Archive for September, 2013

Realizing the Kingdom

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2013 by timtrue

Luke 16:19-31; 1 Timothy 6:6-19

C. S. Lewis’s book The Last Battle fires the imagination about end times.  It is the seventh and final book in his widely acclaimed Chronicles of Narnia; and it documents the end of Narnia and what that means for those who have come to call Narnia home.

I’m going to read an excerpt from this book.  In this scene, the characters become increasingly aware of their present reality, that they are actually no longer in Narnia but in what we would call heaven.  To bring you up to speed briefly, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy are siblings; Eustace is their cousin and Jill is a friend their age; Digory is an old professor in whose house the children once stayed; Tirian is the king of Narnia, whom the others have all come to help in his last battle; and there is also a talking eagle, Farsight:

(See HarperTrophy edition for full quotation: New York, 1994.  Book 7, 209-12: “It still seemed to be early . . . ‘as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.’”)

Our present life is merely a shadow of things to come.   C. S. Lewis called it shadowlands; whereas we might think of the life to come as the Kingdom realized.  This contrast—between shadowlands and the Kingdom realized—is at the core of both today’s Gospel and epistle.

The Gospel paints a before-and-after picture of two people: a rich man and Lazarus.  In the shadowlands the rich man has become a success.  Obviously!  He’s rich, after all, a thing that’s seen throughout the Old Testament as a blessing.  And he shows it through excess.  He wears purple and fine linen, and he feasts sumptuously every day.

But he’s also tightfisted with poor Lazarus, who sits outside the rich man’s gate, covered with sores, longing to eat whatever crumbs fall from the rich man’s table.  Even the local stray dogs are better taken care of than this poor guy.  Can’t the rich man share something of his excess, we wonder?  Can’t he at least give some leftovers to the poor guy, or even some crumbs?

In the Kingdom realized the tables are turned.  Now it is Lazarus who lives the good life, carried by angels to the side of Abraham.  The rich man, on the other hand, is in torment, feeling as if he is standing in flames with an agonizing and unquenchable thirst.  Yet, like Tantalus of Roman mythology, his thirst is not allowed to be quenched.

We hearers of this story are left to wonder about a few things.  Perhaps riches aren’t all we think they are.  Perhaps living excessively toward ourselves and, at the same time, tightfistedly toward those in real need—perhaps such living does not in fact bring glory to God.  Perhaps generosity—or charity if you prefer—is the better way.

Then we remember the epistle, which offers a complementary explanation to this Gospel story.  “But those who want to be rich,” Paul writes, “fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Do you see the emphasis here?  The rich man wanted to be rich.  He loved money.  And in his eagerness to be rich he became self-absorbed, undisciplined in his excess regarding himself, yet uncharitable towards others.  He was trapped by many senseless and harmful desires; and he wandered away from the faith and pierced himself with many pains.  He had set his hopes—maybe even placed his faith—in his riches.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  There is nothing sinful in being rich.  Indeed, the simple truth is that if we are Americans—and we are—then we are rich.  Most of us live better than royalty has lived in much of the world’s history.  But for the rich—for us—there is another way.  We don’t have to be self-absorbed with our resources and uncharitable towards others.  That other way is found in realizing the Kingdom now, here in the shadowlands.

Listen to the last words of today’s epistle.  The rich—we—“are to do good,” Paul writes, “to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”  Thereby we will store up what the Bible calls “the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that [we] may take hold of the life that really is life.”

The life that really is life.  That’s the Kingdom realized.  Now.  Here.  In the shadowlands.  And we can bring this about!

Doesn’t this excite you?  We—as individuals; and as a corporate body, as a church—we can do good in such a way that it, in some sense, gives us glimpses of a greater reality.  Like when the eagle, Farsight, flew that thirty or forty feet into the air and said that he could see Ettinsmuir, Beaversdam, and Cair Paravel—these were real places in the Narnia story, places that persons had built, good works that had been done; and they remained after the shadow of Narnia had passed and the true Narnia remained!

