18 March 2018

Sacramentum Oboedientiae

The Readings for Passion Sunday (B2)
Nunc anima mea turbata est. Et quid dicam? Pater, salvifica me ex hac hora. Sed propterea veni in horam hanc : Pater, clarifica nomen tuum. 

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause I came unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.

The title of this post is the "Sacrament of Obedience". In the Pagan Roman world, the "Sacramentum" is the Oath one makes giving oneself to the gods in military service. The oath made on sacer or sacred. This use of "sacramentum" is carried into Christian thinking around Baptism: which Tertullian said in De Corona was the only sacramentum a Christian should swear. Sacrament gets linked to the Greek "Mysterion" or "Mystery" in the "Mystery Religions". Another title might be Mysterium Oboedientiae, as long as one isn't thinking about a Detective Story! 

At a few points in the Gospels either Jesus or the Narrator will say that Jesus "hour had not yet come". Then, suddenly, here in verse 23, Jesus says, Venit hora, The Hour is Come ut clarificetur Filius hominis. And then, almost the very next thought, Nunc anima mea turbata est. Now my soul is troubled. Jesus can see ahead: this story takes place after Palm Sunday, it's maybe Tuesday or Wednesday of Holy Week. Death is literally just beyond the next bend in the Space-Time continuum. Jesus admits this is causing some concern. "My soul is seriously churned up about this..." is more like the Greek and the Latin than "troubled". 

I have panic attacks when I'm not paying attention. The cycle runs something like a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. You know the young woman in the fuzzy white sweater will die... because that fuzzy white sweater needs blood on it. But when? When will she die? Around and around the house with the lights out, listening for a sound that maybe shouldn't be there. And then not even a proper scream, just a bloody sweater. Except a panic attack can last days. You know what? Now is my soul troubled resonates with me. It helps me to know that Jesus can feel this, that God, himself, can feel this. I say, "When I'm not paying attention" because panic attacks seem to be triggered by the illusion that I'm in control. When I'm not paying attention, it's easy to convince me that I should be in control. Panic follows shortly when I honestly admit I'm not - although, says the illusion, I should be.

Jesus' solution, though, is rather different than mine. Jesus knows that nothing can come at him or to him which is not sent by God. Jesus trusts in that fully. He abandons his own will surrendering himself into the will of the Father. His soul is troubled, but he is at peace. Now, my solution is let the grinding rocks in my soul keep me up at night, passing from one mental space to the other and then back again, until none of this makes any sense. How much better is Jesus' way! In this Jesus is modeling what should be the approach of all Christians. Yeah, this bothers me, but God be glorified in my life.

Paying attention here, is opening one's eyes to God's leading in the dance. One does not have to be in control. One need only to follow the next step in God's lead. How to do that, though? How to dance and guard your inner peace?

In the Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales said that, "To be perfect in our vocation is nothing else than to fulfill the duties which our state of life obliges us to perform, and to accomplish them well, and only for the honor and love of God." Each of us, in our state of life, have different duties. Notice he says duties, not choices that make us feel happy, or following our bliss, or our passions. He says, "perform your obligations." At the same time, he does not give out new ones. Francis, a Bishop, is writing to Jane de Chantal, a widow who is seriously overworked! He lays no new obligation on her: only that she do what needs to be done in the course of her daily life, to do it in love for God and in prayer. This little way she follows until her death, "Asking nothing and refusing nothing"; only abandoning herself to God's will more and more in the course of her life. 

This, then, is our dance, following Christ as he is submitting to God's will in his own sacrificial death. He is Lord of the Dance, showing us the way to do the same. This is the Sacrament, the Mystery of Obedience: the act of obedience that is, itself, making us sacred to God. It's not easy. It can be troubling. But it is the way to heaven.

For support in this practice, I commend to your use, the Litany of Divine Providence. I've only just begun using this at night, before reading Night Prayer. 

17 March 2018

Where you from?

The Readings for Saturday in the 4th Week of Lent (B2)
The Commemoration of St Patrick, Apostle to Ireland
Numquid et tu Galilaeus es?
Art thou also a Galilean?

