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Strong and Great

As the President’s first 100 days draw to a close he is pushing his agenda hard, since his achievements to date are lackluster at best. (When one pushes an agenda that is highly popular with some segments and highly unpopular with others this is probably all one can hope for.) I heard a preliminary report on the President’s proposed tax reform bill. It calls for a 15% income tax on large business, and “modest” cuts for the middle class. We all know that he has enormous interests in big business. These tax cuts would funnel resources to the top, making his economic position strong. Being “on top of the heap” it makes sense for him to think about strength at the top. If this is part of his “make America great” rhetoric I have a question to ask him. What is the difference between strong and great?

Hitler was strong, Churchill was great. Mussolini was strong, Gandhi was great.

This morning’s reading from the Prophets was taken from the book of Daniel in which the prophet tells King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon his dream and then interprets it for him. The king has seen a large statue of a man with a head of gold, a torso of silver, thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. A stone is cut, not by human hands, that smashes the feet and topples the whole statue, which is blown away by the wind, and the stone grows to fill the whole earth. Whether or not one accepts the historico-literal Christian interpretation of this passage, that sees Jesus Christ as the stone not cut by human hands (in other words, of divine origin), one must concede that Christianity replaced the whole Classical Age as the paradigm for society in the West. The religion built on the man who said, “greater love has none than to lay down his life for his friends,” and then did it has reached to the ends of the earth.

Nero was strong, Jesus was great.

Tyrants and bullies are strong, good people can become great.

President Trump is strong. Can we still be great?

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Cosmic Tunes

As I drove into the Church parking lot this morning a man was walking down 6th Street wearing a cowboy hat and boots, a white embroidered shirt and dark glasses. He had a guitar strung around his neck and as he walked he strummed. I couldn’t hear, but I assume he was humming a tune.

I wear a cowboy hat and boots every day, too, and I have a guitar and I like to hum tunes. (I just don’t usually do it walking down the street.) My mother was very musical, and all four of us siblings inherited something of her inner capacity for tones and harmonies. We used to sing in the car to keep entertained. Even now it’s hard to sing the soprano line on a song for which I can hear harmonies.

Aslan, in the Narnia series, the volume The Magician’s Nephew, (1955) sings Narnia into being. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (1977) describes creation as a great song. In the book of Job God questions Job’s audacity in questioning God’s sovereignty by asking him where he was when God “laid [the world’s] cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” On the website, submission.org (an Islamic source) the author writes, “Any keen observer of the universe will realize that the whole universe was created with music in every corner of it.” In classical Hinduism vibration (“Ohm”) is a central energy of the universe.

Art in all its forms brings into being something that was not, mirroring the creative work of the Great Divine Source. What was this man creating? What music sings itself into being in me today?

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The Once and Future Church

Our diocese (regional jurisdiction) is in the process of preparing to elect a new bishop. It is a long and complicated process. It would be easier if Bishops were appointed by the Crown as in England, but our American mind will not tolerate such high-handedness. We prefer instead the high-handedness of individuality. This means that everyone gets a say in what we do, and it complicates things. The first thing we do is create a profile of the Diocese: Where have we been? What is working and what is not, and where do we believe God is taking us in the future? It is an exercise in discerning the once and future church.

Last year I read one of the most prophetic books I have ever read. Phyllis Tickle, in The Great Emergence (2012) traces the history and future of four great upheavals in Western society. The first occurred at the close of the Classical Age with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 6th century. The second occurred as the High Medieval Age witnessed an upsurge in art, literature and sophistication in politics. The third swept down upon us in the Reformation and the fourth is what we are witnessing today. In each case learning, the arts and religion go into the great shift in decline, are purged and reborn, and emerge stronger than before. Established religion around the world is in decline. The new forms we see coming up now are probably not going to last, they are experiments on which more enduring expressions will be built. The long-term future is bright, however, in spite of the confusion, anxiety and trouble of the moment.

It’s an exciting time to be searching for a new bishop!

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The Dark Side

We’re about to talk about people.  I was always told you shouldn’t do that, but here I am leading a meeting doing exactly that.  These people have sensed in their inner being a possible call to the ordained life.   It is now the task of the Church to listen to, test and finally, weigh in on that sense.  I remember.  I went through it, too.

