Attitude Adjustment

“He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God; 
many shall see, and stand in awe,
and put their trust in the Lord.” –Psalm 40:3

 

There are moments in my life when I’ve needed an attitude adjustment:  I’ve been grumpy about x, y, or z thing and realized my grumpiness (and usually the fact that I really didn’t need to be grumpy) about whatever was going on.  Usually, these times involve things out of my direct control where I am reliant on other people or events to “get with the program!”

 

In those moments, especially when I become cognizant of my unhappiness, I see clearly that my mental state and my attitude are effecting others around me.  Chances are, you’ve been around someone you know who was frustrated, agitated, unhappy, etc. and been left feeling a bit more frustrated, agitated, unhappy, etc. yourself.   We have a larger impact on those around us–and especially those with whom we are in relationship of any kind–than we realize.

 

The psalmist acknowledges this in the portion of the Psalter appointed for today’s Morning Prayer service.  However, for the psalmist, not agitation or frustration is the contagion, but praise to God.  Those who hear the “new song” of praise to God are left standing in awe.  The attitude adjustment that this new song brings results in a new trust in God for those who are witness.

 

What new song has God put in your mouth?  What will you do or say today–what “song of praise”–will let even one person know of your faith, your love, your thankfulness to God?

 

In Christ’s Name,

Matthewfirst

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In the Beginning There Was Hope

My reply to the question “What do you want for Christmas?” started as a joke.  “World Peace.” But why joke about it? Why not wish for it in earnest? The human race has never been particularly drawn towards peaceful resolution to anything, and I don’t think we live with more violence now than any time in the past, but that doesn’t make me feel hopeless. As the Bishop of Washington told the congregation at St. Alban’s last Sunday during her visitation, hopelessness isn’t an option for Christians. Because we know and see and experience so many acts of hatred, prejudice, ignorance, or simple unkindness we have all the more reason to hold the hope for peace in our hearts. Not just holding onto that hope, but clinging to it for dear life. Literally.

I cry very easily. You might as well know that about me. And tears invariably come when we sing Hymn 597 (The Hymnal 1982), O day of peace that dimly shines and get to the line in verse 2 that echoes Isaiah’s prophecy, “a little child shall lead them all.” A little child shall lead the wolf and the lamb, the beast and the cattle. A little child shall teach enemies to love and all creatures to find peace. The words, drawn from Isaiah by hymn-writer Carl Daw, are moving of course, but it is the coupling of the words with the tune of British composer Charles Parry that does me in every time. [full text: O day of peace]

Daw himself wanted his words to convey the message that peace is about more than not fighting. It is about truly living “abundantly in harmony and mutual goodwill. Although the text affirms that peace is always God’s gift, it also recognizes the importance of human responsibility in preparing an environment in which peace can flourish,” he said.

I don’t think you could fail to feel nobler, stronger or more deeply impassioned when hearing or singing Parry’s majestic tune from 1916. The words he was setting were those of poet William Blake: “And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England’s mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On England’s pleasant pastures seen”… an ultimate expression of church + state, not really suitable for American congregations. Carl Daw’s words allow us to step back from the island of peace we might try to create just around ourselves, and think about the possibility of an entire earth where the hope for peace is fulfilled. It begins with a hope, a belief, a wish – clung to in our hearts and minds.

SonyaFirst004

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The Church in the World

UnknownMonday night, I had the good fortune to attend a fantastic Christmas concert by the Choral Arts Society of Washington. It was a rich blend of music old and new, made richer by the fact that the concert was under the patronage of the Ambassador of Argentina, which brought an abundance of Argentine Christmas music onto the program.

And so the images collided with one another: Gloria in Excelsis! met “Riding a red bolt, the angel Gabriel comes flying. With a star-pointed saber, silver spurs, he was elegant.” “Joy to the World” rubbed up against “O Holy Night,” played on a steel-string guitar by the guitarist from Steely Dan. Bach’s choral magnificence danced with the Piazzola’s orchestral tango settings.

