Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Grown-Up Jesus

         There are things I used to believe when I was young: For every question in life there was one right answer; I could do anything; my father was not very smart; everybody would naturally like me; and probably… just probably, I was secretly the heir to the British throne and my parents were really just foster parents.

         As I grew up, I had to learn some hard truths: Don and Joyce in Sparks, Nevada were my real parents; no matter what I do, amazingly, not everyone is going to like me; my father was actually pretty smart; I have limits: limits of strength and stamina and interest – I can't do everything. I actually need other people, and; for every question in life there are probably somewhere between five and a hundred right answers. And my right answer doesn't have to be yours.

         I spent a lot of time thinking about God when I was young. I fell in love with the baby Jesus in the manger, and the young boy Jesus asking questions and listening to answers in the Temple, and gentle Jesus who was the kind and good Shepherd. Because I loved Him, in a few short years I decided I would follow Him always because: If you follow God you'd always be happy; bad things only happen to sinners; if I just prayed hard enough and long enough God would fix anything for me… the way I wanted it fixed, and; I would always be a good person.

         But then as I grew older, what I was actually experiencing in my life didn't match these beliefs: I wasn't always happy; I saw bad things happening to good people… and people I loved died; There were things in my life that I prayed hard and long about that never changed; and I learned I was not always a good person. I learned I could be cruel and thoughtless and selfish.

         Slowly, without realizing it, the boy Jesus was no longer enough for me. Jesus the kind and good Shepherd was no longer enough for me. The questions I was facing in my life were too hard. I had grown up… and I needed a grown-up Jesus. I'll bet you experienced the exact same thing in your life as you grew up.

         The same kind of thing happened to Jesus' disciples. There were things they used to believe. They used to think that it mattered which of them was the greatest and Jesus rebuked them in Mark 9:
         He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’
         They believed Jesus would never experience defeat or suffering as He foretold in Matthew 26:
         And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
         Once Jesus was dead, they thought the story was done… and then Jesus approached them on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:
         They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.’
         Yes, the disciples had some beliefs they had to grow out of. They had to grow up pretty fast in the last three days of what we now call Holy Week. What they thought they knew about life and death and power was turned upside down. They learned bad things happen to good people too. They learned that they were not always good people… they deserted him… they denied him. They learned they should've listened to the women. The four gospels were written for four very different Christian communities over a 30- to 40-year period, and in each one of them the women are named as witnesses to the resurrection.

         But they also learned they did not have to be afraid anymore. In John 20, they learned they had power within themselves to lead:
         … the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
         They had to learn that however things appeared on the surface, God was still in control.

         The disciples needed a grown-up Jesus. I need a grown up Jesus. We all need a grown-up Jesus: A Jesus who really knows what it means to suffer, a grown-up Jesus who knows what it is to lose someone they love, a Jesus who knows what it feels like to be afraid. We all need a Jesus who knows what it feels like when the plans you made for your life burn to the ground and you're sifting through the ashes wondering what in heaven’s name you are going to do next.

         Only in the Gospel of Matthew do we find the story of Jesus' death and resurrection framed by two great earthquakes: One when he died on Friday, and one when the stone was rolled away on Sunday. The disciples were quaking and afraid, locked in that upper room, and Jesus came to them and told them they no longer needed to be afraid. You see, the rules were changed on Easter morning. No longer would death have the last word. No longer would suffering be all there was. No longer would human beings have to live in fear because Jesus – the grown-up Jesus –had overcome all of these things! He pulled back the curtain and showed us that no matter what the world throws at us, no matter how we suffer, we are not alone. By rising again he showed us that love cannot be conquered. Bracketed between two physical earthquakes the greatest earthquake of all time – Jesus' resurrection – changed everything. Our world has never been the same.

         Two thousand years have come and gone since the sun began to rise over old Jerusalem and the women came to the tomb that Easter morning. Two thousand years have come and gone since the Angel of God dressed in lightning rolled away the stone and tough battle-hardened Roman guards fell to the ground in mortal terror. Two thousand years have come and gone since they tried to make sure Jesus never walked this earth again, but they failed… and he stepped into that locked upper room and said, "Peace be with you."

