Archive for July, 2013

Taking Union Highway

Posted in Homilies with tags , , on July 28, 2013 by timtrue

Colossians 2:6-15

 

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him.

 

My question tonight is, what does this look like?  What does it look like to live your life in Christ Jesus the Lord?

On the one hand, some have suggested perfection.

The writer of Colossians makes several dualistic statements.  “See to it,” he says, “that no one takes you captive through philosophy”; “deceit”; “human tradition”; “the elemental spirits of the universe” (whatever those are); or, we infer, anything that is “not according to Christ.”  His point is not that philosophy and human tradition in themselves are bad.  Rather, there is a dualism here: either according to Christ or not according to Christ.  It’s one or the other—no other options.  See to it, in other words, that you do everything you do according to Christ and that you avoid everything that is not according to Christ.  It’s good advice.  But it is nevertheless dualistic.

Similarly, in all this talk about a Christian’s spiritual circumcision in contrast to his uncircumcision of the flesh, a dualism is suggested between spirit and flesh.  You were circumcised spiritually, the text says.  And in that act—meaning baptism, most likely—in that act you cut off your fleshly uncircumcision.  It’s a graphic picture of what it means to live in the spirit and no longer in the flesh.  But, again, it’s a dualistic statement.

From these dualisms, then, and several others in Colossians, some think that striving after a life of perfect sinlessness is the answer.  Perfection is what it means to live your life in Christ Jesus, they say.  He knew no sin.  And he was fully human.  Therefore we can attain to such a state of perfection in this human life too.

On the other hand, others have suggested that living a life in Christ Jesus means union.

Jesus Christ is fully human, to be sure.  But in this fully human man, the text says, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”  There is no dualism here between flesh and spirit.  Christ Jesus, the one in whom we are called to live our lives, is the union of flesh and spirit, the union of humanity and deity.  He is not one or the other.  He is both!

Now let’s go a step farther.  The beginning of tonight’s passage says that if you have received Christ Jesus then you are to continue to live your lives in him: you in him.  But do you recall from last week what is said just before?  The hope of glory is him in you (cf. 1:27).  Being a Christian means you in him; but it also means him in you.  Whatever else you want to make of this, here is union loud and clear.

So we’ve come to a fork in the road.  Perfection Highway leads in one direction; Union Highway leads in another.  We think both might end up in the same place, eventually.  We hope so anyway.  But which road should we take now?  We have no GPS to point the way—life’s roads aren’t as simple as all that.  Still, with a little reflection I think we can figure it out.

Dualisms have their time and place, to be sure.  Sometimes we are faced with only two choices—no other viable option remains.  Then it’s got to be one way or the other.  Sure!  You could even say this about tonight’s sermon: I’m looking at perfection in contrast to union.  And where would we be without binary systems?  Wiring diagrams, flowcharts, much of the world of science, and all of our computer technology is binary: one direction or another, no other option.

But when dualism becomes your way of seeing all the world, your worldview, you miss many of the subtleties that make life so challenging, yes, but also so enjoyable.  When you view things as either one way or the other—either good or bad, right or wrong, black or white, flesh or spirit, godly or worldly, truth or error, and so on—antithesis becomes your modus operandi, your m. o.

Antithesis: one thing set in direct contrast to another.  Then, sadly, no dogma is true except what you hold to be true.  No practice is as meaningful to you as your own.  No church is pure enough for you to be a member of.  You become unteachable, arrogant, isolated.

Union, on the other hand, seeks fellowship, even companionship.  Think of the mystery of marital union.  A couple falls in love, we say.  And rightly so!  They didn’t plan for it to happen.  In fact, many times when we hear a couple’s story each person speaks as if being blindsided.  They met precisely when they weren’t looking for a relationship.  Love was an uncharted pit they unwittingly fell into.  But they fell into it together, meaning that they are able to navigate their way through it together.  Together, in a sort of blind interdependence the Bible calls one flesh.

A worldview of union does not seek perfection in self and does not expect perfection from another.  Rather, it recognizes weakness, even anticipates weakness, in self and others; then seeks to overcome weakness through both receiving help and helping others.

A person with such a worldview is teachable even when others consider her an expert in her field.  A person with such a worldview gives and receives help from others humbly, even when he appears to have all his needs met.  A person with such a worldview seeks to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth—through Christ and in Christ.

Indeed, perfection and union are very different roads.

As for me, I’m taking Union Highway.  And I think you know why.

