On Their Shoulders, redux

Since Diane Rehm and Kojo Nnamdi are playing reruns I thought that I would too, and take this labor day off… This post originally appeared labor day 2013

I’ve been a hard worker for most of my life.  I’m not sure how much of that has to do with some inner drive but I know for sure that my working hard does have a lot to do with the blessing of watching people that I have admired work hard, many of them being those who were also willing to teach me what they knew.  So I’ve spent a lot of this day of rest for workers remembering all of the people who I was blessed to watch and to learn from.  Throughout the day the memories have piled up.

I remember watching my Dad and Uncle Frank rewire and repair the foundation on our summer cottage (I fetched tools for them).  I remember Joe Loss who taught me to fish and to put cedar shingles on the roof of the house he built all by himself (and at fifteen years old to enjoy a lunch consisting of Campbell’s Mushroom soup eaten directly from the can with warm Stroh’s beer).  I remember the Schmidt Bothers, owners of Schmidt Lawn and Garden in Wheaton, IL., who just a month after I got my driver’s license sent me out to deliver repaired Yazoo lawn tractors in a Chevy pick-up truck with a three-speed shift on the column and a trailer with the following instructions: “Be careful backing up – everything is backwards!”  I remember Bob and Ed, the owners of the Ace Hardware where I worked for a couple of summers teaching me how to tell people what they needed to fix their toilets and make new keys for them.  I remember Mr. Baumgartner and Charlie Berger teaching me how to draw, Bob Swaney teaching me how to rehab buildings and the DeLuco brothers teaching me how to fabricate metal and Craig Kaviar teaching me how to heat it up and move it around with a hammer and an anvil.  I remember David Lind teaching me how to make molds and cast bronze…  And after that I remember Ellen and John teaching me about the Old and New Testaments, Judith teaching me to preach, Randolph teaching me about the homeless and Mark teaching me about being a pastor.  I can also remember Jesus, laborer of love, teaching me that if I showed myself to him he’d show himself to me.   He still asks.

I’ve left so many out.  But I’m glad I remembered God before posting this.  Golly.  Faces are flooding in.  I bet yours is one.  Remember with me today, or tomorrow, all those whose labor of love has helped you and me become who we are.  And a very happy Labor Day to each and every one…

Jim

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Don’t Get Hoodwinked

“Surely you have not been deceived too, have you?”

-Matthew 7:47b

 

No one likes to have the wool pulled over their eyes, and even worse, to have someone who is “higher up the ladder” question if that’s what’s happened to you.  This is the very situation that the temple police find themselves in when they report back to the chief priest and Pharisees that they have not arrested Jesus as they were commanded to do.   The quote above (which comes from the gospel lesson from today’s Daily Office lectionary) is how the chief priests and Pharisees react to the temple police coming back empty-handed.

 

One evening at a company year-end party I found myself staring straight down the barrel of this same question.  At the other end was our global CEO.  I was a mere sales manager and the CEO had found out that I went to church.   I learned in short order that night, and rather forcefully, that he was a staunch atheist.   “You don’t really believe all of that stuff do you?  I mean, how could you?  You live, you die and that’s that.  God?  Jesus?  How  anyone could be fooled by Christianity is beyond me.”

 

For many, the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is too much to believe.  The idea that the God who created the universe and all that is, would decide on purpose to become one of the created beings…and then die at the hands of members of that creation…all for the transgressions of that creation…is a bit much to swallow.  The harsh, condescending words of the chief priests and Pharisees ring out, “Surely you have not been deceived, too have you?”  If we apply the black and white, cut and dry logic of the world Jesus (the man, the historical figure, the God enfleshed, the concept, etc.) doesn’t make much sense.    As Paul writes to the Corinthians (in the epistle reading from the Eucharist lectionary for today), “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

 

Faith is not an easy undertaking; and faith requires us to stretch our hearts, minds and imaginations beyond the requirements of belief in things worldly.  Faith in the salvific power of Jesus requires an open heart and a belief that we humans are not the ones in control of the show here on earth, or in heaven.   We can make some further sense of Jesus if we look at his life, actions, death and resurrection through the lens of true love.  True love is stronger than our own selfish desires, makes us reach out beyond the limits of ourselves in generosity, kindness, giving all for the one whom we love.

Have we been deceived?  Have we dabbled in foolishness?  No.  We have responded to the fact that we have been truly and completely loved.

