17 July 2019

Ps 145 Blowback

JMJ

Nolite confidere in principibus, in filiis hominum, in quibus non est salus. Exibit spiritus ejus, et revertetur in terram suam; in illa die peribunt omnes cogitationes eorum.

Put not your trust in princes, in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish.
(It's Ps 146 in the Protestant texts.)

I have been thinking a lot about the presidential election cycle that is coming up. After the presidential chaos of the 1960s and 70s the election and re-election of Ronald Reagan proved to be a turning point in American politics unrelated to left or right. It was a stability moment. Reagan was the first president since Eisenhower to serve two full terms of office. Kennedy was assassinated. Johnson served out Kennedy's term and was elected for one himself. Nixon was re-elected but his second term was destroyed by Scandal. Ford served out Nixon's term and was not re-elected at all. Carter served one term. This constant change in officeholder paralleled with a period of political and economic chaos in the United States. I do not think they are unrelated. Although the president has (or had, rather) very little direct power, the effect of seeing the same face and hearing the same voice was one of "all is well, remain calm... and productive." We lost that calming influence in the 60s and 70s having five different presidents and - I believe - we can see the results if we just crack open a history book or (for some of us) our memories.

Since the election of Ronald Reagan only one president, George Bush, Sr, has been limited to one term. This time of presidential stability is not unusual in American history as most presidents were allowed to serve out at least two terms. Even in this era of wild swings from left to right no matter how hated a sitting president is he tends to get reelected. Americans seem to like the stability that parallels with reelecting a president.

And so, unless things go wildly amiss, I expect Donald Trump will be re-elected. I know some people don't want him to be, but does the left hate Trump any more than the right hated Obama? I suspect the president's supporters will rally to his victory unless he manages to be too divisive and destroys the economic stability with social chaos. This may cause even some of his supporters to vote against him, or to vote for third-party candidates who are further to the right.

The backlash after his second term will be horrible. To be honest, even if it's only one term I think the backlash will be bad. What backlash do I mean? The backlash that's already happening.

I imagine a nation filled with New York State style abortion laws. I imagine a nation where it's okay to kill grandma because she's old. I imagine a nation where it's okay to kill a newborn child because they have Down's Syndrome. I imagine a nation where, like France, it's okay to let starve someone to death because they were in a car accident. I imagine a nation where - as they tried to do in California this month - the seal of the confessional causes a priest to go to prison. I imagine a nation where, an angry new majority will do all of these things in the name of freedom, utility, and science. In the hope of preventing a Donald Trump style election in the future, as in The Hunger Games, the coastal cities will decide that the Fly Over States are worth suppressing in the name of national security.

To the extent that many Christians, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, have put their trust in Princes and have been willing to ignore the President's racism, sexism, xenophobia, stupidity, crudity, vulgarity, lewd behavior, and general childishness, this backlash will fall on us. "Us" here means any Christian, not just Christians who supported Trump. Every church building, anywhere, will suddenly be a fly-over state. There will be a special backlash for Christians who looked at Trump's feet, ankles, shins, calves, thighs, and hips of clay and his heart of stone and said, “Yes, but he's going to appoint pro-life judges.”

Christians know that the end does not justify the means. Or at least we used to know that. We seem to have forgotten it, but only for this president. While many pro-life activists have been staunchly supportive of any pro-life action such as feeding the poor, ending the death penalty, rescuing the homeless, stopping war, and going to the borders to support immigrants, this is not been true of the “but he's going to give us judges” class of people. This class of Christian has been as silently divisive as the president has verbally been.

And, we must be truthful: the president has taken pro-life steps only to further divide the nation. He, himself, is not pro-life. He, himself, only sees it as a wedge issue that will radicalize both his followers and his detractors. By putting a wedge issue into the country, he hopes to stay in power.

So, I think we're about to be up the creek without a paddle. I'm not certain that it will happen in 2020, in fact, I don't think it will. But come 2024 it's going to be scary.

14 July 2019

Actually He Did Say That

JMJ

The Readings for the 15th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C1):
Si tamen audieris vocem Domini Dei tui, et custodieris praecepta ejus et caeremonias, quae in hac lege conscripta sunt.

If thou hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and keep his precepts and ceremonies, which are written in this law.

If you follow social media at all occasionally a hashtag or meme will show up that is, shall we say, theologically annoying. It's not only that it's wrong or heretical, but usually, it's so wrong or so very heretical as to indicate either a willful lack of knowledge on the part of those who originated it, or a downright hateful attack. Many things on social media can devolve into hateful attacks, so we needn’t get paranoid about it. This is partly the nature of the beast. It happens. On the other hand, hate also happens. This can be intentional so we must be careful to react with love.

This past week on social media there was such an event. I noticed it on Saturday but apparently it has been going on since Thursday or Friday. It was #ThingsJesusNeverSaid

When you put it like that nearly anything becomes a theological claim. We don't think of it that way in our secular society but for Christians Jesus Is God. Making a claim about Jesus is making a theological claim. 

I'm not sure how this hashtag started but it quickly devolved into an odd combination of ahistorical, left-wing political thought and oddly heretical claims about the Divinity of Jesus. 

Jesus never said anything about Islam. (Islam came 600 years after Jesus.) Jesus never said anything about gay sex (actually he did when talking about adultery and lust - unless you want to be more literalist than even the worst Bible thumper). Jesus never said anything about gay marriage. Jesus never said anything about abortion. 

I'm not sure why these are interesting claims. They are not novel. Ever read any Jesus Seminar stuff? They seem to think Jesus never said anything. 


The hashtags seem to validate certain political points of view, and so they make people happy. Naturally, the other side had to respond and suddenly Jesus never said anything about gun control. Jesus never said anything about illegal immigrants. Jesus never said anything about... And again the whole point was to make certain political points of view seem pious.

