"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Sunday, January 30, 2005 The Gospel reading today was the Beatitudes from Matthew. Both this morning at Holy Communion and tonight at Common Ground, I had a chance to hear them several times ... and both times, the same word jumped out at me:
Matthew has Jesus mentioning righteousness twice in the Beatitudes:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When I hear the word "righteousness", the image that comes to mind is triumphal ... a clenched fist, a stiff back ... images of sheer power founded in the justness of the cause.
When I hear the word "righteousness" in conversation, it is invariably used by people who are convinced of the justice of their cause ... convinced that their persecution for that cause will indeed earn them the kingdom of heaven. Convinced that their hunger and thirst for it will be sated and slaked.
And maybe they are right. But more and more, I'm realizing that in my own life and in so much of what I observe, "righteousness" is really self-righteousness. It's the arrogance of my own convictions. My conviction that I am right ... and my ability to link that belief to my beliefs about Christ and about the Gospel ... that is the foundation for much of my feelings of righteousness.
In my life and in much of what I observe around me, when the word "righteousness" is used or alluded to, ego isn't far behind.
What's interesting is that Matthew's Jesus clearly has another idea about righteousness ... and you only have to go back a little way to see it.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated the feast of Jesus' baptism and read Matthew 3:13-17, which reads, in part:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.
Jesus came to John to be baptized, but John, knowing who Jesus was tried to say "No way!" (Kind of a first-century Wayne and Garth "we're not worthy!")But Jesus didn't just tell him to get on with it, he chose his words carefully. Even though John was right that he needed to be baptized by Jesus, it was necessary for Jesus to take the subservient position of being baptized by John ... and it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness.
The righteousness of Christ. The righteousness of the Beatitudes. This is never self-righteousness. It is never the righteousness that is bound up in ego or supported by a clenched fist or a stiff neck. The righteousness of Christ is always the righteousness of humility. Of taking the role of the servant. Of teaching by serving. Of witnessing by serving. Of allowing yourself to be persecuted not so you can feel righteous, but out of love for your oppressor so that they may come to righteousness.
It is the righteousness of loving conversion not of vindictive vindication.
Dan Roschke, the intern at Lutheran Campus Ministry, was the preacher at Common Ground tonight and he used a piece of the Tao te Ching as an example of meekness but that also illustrates this incredibly well. It's from Chapter 76:
A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.
Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.
Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.
I think of Jesus ... and Gandhi ... and Rosa Parks ... and so many others who exemplify righteousness and yes, it is their steadfastness that is one of the hallmarks of their righteousness -- but it is also their humility, their willingness to yield, their willingness to accept blows with resilience out of love for the striker.
I hope I can hunger and thirst for that kind of righteousness. It's hard ... really hard. It feels so much better in the short run to be self-righteous.
Maybe those who are persecuted for true righteousness sake inherit the kingdom of heaven, enter fully into the realm of God, because it is those people who have fully let go of everything that stands between themselves and loving everyone ... even their oppressor.
It's Wednesday night, and in an hour we'll be gathering at Rockwell House for Eucharist.
Tonight, we'll be celebrating the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. We'll be using that reading from Acts, the original ending of the Gospel of Mark and a clip from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie (the scene where Donald Sutherland convinces Buffy that she's got a gift by throwing a knife at her head, which she instinctively catches perfectly) to look at the whole question of call.
As I've been preparing for tonight, I've thought a lot about all the conversations I've had about call in ECM through the years. For college students, it's obviously a big topic.
What strikes me more than anything is how rare and wonderful the experiences like St. Paul's are. Where there is a moment of such extreme clarity that even though the decision might be difficult, the path is absolutely clear. More common and more frustrating are the countless times that doesn't happen ... where we truly believe Christ is moving in our lives but we can't figure out where it is moving us. More common and more frustrating are the times others see things in us we just can't see in ourselves.
But the more I think about it, I think those more common and, in many ways, more difficult routes are in the long run the better ones. I know one student who is really struggling with vocational call ... and I cannot tell you how much I admire how much she is hanging in the struggle with integrity ... doggedly looking for Christ's guiding voice ... and in the process she is discovering so much more about herself and cultivating gifts of patience and endurance that she never would have had otherwise.