If you prefer Perfection Highway—if you think striving for perfection is the way to live your life in Christ Jesus—if you understand the world as dualistic—if you think that antithesis is the way to go—if you crave unteachability, arrogance, and isolation for yourself—then bon voyage.  But if you’re on that route and want to exit, there’s good news for you: it’s not too late.

You’re still on this exciting journey called life, yeah?  But it has become tiresome.  You’re grumpy.  The traffic is too congested, the other drivers too aggressive; the weather is too gnarly to feel safe, and you don’t like the look of that car that’s been in your rearview mirror for the last ninety miles, not to mention the bland scenery everywhere.  So, exit now.  No need to look at a map!  Just roll down the window, stop, and listen for the sound of joy.  That’s the direction you want to go, the direction of the body of Christ.

When you’re seeking Union, no worries: you’ll find it.

Background: How We Started Dating

Posted in Background with tags , , , , , , , on July 25, 2013 by timtrue

sewanee

So that’s how Holly and I met.  Here’s how we started dating.

Maybe a year after her announcement that she knew my secret identity–after we’d spent much time in class together, catching concerts, eating meals, participating in study groups, not always with other friends and fellow students present either, but my point here is after we’d gotten to know each other quite well in circles platonic, more or less–I realized I was thoroughly stricken, smitten, and afflicted.

I remember the February day this hit me, in fact, though this is not exactly what led to our first date.  We were catching a lunch together at a Chinese buffet.  Hey, it was raining and cold outside and dry and warm inside and the company was pleasant so don’t hack the choice of cuisine!  Anyway, Holly was at this time dating a guy she’d met in San Luis Obispo over Christmas break, a long-distance relationship that seemed off to a good enough start, though I remained somewhat skeptical.  But some trigger was pulled in me that day, eating an egg roll and drinking hot tea from a way-too-small cup across the table from her.  I was acting goofy.  And I became aware of my goofiness.  And despite my attempts at reining it in I couldn’t seem to get control.  Something inside was no doubt off-kilter, a kind of dizziness, but not, if you get what I mean.  And it hit me at once that I was a little jealous of this SLO guy.

Now, Holly is a perceptive person, this much at least I knew already.  So, perhaps abruptly, sensing my inner drama and not wanting it to become any more outward than it already had, “I gotta go study,” I said, “see ya in class tomorrow,” and left.

Incidentally, when I rehashed this scene with Holly later, maybe on our honeymoon or something like it, she said she hadn’t noticed anything.  Perhaps she’s just being kind.

Also at this time I was living with four other guys in a big house in town.  It was a four bedroom house, so somehow three of us decided we would share two of the bedrooms, making one a sleep area and the other a study area.  Might sound nice for the other two who got their own rooms, but, crazy, it worked out well, so well in fact that the three of us guys–Derek, Paul, and I–decided to spend Spring Break together that year.

My dad let us borrow an old van–this a 1976 Sportsman, an upgrade from the 1968 model–which we fitted out with a place to sleep over a place to keep snow skis, camping equipment, and luggage.  We did just about everything you can do in eight days in March in the western U. S.  We drove from southern California, where we’d retrieved the van, to Lake Tahoe where Derek had access to a family cabin for spending a night and trying our luck at nearby slots; then through Nevada to Utah where we skied at Snowbird; then to Colorado where we holed up for one night in Rifle and camped the next just outside the Garden of the Gods in freezing weather; then to southern Utah where we camped, fished, and swam in Lake Powell–and Derek ran over a few hares, we all hiked some natural arches, and Paul nearly destroyed the van; and finally back to southern California.  All three of us were in between dating relationships at the time.  None of us had brought razors; and if my memory serves one or two even forgot toothbrushes.  (Paul visited me just last week in fact and we couldn’t help reminiscing over this very trip.)

Having barely made it back to school in time for spring quarter then, as I walked across the courtyard in front of the music building, who should I see but Holly?  Mind you, I still hadn’t shaved since before leaving for Colorado, something like ten days before.  She smiled nevertheless.  And after I’d barely said hello she said, still smiling,

“Guess what?”

“Uh, what?”

“Darren and I broke up.”

“Oh,” I said, stalling for time, thrilled as a roller coaster ride inside but looking for signs outside.  She was still smiling, maybe even more broadly.  But was that enough?  “So, um,” I decided to risk it all, “let me take you out to a movie, er, to cheer you up?”

“Okay!”  No hesitation.  No reticence.  Nothing.

Well, no way was I as perceptive as she, but at least this time it seemed to be working out.

Next night we dined at Cafe Italia and took in an appropriate movie for music majors, Beethoven.  Except it wasn’t about the musician at all, just some St. Bernard pups.  But I couldn’t have cared less.

