Christian


27th Week of Common Time, Year C

Job 19:23-27a

‘O that my words were written down!

O that they were inscribed in a book!
24 O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!

With many thanks to Nicole Mullen’s “Redeemer,” i’ll try to say a few words about what this passage is saying to me at the moment.  Job is one of those great teachable moments in scripture, where lessons abound.  There is the silent vigil as well as the eponymous comforts that his friends afford him.  There is the questioning, and the open ended rebuke.  For the textual critic, there are additions and emendations to pour over.  Working with the received text, there is a great deal of layer and back and forth to deal with.

What i’m finding fascinating today, however, is the way that words preface this great declaration.  Pens of iron, letters set in lead on stone…these are fantastic things to be thinking about.  what does the certainty of knowledge have to do with redemption?

plenty, of course.  it seems obvious to us, especially those in the church dedicated to apologetics.  we talk about luther’s anxiety over salvation, wesley’s method, and the carefully chosen rhetoric of the revivalist.  whatever your particular approach to salvation is…you had better know where you stand.  entering the second millenia of the church, we’ve lost any sense that salvation in christ is surprising.  it is a fact.  the means are debated endlessly, the borders of grace are fought over, and the interpretations split the church.  each one holds their truth to be written in iron.

perhaps the missing piece here is that salvation, is of course the ultimate surprise. the person being saved does not have expectations.  they are brought out of the shock of their peril and into the shock of the rescue.  they sputter for breath, they act as though they were still in danger, they still hold the same fear.  some time later,they come to their senses.  but if we are being saved by grace, we should scarcely claim we’re taking it better than a drowning man does being dragged back to shore.

job’s certainty doesn’t come from abstraction.  his knowledge comes out of trauma.  it comes out of dramatic reversals and unimaginable pain.  it foreshadows a resolution that hardly seems to answer the questions of good and evil that are raised.  much to himself as anyone, he cries for certainty to cover over the wrenching loss he’s gone through.

feel the certainty of grace.  but feel it as the surprise that it is, the gift of salvation come into a world that cannot ever preserve that moment.  not in iron.

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26th Week of Common Time, Year C

perhaps i shall back track a bit from my previous post.  saying one thing, then saying the opposite is in fact a delicately christian art.  we call it tension.  it is often muddy and confusing.  but living in this tension is pretty well what we’ve got.  to live in dying, and to glory in the cross.

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls…

If you think about all of these things as the output of a semi-organized agrarian economy, then it pretty well lines up with the consumer goods of our day.  Perhaps Coke, a Disney movie, and a BMW.  There is not much use in offering up directly the work of our hands.  It is hard to imagine then, that shareholder rights are really high up on God’s list of things to accomplish.  Why then, should they receive more than a passing thought from me?

We some how imagine that the commands we hear shall be accomplished when we have more to give, are stronger to that we might help the weak.  This is a particularly difficult imaginative frame to break.  It seems borne out in some ways.  The doctor who does not protect herself will soon find herself of no help against a plague.  But there is something insidious about the new buildings full of well-fed aid workers that stands over the refugee tents.  I wish I had answers here, but sadly, all i’ve got is a question here.  There must be purpose to that work of our hands, so that it becomes set apart.

When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

The passage then ends with some hope.  God tells Isaiah that they shall argue it out…and the sins of the people will be cleansed.  But it takes that argument to get there.    In celebration of all God’s Saints, and in hope for all souls…

Let us argue it out.  Let us learn how do as we are commanded.

Oh, I’m late. Very late. I can’t keep hoping for perfect. I have learn to just let them go.

I think I’m going to just link to the readings, to keep things shorter on the page. I really do suggest going and reading them, however, since these aren’t so much free standing sermons as short form reactions to the text. My nasty little habit of preaching is to unlink the topic from the text, and this blog experiment is about trying to cure that. Today’s writing is mostly about the passage in Matthew 2.

Jesus and his family will go down to Egypt. The murder of children hangs in the air. The salvation of the people of Israel is playing in a surreal reverse gear. Jesus is being placed into history, one story at a time. He will wander in the desert for 40 days, he will bring forth water, and finally, re-image the sign of the serpent raised above the people, and go to the cross. The stories of the exodus play out again before our eyes.

It seems hard to read this year.

I wish to pray, once again, for peace in our time. Israel’s incursions into Gaza have compounded an increasingly unconscionable occupation and strangulation of an entire population. I recall watching the removal of settlers from Gaza with such great hope…and find only bitter disappointment at what has happened since.

In Hebrew, Egypt is called “the narrow place,” or mitzrayim. God calls the people out from there, out from narrowness, slavery and death.

By this, we do not mean a modern nation or people. We are talking about God’s Chosen people, who are always identified by their need for God’s restoration (no matter what creed they approach God by). And we are talking about a memory and history of slavery, a narrow place.

And that is precisely where Jesus goes. In fact, this time, Egypt is the refuge, a place of safety when Judea is about to be wracked with the murder of children. It is not the place. It is the idea. God is not brought low by narrow places. God is present there, not locked up, but as the lighthouse, the key for the door, the voice that tells us that we are not alone.