People who claim to be Christians got involved. And they started throwing around the hashtag as well, validating their own political points of view and arguing with people who disagreed with their political points of view. So Jesus was a Libertarian, Jesus was a communist, Jesus was a pro-choice Democrat, Jesus wasn't a communist, Jesus wasn't a Libertarian, Jesus was a MAGA Republican, etc, etc, etc. 

What made this whole interesting, and what ties it into all of our readings today, was a subset of tweets and social postings around Jesus and the moral law of the Old Testament. 


For Christians, every action of God is a Trinitarian action. (The icons in this post show Jesus doing all the acts of Creation. Jesus is there from the beginning.)

Jesus, God the Son is the Word of God the Father. I don't mean that Jesus is the Bible but rather when God speaks any word he says is Jesus. Any time you hear the voice of God speaking in the scriptures it's Jesus. As a historical claim and a theological claim, this is rejected by any who are not Christians, but since Christians were playing this hashtag game we need to discuss it. The converse is also true: anyone who rejects this claim is not Christian.

In Deuteronomy, Moses refers to hearing the voice of God in the law. That voice, that Word of God, is the Logos, the Second person of the Trinity. Yes, it is the Father that is speaking, but the voice, the Word spoken, is the Logos. The breath, if you will, by which the Logos is heard and transmitted to you is the Holy Spirit. Every action of God is a Trinitarian Action. It cannot be otherwise. Even breaking it up as here into bite-sized bits is to nearly destroy the Trinitarian concept.

To put a very clear theological point on it: everything in the Law of the Torah was spoken by Jesus. A Christian cannot claim that Jesus did not say anything about XYZ in the Law without saying that part of the Bible was not spoken by God. 

So the basic claims of #ThingsJesusNeverSaid (Left, Right, Center) are both Arian and Marcionite at least and, sometimes, marching right on into Gnostic. Arius denied that Jesus was God. Marcion denied that the angry, judgy god of the Old Testament was the same as the fluffy, loving god of the New Testament. Gnostics deny that physical reality (like sex) is of any import to God at all and teach that it should be of no importance to us either. 

For Christians, this text of Moses is a very clear statement of the reality of the Sacramental World. It...
is not too mysterious and remote for you.It is not up in the sky, that you should say,'Who will go up in the sky to get it for usand tell us of it, that we may carry it out?'Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,'Who will cross the sea to get it for usand tell us of it, that we may carry it out?'No, it is something very near to you,already in your mouths and in your hearts;
The NABRE says “it is something”, but the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Latin all say “The word is”... breath deep: Jesus. As near to you as the Spirit dwelling inside, as the Communion you’ve just consumed, as the person sitting next to you, as the Church into which you’re baptized. The word is very near.

Quoting what we think is a Hymn sung in the Church from the very earliest days (within 30-40 years of Jesus’ Ascension), St Paul boldly ups the Ante:
Quoniam in ipso condita sunt universa in caelis, et in terra, visibilia, et invisibilia, sive throni, sive dominationes, \sive principatus, sive potestates: omnia per ipsum et in ipso creata sunt: et ipse est ante omnes, et omnia in ipso constant.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
All things are created by Jesus, for Jesus, through Jesus. The universe rises and is sustained in Jesus.

This claim certainly bothers folks. But to back away from it is to back away from historic Christianity. as I said this claim has been going since within 35 years of Jesus death. You can reject it by rejecting the entirety of the Christian faith. I know some people do that. They do it and they even claim to be Christians, but they're telling lies about themselves and about Jesus.


It is from this all-inclusive claim the Christians follow the teachings of Jesus that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. For, if God is all self-giving, what the Greek calls kenosis, then we are to pour ourselves out in the same way, in the same kenotic way. Our neighbor is as our self. Not another self, but as our very self: human unity is a reflection of the Divine Unity. We all share the same nature even though we are individual persons. To love our neighbor is to love Jesus. Jesus was also a human person, sharing in our one human nature, the same nature you and I share the same nature our neighbor shares with us and with God in human flesh. This is why we are to follow the commands of Jesus for what it means to be humans. Regardless of what national laws, racism, or even possibly-valid economic concerns might say, we are to welcome the strangers and do everything possible to feed and clothe them. We cannot participate in a culture that would prevent us from doing so, be the stranger in the womb, on the street, or at the border.

This is the Christian's unique anthropological claim. We are persons: but we are not singularities. We are not self-creating, we are all proceeding from the one act of Creation. We only have what we have received in that procession and we are commanded to pour it out fully, not to be emptied, but to participate in that procession, in that continual flow of the Divine Act.

That one act of Creation was, is, and can only ever be, Jesus.


To say #JesusNeverSaid is to project our post-modern, American, atomized, individualized, self-idolizing culture onto the only source of all unity, peace, justice, and hope. To use that to rationalize and justify your politics or sex life is just to prove you've never yet met Jesus. It's time you did.

Jesus said, "Love." 

That’s everything.


12 July 2019

V2b - Rupture


JMJ
One of the huge comforts of my Christian life has been praying for the dead. I've been aware since I joined the Orthodox Church in 2002, continuing on into the Catholic Church, that I'm a major mess. When it comes to sins, I've got a good list. I require the mercy of God, and I will need the prayers of the faithful after me. I know that in the way I've prayed for the departed, I will be prayed for. Those prayers will be needed. In the recent Cancer Scare, this was brought home solidly: the comforting awareness of the prayers of those who love me will be my surety after my death.

Going a little Ranty here, but also nerdy. I love the Daily Office: it's part of the Church's liturgy that is most easily traced to pre-Jesus piety. The Jewish custom of recitation of the Psalms in a regular order as part of daily prayer carries over into the Church via the monastics. If you want to learn more about this, one of the best histories of the daily office (east and west) is Fr Robert Taft's Liturgy of the Hours East & West. I love the Daily Office so much that I read nerdy texts about it... anyway...

