Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Christmas Advent Lights are Up!

     It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, it’s Christmas Advent! I am proud to say I am the first person to get his Christmas Advent lights up in my neighborhood. A light snowfall last night here in the mountains really put me in the Christmas Advent spirit! I was humming Away in a Manger O Come, O Come, Emmanuel all afternoon while I worked. Especially with the new LED lights that use so little energy, I like to think of it as my little Christmas Advent gift to the neighborhood.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Look At the Birds: A Thanksgiving Sermon

     Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. - Matthew 6:26
     I feed the birds in my backyard. Year-round, they get seed, but in the winter, they also get their favorite: peanut butter suet. When I go out to refill their feeders, I like to pretend I'm St. Francis. Of course, over the years, I think I have blurred the historical St. Francis and Disney’s Snow White. I have these images of St. Francis sitting at the wishing well, singing, and the little birds land on his outstretched finger and sing with him. That has never happened for me. I thought eventually the birds would get used to me, but whenever I come out, they scatter in panic as if to say, "Aaah! The monster comes!” They never seem to make the connection that I bring them food, and so I talk to them quietly and gently as I imagine St. Francis would… it doesn’t help. They continue to fly away as if they are saying, “Aaah, the monster speaks!" I somehow expect the birds to be grateful to me, but they’re not. They seem to know Whom they really should thank; not the clumsy human who carries the blessing to them.

     What if I looked… really looked at the birds of the air, as Jesus said? They seem to trust food will be there, and they just wait. The doves are the most patient. Long after others are gone, they will rest and wait. If there’s a lot of food, they all feast; if not, they all wait. They seem content. The birds have developed a kind of theology - a way of thinking and talking about God. It doesn’t say there will always be a feast. They just seem to have faith that there will always be enough.

     I am not sure the birds at my feeders are American birds, like bald eagles. Somehow this theology my birds have developed seems un-American. With Black Friday looming, commercial America does not really want us to be thankful for what we have. They want us to shop. It is almost a patriotic duty to pull us out of recession. If there are reports of consumer spending down after the holidays, there is a vague kind of free-floating guilt we didn’t spend more.

     The theology of the birds leads to simplicity – not always a feast, but always enough. It is not a theology that says God wants me to drive a Mercedes in fact, it is not a theology that tells anything, but rather a theology that makes me ask questions like, “What do I really need?” “How much do I really need?” It changes how we view God. No longer is God some stern taskmaster doling out scarce favors and limited, conditional love, but a gentle and merciful God with unlimited grace. It changes how I treat myself. I no longer have to beat myself up because I was unkind, or because I let my anger cause me to behave badly, or because I blew my diet – because I can’t do anything perfectly. Instead, I trust there is enough wisdom and mercy and grace to eventually make me the person I see reflected in God’s eyes. It changes how we treat each other too. I begin to recognize I have enough, and I turn to another and say, “Here, I can help you, so you have enough too,” and without realizing it, we have become the hand of God. I begin to recognize you have an abundance of Christ's Spirit, just as I do. You have an abundance of God's love, just as I do.

     Adopting a theology of the birds starts with gratitude. Kris Haig, a Presbyterian minister, once wrote,

     “It has been said that gratefulness is the very heart of prayer, and so to truly observe Thanksgiving is to engage in fervent prayer. Gratefulness, however, cannot be manufactured. It is a grace, a gift that God bestows and not anything we can create in our own hearts. True gratitude bears little resemblance to the forced optimism underlying the admonition to count your blessings. Gratitude is not a denial of real pain and loss. It is not a stoic effort to concentrate on the good things in life. It isn't the power of positive thinking. ... We cannot attain a state of gratitude by presenting God with a list of things we think we should feel grateful for, but by presenting our selves and our desire to know God more closely.” - Kris Haig, "Grateful Hearts", Presbyterians Today, November 1999, 7.
     So, even in the midst of pain or loneliness… or even our most dreaded relatives, when we follow the theology of the birds and simply rest and trust in God, slowly sometimes, the gratitude comes. We begin to notice the fall colors. We start to appreciate the love we do have in our lives. We become grateful that we are blessed materially far more than so many in this world. We even are able to give thanks for the brokenness in our lives since it is that very brokenness that makes us recognize our dependence on God. We rest near God’s heart, and in our hearts, Thanksgiving has truly begun.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Homosexuality Not a Factor in Abusive Priests

     A preliminary report commissioned by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops to investigate the clergy sex abuse scandal has found no evidence that gay priests are more likely than heterosexual clergy to molest children, the lead authors of the study said Tuesday…

     … many experts on sex offenders reject any link between sexual orientation and committing abuse. Karen Terry, a John Jay researcher, said it was important to distinguish between sexual identity and behavior, and to look at who the offender had access to when seeking victims.
Read complete AP story here.

     I once asked a Roman Catholic nun who was my spiritual director about this. She was an extremely wise woman who had been in a leadership position in priest formation at a West Coast Catholic University. She said the exact same thing that this article points out. A pedophile is attracted to that undeveloped body type. Pedophilia tends to be a crime of opportunity, and the altar boys were sadly available. Of course, whether the Roman Catholic Church can accept these findings or whether they will continue to blame priests who have gay tendencies is anyone’s guess.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

“Backing Starts to Grow for the Anglican Covenant” Say what?!

     “Backing Starts to Grow for the Anglican Covenant” trumpeted a rather inaccurate headline appeared in the Church of England newspaper blog last week. When you read further, this alleged growth comes from not particularly surprising quarters:

     The Church of Ireland, the American dioceses of Western Louisiana and South Carolina and the New Zealand dioceses of Christchurch and Nelson have endorsed the Ridley-Cambridge draft of the Anglican Covenant, joining Central Florida in backing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s plan for creating a structure to manage the divisions over doctrine and discipline dividing the Anglican Communion.
     Any one of us could have predicted support from the fundamentalist diocese of Sydney. Those particular American dioceses named are naturally going for a draft containing the kind punitive mechanics that might give a vague patina of respectability to their attempts to dismantle the Episcopal Church and remake it in their own reactionary image. A groundswell? Not really. I am reminded of my favorite movie, Casablanca when Captain Renault says, “Round up the usual suspects.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Autumn Walk

Walking alone in amber light,
     A few dry autumn leaves left clinging to bare trees.
     Lovely smell of gentle decay,
Sifting through the past,
     Wishing for what might have been.
     A taste of fear and ashes.
Yet I bear His mark;
     I am His own.
I believe in endings;
     He taught me to believe in beginnings.
I believe in darkness;
     He showed me light.
I am chilled,
     Still, I stumble toward the fire.