An Anglican clergyman once told me that whenever he heard a Southern Drawl he immediately assumed he was talking to someone unlearned. I tend to feel the same way about anyone who has a "Lon Guyland" accent, to be honest, or someone with an "oh, now, dere ya go" upper midwest twang. I can't fault him for it, but I can decry it in myself. We are all parochialists - and we stay that way now, perhaps even more so in our divided country, sussing out where someone is from while trying not to racially or culturally profile them. But still, doing so. We like folks to be like us. 

The term "Galilean" stayed pejorative until the 4th Century AD. For all I know it is, once again, a Hebrew way of saying "hick" or "redneck". They may really despise the Samaritans, but those twangy, redneck sailors are a fish basket of deplorables.

In point of fact, this is classism. We make assumptions about learning and earning, potential and actualized, based on simple cultural clues. It is as insidious as racism, but because it is a secret tool of all of us, it is rarely decried.

We see the same regional classism at several points in the Gospels: it starts with can any good thing come from Nazareth? and continues up to today's readings (and will go beyond). Folks in the Gospel - even good folks - are worried about what will happen when we let in those others and they start to run things their way.

This continues in the Body of Christ to this day: be it the odd liturgical warring between the Slavs and the Greeks in the east or the Irish and the Italians in the west, or the liturgical music wars: Eagle's Wings vrs Palestrina. (I'm only just now making peace with the idea that the Boomers should be able to die in peace and take their vernacular, emo music with them untrammeled.) But even within these camps, do we sing a Godspell Mass or a U2Charist? Do we do Haydn or Missa Luba? If you've never heard the latter, Congolese masterwork, please, give a listen at the end of this post!

As humorous as all this is, it's filled with two sets of assumptions: 
1) They are different and wrong.
2) We're doing things right.

When these are over even liturgical adiaphora like music, ultimately these are merely matters of humor and I might want to write out a story for the Reader's Digest. When these are over the person, however, these are anything but funny. If I make assumptions about you based on cultural clues I'm reading, I'm detracting from the image of God in you. If I'm making racist assumptions, that something many of my friends understand and can call me out on. But if I'm making classist assumptions,most all of my friends are in the same class. We all do make the same assumptions. It is much harder to navigate around that - because we all have the same blinders.

Earlier this week I said a couple of things: if this is true of Christ it is true of you; and also, where are you sent? These gifts that you have that no one else has? The same Giver of all Good Things has given all these gift. To despise any one is belittle the image of God. To react to anyone - especially an enemy - with anything other than an active veneration of that image, that icon of the divine in them - be it a coworker, a stranger on the street, a homeless person, a clerk in the store, whatever - is to fail in love and to again crucify the Archetype of that icon.


16 March 2018

His Ways are Very Different

The Readings for Friday in the 4th Week of Lent (B2) 
Factus est nobis in traductionem cogitationum nostrarum. Gravis est nobis etiam ad videndum, quoniam dissimilis est aliis vita illius, et immutatae sunt viae ejus.
He is become a censurer of our thoughts. He is grievous unto us, even to behold: for his life is not like other men's, and his ways are very different.

I keep wondering if the Righteous Man really is like this or if the Others actually feel this way about him. I do not legitimately know. I know how the elders of Israel felt about Our Lord, even though he'd done little more than make discomfiting claims. Stephen annoyed them as well. The issue seemed to be that both Jesus and those who came after him riled up the people. But no one gets riled anymore. As a late Archbishop of Canterbury once said, "When St Paul preached they had riots. When I preach, they have tea."

When Billy Graham passed away I heard only a very few people get cranky: most who remembered him at all just fondly remembered America's pastor (or the Queen's favourite preacher). Many of the cranky seemed to confuse him with his son who does more politics than his father ever did.

Yet I know that from the White House to Hollywood neither our political leaders nor our cultural ones are any more moral than Nero's Rome. St Paul would have lots to say to us, but nothing new. The author of the Book of Wisdom was writing about pagans around Israel, but also about sinners inside Israel. So there's nothing new to say there, either.