In the Benedictine tradition, as well as in the use of the secular Roman office and in the high-church Anglican tradition, there's a rite called "The Office of the Dead". This is a specific set of Psalms and scripture readings intended to pray for the departed. Depending on the religious tradition, the content can be longer or shorter than the regular daily prayers. In many traditions, it is content added to the daily material, extending the usual daily rite (about 30 mins or so) to nearly twice the length.

Lest I get too nerdy, I'm just going to highlight 3 points:

1. In the usual, daily practice, each Psalm or Canticle will end with the "Gloria", a brief verse of praise to God. This verse is also used at the beginning of each daily service. In the Office of the Dead this verse is not used at all. It is replaced by the "Requiem Aeternam", a brief verse asking God to give rest to the departed.

2. In the usual, daily practice, each service begins with a hymn. In the Office of the Dead there are no hymns.

3. In the usual, daily practice, each service concludes with a short prayer called a "Collect" that sums up the intentions of prayer. In the Office of the Dead, the collect is specifically for divine clemency to be shown to the departed.

That was as it stood prior to the release of the Post-Vatican 2, Liturgy of the Hours. To this latter text I turned this morning for the Office of the Dead in prayer for a departed Bishop of our Archdiocese. I was mortified at what I found under that title, however. Taking again the 3 points...

1. The instructions for the office specifically said I should say the Gloria after each Psalm and Canticle and that the office should begin in the same way. The little verse praying for the departed was removed.

2. There were hymns of comfort for the living. "Christ is our hope", "Jesus Christ is Risen Today", and "For All the Saints".

3. There were several collects, but most folks would read the first, of course rather than dig in subsequent pages for "alternates". The default collect was a prayer to "strengthen our hope that our brother/sister will share in the resurrection."

There were literally no prayers for the dead in the Office of the Dead. Pardon my French, but WTF was the Committee thinking? How in the hell is someone supposed to find comfort in that?

I pictured a group of old men sitting around the office of the Cardinal in NYC (cuz that's where LotH came from) in the mid-1970s saying "a prayer that God not condemn the departed might mean we, the living could be condemned. We don't want to imply that, do we? It might scare people.

One other point: the older daily services (every day) ended with the same "Requiem Aeternam" so that each daily prayer ended with a reminder to pray for the dead - not just in the Office of the Dead, but always. This regular prayer is also missing from the newer rite.

Grf.




What Do You Fear?

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 14th Week, Tempus per Annum (C1):
Si patremfamilias Beelzebub vocaverunt, quanto magis domesticos ejus? Nolite timere eos qui occidunt corpus, animam autem non possunt occidere.

If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household? Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.


What is the origin of fear? I'm trying to suss this out. St John says perfect love casts out all fear. So is the origin of fear in the lack of love? Or, is it in the imperfection of love?

Since no human being, created in the image of God, can be without love I suggest the answer is the origin of fear is in the imperfection of love. Working hypothesis: we fear not because we hate, but because we love imperfectly.

Jesus says do not fear those who can kill the body. Those are the folks we actually fear the most. We may not say “kill the body” anymore, but we are afraid of people who can deprive us of life and liberty. We are afraid of those who can socially kill us by firing us, taking away our home, expelling our children from school, taking our children away from us, shaming us on social media, destroying our reputation on the internet, or stealing our identities and ruining our credit scores. These are the people we fear.

So, I suggest the problem is that we do not love them perfectly. What would it mean to love perfectly?

Jesus’ best example of perfect love is when he says his father causes it to rain on the just and on the unjust. The sunlight, too, can be said to fall on the just and the unjust equally. God's love is like that: falling on all of us equally. I used to have an image of the love of God pouring down upon us like beams of light and there were some on whom it did not fall. I realized that didn't make sense. Then what I saw was that there were some who tried to use umbrellas or anything to keep that pesky light from hitting them. These are the Goths of the spiritual world. They try to hide from the light. God doesn't love me! So they say.

And certainly, there will be those people who will deny you the chance to love them. But you have to keep loving them! Let them say no. You must always say yes. Love must be perfect. We can't do it yet, fine! But let's work towards it, later! Love must grow to be perfect.

When our love is perfect and we will not be afraid. Fear is a luxury a person in love simply cannot afford. Fear is the luxury of folks who love stuff more than people. Fear is a luxury of someone who loves their job more than people. Someone who loves their favorite foods, their favorite sex toys, their favorite appetites, their ego, their reputation, more than people: they can afford fear.

So do not fear the person who can kill your body, but brother loved him perfectly. On the way to the beheading, as you're walking up the steps, Weep For Love of your executioner. Pray in love for his soul. Beseech God to have mercy on him who is about to kill you. Even if that only means slandering you on the internet.


They do that to Jesus moment by moment. What more do you expect for yourself?

V2a - Continuity

JMJ

So, I confess I give Vatican II a bad rap sometimes - mostly because it's what I'm supposed to do: a traddy convert from a conservative religious tradition. But I do enjoy most of the fruits of the Council, as long as they are applied with what Pope Benedict calls the "Hermeneutic of Continuity", by which he means that we must assume in all Christian Charity that what was there in the faith before the Council is there in the Faith after.

The Liturgy, for example, should be in Latin and the Vernacular. The music should not be strummed. And there's nothing wrong with a Rosary said while Mass is going on. The simple beauty of the Novus Ordo done right (see above), ad orientem, with full ceremonial, and beautiful music, is clearly the same Mass as the previous generations served.

What I didn't know was the why of the Council itself.  Recently, listening to Fr Anthony and Fr Harrison on the Clerically Speaking podcast, I got a good bit more context.