So, that’s fine for Narnia and all.  But it’s a made-up world.  What about for us?  What do these good works look like for us?

Today’s Scripture passages give us the answer.  Or, I should say, they give us an answer.  Do you see it?  They exhort us to look outside of ourselves, to focus on others, to seek where others might have a need, and then to help them.  They exhort us to possess an attitude of generosity.

What this generosity looks like in the real world, in these shadowlands, is as varied and broad as we are creative.  It might mean taking a meal to a family that has just come home from the hospital with a new baby.  It might mean making a weekly visit to the grocery store with an aging family member.  Or, thinking more corporately, it might mean that we, as a church, bring lunches to homeless people under a bridge in downtown San Antonio every Sunday.

But an attitude of generosity can also take the shape of music, art, and architecture: leaving monuments to the next generations that testify of Christ and his goodness to the world.  It can also take the shapes of schools and hospitals.  All these things—and too many more to name or even count—all these works that flood the shadow of our present world with the light of the Kingdom—are born from an attitude of generosity.

Even better, our good work in the name of Christ, our generosity, our charity does not just give us glimpses of a greater reality: these things give glimpses of the Kingdom to everyone who sees them.  That, I believe, is what Paul means by the phrase “the treasure of a good foundation for the future.”  When we will no longer be here to see them; when our children and their children will no longer be around to see them, others will see our good works still, our life that really is life, and praise our Father in heaven.

Today’s Scripture leaves me, and I hope it leaves you, with a desire to do as much as I can to establish here and now in these shadowlands something—many things—that will last into the Kingdom realized.

Praying and Disobeying Faithfully

Posted in Homilies with tags , on September 22, 2013 by timtrue

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Let’s get political!

On a recent trip, a taxi driver told me that, in his opinion, George W. Bush was the worst president in the history of the United States.

On another fairly recent trip, from Sewanee, TN to San Antonio, I passed a huge billboard in Louisiana with an image of President Obama on it.  Beneath the image were these words: “Obama is Satan.”

These two very inflammatory statements represent two very different perspectives.  Indeed!  But both are actually quite similar: both are inflammatory, entirely negative, and slanderous.

Why do people say such things about our governmental leaders?

Right here in today’s epistle we read something otherwise: “First of all,” Paul says, “I urge you that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions.”

Pray for our presidents, Paul says; don’t slander them.

More telling still is what Paul goes on to say, just after what we heard today, in v. 8: “I desire, then,” he writes, “that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.”

Pray . . . without anger or argument.  Huh.

“Obama is Satan.”  Do you think that statement was made without any anger or intention to argue?  Do you think that statement was made by a group offering prayers of supplication, intercession, and thanksgiving for President Obama?

What about the other statement: “George W. Bush was the worst president in the history of the United States”?  Was this made without anger or argument?  Could anyone say this who had just offered supplications and thanksgivings for the man?

Whatever else you think or do, whatever political opinion you hold, as Christians it is our responsibility to keep evil words in check (cf. Eph. 4:29).  This includes slanderous words about our country’s leaders.  When we pray for the president—as we do every Sunday!—it is to be without anger or argument.  Don’t let your personal opinions and judgments enter in!  And pray, as Paul says, that whoever is sitting in the oval office allows us as Christians to lead peaceable lives in godliness and dignity.

“But, oh!” you protest.  “Father Tim, Paul wrote those words a long time ago.  He couldn’t have known what we face today.  We’ve got a health care crisis, pharmaceutical monopolies, legalized marijuana; gun violence, school shootings, military weaponry with the capability of ending the world, Syria; the recession, a messed up welfare system; gay marriage, stem-cell research, abortion, euthanasia; the iPhone 5, alternative fuels, and Miley Cyrus.  How could Paul have known about all these issues back then, back when he wrote this stuff about praying for leaders without anger or argument?”

To which I say: Yes.  Yes, he did write these words a long time ago.  And, yes, he couldn’t have known about the hot topics of our day.

But, his day had its own share of hot topics.

