St.Francis, Children and Adultery.

Oct 4, Pent 19, 2015

St Francis

The story tells about Brother Juniper one of the earliest followers of Francis. Juniper followed Francis’ ideal of poverty and had the habit of giving to the poor. He often returned to the monastery without sandals or hat or coat. The caretaker of the community property ordered Brother Juniper to give nothing away. When Juniper next went to town and he met a poor man, he told the man, “I have been ordered not to give anything away, but if you take anything, I will not resist.” Juniper returned to the monastery almost naked and happy.

Adultery and Divorce: Some reflections

Adultery has much to do with singleness of heart. If one is tempted, first look at what you are trying to re-capture and from what fear you are in flight. There’s opportunity in these temptations. So let them come. One doesn’t win through them by denial or self-mortification. One uses the temptations to let the deep consciousness know the work that needs to be done. And then they need to be let go, recognized for what they are, which is some imagined relationship without conflict like Dylan’s song: “I want a good woman who’ll do just what I say”, or if you’re a woman, some ideal man.  Then let the temptations go for a higher singleness of heart. What do you need to work on? What are those issues that as a couple you need to face? What in yourself needs to be explored, encountered and let go.

Clearly if there is abuse to yourself or to your children, you need to find safety. Jesus’ injunctions about adultery and divorce are in some ways the ironic response to those like me who want wiggle room. And yet at the heart of it all is to do all you can to hang in there. Do the work you need to do to grow into the heart of singleness. Which is to see with the eye of the heart, which is as St Francis de Sales said” where there is no love, put love and you will find love.”

As a divorced and remarried man, I’ve found there is no profit in assessing fault. To be able to love what you loved and be thankful for all that was given and a blessing will be its own door to the heart of the divine. Jesus, I suspect, will be the last one to judge. Perhaps he might ask, “do you remember those dark nights of the soul when the only one you could turn to was me?”

Cypress: Let the little ones come.

In the circle of this blog is a picture of Cypress in my arms as we celebrate the Eucharist. To my right is the new deacon and soon to be priest Susan Taylor, who is here in this two hundred year old Vermont Church as to new priest to be of St John’s in Randolph, VT.

Cypress came to church with her grandparents and was uninvolved with the service. I asked her grand-parents if Cypress would like to come with me and help me at the altar. For the next fifteen minutes she was fully attentive, curious, involved. She remained in my arm as I raised the cup and the bread. At the communion, I asked her if she wanted to return to her grandparents, which she did.

Cypress mother is a Lutheran minister and was on retreat that summer weekend. I thank her for lending her child to me to so perfectly illustrate the meaning of Jesus to let the little children come. Unless I become immersed in the mystery of what is happening around, in and through me, my spiritual leadership is diminished. In such a way children have been among my greatest teachers and inspirations.

Racism: Black Lives Matter

September 6, 2015: Pentecost 15

About fifty years ago Ed Rodman, my African American friend, mentor, prophet, said to me, “Racism can’t be solved by moving toward economic equality alone”.  When African American Youth and their parents and allies raise the cry “Black Lives Matter” it’s because the white system doesn’t see them, doesn’t know them or make attempts to know them and controls the systems and institutions that perpetuate racial misunderstanding and division. I believe their passionate confrontations with Bernie Sanders and others are an appropriate way to shake to consciousness the great Sin of our society: Racism.

Racism isn’t only prejudice. Prejudice is endemic in most societies and groups. Racism is different because it includes power and prejudice and mixes them in a lethal brew of Institutional discrimination, fear and dismissal of a Black person’s humanity.

Of course white lives matter too. So do police, so do other races and religions and nationalities, but sometimes you have to yell in the ear of the powerful for them to pay attention, or for us white folks to pay attention.

Black Lives Matter because there is systematic discrimination, different standards of behavior by our institutions. Written into the constitution was the perpetuation of Slavery. While a war was fought over slavery, the institutions of segregation and discrimination continue. As the Freedom song says:

“Those who believe in freedom shall not rest:

Until the killing of Black men, Black mother’s sons are the same as the killing of white men, white mother’s sons”

It seems to me the task before us for the sake of our souls is to see our black men as our brothers and sons and fathers, and our black women as our sisters and mothers and daughters.

We can work on changing our institutions, elect an African-American president, put in place an African American Attorney General, but unless at the local level, with our police, our elected leaders, our churches and schools and institutions and businesses we will re-create the great divide.

Civil Rights leaders have said that a “change of heart” will be a long time coming. White privilege will not give up its place or power without confrontation. And yet it seems to me that the very way into the heart of love and the heart of the divine is, as white people, admit that we have been given a pass that our black brothers and sisters have not had. Admit it, look at it and let it go. For this privilege is not ours alone but belongs to every child of God.