A priest had shared with the Dominican Tertiaries that one priest known to him used to pass through the Roman Canon in the 1962 Missal saying, soto voce, "Wordy wordy wordy wordy..." we were shocked.  But listen to this podcast episode to hear more about the Liturgy of the Golden Age when the spiritual formation of clergy was nil.

Here's a link to the show on SoundCloud. It's linked to begin right at the important part (38:57 into the show). It goes from there to the end of the episode.

The conversation about what was happening in the last 100 years before the Council was, for me, earthshaking because the implication is that the issues we think of today as "caused by V2" were caused by the younger clergy coming though V2. CLergy who are implicated in the sex scandals were in formation before the council.

Continuity is a good thing... but continuity with the church before the 20th century and the spiritual poverty caused by the horrors of 2 World Wars.

So... yeah... it was a groundbreaking learning for me.

11 July 2019

Mira! El Otro!

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 14th Week, Tempus per Annum (C1):
Tradet autem frater fratrem in mortem, et pater filium: et insurgent filii in parentes, et morte eos afficient: et eritis odio omnibus propter nomen meum: qui autem perseveraverit usque in finem, hic salvus erit.
Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.

Again with the brother against brother and in the New Testament, now. Apart from the Sons of Zebedee and Andrew and Peter, there are very few brothers that get along in the Bible. The Macabbees, I guess. Everyone else seems to have a bit of an issue with internecine incivility. 

This passage, though, is about the Church. Brother will hand over brother to death: Christians will be acting like the sons of Jacob, as the sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve that we are. Although it can seem a bit conspiratorial at times, this is actually one thing I fear. I know why I fear this: because I was often on the other side.

Yes, I'm a Christain, but not like one of those over there...

My great fear was that someone would think I was a Christian like the ones the someone hated - whoever they were. In that us-and-them mindset, trying to be really cool (not like them) I was bound to sell Christians short in order to look good to my friends. It actually doesn't matter who the "us" was in this story. It's only important that I be seen to be not one of them.

Who was one of them?

Actually: it doesn't matter.

Repeatedly I've had driven home to me lately that, as far as human beings are concerned, there is no "other". There is only us. There are still two sides, but they are not the sides we think of.

In Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, "The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts." In short, we are "The Others" we're afraid of. Even that fails to describe the real situation: God made us. We belong to him. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. God made all of us. Even the folks that say they don't or won't belong, even the folks that feel left outside, even the folks who hate all conception of God, Church, Good, Chastity, Love... whatever. God made us all and we belong to him.

There are folks who struggle to stay on one side of that line. There are folks who struggle to stay on the other. Very few people want to reject love, peace, goodness. And everyone usually acts out of love of something. And all love... is of God. You have to love something and to the extent that you love - even broken - you are being Godly. Certainly, because we are humans, our love can be broken. Most of us have broken love. If you're walking around, in fact, it's broken.

There are those beings who would have us love stuff and use people (instead of the reverse). God's image is not in stuff: but it is in all people. When we fail to love people when we love stuff (pepperoni pizza, cheap radios from WalMart, political ideologies, national anthems) we are at risk of devaluing the image of God present in each person - and so of devaluing God himself.

There is only one force that drives us to devalue persons created in God's image. It matters not if we do that by our shopping, our voting, our eating, or our dishonesty. When we do it, we're fighting for the other side.

Today's Gospel reminds me that there are those (and I have been one) in the Church who fight for the other side. We don't even do it covertly. We become convinced that those over there are so wrong as to not even be one of us. They are the Sharks. Or the Jets. They are not one of us humans, you see?

In all honesty, they may fail at being Catholics. They may fail at being Christians. (Who of us does not fail?) But they are always one of us: one of the bearers of God's image. We fail in this, become the other side when we forget another Solzhenitsyn quote (perhaps the rest of the one I've cited): "Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained."

The Saints and Fathers teach us over and over again that we are to mourn and pray for those around us led away into fighting against Truth. As we are to mourn each our own sins, when we see someone who does not know their sin, or who is aggressively opposing the truth, we should assume two things: if they knew the real truth of Love, they would not oppose it; and, it is us who have failed to tell them or show them. Corrie Ten Boom found herself standing in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp watching Nazi soldiers beat another prisoner. She found it a perfect opportunity to share the Gospel of God's love with the inmate standing next to her. I'm afraid to do this on the bus - sometimes I'm afraid of the person next to me at Mass or at work! Over and over Corrie saw God's presence in the person next to her, and she reached out in Love. It's amazing how many times the response even from Nazis, was Love given back.

We should, therefore, pray all the more for them and mourn, all the more, for our lack of love in showing the way more clearly.

And we should remember that the only "them" is the Demons who seek to divide us. Even if someone is leading us to the chopping block, the executioner, the press, the social media, or the courts for our faith, it should be assumed that it is a failure of love leading to this, not a failure of the person. Jesus says we will be persecuted because of his name. If you find this love difficult - and who would not? - begin perhaps by Thanking God for using this person to show you the fulfillment of prophecy. Then pray for them - and you - to be wrapped in Love.

10 July 2019

Impossible.


JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot
Thursday in the 13th week Tempus Per Annum (C1)

Pro salute enim vestra misit me Deus ante vos in Aegyptum.
It was for your salvation that God sent me before you into Egypt.

Yesterday's writing may have seemed a bit out of character for me. I'm a placid, poetical sort of writer usually. Nu? I have dark corners too.

So I will wonder again: is this statement of Joseph's absolution or just a statement of fact? To a mystic, a statement of fact is rare and Joseph, the dreamer of dreams and the reader of omens, is certainly a mystic.