     Two thousand years have come and gone, and yet, the resurrection is still being reported by people who've been able to catch a glimpse of the risen Jesus in the midst of human life. He has been seen in the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti in the eyes of those who suffer. He has been seen in the compassion shown by neighbors helping others during the recent fifteen-state tornado devastation. He has been heard in the cries for justice and basic human rights and dignity for all of God's children that have echoed from every corner of our globe: From Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa in India
to Martin Luther King in America to Aung San Suu Kyi in modern-day Myanmar. Sometimes it's just a glimpse: A look, a brief moment. Sometimes just his hands appear. And they say those hands look remarkably like yours and mine.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Simon's Cat in "Hop It"

click here for more
     I'll get back to serious stuff like working on my sermon for the Easter Vigil tomorrow.  I just had to take a break for a blog post when I found out that genius, Simon Tofield, has posted another video to his Simon's Cat series entitled "Hop It".  As you might have guessed, a bunny is prominently featured, matching wits with his cat.  Happy Easter (almost!)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Poetry of Holy Week

     Richard R. Niebuhr once said, "Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys." This week, Holy Week, we are invited to create poetry in our lives by taking such a journey.

     For over 2000 years, Christians have relived the events of Jesus' last week, beginning with Palm Sunday and Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, continuing into Maundy Thursday where we have Jesus establishing what we call the Lord's Supper and the giving of the great mandate – in Latin, mandatum, from which we get the word Maundy – Jesus' great command: Love one another.  This is where we wash one another's feet as Jesus did. Friday, we come to the day of his crucifixion – Good Friday.  It sounds odd to our modern ears, but it's the word "good" in the ancient sense of "holy."  And then, from sorrow to joy: The Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night.

     I think there's a huge difference between reliving an event and merely reenacting an event.  If you reenact something, you're acting out something that someone else lived, like Civil War reenactments: You weren't actually in the Civil War; you're just acting out a piece of history.  But since what we have in Holy Week is nothing less than the battle between good and evil, life and death, and life again, we are not acting out something from someone else's life.  We are living again something that is part of all of our journeys.  We are not disinterested observers: We have a vital stake in the outcome of this week. We have a vital stake in the outcome of the issues of good and evil; life and death… and life again.

     As I live my own life, every year I journey through Holy Week, I can see myself as someone different.  Some years, I seem closer to poor Peter denying the Lord three times, but then weeping bitter tears.  Some years, I identify more with the women waiting at the tomb for the risen Christ as I wait for change in my life.  Some years, I can see myself as the High Priest Caiaphas protecting my turf.  Some years, I am Jesus himself.  It seems that where I am in my own understanding of good and evil – life and death and life again – changes how I live Holy Week.

     Now, I would love just to take a shortcut and get to Easter without having to watch Jesus suffer, without having to re-examine my own life; without having to admit that many times in my own life I would have been one in the crowd crying out, "Crucify him!"  But if I look away, I won't see what it looks like to live fully human and yet fully divine as God intended.  I have to look, not to see some kind of a bloody sacrifice required by God, but to see God demonstrating what it means to truly love.

     Write poetry this week… Richard Niebuhr says pilgrims do that by taking journeys.  We're going to be traveling some dark roads.  The streets of old Jerusalem are narrow, and the crowds from all over the world are sure to grow larger as we go.  There will be the chaos and confusion of other pilgrims from our day, and fellow pilgrims from past centuries.  Know without a doubt that you journey this week from darkness toward the light.  But we also know, you cannot take this journey… you cannot write this particular piece of poetry… and remain unchanged.

Friday, April 15, 2011

No, you fools! Not yet!

lilacs budding in the snow
      Every year, it seems like trees and flowers are tricked into budding early by a few days of unseasonably warm weather. We had a warm spell about three weeks ago followed by a week of on and off again snow. Walking out to feed the birds, I noticed my lilacs were getting ready to burst into blossom. "No you fools! Not yet!" I cried.