Did meeting St John Paul or St Teresa of Calcutta have any effect on either the Reagans or the Clintons? I doubt it. When (ECUSA) Presiding Bishop Ed Browning called President GHW Bush before the war on Iraq, President Bush said "Talk to Barbara, she's the religious one" and slammed the phone down. That's about the gruffest thing I've ever heard from a politician  to a religious leader, but it's an outlier as far as data points go. For most political leaders (including the current crop, around the world) it's a scoop of ice cream to be seen with a religious leader: an afternoon of platitudinous mummery leading nowhere.  

Did the righteous ever make the unrighteous feel as described in this passage? Were the righteous ever ever righteous enough to annoy by their mere presence? Knowing that they killed Jesus, I guess it is to be expected if anyone should get that far along in the path but, apart from all the priest and nuns killed by Reagan-supported troops in Latin America in the 80s, there seems to be no attempt to undo the righteous. (To be clear, I'm not including myself at all. I doubt I could discomfit anyone.)

But, I wonder: what the heck are the righteous doing wrong?


15 March 2018

There's gotta be an easier way...

The Readings for Thursday in the 4th Week of Lent (B2)
Locutus est autem Dominus ad Moysen, dicens : Vade, descende : peccavit populus tuus, quem eduxisti de terra Aegypti.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Go, get thee down: thy people, which thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt, hath sinned. 

The Latin says they "have sinned". But the Hebrew says, "They have corrupted themselves." Yes, worshipping an idol is a sin... but more, it ruins one. It corrupts you.  The Hebrew word is not pretty at allThis is what sin does to you (all the ways this word is translated into English):
act corruptly (4), act...corruptly (1), acted corruptly (3), acted...corruptly (1), acting corruptly (1), blemished animal (1), corrupt (8), corrupted (4), depravity (1), destroy (69), destroyed (14), destroyer (4), destroyers (1), destroying (7), destroys (5), destruction (2), devastate (1), felled (2), go to ruin (1), harm (2), jeopardize (1), laid waste (1), polluted (1), raiders (2), ravage (1), ravaged (1), ruin (1), ruined (4), set (1), spoiled (1), stifled (1), waste (1), wasted (1), wreaking destruction (1).
And, at heart, all sin is Idolatry. 

It's easy to make fun of the Israelites: they've just witnessed the Ten Plagues, they've crossed the red sea, they watch a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night talk to their leader and keep them safe, and yet, they decide maybe a golden calf would be good. If you'll remember the story well, Aaron (whose last name was Martin, SJ) who knew the whole truth about this God, decided the People couldn't quite handle the truth and thought it would be ok to give them something a little easier to swallow. So, misled by their religious leader, they forget, because of fear, everything they've seen and decide some gold is a better choice for themselves.

Yeah, it's kind of easy to make fun of them, except that's all of us, right?

We've seen God act. We've felt the power of God at Mass, in the Confessional, at Confirmation. We've seen God change lives, we know the story of the saints, we may even have deeply experienced Mystical insights. And yet, let someone (maybe named Martin, SJ) tell us there's an easier way... and we're all on it like so many flies around so many cows. We will make an idol out of any easier way we can find. And we destroy ourselves. Or maybe it's politics, and we think the latest craze from prohibition to Trump is the way the Gospel's gonna come to pass. And before we know it, we're making the Gospel fit our new golden god, or at least his tiny fingers. And we destroy ourselves.

So yeah, it's fun to make fun of the Israelites. But really: that's us, there.

What's got you idoling today?

14 March 2018

Like a Swiss Army Knife

The Readings for Wednesday in the 4th Week of Lent (B2)
Dedi te in foedus populi, ut suscitares terram, et possideres haereditates dissipatas; ut diceres his qui vincti sunt : Exite; et his qui in tenebris : Revelamini. Super vias pascentur, et in omnibus planis pascua eorum.
[I have] given thee to be a covenant of the people, that thou mightest raise up the earth, and possess the inheritances that were destroyed: That thou mightest say to them that are bound: Come forth: and to them that are in darkness: shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in every plain. 

I looked at these verses long and hard last night. In fact, after drafting a couple of paragraphs that sounded really angry, I fell asleep on the sofa. And woke up and said... nope.

But tonight at Mass, as the reader said "I have given thee..." it came to me, like a punch. A pow.