Dylan’s lyrics, continuing from yesterday. It’s the refrain:

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

I was walking home from a bar late one night - oh, actually it was about 5 am - with my housemate Rick. It was one of those snowy nights in the middle of winter in New York City when, with the snow falling, there is absolute silence. It's one of the few things I miss about New York City. This weather. This silence. Anyway, walking. Rick was trying to figure out this song phrase that was running through my head. Rick was very good with Broadway musicals but this one was escaping him. We found out later it was actually a TV Musical that had been on once when we were kids in the late 60s. One word of one song was stuck in my head still in 1995. I could even sing it.  “Imm-poss-ible.” I was certain it must mean something, if only we could figure out why it was stuck there.

Rick said, “There must be something in your life that doesn't mean something else.”

“Why?” I asked.

Joseph could see his light come shining. He knew that sooner or later he would be released. Yet, he never was. To the end of his days, he was this Hebrew captive in the house of Pharaoh. He was even given a slave name meaning the “The God Speaks so He Lives.” You can read it to mean that Joseph could hear meanings in things... which Pharaoh understood to mean that some deity was speaking to Joseph... or did it mean that Pharaoh (the God) had decided this slave could live? It seems highly likely it was the latter. Joseph was in prison about  orto die... and the god-king spoke and let him live.

If you read the story of Joseph in Genesis close enough, it sounds as if this Hebrew slave is the beginning of the idea that Pharaoh owned the entire land of Egypt. The Egyptians sold their goods and their property to Pharaoh through Joseph in exchange for food during the seven year famine.  And thus Pharaoh - not Joseph - became very rich. Joseph was still Pharaoh’s slave. And through Joseph, all of Egypt, too. And Israel.

I see my light come shining
from the west down to the east.

Dylan was on to something: he was a good mystic too. We all journey from the west to the east in search of more light. Jews and Christians face east to pray: that is the proper orientation - get it? - of synagogues and churches. But everything means something else. Who will help the widow’s son?

When Joseph says that God sent him there, is he stating fact, or mystery? Why do they have to be separate? Joseph's claim on us is that he is so broken. Joseph is a victim trapped in his victimhood. There is literally nothing Joseph does after he is sold into slavery where he is not a Slave. To highlight: Joseph made his brothers promise that even if he died he would they would take his bones with them back to the promised land. Take his bones. He chained them by their promise to his corpse. I am still a slave who can do nothing. You must take me out of here.

Is it not possible in the sacramental world that fact and mystery are the same thing?

Have you ever looked at recursive formulae in mathematics? After the cth failed attempt, resend the frame after k · 51.2 μs, where k is a random integer between 0 and 2c − 1. It’s like a magic box filled with mirrors, an onion in reverse, where each layer in is bigger than the one outside.

You can get lost in there, meditating on it. Why does a fact have to rule out a mystery? Recursion says they are the same thing, more and more as you go deeper and deeper.

Joseph is both slave and Liberator. Joseph is both Egyptian and Hebrew. Joseph is at one time Jacob’s son and Pharaoh's son.  Then, by a chiasmus in the text, Moses is those things as well: slave and Egyptian, Hebrew and Liberator, son of Pharaoh's daughter and son of Israel’s daughter too.

I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east.

Fact and mystery become the same thing in a sacramental universe; because by a glorious chiasmus in the text Jesus is these things as well: slave and Liberator, human and divine. Then in the Gospel Jesus becomes the chiasmus, and we become those things for those around us.

Any day now. Any day now.
I shall be released.



09 July 2019

The Amazing Technicolor Nightmare Coat


JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 13th week Tempus per Annum (C1)
Merito haec patimur, quia peccavimus in fratrem nostrum, videntes angustiam animae illius, dum deprecaretur nos, et non audivimus : idcirco venit super nos ista tribulatio.
We deserve to suffer these things, because we have sinned against our brother, seeing the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear: therefore is this affliction come upon us. 

I'm not at all certain what the Committee was doing when they chopped up Genesis to get passages for this week. They leap into the middle of Joseph's story with no backstory and they leave us with a weak opening for "Israel in Egypt". We'll get the Exodus story in a few days but this internecine dysfunction that plays at the heart of Israel's story that carries past the Maccabees - and on to Bar Kochba in AD 135 - is suddenly robbed of its context.

Israel, oddly like the Church, is filled with squabbling brethren.

Bullies will creep up out of cracks in old sheds on snowy days in funny Christmas movies. They will appear in the bass section behind you to make obscene gestures with their hands on your ears. They will ooze out of the bus seats behind you to taunt you while the bus driver can't see. They are your own brothers selling you into slavery - to the Egyptians, or to other bullies...

This act is heinous: for the brothers sell their own flesh into slavery. Joseph seems to lord over his brothers his own status as "Daddy and Mommy's Baby Boy". Yet the level of bulliness the brothers display is unparalleled: first plotting to kill Joseph (but not doing so only out of a fear of breaking the Kin's Blood Taboo), then selling him into slavery.

And here they are, ten or 15 years later, still reaping the horror of what they've done.

Bob Dylan has this song... the opening verse describes what I imagine would be Joseph's lament:

They say everything can be replaced
Yet every distance is not near
So I remember every face
Of every man who put me here

I'm not sure how Joseph feels. He's crying by the end of the story... but is he crying from sheer loss, or from loss of will to torture these men who tortured him?

As someone who was bullied a lot in school, I confess I remember every face. I look them up on Facebook. This dude has a wife and kids and seems kinda happy. This other dude looks like he may have done some time and perhaps has found Jesus recently. Being bullied leaves a mark much deeper than the wounds inflicted, although you can still see my broken nose and tooth.

I'm not sure what Joseph feels here but was I to meet the members of the NCHS Warriors in a similar famine situation - even 35 years later, I'm not sure how I'd feel. Joseph is not exactly gracious. In fact, he gets a good bit of revenge before he caves in. Yes, I'm committing eisegesis: reading into the scriptures instead of exegesis, reading out. But hey, it's my blog.

The brothers feel compunction here. Maybe not for the first time but, in a sense, finally. And as they speak Hebrew, Joseph can understand them... and I'm sure his own heart is pricked a little by the number of hoops he makes his brothers jump through.