The following day I overheard Holly telling a fellow music student, Helena, that I’d taken her out last night.

“Finally!” Helena smiled.  A lot of other students agreed, and maybe even a faculty member or two, when Helena shared Holly’s news out loud.

By some strange serendipity, Derek and Paul were in dating relationships again within a week.

In Adam’s Image

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , on July 21, 2013 by timtrue

Colossians 1:15-28

I want to focus today on this idea of image.  Christ Jesus is the image, Scripture says; the image of the invisible God.  Does this phrase, the image of the invisible God, bring anything to mind?  What if I shorten it to the image of God?  Does this phrase remind you of something else?

Yes!  It’s the same term we read in the creation account.  On the first day God said, “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  And it was good.  So the story goes through days two, three, four, five, and six: God spoke and thereby created the sky; the sun, moon, and stars; the land, fauna, and flora; and the many creatures of the waters, land, and air.  It’s all good, the Bible says.  But it is only after God creates humanity, male and female, that the Scriptures say “very good.”  Of all creation, of all the cosmos, only humanity is said to be created in God’s likeness, in God’s own image: imago Dei as the Latin Bible renders it, the same rendering in fact as is here said of Christ Jesus.

So Adam and Eve were created in the image of God.  Christ Jesus—begotten, not created, as we confess—is nevertheless declared to be the image of God too.

There’s a certain tension that comes into play here.  Do you feel it?

Christ Jesus is called “the firstborn of all creation”; “the head of the body, the church”; and “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.”  In him “all things in heaven and on earth were created,” “all things hold together,” and “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”  Through him, “God was pleased to reconcile all things.”

Christ Jesus is the image of God.  Yet Adam and Eve—and by extension all humanity—are created in the image of God.

But Adam, Eve, and all humanity most certainly are not the firstborn of all creation.  All things were most certainly not created in us.  God most certainly has not reconciled all of creation through us.

How then is this term, the image of God, attached both to Christ Jesus and the rest of humanity?

This tension gets worse.  Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, no dispute there.  But this image-bearer status is given to them at the beginning, at their creation, before their fall into sin.  Then they were upright.  But they didn’t stay that way, did they?

We all know the story.  Satan, in the form of a serpent, tempted upright Eve to eat a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  “God doesn’t want you to eat of this Tree,” the snake said, “because he knows that you will become like him.”

And we want to yell at the book—or at least I do—“Don’t do it, Eve!”  I want to shout out, “Don’t you get it?  You’re already like God.  You’ve been created in his image!  The Omniscient Narrator says so.”

Well, no matter how much I rant and rave, she doesn’t get it.  She eats the fruit.  Every time!  Then she always tempts Adam; and we read the saddest three words of the entire Bible as far as I’m concerned, “And he ate.”

Thus have the mighty fallen.  Sin has entered the scene.  Adam must now toil.  Eve must now labor.  Humanity is forever banished from Eden.

But it gets even worse.  Adam and Eve have a few sons worth knowing about, or so the Omniscient Narrator thinks.  The first two perform a tragic play, don’t they?  Cain and Abel.  In a fit of jealousy the one kills the other then must go away into exile.  And again I want to shout at the text: “Is there no hope for humanity?”  But then, ah, yes, another son is born, a son of hope, through whom, maybe, somehow, humanity will be redeemed: Seth.  His name even means appointed of God.

Yet the description of Seth’s entrance into the world is perplexing, even disheartening (cf. Gen. 5:1-3).  Adam was created in God’s image.  But Adam had fallen.  Now we read, “When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth” (emphasis mine).

Do you see what’s happened here?  What is not said is that Seth was born in God’s image.  Rather, he was born in Adam’s image.  But Adam had fallen.  But Adam must now toil.  Daily walks with God in the Garden couldn’t be anything now but a distant memory.  And now it would be the same for Seth; and, by extension, all humanity.

So where does this leave us?

Certainly, we are not the image of the invisible God that Christ Jesus is, as we’ve been over already: we are not “the firstborn of all creation” and all that.

But neither is God’s image absent from us.  Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace into sin.  Their fall affected us drastically, as we have been reminded.  But nowhere does their story suggest that God somehow took back or erased his image from humanity.  No!  God’s image is still there.  It’s been changed somehow, hidden perhaps, or otherwise disguised, by sin.  But it’s there!  In you!  In me!  In that neighbor who helped you out last week!  In that jerk who cut you off on the interstate last night!

But it’s even better than that.