This prophecy of Christ.
Must be true of his body.
Where has God given you?
If you are a member of Christ's body, this must be true of you.
Where has God given you?

What people's language do you speak that no one else speaks?
What unreached tribe have you been sent to?
Where can you - and only you - say "Come forth. Shew yourselves"?

Some of us are called like St Ignatius to travel to China to save the souls of the lost in a far corner.
Some of us are called to the bodega down the street.
Some of us are sent like St Dominic to release a tribe of heretics from the chains they forged for themselves.
Some of us are sent to our family of Episcopalians at Christmas.
Some of us are called like Blessed Stanley Rother to translate the Liturgy into a Language never used before.
Some of us are called to speak the language of the Gospel at a union local, or even a local bar.

We are all called to be apostles. If this prophecy is true of Christ, it is true of you.
What set of tools do only you have?
What book of the Gospel has been written for you to read only to those who are trained up to hear it?

“This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.”  - Corrie ten Boom.

Where are you set for? How finely tuned are you to be the voice of God in that one place that you are where no one else can speak?


13 March 2018

In the Vision-Time

The Readings for Tuesday in the 4th Week of Lent (B2)
Certe vidisti, fili hominis?
Have you seen this, Son of Man?
הֲרָאִ֣יתָ בֶן־אָדָ֑ם

Son of Man in the Latin and English. In Hebrew it's Son of Adam, like in Narnia. Yes, Adam means "man" and also "earth creature", or even "earthling". But both of those are the meanings of the Name of the First Man. Calling Jesus "Son of Man" is calling him the Son of Adam. That is an important tag here!

In the movie, Contact, Jodie Foster plays a scientist who (she thinks) has been contacted by aliens. All the clues come encoded in, as it were, micro-dot forms: a cold-war era spy trick where a secret message was photographed and compressed, over and over, until it was just a full stop at the end of a sentence. But the right microscope and a knowing eye could discern what was really there. So also Jodie Foster digs into every clue to discover the depth and content, eventually building a huge machine which people imagine will teleport her, somehow, to a distant galaxy. Instead, her travel pod falls to earth in moments. But in those moments, Foster meets with the aliens who - as with all their clues - found a way to compress so much data into the meeting: that one second in space stretched into an eternity as they passed info through her to the other Earthlings.

It's an amazing plot device that the author, Carl Sagan, stole from CS Lewis and every story about Faerie abductions out there. No matter how long you are in Narnia, no time seems to have passed in this world at all. The Doctor says, "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually — from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint — it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly... timey-wimey... stuff."

Dreams seem to function this way as well: they say that a dream, in real time, only lasts for a second, a brief moment. But in that moment time changes for the dreamer. You're on a roller coaster having tea with Elizabeth the First and Donald Duck and then the coaster goes over a waterfall and you're in Shanghai before the War wondering why the Giants never played baseball here (it's so lovely in the Spring) but then you remember that the Giants have not yet moved to San Francisco. And you wake up.

A couple of seconds, they say, is all that took, but in Dream Time it stretched out into eternity and all made sense.

So I wonder if it was that was the Prophets. I say that because the Angel's Comment, "Have you seen this, Son of Adam?" reads like a trigger phrase that will suddenly call the whole vision back to mind.

And what a vision it was! A trickle from the door of the temple of Jerusalem grows as it leads away from the temple until it fills the whole world. If that trickle of water represents the faith and teachings of Israel, imagine the odd arrogance of it being just a story the writer made up. There is a tribe of enslaved persons, captured and living in Babylon (about 600 years before Messiah comes). A priest of that tribe who has, himself, no temple or sacrifice and no country of his own, envisions his faith spreading through all the world; imagines that his faith is intended to flow away from the temple and that it will deepen and expand as it does so, until all the world is filled with its Truth!

God was setting things up and we will see this river again, in the book of the Apocalypse. 

The Jews, in their Exile, spread throughout the world paving the way for the Apostles who bring the news of Messiah. They pre-evangelize every corner of Babylon, then of Persia, of Alexander's kingdom, of the Successor Kingdoms, and of the Roman Empire. Everywhere they go the Apostles preach to Jews and Gentiles, at first in synagogues planted around the known world by this Diaspora. There are Jews even in Roman Britain. And then there were Christians. (The first Roman Jew from Britain on trial for an "Alien Superstition" was in 57 AD.)