I began as a white boy who wanted to be in the Black community. After many years of stumbling and confrontation, I was both tolerated and welcomed. I was at a Baptism at an African American Church in Roxbury. It was 1968. As the only white man in the large group I turned to Helen and blurted out, “Helen I feel uncomfortable.” “How do you think we feel”, Helen responded.

What an incredible invitation to enter a process of discovery. And it really helps with my racism, my white privilege, to try to see with another’s eyes, to put myself in the shoes of my Black brothers and sisters. I’m convinced that there is a massive shift of heart and mind that is required. The process now is to see that Black Lives Do Matter. That our institutions need to be held accountable for racial discrimination. That our police and public officials need to learn how the system of racism works in their own lives. How it works in our churches where still the most segregated hour in American as ML King said 50 years ago, is the 11 o’clock hour on a Sunday morning.

Let’s take a look at how we experience and behave as we encounter African-American men and women and children. Let us pledge to confront expressions of racial prejudice in our conversations with others and within ourselves. Let us begin or continue the process of opening our hearts to our Black brothers and sisters and to see them as children of God. I suspect that will mean we’ll have to see ourselves a children of God as well.

Goat Cheese And Starfish: For November 23,2014

These are two stories; the first is an old tale that is radically edited from Leo Tolstoy. Absolution requested. The second is some reflections of another nature on Matthew 25, the final judgment. If you read to the end you’ll find out what I intend by “goat cheese and starfish”.

Martin The Cobbler

There was a cobbler who lived alone in his shop with one window that looked out on the street. His wife and children had all died and he asked God, “Holy One why have you so long delayed your coming? I have almost given up hope in seeing you. Please come to my humble shop this day and show me your face.”

Outside on the street the cold winter brought snow. Through his window he saw a beggar who shivered in the cold. He invited the beggar into the shop to warm him and offer a meager meal from his shrinking larder. The beggar thanked him and left.

As the day passed, a few customers came with repairs they needed for their shoes and harnesses. A young boy sought shelter from the cold and snow. The child’s feet were wrapped in old dirty rags and stuffed with paper. Into the shop he invited the boy. After making him some warm milk and a sandwich from the little food he had he went to his closet and found a pair of shoes that belonged to his son. He fit the shoes to the boy. Grateful, the boy left with a promise to return to visit him.

It was approaching dusk and the cobbler despaired of a visit from the Lord. A woman with her young babe appeared in front of the window. She was dressed in a thin piece of cloth and she looked as if she might freeze to death. The cobbler invited her into his shop. Wary of the old man, she hesitated at the door, but feeling the warmth within she stepped across the threshold. The cobbler made her some tea and went to his closet to find a heavy woolen cloak that belonged to his wife. Giving her the cloak the woman thanked him and after he shared the rest of his larder with her, she left with the child.

The sun descended and left the cobbler bereft. “Why didn’t you come and visit me today,” the cobbler asked? There was a voice that spoke to him in his humble shop: “But I did come to you. When you invited in the beggar, the boy, and the mother and her child, I was there with you. In each of their faces you looked into my eyes.”  Martin then remembered the scripture: “When did you see me hungry and feed me, alone and naked and clothe me and thirsty and you gave me a drink.” The visitors who had come to his shop that day had been his master. In their faces he had looked into the eyes of God.

That night the cobbler slept happy and at peace for the first time in many months.


Now for Goat Cheese and Starfish

Goats are independently minded and unruly and make the most luscious cheese. Sheep are great too, but they tend to be docile and easily herded. Their cheese is good too, but I like goat cheese better.

There has always been an attraction to Matthew’s vision of the final judgment: As William McNamara, the Discalced Carmelite told us: “We know what our final judgment will be.” All we have to do is read Matthew 25. And yet there is something paradoxical to the image. Aren’t they a little too absolute? From foolish virgins and the poor slave who buried his talent and now the goats, isn’t it too simple? We are both sheep and goats. We are sometimes wise and sometimes foolish. We sometimes visit the sick and feed the hungry and love the poor and visit the prisoner and the dying. Some of us even are paid to do this. Sometimes we throw up our hands and fret at the enormity of the problem and do nothing except send a check to help with the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

My friend the Rabbi says we are given freedom to live and do what we can to create life and shepherd the creation and it comes with conditions. You have to follow the covenant: which is summarized in the Hebrew Bible, by the way, to “love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.” We like our freedom and are troubled by her conditions. And yet it’s the very conditions that magnify the freedom. Our true freedom depends on welcoming the poor, the prisoner, the naked, and the sick into the circle of our compassion. And that includes our own goat and sheep selves.

Those who give themselves whole and free to these ministries are the saints. And yet not one of them, including Jesus and the Buddha lived without doubt or under any illusion that all the compassion in the world could solve the problems of injustice, greed, or apathy. Yet they threw themselves fully into life so that we could find a way. It is a paradox.