Talking about someone behind their backs is a holy thing–or demonic, one of the two.  Which will we be?  Will we seek the truth in love?  Will we honestly express what we sense and know, in a spirit of building up that person and the Church as a whole, and seek to surrender to wisdom and compassion, finding the best way forward for both this person and the church according to the best light we have?  Thanks be to God that this has been my experience so far.  I have heard horror stories about other Standing Committees who were tempted and did not resist…

We’re on the knife-edge all day.

God save us from the dark side.

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Mystery

My brother-in-law, a conservative Evangelical, and I have wonderful e-mail discussions of things spiritual, religious and theological.  I really treasure our interchanges.  We were discussing how one knows that the voice within to which one is listening is the Spirit of God rather than one’s own ego.  He used the word “supernatural.”  He also used the word, “mystery.”

I like “mystery.”  Personally “supernatural” smacks of magic (obviously he does not have this inner association.)  Magic is merely the manipulation of unseen powers.  Mystery demands surrender.

Today’s Gospel reading is the story of the two men going to Emmaus who meet the risen Jesus on the way.  Some would say it’s not the “risen Jesus,” but the “cosmic Christ.”  I’m not sure these men experienced it this way.  For them it was a man who seemed to know something they yearned to know, and in whom they recognized the Jesus they had lost when he broke the bread and disappeared.  It is all rather surrealistic—not supernatural, but mysterious.  It demands surrender.

Today I am in meetings in which we will interview candidates for ordination.  It’s rather surrealistic, really.  Will we discern the risen Christ in these people?  I would certainly hope so.  Will we know what their future holds?  That’s a tougher question, one that edges us toward mystery.

No magic here, no easy fixes, no short-cuts, no fast-tracks.  Just surrender.

 

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Permanence

Cooke’s Peak stood in her usual glory 30 miles south-east of my house this morning. Why should she not? She has been part of the horizon of this place for a hundred thousand years, and she has many more millennia before her. She seems as unchanging as the earth itself. I wonder what she thinks of Easter?

We Christians hold that the world shifted on that Easter morning, promising a shift in our living from dying to truly living. We crave stability only when it suits us. Otherwise we crave change. Whether you want permanence or change, you never get everything you want, for some things change, like the weather, and some things seemingly do not, like Cooke’s Peak. To complicate things even more, we Christians hold that the Easter event changed not just the options for humanity, but creation itself. St. Paul in Romans 8 is perhaps the premier example of a Scriptural foundation for this belief, alongside many other passages and two thousand years of Church history. I return to my first question. What does Cooke’s Peak think of Easter?

What does all creation think of Easter? Nothing is unchanging, in the long run. 66 million years ago this area lay on the edge of the Western Interior Seaway that linked the Arctic Ocean with the Gulf of Mexico in a huge shallow inland sea. The rock at the top of the peak itself is younger than that sea, only 39 million years old. Her permanence is a matter of perspective, compared to the mere four score and ten that we are allowed.

Easter means change to Cooke’s Peak. It means that the slow process of erosion that leeched minerals into mines that humans dug in her flanks became a gift of wealth to those who carved at her, even as they in turn changed the landscape, the erosion patterns and the relative amount of human waste still seen there. Maybe more profoundly it means that even as she is washed completely to the ground her stony bones do not go to waste, but are rather incorporated into other forms in creation: alluvial washes, plains and valleys, and even incorporated into plants and then animals, to be deposited finally perhaps thousands of miles away.

Easter means that though she may not grace the horizon of the Mimbres Valley forever she will not truly die, but live again in another way. That’s what it means to me as well.

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The Passion

Yesterday three regulars came to the Wednesday noon service. Two of them are women who have been best buds all their lives. One is a widow now, and cannot go out of the house without an oxygen machine. The other’s husband has advanced Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t always know where he is or who he is with, but he knows what to do in Church, and it is a comfort to him. All three are in their 80’s.

It came time for communion. The wife led the way out of their pew to the Altar rail. The husband turned and helped his wife’s best friend with her oxygen machine, and then held her arm to steady her to the rail.

Two broken people, one who can’t breathe and one who can’t remember, helping one another to the source of Life—is this not the Passion? If Christ’s death and resurrection doesn’t mean that our self-giving, though broken, can somehow become life-giving then I’m not a Christian.

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