911

9-11 was a way of addressing emergencies until 2001. But then, I was going to pick up my truck at the repair shop when my secretary called me. We watched in horror as our world shifted under our feet. 9-11 was no longer just an emergency help number, it was a political event. We know now that the perpetrators named Islam as their motivator, but it’s hard to find a true Islamist who will own them. The motives were other—and rather than addressing an emergency they caused one.

They may not have seen it that way, of course. They were smart enough to figure out that the way they were using 9-11 was of a different sort than previously used in the U.S. Their rhetoric may very well have named an emergency in the Islamic world that they alone could see, and to which this was the only recourse for correction. If so, they failed. They failed miserably. Not only were they among the 2996 casualties of the day, but their cause, rather than coming forward as the new currency of religio/political exchange, but they forever branded themselves as destructive forces in the world. (Sometimes I wonder if the extreme actions of ISIS aren’t a desperate effort to take up that banner and force it onto the world scene.)

I was in court this morning with a parishioner who had been summoned. Though the moment is always fraught with anxiety (especially for the first time, as this was,) but there was a rock of regularity behind and beneath it. The Law of the Land was meted out with fairness and equity. Though there are those who might try to do otherwise and from time to time get away with it, our ideal still stands that nobody is above the law. For a believer, nobody but God is above the law, and God is not a capricious law-breaker.

Herein is one of the many lessons of the day. Change is rarely achieved by explosions. Chaos merely breeds a greater appreciation for order. True transformation is only discovered in that balanced dialog between the forces of stability and the forces of change, both surrendering to a negotiated vision of the common good.

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Disappeared

Last night I got word that Pedro Lopez died. He probably didn’t get past the 3rd grade. He lived all his life in Honduras. He raised a family; saw his grandkids and great-grandkids. I visited with him every year on our mission trip. This year, at 95 years of age, he was dying of cancer. I knew I would not see him in life again. The word yesterday was a shock, but not a surprise.

I am finishing up a doctorate. I hold two Master’s degrees. I do well in school and I’ve probably already read 50 times the number of books that Pedro ever read in his life. This man, though, is one of my heroes. When he opened his mouth you’d better listen, because what he didn’t have in book-learning he had in years of life lived carefully, deliberately and wisely. At his passing, he was far more educated than me. God rest his holy soul.

I have a picture of him I took last July. His eyes are so intense it hurt to return his gaze, and yet I could not help but do so. The photo doesn’t do it justice. There was a communication between his inner being and my inner being that has been matched only with very select few. He knew exactly what was going on and was at peace. I knew exactly what was going on and I was not nearly in as much peace as he. His gaze was peace-giving, and his love was cosmic—and yet focused on me. I’ll never forget the moment. It stretches the word “holy” almost to the breaking point.

There is a strand in the braid of my life that is Pedro Lopez. With every strand in a braid the time comes when it disappears into the center of the chord, out of sight, and yet very much present. Pedro has disappeared, and if I pray and work hard enough at being human maybe God will give me the grace to have him reappear in the way I am when I, too, lay on my last bed.

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Irma

Harvey has just rendered the south-central coast sopping, mopping wet. A pitiful picture I saw showed two older ladies in what seemed to be their house, sitting in easy chairs with water up to their waists. We prayed and continue to pray for those in need.

Now Irma is poised to pounce on Puerto Rico. I have friends with connections in Puerto Rico. I’ve been there. They call it La Isla del Encanto, the Enchanted Island. Antigua and Barbuda, well versed in storm survival, came through amazingly well, thanks be to God. We’ll have to see about Puerto Rico.

It is an enchanted island. Linked by popular demand to the United States but refusing statehood, it sits in the Caribbean like a happy step-child. It produces a constant flow of people back and forth, but mainly forth (most Puerto Ricans live on the continent.) The Dominican Republic is their source of cheap labor and the place they love to hate. Like a banty rooster with a US sized chip on its shoulder, Puerto Rico, with its quirky dialect of Spanish, tend to send people who do well when they come to the continent. The moniker fits.

But there will be those for whom the enchantment won’t show up. As Florida is hunkering down they will be emerging after the passing of the storm. They will lose homes. They will suffer loss. They may suffer injury. We pray for them.

Let us pray also that we do not pray only for our own, but for all who face this challenge, and for ourselves who face the challenges of provincialism, small-mindedness, egocentrism and stinginess of soul. Irma should open us up, not shut us down.

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Labor Day Weekend

Isn’t it just delightful that over Labor Day weekend we all go out and play? My wife and I certainly did. We took a camper into the hills on Friday night and came back only for Church on Sunday. We took hikes into the surrounding mountains with the dogs, we watched the sun rising on the trees around us, we cooked on the open fire and we spent an inordinate amount of time looking at one another, sighing and saying, “Isn’t it great not to HAVE to DO anything?” In fact, sometimes the urge to do something responsible was so strong it was work to fight it back. (I did succumb and cut some firewood to bring back…) Maybe that’s what is meant by “Labor Day.”