Ever hear of Nero?  Nero was the Roman emperor who sewed people up in deer skins and let his hunting dogs loose on them—just because they were Christians!  Nero was the Roman emperor who illuminated his night games on the palace lawn by covering Christians in pitch, impaling them on poles, and lighting them on fire.  Nero was the Roman emperor who played his fiddle while he watched Rome burn, and then blamed Christians for setting the city on fire.  Nero was the Roman emperor who ruled when the apostle Paul, the author of today’s epistle, died in prison.

Offer supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for your leaders, without anger or argument—regardless of whether they agree with you or not on whatever the political hot topics of the day happen to be.

This discussion does bring up an excellent question, however: When, if ever, do we have warrant for civil disobedience?  Is there ever a time or place for a Christian to disobey civil authorities?  If so, what should that civil disobedience look like?

Paul tells us here to pray for our leaders.  Elsewhere (Rom. 13:1) he says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”

Yet throughout the Bible—in both Old and New Testaments—don’t we see examples of civil disobedience?  Moses’ mother did not submit her baby to the government-sanctioned executioner but hid him in the bulrushes.  Later in the same story, the Hebrew midwives were commended for their disobeying the Egyptians, for sparing the lives of the Hebrew babies and then lying about it.  And what was Moses’ very call in Egypt but to defy Pharaoh until he let God’s people go?

That’s just one example, one story.  A moment’s reflection should bring to mind many others—the Judges repeatedly delivered Israel by means of civil disobedience; David more than once defied King Saul; and what of the prophets, like Daniel who was thrown to the lions?  Jesus himself engages in acts of civil disobedience—as a child, when his family flees into Egypt; and as an adult, when he overturns the tables in the Temple.  Even the apostle Paul himself: why do you think he was imprisoned in the first place?

Certainly, then, there are times and places for acts of civil disobedience in the name of Christ.  Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Christians must refuse to bow the knee to whatever false god lies in front of us; even if doing so means being thrown into a fiery furnace as a consequence!

So, what do acts of civil disobedience in the name of Christ look like?

I’m afraid there’s no easy answer here.  That’s because acts of civil disobedience are responses to something someone else has done; and those “somethings” that we respond to vary as much as the persons who’ve brought them about.  In other words, we must respond to each situation individually in ways that honor God.  Our responses—our acts of civil disobedience in the name of Christ—therefore require discernment.

So, for example, let’s say you’re pro-life.  How should you respond to the injustices you see all around you?  Bombing abortion clinics is no option, you rightly conclude.  Violence and harm bring no honor to Christ.  Quite the opposite, in fact!  So you decide to participate in a march protesting the Roe v. Wade decision.

Fine and well!  This is an act of civil disobedience, sure.  And I’m not discouraging anybody from participating in this kind of activity.  You’ll most likely not end up in jail for it; but also, you’ll most likely not get too noticed for it either.

But suppose you get more creative.  Pro-life is not just about conception to birth.  Consistency in a pro-life stance continues throughout life through to death.  Shouldn’t civil disobedience thus look like a lot more than anti-abortion marches?

Indeed!  It should include counseling to those mothers who are considering abortion.  It should include places for those mothers to turn to, either to give their babies up for adoption or for assistance in raising their babies—assistance like food and diapers and medical care and classes on nurture.  It should include outreach to orphanages and schools in other countries—like Haiti, or nearby Mexico.  Ha!  Have you ever thought of an orphanage as an act of civil disobedience in the name of Christ?

Even beyond this, a pro-life ethic has ramifications regarding euthanasia and the death penalty.  I wonder, what would civil disobedience look like here?

The point in civil disobedience—whatever injustice we oppose—is this, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We must expose injustice and make injustice so uncomfortable that it has to be dealt with.”

So, pray for our leaders without anger or argument; and, bring injustice to light, even if that means acts of civil disobedience.