Midway through, it started to feel familiar. In fact, as I thought about it, it started to feel like church. Dressing nicely to go someplace special. Gathering, greeting the people you know. Settling into the seats and becoming silent, except when we were singing. Hearing the ancient message of Christmas dressed up in new clothes. I found myself wondering, “For how many of the people here is this their church, the place they come to be inspired and made whole?” Looking around the concert hall, I could guess that many of them would not be in church on Christmas Eve; this probably was their worship.

That’s the thing about church: it is always breaking out of its familiar images-2confines. A concert, a walk in the woods, the intense feeling of connection that occurs before a big game, a conversation between two strangers in a bar, or two friends over Chinese take-out in a messy apartment: wherever people are able to connect with one another in a deep and honest way, God is there. God is there.

And so I’d ask you to think about the unexpected places you have met God recently — and even, if it’s not too personal, to share them. Are images-1there places that are church for you (other than your parish)? What makes them holy ground? And what can we, the people who make up the Body of Christ in this world, learn from them? Do they have ways of fostering intimacy? Of making your heart whole? Of making the stranger welcome, of encouraging us to venture beyond the safe confines of our past, into the present where God is waiting for us to come?

In one week, we are going to celebrate God’s least likely appearance: as a baby, naked, crying, born into penury, with no place to lay his head. There was no one who could have predicted it. There was no one who could have imagined it. Even with the angels and the star and a host of miracles, people looked at him his whole life and did not see it — thousands of people.

If God did all that for us, just so we could learn to see him, shouldn’t we be looking in the other unexpected places, the ones of our daily lives? They are all around us — and so is God.

 

Posted in The Rev. Dr. Deborah Meister | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The village came together

If the people that live on my floor of our condo are representative, then there is an 80% chance that you didn’t see a piece in the Metro section of yesterday’s Washington Post that is moving and instructive on many levels. It is about a young Washington DC woman, Monica Watts, graduating from college, the first in her family. The title of this Cup is the title of the article.

Here’s the link to it.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/how-mentors-helped-one-former-a-girl-gang-leader-become-a-benedict-college-graduate/2014/12/14/02a26a64-8323-11e4-9f38-95a187e4c1f7_story.html?tid=hpModule_13097a0c-868e-11e2-9d71-f0feafdd1394&hpid=z11

There is nothing remarkable about a young woman graduating from college, of course. As the Rolling Stones said, “like a newborn baby, it just happens every day.”

No, not to minimize Monica’s accomplishment in the slightest, for she persevered in overcoming many obstacles including some jail time and the pull of the street gang environment from which she grew, the lesson for us is in the groups that saw promise in her and didn’t lose faith. First there was a mentor, Juahar Abraham and a group of which he was a part, Peacoholics. Now defunct, it was an anti-violence youth group, “gang interventionists.” The article mentions also a handful of Southeast (that’s southeast Washington DC, for the benefit of readers not familiar with DC) activists who were a critical support team. Dionne Bussey-Reeder, a director at the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, took Monica on as a protégé, providing a summer job and direct financial help with rent and other expenses. When Peacoholics folded and Far Southeast ran out of funds, two other community groups stepped up to the plate: the Anacostia Coordinating Council and the Black United Front.

The college that Monica attended is Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. It was founded in 1870 by Northern Baptists. Monica’s mentor, Juahar Abraham, has brought 32 students to Benedict since 2006. Here’s the link to their website.

http://www.benedict.edu/index.html

Monica hasn’t actually graduated though. Her graduation folder didn’t include her diploma, but a bill for over $8,000. Her diploma won’t be released until it is paid. Anyone with a few Christmas dollars to spare could probably not find a better place to put them than to help her retire that debt.

The Bishop Walker School, of which St. Alban’s is a supporter, is embarked on a similar venture, to be part of the village raising the boys attending BWS. This article about Monica’s mentors and support groups could be taken to heart as a glimpse of what might be expected to realize our aspirations for these boys, the heartbreaks and obstacles that there might to overcome, and also the tremendous joys in store.

“For young persons.
“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.” (BCP, 829)

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 16-December-2014.