      Lilacs are a hardy flowering bush, beloved of the early pioneers probably because few other flowers grew well in our desert climate and sandy soil. You can find their clusters of purple flowers and delicate scent in almost all the older yards in Nevada. If there's just a little water, you'll still find them flourishing near anywhere the pioneers settled.

      The tradition in the valley is you don't plant until all the snow is off Peavine Mountain northwest of Reno. Peavine only climbs to an elevation of about 8, 000 feet, much lower than the summits of the Sierra Nevadas to the West which reach 10,000 to 11,000 feet. Its lower elevation is a good barometer of how spring is shaping up. Trust me, there is still a lot of snow up on Peavine, no matter how warm it feels here in the valley. My poor lilacs, however, don't seem to know or care about this particular piece of local horticultural wisdom.

what I hope my lilacs will look like this summer

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Desert Island Joke

     Given the way people in America tend to both church shop and break off to form their own churches, I thought the following joke was hilarious. I heard it at our church fundraiser told by a woman in our congregation. Maybe it's an old chestnut, but I'd never heard it before.
     A man is rescued after many years on a desert island. As he stands on the deck of the rescuing vessel, the captain says to him, "I thought you were stranded alone. How come I can see three huts on the beach?"

     "Well," replies the castaway, "that one there is my house and that one there is where I go to church."

     "And the third one?" asks the skipper.

     "Oh, that's the church I used to go to."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Disconnecting the Landline

     The one thing that has always kept me from discontinuing my landline and using my cell phone alone has been the fact that I didn't want to have to hunt all over the house for my ringing cell phone, which is usually in the charger, and then try to unplug it, swipe the screen to open the pad, and answer the phone – by then my caller would have long gone to voicemail. I guess I'm part of a generation that likes to pick up when friends and family call, if I can. I checked around assuming someone had invented a device to connect my cell phone to my house phones. My local Best Buy, the RadioShack, and even my cell phone carrier, had never heard of any such technology. The local Radio Shack guy was so cocky about his own knowledge he said that such a thing didn't exist. On my own, I finally found it, and it was an inexpensive solution.

     The new Cobra Phonelynx, which is only $35.00 at, was easy to set up: plug-in the power for the Cobra unit, unplug your phone from the wall and plug it into the side of the Cobra Phonelynx . It paired effortlessly to the Bluetooth on my cell phone, a first-generation Droid. I now have my cell phone charging right next to the Cobra unit, and have found call clarity to be excellent on all four of my regular cordless home handsets. Caller ID works too. When you make a call from one of your home phones, you press talk and get a real dial tone, then after you dial there is a short delay and then a beep which signals your cell phone is dialing the number.

     When I am away from home, I turn off the Bluetooth on my cell phone to save the battery; later, coming in from the garage, I turn on the Bluetooth again and within 30 to 45 seconds, the PhoneLynx has automatically reconnected, and all my home phones are ready to both make and receive calls.

      I contacted my cell phone provider and increased my minutes since I'd be using my cell phone for all calls, but after cancelling my basic AT&T connection, there was a net savings on my phone expenses every month. I purchased this thinking, "Oh well, if it doesn't work, I've only wasted $35," but have ended up so pleasantly surprised to have gotten such a great piece of technology, and at such a low price! It's rare when adopting new technology saves money; new technology usually ends up costing more.

     I've also been careful to alert my daughter when she comes into the house that she needs to use her cell phone to make a call if I'm gone, since the house phones will be dead. The Cobra Phonelynx can pair with two cell phones, but when I offered to pair her cell phone to my house phone using the Cobra unit, she didn't want her personal calls from her friends coming through the house phone where I might pick them up. Huh, go figure. I thought kids liked new technology.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cute Roulette

     Stressed?  Depressed?  Generally out of sorts?  I'm not sure the average parishioner understands how tough it is being a parish priest.  Don't despair, there's a new website that will take care of your stress in just minutes.  Cute Roulette shows you a random video of unbelievably adorable penguins, kitties, puppies, baby goats, etc. doing those incredibly cute penguin-kitty-puppy-baby goat things that makes even the most cynical and snarky of us go, "Awwww!"  After you watch the lovable video, just click the "Next Cuteness" arrow for another. 

