom. Therefore, the Cross is a stumbling block to those who count as the world counts, but salvation to us who are "weak and foolish." The Cross is the great leveler. On it God did justice. On it God loved kindness. And on it God walked humbly with us.

Now this is a scary thought, but maybe there are situations in our world that really need a similar sort of leveling. Truth be told, there are a number we could touch on, but let's go with something far away, that deals with people we don't know. It used to be that farmers produced vegetables and took them to market to sell to consumers. With time and modernization things have changed a bit. We now no longer buy in the market directly from the producer, we buy our vegetables from the racks in the supermarket on which they are laid out all nice and pretty and where they get watered every two hours with a fine spray. They cost more, but then, we earn more now and most of us can afford them. But they've been a few places before they got there. And not all the steps are as pretty as the final one. It is current practice in the southern tier of states for large vegetable packing companies pay off the INS to let them bus in illegal workers from Mexico to whom they pay substandard wages. These workers process the vegetables you and I purchase in Wal-Mart and HEB. It allows the packers to price their goods below what local producers have to charge. And we appreciate the convenience and low prices.

(Well, maybe not so far away after all…) Like the sacrifices in the time of Micah, perhaps our economic offerings to the corporate gods no longer obtain for us the redemption they once did.

How would God have us level this situation? How about if we go back to the basics? We do justice: Short-circuit the economics that make commercial packaging of vegetable pay by buying from local growers and paying them directly what they need to charge. And we love kindness. We make it easy and legal for our neighbors to the south who need work to come and work, and pay them a living wage for their efforts, we help the packers to reinvest in more legal, effective, and earth-friendly ways of making a living, and we work to improve the economic situation south of the border so they can also make a living wage in their homeland. And finally, we walk humbly with our God. It will cost us something, for sure. Locally grown produce is more expensive, and concerning ourselves with the economic welfare of our neighbors is a chore, but who said doing what was right was always going to be easy? Lord knows we CAN afford it!

Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. It seems Jesus got the jump on us on this one, too. In the beatitudes we get a snapshot of a leveled community, one in which the power structures of the world no longer hold sway, one in which the un-powerful are cared for in special ways, because they require grace, and the powerful receive the grace of caring for the un-powerful, because they, too, require grace. Foolishness to the world, yes, but to us the saving power of God.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Greet the Dawn

Epiphany 3, January 23, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

I love the dawn. Oh, I love to watch it when I happen to be up, which is rarely by choice any more. When I was a teen, however, I was a crazy teen. And to prove that not all teens are the same, I used to get up before the dawn every morning because I liked watching the sunrise. I would think and pray and welcome the day—and commit to going to bed by 9! Crazy teen indeed, but I thrilled to the slow transformation of the sky, the air, and the city around me, as shadows turned into dogs in peoples yards and cars parked on the streets, hulking black squares became buildings, and the first calls of the panadero, the bread salesman, filtered through the crystal air.

Light is a primordial thing when it comes to human life. In 1879 Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb. Since that time humanity has increasingly, as Murray Melbin said, "colonized the night." In the intervening years the incidence of 24-hour service has steadily increased. Even in our own town, large chain stores are open all day and all night. The Army certainly seems to have no regard for what the civilian world might call "normal waking hours."

This means, of course, that the cover of darkness is now no longer imposed, it is chosen.

If one does not want it one only flips a switch and...let there be light. "Let there be light," was the first thing God said in the creation of the world, according to Genesis 1, and night was distinguished from day, and God demarcates all that is darkness from all that is light. The Gospel of John unpacks the theme. The beginning of the Gospel of John begins before the beginning of Genesis, though both start with the words, "In the beginning…." So the meaning of Genesis is shown us by John. The light of God's creation has come into the world once again, and we know that light in the person of Jesus, the Christ.