I watch the news, I see that thin strip of land, between Israel and Egypt. And I see a narrow place.

It is a narrow place. It has become a mitzrayim. Not the land itself, which would bloom if allowed. Not the people, who have been displaced and scarred by war. The walls are narrow. The commitment to violence, and “disproportionate response.” The helplessness that those in power proclaim. The true helplessness into which children and their parents are forced into. The hunger. The death.

It is a mitzrayim, and we cannot abide it. Who will God send to preach against it? Whose voice will tear down the walls? Whose hands will build a lasting peace?

Christ enters Israel’s history, goes down to Egypt, and comes back. Christ enters our history, goes down to death, and comes back. And this is all we need to know. No matter what the narrow place is, God shall go there to find us. There is no place that we can be confined, or shut ourselves away in that God With Us will not go.

The fears of depression, the pain of rape, the denial of the closet, the separations of racism, the terrors of war. From Darfur to Guantanamo to Gaza, here and there, all earth is full of narrow places. And they are being broken. For God wills us to life, and life abundantly. God will always go. Going forth into the world, going to create, going to redeem, going always in love.

Let us give thanks. Our narrow places cannot hold us anymore. And when we are healed, what is beyond us? To know that we are free?

We can turn to our neighbor. We can go forth into the world. And we can love.

Blessed be the God of redemption.

Amen.

The Church in Saint Paul by The House of Mercy Band

Last Sunday was the last service of the House of Mercy in the historic First Baptist Church…a place that I had found as a home. It was a heavily emotional service, a farewell that I was simply not ready to bid. The change of homes reflects a change in denominations, throwing a serious wrench into my potential plans to be ordained. It’ll be Mister Civilian for some time, it looks like.

As usual, scribbled on the program with notes for sermons I wish I had the time to finish, and thought about what God is calling me to do in response to the grace I have known.

As we left, we brought our hymnals out to the moving van, and the police state came riding by, a troop of cops on bikes, apparently making their heavy presence known in advance. It felt profane.

I mutter under my breath…

“Render unto Caesar…”

And I realized that I probably had. If you give them your trust, you owe them your obedience.

-sly

When i was working on a paper on mental health and theology, i had some questions about how churches have dealt with suicides in the past. i asked around a little, and started to expect a fairly disappointing answer. I read stories about refusals to inter bodies or even conduct the most basic of services.

A true moment of light was when Fr. Pat Malone talked to me about the options that a priest has when facing that decision. As of now, the preference is to bury and to give rites. But even prior to those reforms, a priest always had a choice to declare the matter private, of the internal forum. What amazed me was the strength of belief in a system of resolution beyond that of hierarchy. Not exactly my pre-conceived notion of Catholicism.

Simply, as I understand it from his explanations, there are matters of faith and personal life that cannot be expected to be resolved by church courts or strict adherence to teaching. Like Christ, the church too must be merciful and responsive to the individual soul.* The most common use of internal forum today is to allow Catholics to return to the sacraments after getting divorced. As long as they come to understand through prayer a reconciliation of their actions and their faith to God. It might be repentance of sin or it might be the finding of a clear conscience, doing what was truly best.

This simple notion has come to underscore my entire theology of queerness and the church. Queer issues are primarily pastoral, not theological to me. There is nothing about the character of God or the scriptures that are at stake for me. I know God to be loving, and I understand the witness of the Bible as reflective of that love.

The question is not transcendent. It is entirely immediate. What are we doing, pastorally, to care for those who are in pain?

This is where Father Pat comes in. When a family is in pain because of suicide, a sudden and traumatic loss occurs, he tells me that the clear choice is to move matters out of dispute and into the care of the church. To address the human need to know that God is with them in their pain, the priest has a wide authority to do what they need. Most often, it came in the form of burying the deceased and offering blessings and prayers that gave the family hope. Despite a ostensibly clear teaching that suicides were damned, the reality of the church has been a steady move towards a more humane approach. Many times, this was done quietly. Other times, it came in the form of a public burial that served to reconcile the deceased, the family, and the community.**

So what do we do in the face of queer issues in the church today? Protect people, care for the hurt, and do what we can in a broken world.

The time to break with tradition is when the application thereof leads to more pain, not the grace of the Kingdom. And even if we cannot, as a whole Body come to an agreement, individual pastors still have an obligation to provide care in the interim.

If that means blessing a marriage so that couples have a greater chance of being able to see each other in the hospital….then that’s what we do.

If that means publicly fighting transphobia to try to stop the violence…then we have an obligation to do so.

If it means trying to address the concerns of those who are leaving the church because they are conservative…then, as church leaders, we do that too.

Grander theological concerns notwithstanding, a clear pattern emerges. The conduct of the church on the local level can have real effects of the quality of people’s lives. Do they feel as if God loves them? Can they be protected by the social privilege given to the church?

Even when Christendom as a whole fights over what to do, these remain pastoral issues. This is not revolutionary, this is a move to compassionately meet people where their lives are. That’s gospel, right there.

This post is dedicated to a wonderful ally in the Lutheran Church who has given me much to think about.