 

Matthewfirst

 

 

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South Africa – Week Four

I experienced the sweep of diversity that this country represents in a quite specific way this past Sunday.  As part of an organized tour of the Langa township in the morning, 10 of us (representing 3 other continents incidentally) stopped in for a half hour or so (of what is scheduled as a 3-1/2 hour service) at the Salvation Army Full Restoration Church, and in the afternoon I conducted the choir in Evensong at the Cathedral of St. George’s.  Both were genuine expressions of faith, both were filled with energized music-making.  Styles differed, but God was praised.image

I asked our morning guide why it was in any way appropriate to tour an area of poverty and gawk at poor people.  To sum up the lenthy, impassioned reply about the place and people he himself had grown up with, he said that our interest and presence as visitors in this community was seen as a blessing by those living there.  That they felt honored to have us there as their guests and that it is the obligation of tourism, as South Africa’s second largest industry after agriculture, to show all parts of his country.

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Every American visitor in Cape Town seemed to come out for the recital I played at the Cathedral last Friday.  The Cathedral’s organ is a gorgeous instrument from 1908, moved to South Africa from St. Margaret’s, Westminster (the parish church right next to a large and famous abbey church in London!), and it has been wonderful to share music by some American composers while here.  image

Why try to have a traditional Anglican music program in a country with such a wealth of musical traditions of its own?  What might have begun as a transplanted faith from a colonizing power, is now part of a reconcilation of all the cultures that have taken root here.  There is a hunger to explore all kinds of music, including a real interest in opera by young singers, and it is clear to me that music of the body, mind and heart can be drawn from traditions of all kinds.

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My husband returned home a few weeks ago, and my daughter, a pianist in New York City,  joined me here for the last ten days of my time away.  We’ve enjoyed a perfect  mix of music and scenery, making the obligatory tourist stops on Table Mountain and Robben Island, hearing two local jazz bands, having her connect with music students at the University of Cape Town, and absorbing the sights of flora and fauna that come straight from the pages of coffee table books as we drive into the countryside for a few days before leaving on Friday.

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True, there’s no place like home and I’ll be most happy to be back, but there’s no place like South Africa either.  Though South African hospitality might say that they have been blessed by my visit, the world has been blessed to be part of, to witness, and to learn from the struggles and triumphs of this rainbow nation.  God bless Africa. guard her children.  Guide her leaders and give her peace.  For Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.  I have the same prayer for my own country.

SonyaFirst004

 

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Unbelievable! (Five)

This series explores what we don’t believe — and why — in order to help us understand what we do believe, and why we do.

The church does not believe that our flesh is a cage for our soul. 

It happens just before the start of each funeral we conduct at my kpjbpk-18karcherservices28largechurch. Someone — a family member, a friend, a person from the funeral home — brings the coffin or the container of ashes into the church. The priest greets it at the door, drapes it with a beautifully-embroidered cloth, and then prays. Only then are the remains of a man, woman, or child moved into place.

Those gestures are a mark of respect. They reveal that we do not treat the body as a discarded husk that once contained a soul; rather, we 0312-0057_elohim_creating_adamrecognize it as flesh that God has created, that God has loved, and that God has even worn himself. To the faithful Christian, to be a human being is to be an incarnate soul, both in this world and in the next.

And  yet, from the beginning, Christianity has been plagued by a Platonic dualism that encourages us to believe that we are really our souls, that upon our death we will just be spirits floating among the clouds, that this body is a trap and a source of temptation, not integral to who we truly are.

A lot of this confusion comes from St. Paul, who spoke of mind (psyche), flesh (sarx) and spirit (pneuma), words which get even more confusing when they are translated.  So we get passages like this one: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6) Yikes!

The catch is here to realize that St. Paul’s “flesh” (sarx) is not the same thing as the body. “Flesh” is a metaphor that comprehends  everything in us that rebels against the will of God. Thus, Scripture defines flesh as including both bodily sins (gluttony, fornication) and spiritual ones (quarreling, jealousy, envy). The spirit (pneuma), meanwhile, includes all things that embrace God’s will, things both of body and of soul. Love, joy, peace are all things of the spirit, but so are giving money to the poor or feeding the hungry or nursing a hungry child — things which are of the body.

Once we wrap our minds around this, our discipleship takes on a whole new meaning. Our work is not to punish our bodies and Unknowneradicate their basic needs (like those saints in the Middle Ages who tried to live for years without eating food); rather, it is to bring our whole selves to Christ and to use everything that is in us to love and serve God and one another.