Christ Jesus is the perfect image of God.  And we have been created in that image.  Therefore Christ is in us.

Let that truth settle in for a moment: Christ is in us.

We are not the firstborn of creation or the head of the church; we did not create all things and now hold them together; we have not reconciled all creation to God.  But Christ is.  Christ did.  And Christ has.

And Christ is in us!  This means that although we are not Christ we nevertheless play a part in these cosmic matters.  We play a part in the church.  We play a part in creation.  And we play a part in the reconciliation of all things—whether in heaven or on earth—to God!

That’s the church’s business, by the way: the reconciliation of all things.  That’s what St. Luke’s has been called to do.

You see—to return briefly to the creation story—things got inverted.  God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.  Then God made man and woman and set them above it all, at the pinnacle.  Of course God remained above them, an authority who commanded and required obedience.  And it was all very good.  Yet they listened to the serpent, a creature, and thereby turned creation on its head.  They put the serpent in God’s place; and vice-versa.

Since then God has been reconciling this Great Inversion.  The church, through Christ, like it or not, is in the reconciliation business.  We must therefore strive as an image-bearing body to make things right—with individuals, with society, with all creation.  We must think long and hard about this reconciliation business.  What are we doing about it already?  What more should we do?  And then we must go out and do it!

But that is another sermon for another day.

Background: How We Met

Posted in Background with tags , , , on July 19, 2013 by timtrue
Adam et Eve

Adam et Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the byproducts of giving in and embracing my faith in the simplistic camp setting discussed last time is that I likewise gave in to my childhood temptation of seeing things too clearly.  Not that it’s all bad to see the world this way.  Yes or no, right or wrong, black or white, good or evil: it makes for robust principles and idealism.  The difficult part comes in the eventual impracticacabillity of trying to live out such robust principles and ideals.

On the one hand, then, it was really unfortunate that my wife met me during these years.  For I had everything worked out in my mind ahead of time, gleaned from the first of all marriages, Adam and Eve’s.  From the Scriptures, I told myself, it was all so clear.  Adam and Eve had been given specific roles by God himself.  Adam’s were to provide and protect.  He would provide for his family through his own toil, eking out whatever living he could for his multiplying family by the sweat of his own brow, not Eve’s.  Of course I wasn’t a gardener or shepherd but instead one who’d decided (rather foolishly according to some) to study music in college, to earn a degree in theory and composition.  My toil then would be less of sweat than of mental efforts of creativity, or so I told myself.  I had not yet experienced how difficult it would be to get a publisher’s attention, the means by which a composer makes money–a different kind of toil altogether.  Besides, I assured myself, I sense the call to the Gospel ministry anyway, meaning I will more than likely go to seminary after graduating from UC Davis, meaning too that I should just study whatever I like, since seminary requires only a bachelor’s degree and no specific field of study like engineering, physics, or math (“practical,” money-making degrees those fool-deemers would have preferred).  Somehow, I just knew, I’d find a way to keep my family’s finances afloat.

Holly, my dear bride-to-be, had a pre-determined role as well.  Clearly, I saw, Eve’s labor was to bear and raise children.  Holly would do the same, surely.  Bearing children was a difficult prospect.  But there was no way around this difficulty–other than not having kids, which made no sense.  Besides, the joys of spending days raising children would make it all worth it, right?

“How many kids do you want?” I asked one day over dinner.  We were both music students, meaning free concerts most nights of the week, meaning lots of good dates for low prices during our engagement.

Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel, Adam and Eve, detail.

Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel, Adam and Eve, detail. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Um, er,” Holly began, then quietly chewed her pizza and took a sip of her soda probably to think it through.  At last she said, “two maybe, or three?”

“Two or three?  I was thinking six.”

“Six!” she coughed and then took another sip.  Perhaps some pizza was lingering.  At any rate, a moment later, recovered more or less, she said, “I can’t imagine any more than four.”

My idealism was based on Adam and Eve before the fall–you know, that time in the Garden when they walked around naked, which certainly must have meant a tropical climate, meaning too that there were lush and abundant fruits for their picking and eating, warm waters for delightful swims whenever the fancy struck, sleeping out under the stars, frolicking with beasts, and so on, and there was no shame.  But of course this pre-fall bliss, this honeymoon if you will, was before they had actually had any kids, before the Cain and Abel incident in other words.  Talk about sibling rivalry!  No matter, I told myself, our marriage would be based on Edenic principles.  We’d be different.  Our kids–if God blesses us thusly–won’t argue or fight.  You’ll see.  Just watch!  Incidentally, in my experience since, most people whom I have encoutered with similar ideals aren’t basing them on post-fall humanity.  But this is the period of humanity in which we live.  Just an observation.