Why does he do it? I don't know. It's possible to project all kinds of psychology into this story. It's remarkably devoid of motive on Joseph's part. First, he tries to bully them, then he makes them travel back and forth, then he breaks down.

It's possible he doesn't forgive them any more than I've forgiven my own crop of bullies. I try, but even typing this brief post as made me agitated: not angry, mind you... just... agitated. By the end of the story he seems to have reconciled with his family, but did he hang out with his brothers at all after this? Or just put them in nice houses in Goshen and leave them there? I hear echoes of mistrust and psychic wounds in the story of Potiphar's wife, in the prison prophecy, in the story of his reunion with his father, and finally of his making his brothers promise to not leave even his bones behind in Egypt.

When he later says "You intended this for evil... but God intended it for good." Is there any absolution or just a statement of fact?

How do the bullies feel? The brothers somehow remember Joseph, and that is as it should be: but do bullies remember their victims usually? Do they just go unthinkingly on with their lives? I would not be who I am today but for the bullies. I only went to one HS reunion - my ten year, I think - and I admit I was mortally afraid. So... yeah. I remember every face.

Joseph.

OK.




08 July 2019

Love different


JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 14th week Tempus per Annum (C1)
Nequaquam, inquit, Jacob appellabitur nomen tuum, sed Israel : quoniam si contra Deum fortis fuisti, quanto magis contra homines praevalebis?
Thy name shall not be called Jacob, but Israel: for if thou hast been strong against God, how much more shalt thou prevail against men?

In Sunday's readings, St Paul called the Church the "Israel of God" so it's good to get reminded, today, what that means. Israel means one who wrestles with God.

Israel says to Joshua, “As we obeyed Moses in all things, so will we obey thee also” (Joshua 1:17) and we know how well they listened to Moses! That's the Church. If you don't believe me look at Matthew 28:17 (another verse 17).  The risen Christ shows up, "And seeing him they adored: but some doubted." Doubting him to his face they are. Here's Jesus now! Oh, well, I don't know...

But they don't let go until Jesus blesses them anyway. That's an honest picture of the Church. God is with us and sometimes we don't like it. But may God have mercy on us anyways.

The Church is this wrestling partner and the bride of Christ, forever locked in a grapple, declaiming I will not let you go until you bless me. While we often think of the bride of Christ in romantic, sepia-toned, soft-focused images, the truth is the image we have for the church - for Israel - is often less Ward and June Cleaver and more Ralph and Alice Kramden. Even on her best days, the Church is more like Lucy Ricardo... Ricky, let me in the show! Loooceee!

So what does this mean for us, we who lovingly wrestle with God?

In the RCIA class last year one of the Disciples asked if they needed to accept all of the Catholic Church's teaching before becoming Catholic at Eastet. It's a valid question. The Church teaches a lot of things... some of which may draw you, some of which may repulse you. What do we do with that stuff?

If you're joining the Catholic Church, you're about to say "I believe everything the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God".  Notice that you don't "believe everything the church believes." If you've decided to become Catholic or to return to the practice of your faith, I think it's fair to assume that your goal, your desire, is to be a faithful Catholic - without reservations. But you might have some reservations at the present time. The journey is the thing. Is it your goal to be 100% Catholic 100% of the time, even if you can't do it exactly, just yet? God doesn't want perfect disciples and even the Doubters in 28:17 get sent out as Apostles.

The entire story of the Bible is filled with people who do what God didn't want and yet God brings good out of it. If you're trying to do what is right... even if you can't make it yet... you're much further along than some of the important folks in the Bible! We leave behind, today, the story of Jacob and leap into the story of Joseph tomorrow. God's beloved is sold into slavery... becomes the leader of the known world. Ah, how can we dance with a God like this and worry?

In my journey through very conservative forms of Christianity, I've met a lot of folks who openly reject this or that teaching of the Church. Then they act as if they are the insulted ones in the relationship. I've always wondered why they bother to be Catholic or Orthodox. I don't really know. They've stopped struggling. They've decided they are more right than the Church. But they are clearly not 100% sure: because if you've stopped being Catholic or Orthodox go be Protestant. Be faithful to your inner voice and follow your conscience!

But then there are many faithful others who struggle. They want to be this thing, but they have failures. They want to be Catholic, but really? This thing about sex? Really? This thing about birth control? Really? This thing about the Pope? Really? This thing about... I'm serious, they have trouble. But they admit they are having trouble, they struggle, they wrestle. They know that there is something here. They even know they are wrong. When they stumble, they go to confession, they talk to their priest, they abstain from communion... then they come back.

They don't want the Church to change to please them. They want to - but they can't yet - change. It's just not happening. The issue is not how many times you fall: you have only to get up one more time than you fall. It's only one more time.

I will NOT let you go until you bless me. One of these days, Alice. One of these days... to heaven.

Come back next week, try again. Even limping away, you win.

07 July 2019

Waiting at the Bottom of the Ladder


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 14th week, Tempus per Annum (C1)
Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you...

Jacob sees all that's going on and suddenly "...there was the LORD standing beside him..." To make free with a later vision in the Bible, God was not in the vision of ladders and angels, God was a quiet voice beside him.

We can get distracted by all the things (even holy things) that are going on around us. We forget the one thing important, that God is right there...

The Late Francis Cardinal George of Chicago made an oft-quoted comment about the increasing secularization in our world and how the Church would fare in it. (Tim Drake sussed out the quote and the context here.)
I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.
Although that bit about his successor may be premature, it's the last bit that seems important for our readings today.