Solo Gigglefest

Posted in Motorcycle with tags , , on September 21, 2013 by timtrue

bike from Em 1

I once heard Colorado described as a boom-bust state, with more bust than boom.  That’s pretty much what rainfall is like in San Antonio.  We can go long stretches with hundred-degree days and not a drop of precipitation.  Then boom!  Clouds roll in, lightning flashes, thunder rumbles, and the floodgates of heaven are opened.  At the very beginning of June, for example, we got nearly twelve inches of rain in a 24-hour period.

When this happens, streets flood.  Then parts of our beloved city–sports complexes, parks, and golf courses mainly–end up under water for a time.  That’s usually about the time national news airs a video of some thrill-seeker canoeing down Devine Road.

It doesn’t help that many streets in the city are little more than paved over drainage basins: creek beds, if you will.  Just a block and a half from my house, in fact, a major street ends up looking more like a river rafting paradise after fifteen solid minutes of downpour.

This background provides context, by the way, for my day yesterday.  It was one of those days where a good deal of rain fell.  Fortunately, unlike that day in early June, the rain did not fall constantly.  Rather, several strong downpours pommeled the city, each lasting an hour or so with stretches of rainfall-free times in between.  But the paved over creek beds that now serve as roads were flowing all day long.  And I was on my motorcycle.

I could go into the details about why I was on the bike.  They involve a flat tire and an emergency room visit.  But otherwise they’re not too exciting.  Suffice to say that I had no choice.  It was drive-the-motorcycle-to-work day for me or AWOL.  I chose the former.  I had some appointments to keep, after all.  Besides, I assured myself, I would wear my water-resistant coat and wrap my backpack in a waterproof cover.  How bad could it be?

Resigning myself that I would surely get wet, that I would surely ride through a downpour or two, I left for work at my typical time of 7:30am.  I took a back way, intentionally avoiding that creek-bed street a block and a half away.  It was slow going through residential areas mostly.  But other than having to skirt around a few puddles I managed to get to work dry.

Five minutes later a downpour began.

Next ride came at a little after 9am, a three-mile trek to a Bible Study at a parishioner’s home.  Again, resigning myself that I’d probably get wet, I grabbed my helmet and coat and headed out the church doors.  That downpour mentioned in the last paragraph had ended not ten minutes earlier.

This time I didn’t have the luxury of taking residential streets the whole way, but rather had to journey down Broadway, one of San Antonio’s busiest streets.  It wasn’t so much a paved creek bed as other streets, though, but it still collected a few large and deep puddles in choice locations.  Two or three of these I would have to pass, I knew, maybe through but possibly around, if they were still small enough.  But with my luck a neighboring car or pickup or SUV should no doubt drive through one or more of these large and deep puddles right as I was alongside, thereby soaking me head to foot.  As likely as not anyway, I said to myself.

Well, again I arrived mostly dry.  I couldn’t avoid riding through a small puddle or three on the way over, but my bike was made to handle this kind of stuff after all; and my boots were water resistant too, meaning the spray that reached effectively amounted to nothing.

Writing this now I wonder how it must have looked to those older parishioners inside as I approached their gathering to offer a prayer of blessing.  Black motorcycle boots, black pants, black water-resistant coat unzipped to reveal my black clergy shirt and collar: “We’re so glad you have a motorcycle,” one of them smiled; another said carelessly, “As you pulled up I thought, what are the cops doing here?”

Anyway, no sooner had I sat down to visit a little, cup of coffee in hand, when another downpour hit.

Thirty minutes later it stopped.  The prayer was done and the visit seemed as good a place as any to finish.  So I left.  And I made it back to the office similarly as I’d made it to the Bible Study: insufficiently wet.  Except this time a puddle or two had managed to spray my entire boots and then some, meaning the bottoms of my pants and my socks were a little wet too.

One of these puddles, by the way, I rode through at about 40 mph.  I anticipated the spray enough ahead of time to lift my feet up to about hand level as I did so.  This is where I think my socks got wet.  But the thing I remember most clearly is that a pickup truck driving towards me flashed his high beams on and off at me a couple of times, as if he were laughing at me.