But it is not merely the presence of light that is the subject of today's Gospel lesson, that transition called the coming of the dawn. We live in spiritual darkness, says John. Now some critters are denizens of the darkness. They have large eyes and ears, their internal clocks are set to wake up when the rest of the world is going to sleep. They capitalize on the cover of darkness to go about the stuff of living. But we live in spiritual darkness about like we live in physical darkness--with a lot of skinned shins and bumped elbows. We make poor decisions, we reap painful consequences, and many times we can't really even understand why. We tend to live in what many call our lesser selves: Reacting, not responding, perpetuating destructive patterns, isolating ourselves from others, and letting our world shrink around us. But we were not meant to live in darkness. We were meant to live in the day, in the light and in wise decisions that seeing grants us: Responding rather than reacting, growing into constructive patterns of living, joining in community, and having our world expand to larger and larger horizons.

And so the dawn is a call to become who we really are. Jesus says to Peter and Andrew, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people. Tradition has it that Peter died in Rome crucified like his Lord, upside down because he felt himself unworthy to die as Christ died. Andrew is recorded as preaching throughout Asia Minor and became the patron saint of the Byzantine Empire. Jesus does not merely call them to serve and follow Him, He calls them into the reality of who they really were.

Greeting the dawn is facing into the transforming work of God in your life and in your world.

It is a process. Just as the dawning of the day takes a while, so the dawning of your God-given person takes a lifetime. We're always in transition, in motion, moving out of darkness into light. If you're not growing you're either in total darkness or dead already.

It is transformative. It changes you from something you were to something you are. When I first heard the call to full-time Christian service I told God that I'd be happy to serve as long as I didn't have to preach every Sunday. But then I discovered the power of the well-crafted story, the inspiration of the fitting word. The transforming power of God brings out in you who you really are, what has been hidden by the darkness of sin.

It is personal. Not all Christians are preachers—thanks be to God! Some of us are, others are other things that are necessary to the Body of Christ and the mission of God in the world. God has so constructed us that each of our day-time persons fits with each other to create a healthy and balanced community. It's win-win: Your individual best in Christ is the community's best in Christ.

St. Irenaeus said in the 2nd century, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." A fully alive person lives gloriously in their best God-given selves. So greet the dawn. Eat less, move more. Call your mother. Volunteer at the church in an area about which you feel strongly or have special gifts. Sing in the choir, be an usher or a server. Up your pledge. Get up earlier and pray. Have those conversations you have been putting off. Go to Cursillo after all! Step into life, the life God has specially crafted for you, and live it in your church and your world.

Go, greet the dawn!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mechanical Theology, by Kim Cone

With his permission I share with you a letter my brother-in-law wrote. He serves as a missionary with the Evangelical Free church in the Central African Republic.


Dear Fab Fam,


It is a lovely, cool, clear Sunday morning.  The Africans say it is freezing and their kinesiology shows it.  Even Luke had on a sweatshirt; however, to a "normal" American it is perfect, shirt-sleeve weather.  Ann Wester spoke in the French service and, as usual, it was both profound and very applicable.  The theme was God's sovereignty.


Afterwards, I started Westers' 1,500 W. generator, just the perfect machine for their 1 fridge, computers etc..  Then I fired up our 2,500 watter, just the ticket for our 2 fridges, computers etc..  Suddenly, the sermon and the generator sets were intertwined!  2 furloughs ago, I began to casually shop for a small generator in case we ever ended up back in the bush.  Our budget cannot handle losing $15,000-worth of solar equipment to looters again; hence, the focus on a gas generator.  One of the first stores I stumbled into suggested a rebuilt one.  They had bought it for their own purposes.  It had experienced a serious breakdown and they had completely rebuilt the engine as was attested by the bright, silicone-blue line around the crankcase.  The price was radically reduced but the wattage was a bit more than I was after THEN.  And yet, for our needs TODAY, it is . . . well . . . PERFECT.  The Honda motor can even be had locally!


