Author Archives: watchingthespaces

About watchingthespaces

I like to watch the spaces between the things that other people see, the overflowing gaps and the chock-full emptiness.

Royal Love

OK, so who DIDN’T watch the wedding, or read about it in the news? Who DIDN’T hear the Most Rev. Michael Curry’s sermon? When the Archbishop of Canterbury characterizes the sermon as “blowing the place open,” when uncomfortable looks appear on the faces of stodgy royals, and when the couple, beaming their tangible love for one another seem caught up in their own ivory castle, just almost consciously ignoring the discomfort they are causing, you know this is a global event. William and Kate’s wedding was a front-liner, of course, because he is in line for the throne, but Harry and Meghan were just a couple of famous people deeply in love, and the world rejoiced with them, in spite of all the ways they were breaking with protocol. For once, “royal” did not mean “predetermined by centuries of crusty tradition.”

Now, I’m not an iconoclast. My Church uses a form of worship that traces right back to the early Church Fathers, and I love a good Episcopalian parade, and the royal couple enacted the traditions in a hundred ways, but this event was more infused with the human. Bishop Curry’s sermon located the event on the human stage, as a sign and symbol of human love as the most powerful force on earth, with the power to transform our world. At once he set Harry and Meghan’s delightful mutual absorption in the context of human love, and human love in the context of global transformation. With a love so wonderful on the human stage in a way royalty alone can achieve, he blessed the couple and challenged us all.

After all, are not all our human loves ultimately intended to be so genuinely human, and therefore in a sense, royal? Is not all love intended for mutual joy AND for world transformation? We will see how Harry and Meghan live up to the blessing and the challenge.

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Gratitude

It’s official.  I have walked across the stage, stood with the head of the Board of Trustees, shaken his hand, stood for the photo-op, and then joined the others with doctoral hoods now hanging down their backs. I know Karisse, my sister Carol and my Bishop, Michael Vono, are in the congregation clapping and looking proudly at me.  I sense in the distance my friends and loved ones at Good Shepherd Church who have just watched me by live-stream.  I have already spotted my advisor, sitting with the Faculty at Virginia Theological Seminary, Immanuel Chapel.  It’s done. I’m now irrefutably “Dr. Moore.”

But it’s not just me.  I am deeply aware of not just those just mentioned, but the others in my cohort group who are not here—yet, and one who, for medical reasons, won’t be.  I think of Barbara Brown Taylor, who delivered a phenomenal homily, and whose books have inspired me.  I think of my other teachers, and the Rev. Dr. Ross Kane, the DMin program Director, and his predecessor who welcomed me into the program and is also present, the Rev. Dr. David Gortner.  At the reception both congratulate me and give me a hug.  I think of the authors I have read over the last three and a half years, their scholarship, and sometimes, their lives.  I think of the men and women who have studied here since 1823, who have become ministers of the Gospel around the world.  And I think of one of my own parishioner’s comment:  We own half of this Doctorate!

Indeed, I stand rather small on very tall shoulders, and I am grateful.

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Justice

There is a news story this morning about a Missouri man freed after 20 years in prison for first degree murder. A reviewal of the trial and court proceedings vacated the case and freed him. I am full of mixed feelings.

How does a justice system do justice for an injustice they perpetrated? Exoneration is nice, but it is a basic, ground-floor action. How do you compensate for 20 years of undeserved incarceration?

The man is of African-American descent. A recent issue of National Geographic makes it abundantly clear that race definitions are cultural constructs, not genetic categories. His skin is darker than mind, his hair quality is different, but there is no biological line that scientifically separates him from me—yet the social construct of racism is still deeply ingrained in our society, even more so 20 years ago. My heart aches for a whole population of my own kind who still confront a different standard in our judicial system than I do.

On the other hand, I am deeply grateful for those diligent people who reviewed the case and came to an honest conclusion. It would have been so easy to go on ignoring it, but they did not.