That’s why the church proclaims the resurrection of the dead as a  bodily resurrection: because to be human is to be incarnate, in this world or in the next.  But that will be the content of my next posting….

For now, I’d like to leave you with an image. It’s an image that comes Unknown-3from the pages of history, and from the front pages of our newspapers this week. The historic image, which you will mostly likely recognize, is Florence Nightingale, “the Lady with the Lamp.” She was the founder of modern nursing, a woman who went to the battlefields of the Crimea and brought to that bloody carnage the tender and effective care of the shattered bodies of the soldiers. The image from today is the nurses who are caring for the victims of ebola in Africa, many at the cost of their own lives, and of the men who are burying the dead, even though their ownWORKERS-master675 families are so frightened of the disease that they refuse to allow them to return home.

Did those stories stir your heart? If they did, it’s because you recognize, at some deep level, that you are flesh, that at some point in your life, the kindest thing someone might do for your soul is to give you a cup of cold water, or a warm blanket, or to hold your hand when you are frightened. We are one thing, one whole creation, bodily flesh and spirit intertwined. One thing which God loves. Thanks be to God.

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Finding One’s Place

At this beginning of the school year, I am reminded of one of the more stupid things I´ve done. That was to go out for football when I was a junior in high school. I wasn´t sports inclined previously, and where this notion came from I haven´t a clue. Knowing I wasn´t varsity-ready due to a complete lack of experience, I thought B-squad might be an OK entry point where my new colleagues on the field would teach me the game. I also knew I wasn´t ready for a position with high visibility, like end or quarterback, so I told the coach I go for guard – thatś the position next to the center, between the center and the tackle. That was stupidity multiplied, for I was then about 155 lbs and the other guys playing the line positions were much bigger. Did the coach try to channel me into something more suitable? I don´t recall, but remembering what I was like then, if he did, I probably didn´t get it.

Compounding my lack of aptitude and experience was the cultural divide. I was definitely one of the nerds, in the advanced math and science classes, on the college bound track. That was my in-crowd. I was definitely not a member of the other tribe – the jocks. There was one guy on the team that combined both, George, the fullback, but I wasn´t that guy. He was one of those who can do anything and everything and was, as I recall, class president or homecoming king or most popular, or maybe all of those.

On about the second day of practice, it was impressed on me that I had invaded the other tribeś turf and that they didn´t like it one bit. My opposite number at the line of scrimmage on one particular play, Ed, was a year behind me. Ed had been playing football all through junior high. He outweighed me by about a hundred pounds. Football was what he excelled at. My side had the ball, and when the center snapped the ball into the quarterbackś hands, Ed didn´t just push me out of the way; he whacked me across the bridge of my nose with his forearm. Blood! Mercy, I´ve never seen so much blood. Where did it come from? It gushed from my nose like suddenly opening a faucet. It soaked the front of my jersey, my pants, and even my socks. Maybe that was just an initiation, and if I had stuck it out I might have been accepted and even learned to play the game. But I took it for what I still think it was, Ed, on behalf of the others, saying what I already knew, ¨you are not one of us – get back on your side of the river.¨ So I thought, ¨OK. Do you really need this? Stick to what you are good at and let these guys have this area where they excel.¨

The prayer For Young Persons (BCP 829) never fails to remind me of this misadventure.

God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Albanś Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 26-August-2014.

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Making a Difference

Rumbek youth union elect woman as new leader

August 25, 2014 (RUMBEK) – The Rumbek Youth Union (RUMYU) branch in Kenyan capital Nairobi has elected a woman as its new chairperson. The election was organised by students residing in Nairobi seeking a leader to address Lakes state’s internal affairs issues both abroad and at home.

Awut Mayom Agok won the poll with 166 votes ahead of Lion Ghum Maper Manyiel in second position with 164 votes.

It’s the first time a woman has been elected as leader of Lakes state’s most powerful union since the organisation was established in 1987 in Khartoum. It currently represents Rumbek East, Rumbek Central and Rumbek North counties.