One of the great gifts I'm given in my work, is I get to follow these amazing people through thoses processes. I get to watch them learn and grow. I get to watch them support and love each other through it all. And when those times of clarity come, I get to watch them be brave and courageous and happy and ecstatic.
Thursday, January 20, 2005 Last week, Landen Romei, one of our students, emailed me an article about Rev. Michael Ray, the rector of St. Thomas' Church in New Haven, CT, who has decided to stop performing any weddings in response to the diocese of Connecticut's refusal to allow same-sex blessings. I can always count on Landen to toss stuff at me that challenges me!
I've been thinking a lot about marriage recently. For one, I've been wrestling with whether I can continue to act as an agent of the state in weddings. I've finally decided that in good conscience I cannot.
Basically it comes down to this: I believing acting as such an agent contributes to a blurring of lines that has the state convinced it has the right to define a sacrament of the church and who can (and cannot) receive it. My role as priest is to lead the people in blessing and to announce that God has blessed relationships that through their mutual love, joy and fidelity are a blessing. It is not to be involved in the legal aspects of who can and cannot be legally attached to one another.
I am making one exception to this ... a couple at whose wedding I agreed to preside before I made this decision so as not to go back on my promise to them (so Eric and Minette, you can exhale now!).
But Michael Ray's decision introduces a whole new aspect. Previously, I had figured since Bishop Smith (at last check) was permitting same-sex blessings to take place in our diocese as a pastoral matter, I would do a blessing of a civil marriage for some couples and some suitable liturgy of blessing for others. But as I read about Michael Ray's decision, more and more that strikes me as sort of "separate but equal" thinking (which invariably is actually "separate but unequal").
What I really would love to have is one liturgy that I could use for everyone -- a service of a blessing of a committed relationship. Obviously, canonically it couldn't be a marriage, so I guess I would be saying that I wouldn't do any more weddings. But practically speaking, it would serve the same function as a wedding -- gathering the couple in the midst of the community, leading them all in blessing and announcing that God has blessed this relationship that through its mutual love, joy and fidelity is a blessing.
What appeals to me about this (besides it allowing me to function in good conscience) is that it seems at least a small way that I as a straight person can stand with my GLBTQ sisters and brothers. That's been the missing piece for me. I believe in what we did at General Convention. I also believe that we need to honor our relationships in the broader communion and in some ways that means sacrifice and (yet again) patience for a population that has already done that aplenty. But if I, as a member of probably the most privileged class in the planet's history (straight, white, educated, wealthy by global standards, American citizen, married with two kids, the list goes on) am going to call my sisters and brothers who are less privileged to sacrifice, I need to find a way ... even a small way ... to stand with them.
I had this conversation with some clergy friends online, and it led to some talk of trying to come up with such a liturgy. But it also led me into a deeper conversation with a priest friend who is living in a committed same-sex relationship. A conversation about what it might really mean to stand with GLBTQ people.
In that conversation I saw a depth to that life that I hadn't seen. I heard a story of a person who felt unable as a priest to talk about spouse and children publicly. As usually happens when I move from thinking and talking about issues to actually listening to people, I began to get a different and more profound sense of the depth of what's involved here.
I don't know what the answers are. Like everything else, I think the road needs to be traveled with care, patience and humility. For me, most of all it's a question of how I can live with integrity -- and if there's a more complex question out there, I'm not sure what it is. I'm just glad there are other people struggling with it, too.
| Mike at 1/20/2005 08:35:00 PM
Friday, January 14, 2005 Well, the team is set for the trip to the Diocese of Lui in Southern Sudan. Tina had to drop out (she's going to find out where she's going to med school a week or so before we were supposed to leave and that would leave her only 2 weeks after returning to find a place to live, move, etc. -- which would be kind of crazy), and we almost added a couple other people (one of which is this really great doc who is an infectious disease specialist ... he can't go this time, but we're hopeful he'll go next year or the next).
The other thing is it seems like everyone and their uncle is going to the Sudan. Got an email back from Penny Bridges, seminary classmate and rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Great Falls, Virginia, and she said that she's going later this year. Then got an article emailed to me about Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem, PA (and my seminary liturgy prof) and the trip he just took to Sudan. Seems like the destination of choice for today's Episcopalian. At least that should make people who are nervous about this trip feel better ... apparently it isn't too uncommon.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005 Back from the ordination. It was amazing, as was being there for Noah's first celebration of Eucharist on Sunday morning. A few pictures:
Here's Noah and me after the ordination. As part of the service, after the new priests are ordained, someone (usually someone from their congregation) comes up and vests them with a stole as a sign of their ordination. Noah and his wife, Sara, were both being ordained priests ... so they vested each other -- which was really cool.