“Labor” is an interesting word. We use it to describe a woman’s work in giving birth. “Giving birth” is a gift to the child, the family and the future. “Labor” is what she goes through to do it. All good gifts are labor. They require effort. Even giving birth to leisure can be labor. At the same time, work can be fun, relaxing and recreating. Leisure is not merely the counterbalance to work, it is its complement, it’s completion. Without one there could not be the other, and we are always doing both.

In the Book of Common Prayer there is a prayer that has always struck me. It’s found in the service called Compline, meant to be said just before bed. It reads, “O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Just as work and leisure make one another meaningful, if it were not for the community of individuals in our society neither work nor leisure would have much meaning.

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Water

Harvey pounced on Rockport and the Texas coast, dumping Noahic quantities of water on a very flat place. He wandered inland half-way to San Antonio, then swooped out over the Gulf again, scooping up acre-feet of water and marched with muddy feet up the Mississippi Valley. Everywhere we see pictures of just the tops of cars above the water and people on balconies because their ground floor is a lake. Tens of thousands are without power, and we’re hearing the stories of grief or near misses.

Water on flat land piles up and slowly drowns things. Water in the mountains collects into floods that wash devastation downhill, making moonscapes overnight. Pick your poison. Or, if you like, you can read Lieutenant Emory’s account of crossing the Southwest submitted to Washington on December 15, 1847, you can read about taking hundreds of men and animals across what had to have been Death Valley, going days without water and eating their horses when the poor creatures finally just dried up and gave up.

On the other hand, water in the right quantities is life. Religions around the world celebrate that fact in rituals that involve water: ritual bathing, sacred wells, rivers and lakes, drinking and spreading water around. There is between the desert and the flood the golden mean of life. There is, between silence and noise, the golden mean of speech. There is, between loneliness and a crowd, the golden mean of community. There is, between birth and death, the golden mean of meaning.

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Grief

All over the nation people have and will spend a moment in silence remembering Wanda Walters and Kristina Carter of Clovis. Both were known and loved in the community, but on Monday afternoon a troubled young Nathaniel Jouette stepped into the library and opened fire, cutting their lives short. We continue to keep Jessica Thron, Howard Jones, and Alexis Molina in our prayers as they fight for their lives in a Lubbock ICU. Thanks be that Alexis’ brother Noah is not so critical.  We will remember them all in our noon church service today.

(……….silence……….)

Our grief splits our hearts in two. On the one hand we rush to the side of the bereaved and the suffering. Rightly we want to stand with them in their pain, knowing that in company the pain can become cathartic, but alone it is unbearable. It is still senseless at this point, but somehow we know that together we can weather this better.

On the other hand my heart rages at the absence of men strong enough to corral young Nathaniel. Who could have saved him from his self-imposed initiation into something horrible? Who could have channeled his energies toward life rather than toward death? Who could have taught him that using hells methods never achieves heaven’s goals? Who could have shown him that he is important in the world but he’s not the center of it? I know others feel as I do.

(……….silence……….)

Maybe this is what it means to have your heart broken. If so, may this break our hearts open to wisdom and compassion and not shut them down in bitterness and despair.

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Phenomenology

This morning Cooke’s Peak was a grey ghost behind a veil of pink gossamer cloud. She hovered on the horizon like a distant memory of something solid. The other day she was dashed in white on her summit, frosted after a storm. She stood solid and present. Today, though, she was a grey ghost.

An empirical mind would say, “appearances aren’t everything. If you drove through the gossamer veil you would find her solid as a rock, standing tall to her predictable 8404 ft. above sea level. You just experience her as immaterial because of the tricks the light plays on your eyes, playing through the clouds and the early morning slant of the sun.” Phenomenology, on the other hand, looks at lived experience. It arose in the late nineteenth century, about the time the Modernist Movement was really gaining strength in theological circles. The Modernist Movement sought to read the Bible empirically, to demythologize it and figure out what “really” happened when the sun stood still for Moses and Jesus walked on water. The whole world was going scientific, and phenomenology, in its desire to dig deeply into the essential experience empirically, ended up being a healthy counterpoint to the rest of the world. Of course, it leaves us with the question of what is real, and the answer depends on where you stand. To the physical scientist Cooke’s Peak is always a stack of rock. To this phenomenologist this morning she was a grey ghost.

The irony for me is that we cannot talk of ultimate reality in any other than phenomenological terms. Our lived experience with the holy is all we have. The only “empirical” test we have is the consensus of the community of the initiated, in my case, the Christian Church. After all, how do you put a tape measure to a metaphor? —not that God is a metaphor, but all the great thinkers of the Christian tradition agree from the very earliest years that all we have to offer to talk about God is metaphor. Augustine of Hippo said, “If you understand it, it’s not God.”

No wonder we are moving so quickly to a post-modern world. The only language we have to talk about what really matters stubbornly resists reduction to empirical method. Hurrah for phenomenology! It has emerged from its philosophical (and often atheistic) roots to save the world!

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