-sly

*Mark 2:27
**The teachings and law on internal forum are varied on this point. Many authorities point to the need for the resolution obtained in internal forum not to damage the rest of the faithful. This might outlaw any public recognition of variances, but that hinges on the definition of damage. I, for one, think there is plenty of theological room for seeing the pastoral needs of the harmed and the dishonored coming before the strong. 1 Corinthians offers an extended vision of what it means that God has sought out what has been despised, to show the full breadth of grace and reconciliation made known in Christ Jesus.

Okay.

There’s a whole lot, lot, lot, going on. Go read it all.

And if you absolutly need to pick on the last detail, come back here.

Done?

Hugo doesn’t know Christian history. Or at least, he doesn’t so far as I can tell from reading his work.

they quarreled over whether the kosher purity laws were still in effect. Every time, the popularizers — those who wanted to make Christianity more accessible — won. Every time the “purists” grumbled. They are still grumbling now.

That just ain’t true. The popularizers have lost. Major battles. Universalists of every stripe went down, literally, in flames during the reformation. Synchretists have been shoved out, and many of us read aloud a political document every week…the Nicene Creed which memorializes political clout on Christianity and the exclusion of certain doctrinal viewpoints as legitimate. There is such a thing as a heretic, and for the vast majority of Christian history, being such a person has only been a good idea if you have a lot of men in tin suits with sharp pointy sticks, ready to defend your right to be theologically queer.

Back to his argument for the moment. Maybe he means in America, in the last 200 years. He cites the contrast between Warren and some calvinists, like that was the fight. No major contender in American Protestantism is Calvinist. A few say they are. But a real, honest to goodness double predestination damned for the glory of God Calvinist? They kind of went carrier pigeon some time back, at least as far as the prime time goes. Yes, they exist. But that this is the fight Hugo presents is indictative of bad faith. He doesn’t point to a live contraversy…he points to a very, very dead one. America went Arminian before the Civil War. We’re rehashing this now, why? To show just how out of it BFP and company are?

No. No. No.

Secondly, it’s just not even true. The popularizers got set back many times. After years of social gospel preaching, the evangelical world retreated inwards with Darbyism and pre-millenial dispensationalism. (This is the kind of thinking you know today as the Left Behind series). From changing the world to awaiting the end…the momentum of the evangelical protestant world turned on a dime.

And remember Jesus people?

Was Jerry Falwell a popularizer? Just because he used mass media, and was folksy about wanting to enforce a very specific kind of racial/gender politic?

Or how about the women who preached in the First Great Awakening, only to be silenced by the time of the revolution?

This is not to say these movements didn’t have lasting impact. But the story of American Christianities is one of push and pull. The clear line of progress Hugo wants to paint simply isn’t there.

they quarreled over whether the kosher purity laws were still in effect. Every time, the popularizers — those who wanted to make Christianity more accessible — won. Every time the “purists” grumbled. They are still grumbling now.

But you know what else is lurking around in here?

You guessed.

Antisemitism.

I owe it to everyone to be really careful about that charge, so listen carefully to what i do and don’t mean. Hugo isn’t making overtly hateful statements about Jews.

He is trading on a really old idea about Christianity and Judiasm that has contributed greatly to historical antisemitism.

And that’s a problem. He’s making BFP, BA, M, and the folks who are raising objections into rhetorical Jews here, just to point out how wrong they are. Against a bold progressive universal spirit Liberal Feminist/Christian, stands the particular, clannish, nit-picking, WoC/Jew.

Gawd.

This is one of those object lessons where you quickly realize the problem of living in the house…the rhetorical frames, the backgrounded ideas, the assumptions of your worldview…

…are compltely toxic.

It’s historically wrong. It’s rhetorically irresponsible.

It’s Hugo, out for a day at the park.

Kyrie eleison.

-sly

An open letter to the Most Reverend Katherine Jefferts-Schori:

I have come to understand that your grace has authorized a settlement by which the ECUSA is to stay in the global communion. While every Christian should hark to hear unity preached among us, I am concerned as to the cost. Specifically, the provision that will be no more queer bishops. This cannot be seen as anything but a retreat. But surely, your grace managed to get a concession that the opposition would cease their dehumanizations?

Your grace would surely avoid the folly of handing over moral authority to a group that has shown no caution for our dignity or even our lives. It is imaginable to me to be forced to discuss my adoption by God as if it is a thing to be debated. Foolish and ignorant of God, but imaginable nonetheless. The world has often doubted the grace of the Almighty. But the image of God is something else entirely. If we must debate whether or not we deserve to be, then we have sat down for dinner with wolves.

Can we indeed talk when the conversation is about the “manner” of our lives? In British euphemism, I fear we have lost the ability to actually speak of ourselves. Once we have conceded that it is a mere matter of personal habit, we have admitted that our race was in vain. The phrase defines our cause as subordinate. All the while, the schismatics press forward with a strange and alien notion of polity. The innovation of wandering bishops is far more poisonous than any scandal.

Finally, your grace, I plead to you that you have made an intolerable compromise. Indeed, your grace, I believe that your manner of life may be unsettling to the broader communion. You see, rumor has it that your grace is a woman.

In Christ,

-sly

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