St Augustine it is told was walking along the beach one day and saw Starfish, thousands on thousands of them, washed ashore. A little girl was running to and fro on the sand and throwing the Starfish back into the water. “Why are you doing that,” Augustine asked the girl? “There are too many to save, it won’t make a difference.” “It will make a difference to this one,” the girl said as she threw another Starfish into the sea.

So we go on loving our goat and our sheep selves and do what we can out of the love of God to transform our freedom into hearts of compassion, and try to make a difference one Starfish or goat at a time.

The sheep already have it made.

Grumpy: For Sunday November 16, 2014

Grumpy: Matthew 25: 14-30

There lived a man who was grumpy. He was grumpy from birth. He was a grumpy child, a grumpy father and a grumpy husband. His wife had the patience of a saint. She saw all his gifts, but he couldn’t see them. He had everything and saw nothing. He died grumpy.

When he arrived in heaven he was shown to a room filled with beautifully wrapped boxes. The boxes were covered in tapestried paper and ribbons with bows and little trinkets on the outside to suggest what there might be wrapped inside the packages.

“These are all the gifts you never opened.”

“What are these boxes,” asked the man grumpily?

The reply was: “These are all the gifts we sent to you while you were alive on earth and you never opened.” * I don’t know the origin of this story. The beginning was suggested by Joshua Chasan, Rabbi at Ohavi Zedek in Burlington, VT

Either I’m grumpy or we’re dealing with a grumpy part of the Gospel. This ain’t no God in heaven story from Matthew this week. This is one about an arbitrary and manipulative slave owner. He lends money to test his slaves. Two of them are unafraid enough to invest their talents and one does not. He buries his. In the end they remain slaves and none of them get to keep any of the profits. One is cast into the outer darkness; the other two are given more responsibility to make more money for the slave owner. The first two take the opportunity to test their talents and creativity, the later doesn’t.

If Jesus told this story are there layers here? Use your talents, gifts, in spite of the odds that may be against you. Open the gifts that have been given to you whether a slave or free. And yet could there also be an indictment of the economic system that places human beings under such pressure and fear? Finally, what do we do with the fear of the slave master on our way to freedom, to creativity, to God?

I think all of the above and more that I do not now see are true for me. Paul Tillich talks about Europe during the time up to and including Germany in WWII. In “The Courage to Be” he writes, “The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself in spite of being unacceptable.” He talks about the affirmation of life “in spite” of the fearful voices within and without: To speak our “no” to injustice, violence, racial and economic inequality, and not count the cost. And to have enough courage to see through our prejudices and narrow mindedness, to be able to make enough room in our lives for those who make us uncomfortable and downright grumpy.

This is to say that the word and command of Jesus is to Love God, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That word and command is to be lived out in spite of our fear.

At root for all of this is a faith that there is some source out there and within that holds you in spite of the way you may feel or in spite of what takes place around you. You are held by a love and a mystery that will sustain you in spite of everything.

For many of us that Source is Jesus. His mercy flows in spite of how many gifts we refuse. But why not open some of those boxes you’ve got stashed away in the closet or under the bed and try them on?

Where’s the Bridegroom? Pentecost 22.

photo (1)I remember the wedding of a Liberian couple. The groom, because of work and the slowness of the jeweler, had left to the morning of the wedding the drive into NYC to get the ring and return. It was a hot Saturday; the bride arrived in a white limo and colorful traditional Liberian dress. But the groom was stuck in New York gridlock. The temperature in the 1856 Church rose to the eighties and nineties. Three hours later the groom arrived. The heat in the church was now about 100 degrees. Sweat poured, and the harried groom waited with me as the bride and her entourage walked in grace and regal stateliness down the aisle.

All was forgotten, at least until the bride and groom returned later that day to their room where I can imagine the words were either said or thought, “What were you thinking?”

And yet we all remained, waiting for the delayed bridegroom to show up.

That’s what we do; wait for the bridegroom to show up. We supply water and drink and a snack for the guests and the wedding party, place fans around the church for maximum effect, periodically checking with the bride about the whereabouts of the groom. Thank God for cell phones, and try to stay cool and present.

It worked that day. It doesn’t always. Sometimes we’re the wise virgins, other times we’re the foolish. If I can wait four hours on a hot summer day when temperatures approached the fires of hell, and it was not dry heat, won’t God who is much more forgiving than I, also keep the doors open to those who at least wait with or without oil. It seems to me the only ones who close the door to our virginal hearts, is us.

So dear ones breathe lightly into making quick distinctions between what is wise and what is foolish. Instead let the lamps of your love be filled to overflowing with the holy oil of God’s mercy and grace which never fails.