But on the other hand, Iwas a superhero.  How could she resist?

For video-archive detail, watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBZothIXJBg&feature=youtu.be.  BTW, I don’t show up for the first 8 minutes.

Captain Uriah was the brainchild of a certain few of us on the College Life Leadership Team in the fall of 1990.  College Life was a ministry of First Baptist Church, Davis.  Its stated purpose was to offer spiritual direction to the student body.  In actual practice, we met weekly in a classroom on Sunday evenings for songs, a talk, and fellowship.  Once a month the meeting took on a different feel, a skit-oriented talk show modeled after Late Nite with David Letterman.  We called it outreach, but I think it was more an opportunity for those so inclined to exercise some creativity.  It was fun.  It was an outlet.  And people called it ministry.  Certainly, I thought, I could do this kind of work for the rest of my life.

Captain Uriah began as a skit.  I wore a blue turtleneck with a “U” duct-taped across my chest, a safety-pinned Mexican serape as a cape, blue running tights, and a pair of boxers with panda bears on the outside.  Goofy, I know.  But the first appearance was an absolute hit.  He became a regular guest, whose deeds of do-gooding and soul-saving quickly became the stuff of legend.

Then the videos began.  This was the early 90s, remember; there was no digital recording available, or at least there wasn’t for poor college students.  We did everything with a camcorder, sometimes shooting a particular scene seven or eight times before we had compiled enough material to splice it all together into something presentable.  There was always a story to tell, for sure, but I think the chief goal (unsaid of course) was humor.  The cameraman would sit in the passenger seat of a pickup truck, for instance, filming and interviewing the driver in some formulaic fashion.  Suddenly I’d appear outside the driver window as if flying, hands outstretched, and thereby learn some crucial point necessary in saving some soul.  And off I’d be to do some good.  Of course, someone was in the bed of the truck holding my legs down so I wouldn’t fall out.  But we were going thirty, fast enough to give the effect of speed, but also fast enough to really hurt if I did fall out.

Fortunately I never did hurt myself in my Captain Uriah escapades.  But this was because I was doing right, not wrong; doing good, not evil.  Right?  It was all so clear to me.

Meanwhile I’d made the shift in my academics from math to music.  I was singing in choirs, practicing lots of piano, and absorbing every fact of music history and theory.  What between this and my alter-ego, life was good!

That’s when I first noticed Holly.  I’d see her almost daily in choir, a petite soprano walking across the front of the rehearsal hall to her place, and it occurred to me that I’d seen her before, elsewhere, no small coincidence in a school of 30,000.  Was it church?  Was it College Life?  Yeah, that was it.  In any event, I figured we had similar interests and I determined to introduce myself to her as soon as I got the chance.

The chance came a week or so later.  I was leaving the listening lab at an off time, meaning a time when most students were tucked away behind classroom doors.  The halls were relatively empty.  Then, there, ahead, the double-glass doors of the music building opened and in she walked.  And it seemed to me as if the Rachmaninov I’d just been listening to was still playing in my ears, the third movement of his second symphony, a quintessential romantic movement.  A gentle breeze caught her hair.  Warm sunlight highlighted her defined cheekbones.  Scents of spring blossoms caught my olfactories, wafting on the zephyr.  Our eyes met.  She smiled at me.

Now is the time, I told myself.  I suppressed whatever nerves sought to rise up against my purpose and set my face like flint.  I had to introduce myself.  When would I have a better opportunity?  I just had to say hi.

Approaching now, nearing, I began to move my right arm determined to offer a handshake.  Hey, at least it was something.  But, anyway, before my arm had noticeably moved, she–yes, she–said, “You’re Captain Uriah, aren’t you?”

I was speechless.

True and Right Walls

Posted in Homilies on July 14, 2013 by timtrue

Amos 7:7-17; Luke 10:25-37

 

The Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.  And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”

And I said, “A plumb line.”

 

Why the plumb line?  I mean, why didn’t Amos say, “A wall”?  He’s standing there talking to a vision of the Lord who is holding a plumb line in his hand.  But isn’t the wall the object of focus?  Isn’t the reason for holding a plumb line in the first place to measure a thing’s verticality, its trueness, its rightness?

In any event, God is measuring his people Israel here.  And so the wall drops out of focus altogether.  Or does it?  Perhaps it will be good for us to keep this wall in mind as we explore this curious passage regarding this peculiar prophet.