The river grows and deepens. Have you seen this Son of Adam? In an instant it can be clear. Do not forget this, and, if you do, you only need to remember, Have you seen this Son of Adam?

11 March 2018

A Journey of All Sorts and Conditions

When my Grandfather, Kenneth Richardson, passed away in 2002 he had left a request that I sing a song at the funeral. I had sung at funerals for my late Brother and my late Grandmother. I had sung at my sister’s wedding. So, this was not a surprise. Grandpa had an odd sense of humor though. And so his request was at once both moving and also, for folks who know me, humorous as all get out. For he asked me to sing a song by Miss Patsy Cline.

(Honestly, I prefer this one by Johnny Cash.. so...)

The song was Life’s Railway to Heaven.

Life is like a mountain railway
With an engineer that’s brave
You must make the run successful
From the cradle to the grave
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels;
Never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
And your eye upon the rail.

Blessed Savior
Thou wilt guide us
Til we reach that blissful shore
Where the angels wait to join us
In God’s praise for ever more.

The song goes on (for several other verses) to talk about troubles with tracks and storms and hairpin turns. In the end there’s a trestle across the River Jordan and the Union Depot in heaven where the Conductor, God the Father and Jesus say, weary pilgrim welcome home. And I kinda choked up there at the funeral and all Grandpa’s Baptist friends said, “Amen” and the song ended.  

The problem is the song is too linear. Grandpa was rootless: born in Manitoba, moved to Michigan, lived in San Francisco, served in Panama, and was a hobo riding the rails during the Great Depression. He never really stayed in any one place very long. He didn’t even start going to church until after my Grandmother died in 1984. Knowing that, and knowing that I’m Grandpa’s spiritual son as well as blood relative. My presentation is called

Life’s Tilt-a-whirl to heaven

I was born on 29 August 1964 in Atlanta, Georgia. My name at birth was William Earl Bailey. That is, Bill Bailey. I had 35 years of people singing to me (including Patsy Cline) before I ditched the moniker in 2000. Grandpa approved of my choice saying, "He got tired of people singing tt him!" I had been named for my father, whom I never knew (he left when I was 1), and my mother’s Grandfather, who - being dead - I also never knew. Grandpa Richardson was really my father is as many ways as I can think of until my Mom married my stepfather in 1974.

If you’ll picture the states of Georgia, Alabama and Florida there are there 10 different street addresses I had before 5th grade. In my entire life there have been 48 different street addresses. I’m 53, so... the level of change is pretty consistent.

Generic Protestant (1964 - 1978) 
My spiritual journey was just as crazy. When we were growing up Mom always took us to the closest (protestant) Church.  My first religious memory is singing “Jesus loves me” in the Presbyterian Church in Fort Gaines, GA. This would be about 1967 or so. My second one is in Warner Robbins, GA, listening to a TV preacher on Saturday Morning in that devotional moment that used to come on the air right after the national anthem. And he was telling me (age 6) I’d go to hell if I didn’t pray this prayer... so... I did. I remember that deeply and profoundly, asking Jesus into my life, more out of fear than anything else, but still, sincerely doing so. My third religious memory is a Sunday school class where we were building a model of Solomon's Temple out of sugar cubes and royal icing. I wanted to eat the thing when we were done. We did everything from Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of God, to Free Will Baptist, non-Denominational, etc

After I stopped needing Mom to drive me to sunday school, my religious life became a little bit more predictable, but only just.

Methodist (1978 - 1981)
I was baptized in the Methodist Church in 1978 by Pastor Jim Lowery. My stepfather was my Godfather. (He and Mom have been married nearly 45 years now...) Pastor Jim and I began to explore ideas of ministry and, like a lot of pastors dealing with a young man in that projected line of work" the question was "do you want to work with the youth group/"

Episcopalian (1981 - 2002)
I discovered the Episcopal Church in High School, 1981. It was pretty. And it was glorious. I discovered monasteries, Mass, Mary and all the things that High Church Anglicans have that Catholics (at that point) seemed to be giving up. 