Is that God or chance?  No.  The answer isn't as simple as you might think..  That awful, pious-sounding phrase "God led me to" has been used too many times to blame God for too many terrible things He had absolutely nothing to do with [in the 2nd sense of "will", see below]!  I'm not just referring to those genocides perpetrated by the Pilgrims or the Conquistadores in the name of God.  We still hear it all the time today!  Remember the little visit Roy, Paul and I paid to our BMM friends in Bangui!  John Dannenburg asked us to pray that God would enable him to start a Baptist seminary in Bangui that would, of course, teach "Baptist" theology, whatever that is [the 2 groups in this country with the greatest divergence theologically are BOTH Baptist!].  I would be willing to wager quite a bit that at some point John has accused God of "leading him" to do this.  I would wager even more that were God to do any "leading" it would be in the opposite direction!  Both Paul and I were eating extremely-good, Baptist, home-made ice cream at the time so neither of us expressed our opinion on multiplying competing seminaries in this small country.  Later Paul told me that he'd bit his tongue and had been discrete enough NOT to tell John that his prayers would be countering those of John; sort of like the prayers of farmers and fishermen.


It sounds so pious to attribute what we do to God's direction; however, such outward piety has too often been a cover for despicable hearts and destructive deeds.  Back at Grace, I was taught that there are 2 categories of God's will:  that which He decrees which includes all that happens AND that which He desires morally, most of which will not happen regularly until our Lord returns to this earth to reign.  And so, technically, the answer to our generator question is "Yes" and "Maybe".  Yes.  Certainly the 2 generators were part of God's decreed will.  And, because they are pleasing to us, we can, and even should, say, "Thank you!".  Is this a sign of God's approval of our choices relative to post-looting damage control?  Or, an affirmation of our choosing to be at Gamboula where such a generator would meet our needs when our turbine crashes?  Or, an indicator of His satisfaction with our approach to reaching the Fulani?  Ah hah!  Here's where the rub comes in!  I think humility and honesty require one to answer, "I don't know"!  Too often in testimonials, I've seen God blamed in this way for the poor choices of others.  As a result, I'm UNwilling to affirm that MY choices are simultaneously, or previously, His.  In any given situation, maybe, yes.  Maybe, no. 


Must go haul some fuel for . . . you guessed it . . . generators!    Theologically loaded generators! 



Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Epiphany 2. January 16, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church

Approximately 100 years ago at the beginning of our married life Karisse and I lived in Dallas. Like many young couples our financial resources were rather limited. We lived in a trailer on the edge of a little suburb called Hutchins backed up to a pasture. We didn't have the money to skirt our trailer, but I did notice large white chalky rocks in the pasture. Knowing what I do about pastures and ranchers I figured I would do the rancher a favor, and save some money myself. I collected a bunch of them and built skirting around the trailer with them. This was my first introduction to caliche.

As my years extended in length in this fine state I began to discover that these white chalky rocks had certain characteristics which were pretty predictable. They do not weather very well, which means they do not make good skirting for trailers, and they are uniformly hated by construction workers and excavators, unless they are crushed and spread on a country road in lieu of other gravel or pavement. They are also common over virtually all of Texas, in fact, a quick review of online sources will tell you that caliche is largely a calcium carbonate hardpan that forms in arid soils around the world. It offers a source of lime for Portland cement, construction and sugar refining, and it bedevils gardeners in arid climes the world over. I never knew it was so pervasive.

At the risk of being reductionist, the faith is like caliche. One generally knows it exists in cathedrals, saints and a few religious professionals, and like the piles of caliche in the pasture behind my trailer house, the faith is often seen as something for sale in churches. When one needs some faith one goes to the outlet store, the local church, and in exchange for a modest donation one leaves with the goods one came for. If the donation does not procure the kind of religious feeling one expected one shops at other stores. Many people go through their entire lives like this, leaving it with a kind of tenuous faith—more an emergency fire insurance policy than anything else.

Some, however, begin to discover that the faith is a little more pervasive than that. One sees folks who pray over a meal in a restaurant, one seeks and discovers a sense of forgiveness outside of the church, one may even have a truly religious experience somehow, somewhere. It is often at this time that people begin to seek for it on a more consistent basis. The need for a continual presence in their lives impinges on their consciousness, like a picture of grandma over the mantle that one sees every day. Many people go the rest of their lives as regular church attenders and consistent givers. These people make nice statistics for church records, they are the mainstay of any congregation, and they are the first to fight over changes in the church.