So, God measures up his people Israel using a sort of spiritual plumb line.  And they are declared to be leaning—not true, not upright, lacking integrity.

But this is a time of blessing.  Just take a look around!  Our territory, when you consider the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel together of course, is vaster than ever before.  And there’s such peace as we’ve never known!  Surely—said people like the priest Amaziah and King Jeroboam—surely we are blessed of God!

Not so! said Amos.  We have peace and prosperity now, and, yes, these are from the hand of God, as you say.  But—but—there is gross inequity!  There is huge injustice going on here!

The problem Amos saw was one of social classism—very similar to the story of Robin Hood in fact.  The rich were exploiting the poor and thereby becoming richer themselves.  Sure the priest Amaziah and the kings Jeroboam and Uzziah in Judah felt peace and prosperity—just as Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham felt them.  But these people were members of the upper class!  What about the farmer who labored over his own small plot of land just to eke out a living?  What about the shepherd?  These were Amos’s lot—not to mention Robin Hood’s—his colleagues if you will.  He knew and felt their pain keenly.  Talk of peace and prosperity meant little.  The spiritual wall of Israel was not true or right.  It lacked the integrity to stand on its own much longer.  And Amos knew it.

We encounter a similar problem in today’s Gospel, don’t we?  A man asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus’s response is typically wonderful.  And here I mean the older use of the term: it leaves us hearers in awe, in wonder.  For he tells the story of a man, most likely a Jew like himself, who falls in harm’s way, who is robbed and left half dead on the side of the road.  Along come not one but two devout Jews, a priest and a Levite.  But they do not stop to help.  Rather, we read that they pass by on the other side of the road, as if they are trying to distance themselves from the injured man as far as possible.  But then an unclean Samaritan comes along.  And seeing the heap of a wretch in the gutter he takes pity and helps, nursing the victim back to health, even offering to pay for his healthcare.

Do you see the rub here, what Jesus was surely getting at?  The man who helped the Jew was an “unclean” Samaritan.  Some Jews would not associate with Samaritans, thinking themselves above them.  But here Jesus says that the Samaritan is the true neighbor to the Jewish man who was robbed.

Now I’m not saying here that all Jews distanced themselves from Samaritans, just as I would never say that all Caucasians are racists.  But some did; and some are, as we have all experienced.  At any rate, Jesus is addressing something that is not right or true, something that lacks integrity, namely racism.

So we see two social sins in today’s readings.  The cultural contexts from which they come vary greatly from one another, just as they differ from our own world.  But the sins remain the same.  We have classism and racism all around us.  The poor will always be with us, as Jesus himself said.  But take inventory.  Make sure you are not doing anything personally to widen that classist gap between rich and poor.  Helping those in need is one thing; creating dependency in others is another.  One is service; the other superiority.  Likewise, do not consider yourself better than or above anyone else—whether a single person or an ethnicity.  That too is the sin of superiority.

Now, let’s return to that wall.  Amos saw the Lord standing next to it with a plumb line.  This wall was presumably part of the wall around Bethel, a city of ancient Israel.  The people of Israel built it for their own good.  And it had measured up.  It was true and right, a wall of integrity, no small player in the establishment of peace and prosperity that Amaziah cared so much about.

A biting irony in Amos’s message then is that the people of Israel would be forced into exile, sent outside of these very walls, these true and right walls, that they had established.

You see, in their concern to ensure their own safety, their own peace, their own prosperity; in their concern to establish a safe neighborhood where they could walk the dog comfortably after dark and send their kids to decent schools; in their concern for themselves, they had lost sight of the larger world around them and had become less than true, less than right, lacking integrity.

Keep your eyes open to the world around you.

Background: Embracing my Faith

Posted in Background with tags , , , , on July 13, 2013 by timtrue

Edmund, who had been looking more and more uncomfortable for the last few minutes, now spoke.“Look here,” he said, “I hope I’m not a coward–about eating this food, I mean–and I’m sure I don’t mean to be rude.  But we have had a lot of queer adventures on this voyage of ours and things aren’t always what they seem.  When I look in your face I can’t help believing all you say: but then that’s just what might happen with a witch too.  How are we to know you’re a friend?”

“You can’t know,” said the girl.  “You can only believe–or not.”

So goes this conversation from C. S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader after the crew lands on an island with a mysterious feast and three enchanted sleepers before them.  It all looks reasonable enough; and the good news of the island’s only known resident, a beautiful lady, sounds convincing.  But what if it’s all a fib?