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Wait For It…

In a comment on an Advent post I wrote a few weeks ago (Waiting) someone asked, “Why does loving mean waiting?”  Last week while talking on the phone one evening a parishioner commented on the Advent Get Fed program I led at St. Alban’s Parish saying, “The fact that the salvation of humanity might have happened in the garden instead of on the cross is pretty extraordinary stuff, I hope we can talk more about that…”

Both comments (one from the Waiting post and the other from the Get Fed program on the same topic) were elicited by my reading The Stature of Waiting by WH Vanstone (Morehouse, 1982).  At heart what I understand to be the major insight in the book is indeed what the parishioner on the phone suggested: that the salvation or the healing or the love that God offers humanity is the result of the agony in the garden of Eden rather than in the crucifixion and/or the resurrection.

As someone who – like many of you do – struggles with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement implied in all of celebrations of The Great Thanksgiving in the Holy Eucharist of the Church Vanstone’s suggestion in The Stature of Waiting is, in fact, extraordinary.   Essentially what Vanstone argues is that the “handing over,” or betrayal of Jesus by Judas – the event which subsequently led to the crucifixion – is insignificant because Jesus was determined to hand himself over to judgement whether Judas gave him up or not. Jesus doesn’t hide; Jesus waits…  Jesus is waiting for our judgement of him rather than for a day that he will judge us, for the judgement of God has already been “handed over” by Jesus’ waiting… and Jesus’ judgement is… wait for it…  “I love you no matter what you decide to do to me.”

For Vanstone, in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus struggles with what may come upon him, to be sure, but nonetheless he subjects himself (hands himself over) to the judgement that the authorities (or you and me) will hand him.  The judgement Jesus got then, after his waiting in the garden, was that he was “guilty of death.” But it’s not his death (and neither the resurrection) that accomplishes the grace of God given to his persecutors, whoever they were then or are now, it’s the fact that God in Christ hands himself over to us – waits for our judgement.

Complicated?  Confusing?  You tell me.

For now here’s where the theological rubber meets the road.  When Jesus enters the garden of Gethsemane he waits.  As Eucharistic Prayer “D” in the Episcopal Church asserts, a la The Gospel of John, when Jesus goes to the garden he has already resigned himself to love humanity regardless of the outcome: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” The deliverance, or the imparting of God’s Grace to humanity (typically associated with the crucifixion and resurrection – not the garden), for Vanstone (and increasingly so for me as his brilliant but sometimes tedious little book takes its effect) means waiting because after Jesus does all that he can (heals, forgives, teaches… loves), the waiting is all that there is left to do.

Here’s Vanstone:  In authentic loving there is no control of the other who is loved: that he or she will receive is beyond the power of love to ordain or know.  So when our work of love is done…” (done being the key word here – we might think ‘accomplished,’ the word that The Gospel of John assigns to the moment when God was “glorified” in the passion narrative of his gospel)  “…we are destined to wait upon the outcome – to wait upon the response of acceptance or rejection, of understanding or misunderstanding, which either fulfills our own activity or makes it vain.  By our activity of loving we destine ourselves, in the end, to waiting – to placing in the hands of the other the outcome of our own endeavor and to exposing ourselves to receive from those hands the triumph or tragedy of our own endeavor.”

Sheesh.  At this point it’s tempting to make connections or ‘practical applications’ for divine waiting…  But the point here is that loving means waiting because when we love – truly love – we have no control of the outcome or response.  All we can do is love and then await the outcome of that endeavor – to expose ourselves (hand ourselves over) to that outcome.  And regardless of the outcome, what matters is that we loved – that we waited…. Come what may.  Therein lies the Grace of God.

Happy Monday,

Jim+

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Facepalm Jesus

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon';  the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Matthew 11:16-19

I am sure that each of us can relate to the frustration that Jesus surely feels here.  In our Daily Office reading for the celebration of Holy Eucharist we have this moment of absolute frustration and discouragement that Jesus feels regarding those who witness his ministry and can only complain.  One can almost see Jesus shaking his head and giving a divine facepalm.