     If you're not a priest, but laity, you deserve stress relief too, but you're probably able to figure out how long you'll need to watch the videos on your own.  Priests, however, tend to need some direction (just ask the Bishop).  So, if you're a priest and you're not sure how much time you need to spend on Cute Roulette to relieve your stress, please refer to the handy table below:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dove vs. Hawk

a diving hawk
     Out of the corner my eye I saw it streaking down out the slate blue sky.  I was not even sure what it was until I saw it thunk heavily on a dove sitting quietly near one of my birdfeeders.  It was a red tailed hawk.  Without even thinking, I rushed to the back door and yelled, "You hawk!  Leave my dove alone!"  The hawk looked up startled to be yelled at and took off.  The dove got up, shook itself, and seemed none the worse for its near-death experience.   

     I felt sheepish afterwards.  Lord knows, hawks have to eat too, and I have no idea how the dove felt about being described as "my" dove.  What I hadn't realized is those gentle doves that hang around my backyard had gotten to me.  I kind of felt sorry for them.  The little brown wrens bob all over the place frantically, the pigeons muscle out smaller birds, the blue jays stop by screaming loudly to get their fair share, and if I put out peanut butter suet, a type of blackbird stops by in flocks to devour it within half a day, but the poor dove will just sit and wait until everyone else is done and then quietly munch on whatever seeds are left.  If I get behind in filling the birdfeeder, the wrens go looking elsewhere, the blue jays and the rest are long gone, but not the doves.  They'll hunker down underneath the birdfeeders and kind of look at my back window with mournful eyes.  Sometimes they'll get up on the roof, and I'll hear their sad cries reminding me I've neglected them.  It may take me awhile to get to filling the birdfeeders, but still, they stay, waiting patiently.
     Isn't it remarkable that of all the birds God could've chosen to symbolize the Spirit, he chose a dove in Matthew 3?
     And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
     I sometimes get the impression that a lot of Christians would prefer to see the Spirit as a hawk – diving, attacking, strong.  Instead, God chose the dove, the gentlest of creatures.  If I am to let the Spirit do its work in my life, perhaps I need to stop looking for dramatic changes radiating power and drama, and instead accept the gentleness, the quiet, the faithfulness of the dove.

doves on the fence, huddling together for warmth

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Anglican Communion: Pace of the Slowest Hiker or a Campfire?

     If you've not heard of the Anglican Communion, it includes churches that trace their lineage back to the Church of England such as the Episcopal Church in the United States. Some of what could be termed the more conservative national churches in the Communion think the Episcopal Church is a bit too progressive: we ordain women, we make them bishops, we do the same for those who are gay, we welcome all to the table of the Lord. We take that part of the baptismal covenant seriously that says we will "respect the dignity of every human being." It's kind of radical, and I guess it makes some people uncomfortable.

     Metaphors do not prove facts, but sometimes the illustrations we adopt can help explain our own inner truths. Perhaps without realizing we have done so, the Episcopal Church and other parts of the Communion are living different metaphors to explain to themselves and our joint life in Christ.

     When hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that shelter my little valley, there is a safety rule that says the pace of the hike is always the pace of the slowest hiker - that way, no one will be left behind. This seems to be the metaphor the Archbishop of Canterbury, as one of the leaders of the Anglican Communion, has adopted. He wants the Episcopal Church to wait, to not officially recognize the gifts all people bring to the church, to delay justice until most everyone can agree. I'm sure it's a very safe metaphor to live.

     I wonder, however, if there is not a different hiking metaphor that explains our attitude in the Episcopal Church: the campfire circle. We all gather round – those who took today's hike quickly; those who walked slowly. We're all bound together because we were on the same journey. It doesn't matter that your story or your pace is not the same as my own – in fact, it is the different stories that make our evening around the campfire all the more interesting and magical. The campfire crackles and snaps, and a million stars wheel overhead, and my journey is made all the richer because I've heard how it looked to you.