Such is how I felt towards my adolescent experience with Christianity.  And like Edmund, I could only believe–or not.

In the summer of 1987 I moved out of my parents’ house for the summer to work at a Christian camp in the Sierras, as a dishwasher.  Each day I’d wake up without the aid of an alarm clock, for I worked the afternoon/evening shift, to wile away the morning hiking or reading or biking or canoeing or kayaking or rockclimbing and then to clean up after six hundred campers and two hundred fifty staffers.  This kitchen, Ponderosa Dining Hall, fed all staff but only the high school camp.  Meadow Ranch Dining Hall, up the camp road a bit, fed another five hundred–three hundred fifty at the middle school camp and another hundred fifty at the primary camp, with food transported to them via the so-called Chuck Wagon.  All in all that was more than thirteen hundred mouths to feed–and to clean up after–each week!  Keep this in mind.  But for now, at the beginning of the summer, each day my crew cleaned up after the lunch for 850 only to do it all over again for dinner.  Awesome, but monotonous!

The monotony turned even awesomer when Meadow Ranch Dining Hall exploded three or four weeks later.  That’s right!  Exploded!  Fortunately it happened at 6:30am on a Sunday, the only morning of the week when no campers were present.  A few people lived their summers in the basement of the dining hall in question, meaning they slept there, but they all woke with the explosion and got themselves to safety, and even most of their belongings.  Amazingly, there were no injuries.  Talk about an event that gets you thinking about ideas like providence!

The bad side of this was that now, for the remaining nine weeks of summer, my dishwashing crew’s workload was now increased by more than fifty percent.  And we all had felt taxed before!  Now we rarely escaped each evening before 11pm.

But we got Saturdays off, guaranteed.  For me this meant exploring the mountains, hiking in nearby Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks or swimming in the King River and its tributaries.  Once a friend even lent me his motorcycle, a Honda Goldwing.  This was before helmet laws.  Conveniently enough I found a willing passenger, a certain Jennifer from Solvang, and we rode to Road’s End and consumed Dove Bars on the bank of the chilly watercourse.  That was a good day!

As the summer wore on a couple opportunities surfaced.  One was that I was offered and accepted the job to be “Chuck,” the driver of the chuck wagon, the vehicle that delivered meals to the junior camp, a. k. a. Wagon Train.  This meant no more morning hikes etc., since I’d deliver three meals a day, and so that was the “tails” side of the coin; but the “heads” was that I got to hang with the Wagon Train staff three times a day, the coolest people on the mountain as far as I was concerned.

And this led to the other, an opportunity to be a camp counselor for a week at Wagon Train.  For a week then, from Sunday afternoon to Saturday morning, I was with nine boys, ages 8 to 11, 24/7 as they say.  On the one hand I was scared to death.  Who was I to lead these kids through a week?  Who was I to laugh with them; to encourage them when homesickness struck, and it did; to be a spiritual leader to them?  On the other hand it proved to be the most rewarding experience I’d ever known.

So my summer camp experience sank in deep.  Challenges had presented themselves but I found strength to overcome them.  Leaders had taken a vested interest in my growth, even taken risks by increasing my responsibilities.  Christ had become real to me, taking on the flesh and bones of those I worked alongside day in and day out.  That summer, I embraced my faith.  I believed.

I returned home genuinely changed.  No more would I piddle around with school, taking the bare minimum to receive the perks of a full-time student while working enough to buy a hot car.  Now things seemed clearer to me.  It was a season, sure.  But now was the time to finish school, earn my bachelor’s degree.  Desires for cars, motorcycles, living in the mountains–these could wait.  Now was the time to man up!

Soon I transferred my studies to UC Davis, enrolling as a math major–taking calculus for a second time had given me enough of a taste of mathematical success I suppose.  The summers in between I continued to work at the summer camp, one as a counselor and the rest on program staff with Wagon Train.  Somewhere in here I was baptized at First Baptist Church, Davis.  Through it all my appetite for work in the Gospel ministry was being whetted.

Counseling staff meeting, 1989.  I'm sitting on the floor, just left of center, with my hand on my hip.

Counseling staff meeting, 1989. I’m sitting on the floor, just left of center, with my hand on my hip.

1989 counseling staff, dressed for the occasion.  I'm in the back row, second from left.

1989 counseling staff, dressed for the occasion. I’m in the back row, second from left.

1990 Wagon Train staff.  I'm on left.

1990 Wagon Train staff. I’m on left.

1991.  Check out the guy in the parachute pants and t-shirt.

1991. Check out the guy in the parachute pants and t-shirt.

1992.  I'm on left.

1992. I’m on left.

1992.  I'm in the middle.

1992. I’m in the middle.

Priested!