Here's the two of us again but with Christiana Russ. Christiana was the founding student of ECM ... the one who dragged me by the ear when I was a new deacon at SMSG and said "You WILL do this!" about campus ministry. Right now, she's an M.D. doing her residency in pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital ... and she's a postulant for the priesthood in our diocese. Ellen Wilson, another early ECM student, was also there ... but the picture of her (unfortunately) was even blurrier than this one).
Friday, January 07, 2005 Sitting in a bar in Boston
using free wi-fi and waiting until ECM alum Ellen Wilson gets off work at the Harvard Coop so we can dine and catch up. I'm in town for Noah Evans' (another ECM alum) ordination to the priesthood tomorrow. It's an exciting event ... the first ECM alum to be ordained priest. I'll be one of his presenters and then he asked me to preach at his first celebration of Eucharist Sunday morning (and also do adult ed about the whole 0.7% for the MDGs campaign, so I'll be busy).
Spending tonight with my sister-in-law Leslie and tomorrow night with the Farias (two of Schroedter's godparents and our buddies from seminary), so I'm packing a lot in.
On the plane I got more into reading "Borderland Theology" ... the book my dad gave me for Christmas. It talks about the incarnation as a border crossing (crossing the border between divinity and humanity) and, with the way God in Christ did it, Jesus pretty much being an illegal immigrant (or at least despised as one). I'd never thought about it in those terms ... casting Jesus as a refugee (from pure divinity). It's an interesting image to play with.
Also am re-watching Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi" -- which I really believe is my favorite film of all time. It's interesting to hold those two works together at the same time. In "Borderland Theology," Jerry Gill spends some time talking about the Christ hymn in Philippians and the "self-emptying" (kenosis) act of God in becoming human (Desmond Tutu and others talk a lot about this, too) and we as the body of Christ being the living incarnation of that self-emptying. It's what Gandhi lived.
It occurs to me that a place where that is most difficult is at home. It's a lot easier for me to think in grand theological terms and grand movements of people ... but a lot more difficult for me to act as a servant in my own home. That's the place where I behave most selfishly -- with the people I care about the most. That's where I get the most defensive.
One of the things Gandhi did continually was hold up the ethic of living something himself before trying to lead people in it. I'm becoming convinced that's the only way to do it. I think why I and others often skip that step is that living a life of radical servitude and love privately at home is perhaps the toughest piece of it all.
More later. Oh, Amber Stancliffe (yet ANOTHER ECM alum) should be finishing up General Ordination Exams either tonight or tomorrow (don't know the schedule). Yeah, Amber!
| Mike at 1/07/2005 05:33:00 PM
Tuesday, January 04, 2005 150,000 is...
As the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami moves over 150,000, it's important to remember what else that number represents.
*the number of women who die in childbirth every four months worldwide, most of whom are in the developing world (Source: World Health Organization)
*the number of children under five who die every five days worldwide, most of whom live in the developing world, most of whom die of treatable or preventable causes (like malaria) (Source: World Health Organization)
*half the number of youth and girls serving as child soldiers around the world. Many are less than 10 years old. Many girl soldiers are forced into different forms of sexual slavery. (Source: UNHCR)
*the number of people who die of malaria worldwide every seven weeks (Source: World Health Organization)
*the number of people who die of HIV/AIDS worldwide every 18 days(Source: DATA)
None of this is to criticize giving to tsunami relief. I've done it ... I hope you do it. It's important.
But there's a weird psychology of giving that makes people give to big, headline-catching, crisis events (like this and 9/11) and not to long-term crises and developmental need (like global AIDS relief). In fact, because people budget their charitable giving, an ancillary cost to events like the tsunami is that other important aid gets taken from incredibly important work.
As we give and as we encourage others to give to tsunami relief, we need to make sure we're giving and talking about giving new money that wouldn't already have been given away. Otherwise, we're just shifting money from one hungry child to another and not really responding to tragedy at all.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."