My first year in College I went to a non-denominational Christian college. Here my increasingly Catholic-minded faith was often attacked. Day One involved the RA asking why I had a crucifix over the door... the result of this attack was that I become rather far more “high church” that I might otherwise have become. This was furthered by the local Episcopal priest giving me a key to the church to come in and hang out any time with my friends: I did study halls, and that turned into Bible Classes, and hymn sings... it was an odd Freshman year.

There was some discussion of ministry here, and I ended up working with the Youth Group again, in the parish and on the diocesan level, finally on the provincial and even national level. I did diocesan Summer camp every year for nearly 10 years: two weeks out of every summer working with kids caught between childhood and a faith crisis. There were romances and educational moments, death, illnesses, and all the drama you can imagine. It was also wonderful to run down the hill every morning and ring the Angelus to call folks to Morning Prayer. I spent most of those years as default sacristan and church geek as well.

I had a falling out with the Episcopal Church in College so I ran away. I did so over sex and “not really believing any of this”. And I became a Newagey Pagan. When I came back to church about 10 years later, I was rather shocked to find out no one else believed any of this either and we are all just Newagey Pagans together, albeit more liturgical and we did talk about Jesus more than your average pagans. This was hard on me, coming back to Faith as an adult, to find out I was the odd guy for actually believing things like Resurrection and Incarnation.

Orthodox (2002 - 2016)
A lot of more-conservative Episcopalians, deciding we needed to go be really Christian somewhere, left and became Orthodox. A lot of folks were doing so: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, etc. When I left the Episcopal Parish on Potrero Hill in 2002 and went to the Orthodox Parish on Russian Hill, I honestly didn’t look at the Catholic Church. I would have seen that many of the things that “Catholics seemed to be giving up” after Vatican 2 were actually very present. I missed that cue, though, and became Orthodox.

(I also ran away from the Orthodox Church a little while over sex. And then came back. Because “you have the words of life... where else can I go?”)

Two things happened to me in Orthodoxy. I began to take my faith very seriously: discovering that this guy, Jesus, wants the whole shebang. He doesn’t want a pious hellion who can go to church, teach bible, and then go home. He wants everything: my politics, my sex life, my diet, my prayer life, my work life, my social life, my social media (this became a thing by this point). Somehow, in all of that take-over, I ended up serving on the Parish Council and then being President of the Parish... an honor I was in nowise worthy of. And discovering that I could pray by singing (in the choir) and that I was ok as a layman.

The second thing that happened was I went to a monastery. In January of 2016, after 6 years at a job I was laid off and, discovering that I was debt free and had no obligations (other than my cat), I went to an Orthodox, Benedictine monastery in Colorado.

That didn’t last, and, although I like to say I “discerned out” the real issue was I needed to be serving people and hiding in a monastery praying the office, as wonderful as it was, was not the answer. I mayhap have been able to deal with the internecine incivilities of monastery life if I had been also serving folks, but we were brutally, starkly alone, at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. And cold.  So I came back into the world.

Catholic (2016)
One of the novices last year (Br John) commented on the Benedictine Vow of Stability, which I would have had to take: a Benedictine Monk is expected to die in the monastery where he takes his vows. Dominicans, to the contrary, are rooted in the brotherhood and very mobile. Although it was a good-natured jab from a Dominican Novice to a former Benedictine Novice, I nearly started to cry remembering the terror that made me feel in Colorado.

When I left the Monastery in August 2016, I knew where I had to go. And I was in a Catholic Parish (in Columbus, GA, near my Parents) before the month was out. The sermon that Sunday was about praying a daily rosary and going to daily mass.

According to the Catholic Church, the Orthodox are a strange species of Catholic, just not in communion with the Pope. So I could have taken communion quietly and gone to confession as needed, and never had an issue. But I needed a commitment to a community so, after I found a job (back here, thank God), I was standing at St Dominic’s within 24 hours of getting off the airplane. Tim says, that three days later I had moved in.

The tilt-a-whirl finally stopped, I pray. And I got off. My confessor knows I’m prone to a mental spin every now and again, but all in all, though stuff spins from time to time, the cross stands still and, by God’s Grace, I always reach out and hold on.

And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story.