God will protect us wherever we go. It's actually not going to get any easier. I think, in fact, it's going to get harder from here on out because God doesn't change. The things God asks of us, expects of us, and the things God wants us to be do not change. We're going to have to fight all the harder just to hold on. We will not let you go until you bless us. It's a hard struggle, but the truth is God is not changing: it is the world that is changing around us. Holding on to God is the easiest thing we can do. It's the path of least resistance because God is not changing. We don't have to run to keep up with God. We only need to hold on and wait.

Truth is, we don’t want to. We’d rather let go and float along with the current.

God himself walks into the room and says, “Don't worry she's not dead she's only asleep.” And the crowd ridicules God to his face. The girl really was dead. But God is not the god of the dead but of the living. To God, that girl was only asleep. That's how God sees all of us. We are seen by God as so different from the way the world sees us. The world may not be mourning us, but the world thinks we're stupid. The world is not sad over us, but the world thinks we're backward. The world does not regret leaving us behind, but the world does think we're haters. God says otherwise. The world laughs at God.

I don't think it's going to get any easier: it's going to get harder. Cardinal George continues:
God sustains the world, in good times and in bad. Catholics, along with many others, believe that only one person has overcome and rescued history: Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, savior of the world and head of his body, the church. Those who gather at his cross and by his empty tomb, no matter their nationality, are on the right side of history. 
We see this as today. Both left and right in our political spectrum seem to espouse the same things. Violence is only directed at different parties. The church, strangely, gets it from both sides. That is as it should be. While some on the left think we're too conservative and some on the right think we're too liberal we should just be about the business of God. Holding on to God, the one point that does not change or move in the midst of all this chaos.

In the end, it will be up to us to follow Cardinal George's final option. The Church must “pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

God is right here. Let us hold on. This place is awesome. The House of God and the Gate of Heaven. Hold on. When this chaos is over, we will have more work to do.

Towering O'er the Wrecks of Time


JMJ

The Readings for the 14th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C1)
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 

Disciples become Apostles. You never stop being a disciple of course, but eventually, you hit a point where you must become an Apostle. Disciple means learning. Apostle means sent. You never stop learning, however, eventually you have to start teaching. You never stop praying however eventually you must begin preaching. The Christian life is not a give me, give me, give me experience. The Christian Life is a give me so I can give away experience. If you never become an apostle it is as if you stayed in third grade because you were afraid of graduating college.

Saint Francis is often misquoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary.” He never said this and, in fact, it would be silly for the man who preached to Muslims and to birds - who never stopped using words - to say something like this. This is often used to tell people to shut up, or to “do social justice” instead of preaching. Eventually, you have to speak up.

But Francis did, in his rule, advise his spiritual sons and daughters, to preach the Gospel with every aspect of their lives - not only their lips, but with their hands, heart, mind, and feet as well. Jesus sends out his 72 Disciples as Apostles to prepare the way for him as he is coming to share the Good News everywhere.  Jesus says, “Behold, I have given you the power to 'tread upon serpents' and  scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.” Yet he adds, pointedly, that this should not be our pride: rather we should rejoice that our names are “written in heaven”.

So it is that Saint Paul says he will only boast in the cross of Jesus. There is nothing of more praise, nothing of more joy, nothing of more peace for the Christian than the Cross of Christ.

The cross is the sign of God's love for us, the depth to which God will go for us even in his Mercy.

It was not enough that God should create us.
It was not enough that God should give us his Covenant.
It was not enough that God should become one of us.
It was not enough that God should teach us in his own voice.
It was not enough that God would interpret his Covenant in his own words to us.
It was not enough that God should eat with us.
It was not enough that God should love us that much.
It was enough that God should die for us.
That we should kill God and have God rise again.
This is God's love for us.
This is how deep God will go.
This is how attached to his creation by love is God: that he will let us attach him to wood by steel in his hands and his feet and his side.

God is affixed to us, nailed to us like a cross by his love for us as we have affixed him to wood in our hate.

This is what it means to glory in the Cross of Christ. without the cross there is no Resurrection, without the cross there is no Eucharist, without the cross there is no harrowing of hell, Without The Cross there is no church. We have no idea what God's could have done, we only know what he did do. And so we don’t have “The Cross as Plan B”. We have the Cross as the only plan we can possibly know.

The lamb was slain before the foundations of the world. There is no plan other than this. And so, in the Cross of Christ I will glory. For this is the love that he has for me. This is the love he has for you. The cross. The cross. The cross. This is Jesus’ love for you. This is God reaching to each of us in mercy and love.

The cross. The cross. The cross. Let me shout it from the housetop, let me sing it from the tops of mountains, let me pray it from the depths of my heart! The cross! The cross! The cross! God forgive us that we needed the cross. God love us for we needed the cross.

God open to us the gates of the cross that we too may be affixed to you on this wood.
That we too may love you this much.
That we too may sacrifice everything we have, that we too may be as given to you as you are given to us.

This is how we are disciples.
How we take this message in our lives to others is how we are Apostles.

There is yet one other aspect of this message. when we take it to the world we are Apostles, but when we bring it back to the church we are prophets. God would have this message inside and outside his church. We disciple so that we can be Apostles to those outside the church and so that we can be prophets to those inside the church so that we can raise the church out. so that the Holy Spirit can once again be freed to work inside the church. God has promised to revive Jerusalem. God has promised to heal Israel. God has promised to bring her children back to her. And so we should be ready. That's as disciples, as apostles, and as prophets.


05 July 2019

In the Howling Wastes


JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 13th week Per Tempus Annum (C1)
Isaac asked, "Which of my sons are you?" Jacob answered his father:  "I am Esau, your first-born."

God used Jacob: he was the second born son rather than the preference of Patriarchs who want the oldest boy. Think about it, though. Isaac was the second born son as well. Think back... the oldest son of Noah caused a curse as did the oldest son of Adam. In fact, Adam was not the first created animal: he was created last and asked to rule over the animals. David was the youngest son of Jesse. Solomon was not his oldest son - in fact, he was the youngest son of the seventh wife if I count rightly. So even when you have a "patriarchal culture" God doesn't quite follow the rules.

Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother - a thing probably not normal in any culture that has something called a "birthright". Esau probably imagined that was a meaningless transaction. But, lo: God honors it even so. And Esau falls into a long line of firstborn sons who don't quite measure up.

How does this typologically fit Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God and the firstborn of Mary?

Well, Jesus came from the wrong side of town...

Rome was the Center of the World. Culture was made there. Technology and money concentrated there. It was not only the seat of power: it was the center to which all things flowed. The produce of the world, the art, philosophy, and the economy of the world drained out in Rome. It was the Silicone Valley of its day.

Jesus wasn't born there.

If Rome is the urban center of the San Francisco Bay, Jesus was born to a poor family in a cowshed on the outskirts of Canon City, Colorado. His followers said he was Lord of the World. Even a couple of decades later, in the heart of the empire, there was only 150 or so Roman Christians, many of the homeless, slaves, rescued orphans and elderly... these were not the revolutionaries that would ever overthrow the known world.

But they did.

Picking up the lowly and casting down the mighty. That's how God works. The "Flyover States" are the most dangerous place on the map.

04 July 2019

This is Not Pacifism


JMJ

We heard this AM at Mass the familiar Gospel passage urging us to turn the other cheek and to pray for our enemies. I can't find full lectionary citations because the page from the USCCB is blank. But it is assuredly not about pacifism. In fact, the whole Christian theory of a "Just War" is predicated on the idea that at times the only way to "bless those who curse you" may be to correct their errors. Rather these verses are about a spiritual war that constantly rages around us; since Eden, in fact.

If the truth of the world is the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the overthrow of the Kingdom of death then certainly those who work against this truth are our enemies. But who is thus working? Most folks don't even believe this is the truth of the world. They can't be part of the enemy. Also, humans can't be the enemy for we are told by Paul that "we wrestle not with flesh and blood." Furthermore, Christ did not die to save only some: the intent, as Paul says, is to reconcile all things. Who is it that works against this reconciliation? Who is the enemy who accuses and scatters?

Humans, at their core, need this reconciliation. In fact, they sense they need it, they crave it. They object to the methods, they deny the process, but they admit the need. What gets them to reject the truth, to work against even their own desire, to deny the very hope they have rooted in their own breast by virtue of being made in the image of God?

Delusional actions can't be blamed on the delusional. Those who are most mentally or spiritually ill are exactly the least culpable. For a Christian, as for Jesus Christ, the effort expected to embody and to present love increases to match the depth to which one has been drug away into darkness. Turning the other cheek is not a pacific shoulder shrug of indifference, but rather a long walk past the gates to harrow hell once again. They can never be locked now but humans can be distracted and so kept from walking out. We must show them the way. And even when in delusion they imagine -and name - themselves to be our enemies, it only signifies how much more we must love, pray, and bless to bring them forth.

This is the spiritual warfare of everyday life, the on-going battle to advance the Kingdom. We do not do this in any way by defeating even one human being - for each one is uniquely the image of God. The Kingdom is spread only in liberating each heart - including each his own - from the darkness that has been overthrown yet continues in pockets of colonial oppression.

We bless to drive away the demons, we pray for their defeat. We love to draw men forth, and we do good to show them the love God has for them. This is not pacifism. This is war. This is the only real war there is.

01 July 2019

E.M.H.C.


JMJ

Yup. That's me. You're probably wondering how I ended up giving out communion in a tie-dyed vestment with no discernable liturgical color. That was me at St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, circa AD1999. The image is a still from a movie is called Dancing With God. I used to be able to find it online but not so much anymore. It's not even in the Archive.

Setting aside, for a moment, serious doctrinal differences, that was the beginning of my deepest devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. Three things changed my devotional life as part of my ministry at that parish: 

1) We gave communion by name to everyone. One day I walked up to my friend Lizzie, who was great with child, her first child. We all knew the child was a girl and we knew her name was Sophia. I walked up to Lizzie and the Holy Spirit wrapped himself around my voice as I said, "Lizzie and Sophia, the Body of Christ."

2) I asked our pastor, Donald, what was I saying: was I saying something about the bread, or Lizzie and Sophia? He replied, "Yes."

3) Since we used loaves of bread, there were often remainders which we consumed. We were also allowed to bring the Eucharist home. For several years I did daily communion as part of my morning devotions and had the Eucharist reserved in my room at all times.

Your toes perhaps are curling. Just put it down to a piety that's neither Orthodox nor Roman Catholic. While neither Rome nor the Orthodox would agree, to me, as an Anglican, that was the Real Presence of Christ. Grace builds on nature - and where there is faith, God can work miracles anyway. And from that faith, I learned.

Although some traddies may be annoyed, part of my ministry is still Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. The moments alone with the Blessed Sacrament, alone in a church filled with hundreds of people, are the most special moments of Adoration imaginable. Standing unworthily, a sinner holds God in his hands. Infinity is contained between two palms, between two fingertips. The Master and Maker of All that is is silent, humble, luminous, flat, and still. A sweet scent rises from the Sacred Blood. Wind could move the Holy Body and he needs protecting with a covered hand or purificator. 

The armies of angels stand in awe as a creature of dirt and slime can touch God. Demons scream and fall back in terror and a rage of jealousy, for they both crave and fear the love so freely given. And knowing sinfulness, knowing mercy through that touch, the sinner is saved, transported, welcomed into heaven. All of eternity, all of space, all of time is collapsed into the one moment of self-offering, as the Body of the Son is offered to the Father. This is our body. This is our blood. We become what we consume, we rise in his ascent. 

There is such a mystery before us and yet we do not see it. We do not wish to recognize it. He, himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity, comes to us silently. Needing a human's voice to say his name.

Asking only our assent.

Amen.