I pray for all involved that the gargantuan loss not incite bitterness and that a truly rewarding and fully human life opportunity opens up for the man; that true justice be served to those who are responsible for the crime; that those who corrected the miscarriage of justice know that all who stand for truth honor them.

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Holy Water

I was soon chest-deep, standing on the downstream side of a little aluminum dinghy. The accoutrements of Holy Communion according to our tradition were precariously perched on a table, spanning two seats of the boat. As Pastor Sarah and I prepared to shout at the top of our lungs the opening sentences to the liturgy, kids threatened to baptize the wine and wafers with highly-unsanitary Rio Grande River water. It was Round 2. Last year was Round 1. Both times our offering of a spiritual slant on a social/political event were well received and appreciated.

The event, called Voices from Both Sides/Voces de Ambos Lados, emerged from La Protesta, a spontaneous gathering that remembered Mother’s Day, 2002, when the Border Patrol abruptly shut down this small river-crossing site, suddenly isolating the village of Lajitas on the Mexican side, and dividing families who live on both shores. The closest official crossing point is in Ojinaga, and the round trip involves a 5-hour drive. Clandestine movements continue, but officially, this was politically charged water, divided by an imaginary line down the middle of the channel. Voices happens because the local Border Patrol people are locals and they understand. They absent themselves for a day and let a bi-national party happen. Perhaps they, too, would rather see this tiny location opened up again to legal traffic, to see the economy of the village resurge and see families reunited.

Perhaps, too, they understand that the unsanitary river water is really spiritually and relationally holy, in spite of policies made far away, for it flows through the hearts and souls of a people for whom it is not a boundary or border, but a common source of life in the desert.

I doubt if politics has ever really been successful at dividing a people united in spirit. If I am right, may it ever be so.

Picture Credits: Reagan Reed of Terlingua, all rights reserved.

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Sweetness

A male Bullock’s Oriole turned up on my hummingbird feeder again this morning. Yesterday he was by with his girlfriend. We have plenty of hummingbirds, but these Spring visitors always bring a different kind of color. They love the Red Hot Poker flowers, too. Outside of hummers who need the sugary calories to stay alive, I don’t normally think of birds having a sweet tooth beak. However, feathered nectar-sippers are really quite common around the world. In Ecuador where I grew up there is a whole family of Flower-Piercers. Rather than slip tongues into the openings of blossoms, they have a hooked beak to pierce through the base, breaking the safe from the side, so to speak, to get at the sweetness.

Masked Flowerpiercer.jpgSweetness is more than carbs—in fact, if we could have safe sweetness without carbs we’d probably go gob-stopping crazy. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, one-time dean of the Saint Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York, wrote, “It is by abstaining from food that we rediscover its sweetness and learn again how to receive it from God with joy and gratitude.”1 Sweetness is known by contrast, just like the startling orange and black of the oriole sets its beauty apart from the iridescence of the hummingbirds. Perhaps sweetness is known precisely in the contrasts that make manifest the meanings of our lives. If so, sweetness is known twice, once in the tasting, and again in contrast to the savory. St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “…pure discipline may best manifest its sweetness in contrast with the impurities of wickedness…”2

In my edition of St. Augustine’s complete works the word “sweet” or its derivatives occurs 473 times. Maybe “sweet” describes “good.” The good can be known in and of itself. Evil is only known in contrast to the good. The Good, like sweetness, is enjoyed when first tasted, and again in contrast to evil.

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1http://stioannis.org/quotes-from-church-fathers/
2St. Augustine. The Complete Works of Augustine (48 Books) (Kindle Locations 116470-116471). Amazon.com. Kindle Edition.
Picture credits: Oriole: https://www.wild-bird-watching.com/Bullocks-Oriole.html; Flower-Piercer: http://www.birdphotos.com – http://www.BirdPhotos.com, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10599494

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Thinking…

Salena Zito and Brad Todd have just published a book. In it they trace the outlines of the political coalition that elected President Trump. I heard the book reviewed on TV last night and learned some interesting things. They interviewed people across five swing states that usually vote blue but went red in 2016. They found a core of people who dislike the President’s style but appreciate the fact that he defends three things that are near and dear to their hearts: Religious liberty, the Supreme Court and the 2nd Amendment.