But if one continues to look one finds that the faith is even more pervasive than a picture of grandma over the mantle. It pops up in malls and in pastures and in children's faces,

It peeks from behind spring flowers and fall leaves, it whistles in the winter air and floats to one on the voice of a beloved one. God seems to be all over the place, and the more one worships in church the more one begins to see Him wherever one looks. It is then that one discovers that if one does not see God everywhere one sees Him truly nowhere.

All the readings today push us to this way of relating to God. Paul encourages the Christians at Corinth to stand firm in the faith that they shared with Christians in many other places. John sees Jesus coming and gives testimony that this is not just another first-century Jew, but the very Lamb of God. But most poignantly, Isaiah proclaims a theme found throughout the Old Testament, that Israel was to witness to the God of not just the Jewish nation, but of the world. What others worshipped as a local deity was but a shadow of the reality, and the Jews knew the reality. The startling claim of the Hebrews was that their god was really everyone's God. Ours as well.

The faith needs to be for us a breathless adventure of discovery, better expressed as un-covery. Evangelism is the adventure of discovering (or un-covering) the reality of God's presence in other people who may not realize it fully yet. Service is the adventure of un-covering the reality of God's presence in situations of need, injustice and oppression. Study is the process of un-covering the truth of God's presence in our lives, in our society and in our world. Worship is the process of un-covering the magnificence of God in our collective midst and how that inspires us for the journey. Stewardship is the process of orienting our whole lives to serve this great un-covery. Giving is the process of un-covering the purposes of God for the goods over which I have been given jurisdiction. I could continue, but I think you get the point.

In the January 2 edition of The Living Church Scott Bader-Saye, professor of Ethics and Moral Theology at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, writes a provocative article titled "Money, Boredom, Fear." In it he articulately describes how our culture has alienated us from our own leisure. There is no longer any social consensus as to the purposes of life, our end, our trajectory, our destiny. Stripped of a Holy Grail to seek, we fall into an anxious flitting from rush to rush, always in search of the latest thing but always doubting it will be ultimately worthwhile. He writes, "Churches need to resist the temptation to become another form of passive entertainment." And he is right. Church is not passive entertainment, it is the portal to destiny. It sends us on an ever-expanding adventure with God that lasts a lifetime, and it opens the doors to the only goal that offers purpose, meaning and fulfillment. It sends us in search of the Holy wherever we are, whatever we are doing, and with whomever may be present.

Go—ask, seek, knock, you will find, you will receive, and the door will be opened to you!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Three Kings, Three gifts, Three Messages

Epiphany Eve, January 5, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, The Rev. Paul Moore

Three Kings, Three Gifts, Three Messages

We don't really know which magi brought which gift, but let's just pretend for a minute. Balthazar brought gold. As the song says, gold recognizes the presence of a king. As a gift it reflects our value as people. Not just our net worth, but our human worth, all the riches of who we are as beloved creations of God. Some of us are tall, short, thin or not so thin, some of us speak one language or two, or three and we come from different areas of the world. When we gather together to share the richness of who we are together we offer gold to the Christ Child.

Melchior brought frankincense. As the song says, frankincense owns a deity nigh. As a gift it reflects that part of who we are that is divine—that is, the Spirit, and all that the Spirit does in us. Some of us are priests, deacons and bishops, others are lay with a wide variety of gifts. All of us have the Spirit, given in baptism, so all of us have a frankincense to offer. When we complement our gifts one with another we offer frankincense to the Christ Child.

Gaspar brought myrrh. As the song says, myrrh foreshadows the sacrifice of the Cross. As a gift it offers to God the limitedness of our creation, our mortality, but in doing so it offers more than merely the end of our lives. It offers all the weaknesses of the human frame that God Himself shared, it offers all the shortcomings of the broken human spirit that He did not share. And it offers all the failings and mini-deaths we die daily as we live. It calls us beyond them, to a new heaven and a new earth, in which we see in one another not our failings but our potentials. If it calls us to die with Christ it calls us to be raised with Him. When we die to ourselves and live with one another in forbearance, patience and faithfulness we offer myrrh to the Christ Child.

Three kings, three gifts, three ways of joining with one another to worship one God, one King and one Redeemer.