 

Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the Enterprise and main character in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and a classic facepalm.

Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the Enterprise and main character in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and a classic facepalm.

 

Why they complain, I think, can be boiled down to one issue:  neither Jesus nor John said, acted, or reacted as the people expected.  “You didn’t do what we wanted!” the Scribes and Pharisees seem to whine.

 

Clearly the messenger and the Messiah that they’ve received did not live up to their expectations.  The two cousins did not act or speak as the people thought they would.  Neither Jesus nor John, did the things “respectable people” would do.  They did not fit into the pre-conceived notion of how the coming and actual arrival of the Messiah would work or look like.  How very world-like of them; how very God-like of Jesus and John.

 

Jesus’s facepalm moment here in Matthew’s gospel concludes with, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”  The acts that will be done by Jesus in his ministry will prove the wisdom of God over the wisdom of “the world.”   Isaiah sums it up: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)  The ultimate expression of this is Jesus’s own death on the cross which transforms our lives, our relationship with God, and confirms God’s love for God’s creation.

 

I would wager that most of the time we cannot see the wisdom of God’s actions in the events of the world.  Harder still may be to see the wisdom of God’s actions in our lives.  The eternal question raised to God by creation, in those moments of loss and pain, frustration and seeming abandonment by God.  But before we give our own facepalm to God, let the words of John’s gospel ring in our ears: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

 

And, this is Good News.

 

Matthewfirst

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Comfort, Discomfort Ye My People

“The best part of the discomfort you’re feeling right now is the comfort you’ll feel after you come out of the pose.” – Rebecca, yoga instructor, December 10, 2014

com•fort verb \ˈkəm(p)-fərt\ : to cause (someone) to feel less worried, upset, frightened, etc. : to give comfort to (someone). Late Latin confortare to strengthen greatly, from Latin com- + fortis strong

If we remember that the verb “comfort” means to do something “with strength”, then we might better reconcile the discomfort that accompanies comfort – indeed the discomfort that is actually necessary before we can experience comfort.  Advent, as we’ve been reminded in several different ways, is a time of comforting promises and of discomforting reminders to “pay attention”, “stay awake”, and “repent”.

* * * * *

Several hymns that we sing during Advent represent a time in music history, during the 15th and 16th centuries, when the freedom of chant was giving way to the chains of metered music – i.e. music organized in regular groups of 2, 3 or 4 beats, and a movement away from singing many notes to one syllable (melismatic chant) to something closer to one note per syllable (syllabic settings). Think of hymns from that time period, O come, o come Emmanuel (Hymn 56) or Creator of the stars of night (Hymn 60). There is still some give and take in the flow of musical phrases, still some distance from the even structure of an 18th century hymn like Come, thou long-expected Jesus.

One more Advent tune coming out of that 16th century move from chant to measured music is Hymn 67, Comfort, comfort ye my people. Two long beats, followed by three quicker ones. I find great beauty in music’s irregularities, much as we might in life’s irregularities! Originally composed for Psalm 42 in the Genevan Psalter (hence the tune name, PSALM 42), it strikes me as a bit too lively a tune for that mournful Lenten psalm, “Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee.” For all its uneven gait, there is a dance within this tune, and it begs to be sung with joyful abandon. If you need any proof that it is a worthwhile tune, know that Bach used it in seven of his cantatas.

The words are from Isaiah, that prophet of hope, who prophesied that Judah’s exile in Babylon was almost over. The advent of a new kingdom, one bringing the comfort of peace, is at hand. We remember that this season of Advent opens up two paths of comfort – the comfort felt by a baby held in his mother’s arms, and that of a promised second coming when we will all be held by our God. But what about now? Where do we find comfort in this place, right now? We have an immediate need for the kind of comfort that brings the peace of God into our daily lives, and I think we find it by paying attention, staying awake, and by repenting. It takes strength after all to repent – to admit you were wrong, to let go of addictions and prejudice. And there is comfort to be found in paying attention to those many, many moments of hope, graciousness, generosity and beauty that surround us every day.

SonyaFirst004

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