Posted in Doing Church with tags , , , on July 11, 2013 by timtrue

So much happening so fast these days!  I haven’t had a chance to post anything recently.  So here’s something anyway, to keep the ball rolling at least.  It’s somewhat reactive: reacting to monumental life events as I’m in the middle of them.  Look for a post at the end of the month for a more reflective take on these events of July, 2013.

So, on Saturday last I spent the day with my dad and stepmom who flew in from L.A. for the occasion of my ordination to the priesthood.  They wanted to spend time with the grandkids, naturally, so they all went off for a few hours to take in a couple of movies: one set went to see Despicable Me 2 and Lone Ranger the other.  Which was just as well, because my former seminary dean was to arrive any minute having also flown in from California for the occasion, to be the preacher.

All ran like clockwork.  Dean arrived, I got him settled, and we returned to the house in time to rendezvous with the others for dinner in the Pearl Brewery district, a presently-being-refurbished part of San Antonio that is well worth exploring if you ever get the chance.  Our first choice for dinner was La Gloria, about which I’ve heard excellent things.  But the wait for our party of nine was an hour and a half, too long for our hunger and anyway for the youngest member who was already up past his normal bedtime by now.  No worries though.  For in the Pearl all one has to do is walk a block or less to find another eatery, which we did, Il Sogno, which had an outside table for nine ready to go presently.  Turned out to be one of the best dining experiences in a long time for all of us, 2.5 hours of sitting around a table over a meal and some of the most delightful fellowship imaginable.  Go if ever you can.  The antipasti sampler is highly recommended.  But plan on $25+ entrees and $40+ bottles of wine.

Sunday morning was spent fairly typically, in church.  The difference about this day was that the normal 6pm service would be transformed into my ordination service.  Normally maybe sixty parishioners make the evening mass.  It meets in the rather large nave, but a small wooden altar is rolled out front.  People sit only in the first several pews.  There is no music.  The sermon is relatively brief and conversational.  It’s done and over in forty minutes.  But tonight meant the full choir and organ, a congregation of two hundred including several visiting clergy, an hour-and-a-half service at least, and a reception following with sandwiches and wine or fruit punch for those who preferred it.  It was a spread.  And it was all for me.  Indeed, no one can say that the Episcopal Church doesn’t honor its clergy!

I tried to connect beforehand with everyone participating: the deacon to read the Gospel, the cantor, the choir and organist, the readers, presenters, chalice bearers, Bishop, preacher, Bishop’s chaplain, acolytes, even the verger.  I don’t know if I succeeded, but I knew it didn’t really matter.  The service would happen anyway.  Then at last all seemed ready.  Those processing gathered in the narthex for a prayer.  The amen was said and the bell tolled.

“You look like a bride,” a woman whispered to me as I stood in line.  I couldn’t help but smile.  On the surface it was a funny thing to say.  For I have a beard and was dressed in an alb, not a gown, without any part of me manicured or pedicured or otherwise made up: I looked nothing whatever like a bride.  Yet her words were entirely appropriate, for the service, what with all the preparations and accoutrements, felt much like a wedding.  Only this time around, I mused, I wasn’t a nervous wreck like when I actually was the bridegroom in my own wedding.  Twenty years will do that I guess.  But, too, there was such a clear sense of the Holy Spirit through it all.  That had to account for something.

Throughout the evening I had no nerves whatever.  Even when I signed a declaration stating my belief in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God!  Even when my oldest daughter showed up fifteen minutes into the service, surprising me smartly since I thought she was a thousand miles away!  Even when my son climbed into my lap in only the squirrelly way he can, right as the preacher turned his address at me personally!  Even when the Bishop and the gathered clergy consecrated me, laying their hands on me as a tangible expression and reminder of the weight of the Holy Spirit now upon me!  Even when I handed each parishioner a wafer and said, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven”!  Even when I pronounced my first blessing!  Through it all the Holy Spirit was present and known.

But that woman’s statement about me looking like a bride was appropriate in another way.  For here, in my ordination, is one of the sacramental rites practiced by the Episcopal Church; just as is matrimony.

The dean stayed through Monday, giving him and me a good time to catch up with each other, a rich time I’ll cherish for many years to come.  And now it’s Wednesday night.  Tomorrow morning I will celebrate my first Eucharist.  Sunday ahead promises three more celebrations.  Maybe then I can get back to this blog.