The article above comes from today’s issue of the Sudan Tribune.  awut_mayom_agok_the_new_chairlady_of_rumyu_in_nairobi-02c32Awut Mayom Agok, also known as Deborah Awut, graduated in 2011 from the Hope and Resurrection Secondary School in the South Sudan.  For parishioners wondering why this may be significant, we at St. Alban’s are mission partners with Hope for Humanity, Inc. A little more than a year ago your Mustard Seed donations funded the construction of a Girl’s Dorm at the school. Parishioner Dick Parkins met Deborah as she led the students in singing songs when visiting the school in 2009. The news about Deborah’s election came in an e-mail this morning from Jennifer Ernst, one of the school’s directors, with the following: “This is a shining example of the difference St Alban’s is making in South Sudan!”

Yesterday St. Alban’s Mission Committee completed an eighteen-month process of discernment that has resulted in a reorganized Mission Committee structure.  “God’s Work in the World” is the title of this new structure designed to empower our outreach as a parish.  Many have undoubtedly noticed the emphasis at the Adult Forum’s in August that focused on Peace and Education and read about yesterday’s forum that featured our new Global Mission Group’s commitment to mission and ministry in Africa, The Middle East and Latin America.  The new mission structure also includes a three-year commitment to an initiative called TLC (Transforming the Lives of Children through Education), renewed commitments to examine, revise and expand existing ministries as well as encouraging parishioners to exercise their own gifts for mission and ministry within the parish – together we are turning water into wine!

The subgroups in St. Alban’s new mission structure, God’s Work in the World, include the following:

  • TLC:  Transforming the Lives of Children through Education
  • Global Mission
  • Sustaining and Situational Ministries (Crossroads, SOME, Grate Patrol, Christ House, Opportunity Shop, Mustard Seeds, etc.)
  • Entrepreneurial Ministries (Water into Wine initiatives, helping parishioners promote & exercise personal gifts for ministry)

Our new mission structure relies on a trinity of partners within the parish:  The Vestry, members of the Mission Committee & the laity and The Workers of St. Alban’s. Together, and with your help, thanks be to God, we will set forth as we stand on St. Alban’s firm foundation of doing God’s work in the world.  If today’s Cup has created a spark in your heart, let us know and we will discern your role and how to take part…

Amen, Happy Monday and congratulations Deborah Awut!

Jim+

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Swearing at God

7 As when a plowman turns over the earth in furrows,*

let their bones be scattered at the mouth of the grave.

8 But my eyes are turned to you, Lord GOD;*

in you I take refuge;

do not strip me of my life.”

 

In one or two previous Daily Cup posts I’ve commented on the fact that I love the psalms.  Specifically, I love the wide range of emotion that the psalmist gives us in these prayers to God and the permission they then give us in how we speak to God.   The psalms conjure up vivid images that express emotions that we almost all have from time to time.  Perhaps the words used might not be our first choice when we pray to God, but the feelings they express are ones that we most likely have experienced.

 

The portion of the Psalter above comes near the conclusion of Psalm 141, read during the  Office of Morning Prayer today.  How honest; how angry; how REAL are these words?  Who hasn’t wanted someone who has slighted us, made us feel foolish or hurt us in some way get the same treatment in return?   Perhaps we’ve never wished that the person who wronged you would have his or her bones churned up in a field by a plowman exactly, but I’ll wager that we’ve had moments when we’ve wanted some revenge.  From time to time we want someone to “get their just deserts,” or “get a taste of their own medicine.”

9 Protect me from the snare which they have laid for me *

and from the traps of the evildoers.

10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets,*

while I myself escape.”

 

What we say to God in prayer matters.  The words we use, the emotions we express matter when we talk with God.  Being open and honest with God is exactly the kind of relationship God wants with all of creation.  Talking with God, not in some sort of Elizabethan English, but talking plainly and straight from our heart is what helps us to be in closer relationship with God.  Saying what we mean, what we feel, and expressing what we hope God will do about all of that is exactly what brings us into honest relationship with God.

 

Have you ever sworn at God?  Have you ever cursed God out?  Have you literally yelled at God?  I’ve asked that question to a number of the youth I work with and they usually look at me like I’ve lost my mind.  Most often I ask them, “Do you think you’ll come up with a swear word that God hasn’t heard before?”  Being angry with God is alright.  Expressing that anger, hurt, abandonment should come with just as much force as when we thank God for the wonderful things that have been gifts from God.

 

How wonderful it is that God wants to be in relationship with us, hearing our deepest thoughts, dreams, fears, joys and all the rest.  How wonderful it is that God wants us to be exactly who we are when we talk with God, and that God will always love us anyway.

 

Matthewfirst

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