It sets me to thinking. First, this group is not homogeneous. Those three values are not universal to the group, but the three of them together provide enough of a common ground for them to join forces. No group is homogeneous, and blanket statements about what “they” believe, no matter who “they” are, will always have exceptions to the rule. Trump doesn’t define the Republican Party any more than Pelosi defines the Democrats.

Second, there is an internal consistency to most peoples’ thinking. There are ground-rules, assumptions and values that organize behavior. If behavior in another person seems erratic and nonsensical it just may be that one does not yet understand that inner logic. Unfortunately, that inner logic is usually held subconsciously, so that asking a person straight out will probably not get you any simple answers. It is a pattern that emerges as one enters into dialog. Dialog is essential for understanding. Diatribes and categorizations only divide people further—and to own one of my own such inner assumptions, harmony and unity are way up there for me.

Finally, each of these values is held under the condition of deeper conditions. For example, I support the 2nd Amendment, but I don’t think it should include military-style weapons in the hands of civilians. The 2nd Amendment was intended originally to arm citizenry against government should government run amok, not to give civilians the right to make of themselves ad hoc police. I support the Supreme Court, but I wish the Administration would get its mitts off of it and let it do its work. The intent of the balance of three branches of government was so each would check the other. When any other arm of the government interferes, the Justice Department cannot work as independently as it should. Whether a justice is conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, shouldn’t be as important as their personal character and integrity, their knowledge and track record as a judge, and their capacity for critical thinking.

And finally, I support religious liberty—to the extreme, which means that Christianity should have no privileges above any other religious tradition in our land, nor any other religion over Christianity. If Christianity (of which I am an adherent) cannot stand on its own two feet without government coddling then we’ve lost the game and should resign. This holds for ALL religious traditions.

I share some aspects of the Trump coalition, and I do not share others, but when you dig down you can probably find common ground somewhere, and that’s what we need to turn our minds to rather than screaming Twittered insults at one another.

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Hats

A number of years ago I went to a local rodeo and found that I was the only one without a cowboy hat. $25 bought me a cheapo straw that served as my symbol of local affiliation until it got chewed by a dog and relegated to “work-hat” status. Since then I’ve acquired a nice straw and three felts. One is a daily-wear Stetson, soft and comfortable. The other is a nicer-quality Stetson, and finally, my birthday gift from last year, a top-of-the-line Resistol 20X. Yes, they are comfortable. Yes, they shield one’s head from the sun, and yes, they are a symbol, not only of local affiliation, but of one’s own person.

After our election of our new bishop on Saturday my heart was struck with a panic, because my hat (the nice one) was NOT in the car. I retraced my steps, spoke hangers-on at the Cathedral, asked the café where we had had breakfast about it, and finally drove back to the Diocesan Retreat House where I had stayed the night before. Sure enough, there it was on the edge of a couch, and I recalled the sequence of events that brought about its misplacement. My heart almost broke with gratitude and relief.

That’s a lot of emotion for a piece of pounded animal fur! But things are never quite what they seem, and usually more. They symbolic value we assign to things is the value that drives our behavior. A piece of rag in my wallet with a picture and some fancy green lettering and design is powerful enough of a symbol of wealth that it will get me a sack of donuts in exchange. A stone I carry in my pocket is powerful enough to ground my soul in the rock of the earth. Hats are like that—they speak of the person who wears them, and they speak to the person who wears them. When we say, then, “hats off” to such and such, we recognize a kind of hierarchy of value. What we are saluting is greater than the symbol of the hat. Hats are important, but not all-important. So, I take mine off (usually) when I’m inside a building, and (always) in a church, and I ought to in the presence of people I respect.

Here’s to hats, the fetish they can become, and the symbol of honor they can rise to. You never quite realize what they mean until you lose one!

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