One more daytrip awaited.  Sure enough another downpour came and went in the interim, the biggest of the day so far.  The ride to my destination, a class I’m auditing at a local university, posited several more puddles in my path.  But now I was confident.  My bike was built for this stuff.  And I’d learned how to avoid spray, more or less, by lifting my feet.  And I was giving my core a workout.  It was a win-win, really.

As I pulled into the university parking lot rain began to fall from the sky.  This was the first time I’d been caught outside in it all day, by the way.  And, benignly, the floodgates waited to open until I was inside.

Still, I showed up to class wetter than I’d been all day so far.  Though I was a lot drier than the few students who’d arrived after I had!

The present downpour lasted the full hour of class.  And by the looks of it, it was the worst of the day.

Still, somehow, the rain stopped before I got back on the bike.  I left the university and headed for home–for at last a car was available for me, if I would bring one of the kids home from school.  Sure thing!

But now the roads were at their worst yet.  Puddles now appeared where they hadn’t yet and the low water crossing on Devine Road in fact had water crossing it.  No problem.  My bike was made for this kind of stuff.

So, having gained valuable experience on my earlier rides, I now navigated the windy, wet, creek-bed streets confidently, meaning at the posted speed limit, maybe even a little over.  And what of the puddles?  I could just lift my feet and fly through them, no slowing necessary while I worked my core.  Downpours, schnownpours!

That was my attitude anyway until I passed through one water body that was really more like a small lake than a puddle.  I saw it coming; I lifted my feet with a smile on my face; I entered the mere.  Dang, I thought as I watched my handlebars dip, this thing’s at least a foot deep!

I didn’t crash, nothing like that, fortunately.  But as my handlebars dipped something else happened too: a wall of water rose in front of me, up and over my footpegs, up and over my raised feet, up and over my hands, up and over my windshield, and up and over my head.  I was positively drenched!

A pickup driving towards me flashed his high beams two or three times.  But he didn’t need to.  I was already giggling like a little boy.

Optimism Tried: My First Visit to New York City

Posted in Reflection with tags , , , , on September 19, 2013 by timtrue

wedding

I’d never been to New York City before.  What better way to ring in our third decade of marriage, I thought.  Holly and I have now been married twenty years, and despite tight finances that always seem to accompany every new priest, especially a new priest with a large family more or less dependent on one income, people don’t celebrate twenty years of marriage every day; and I’ll regret it if I let another slip by without doing something big; and last year was all about what I wanted to do.  She enjoyed it, mind you, a date to the Nashville Symphony and dinner.  But it was all my plan.  So why not follow her plan this year?

Armed with such reasoning, about three months ago I booked a flight and a hotel and secured tickets to Wicked on Broadway.  The date of the show, incidentally, was Friday, September 13.

Soon the big day came.  A hare-brained plan, really.  We were to catch a plane out of San Antonio on Thursday afternoon, transfer in Houston, and press on to LaGuardia airport in New York, to arrive at 10pm.  I figured we’d be to the hotel in Manhattan by 11 and asleep by 11:30–no 2:30am redeye for us.  (We’ve been married twenty years, after all, and we just don’t handle the late nights like we used to.)  Then we would wake up Friday, surely blissful, with a full day of Central Park and other exciting New York sites to enjoy–like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Statue of Liberty, or both–before dinner and an 8pm show.  We’d then catch a 7:30am flight on Saturday and be home by noon.  Tight schedule, but decent plan for a new priest with minimal vacation time available, right?

Now, before I go on with this story, I think y’all should know something: we’re no strangers to strings of bad luck.

For example, I once rented a U-Haul trailer to help us move from Sacramento, CA to Denver, CO.  The guy at the U-Haul store said my stuff should fit, no problem.  What did I know with it being our first move as a married couple and all!  Every prior move I’d been able to fit all my personal belongings into or on top of my 1980 Mazda 626, after all, including a futon and frame, file cabinets, a bicycle, and various and sundry kitchen items.  We had more stuff now, being married and all.  But we’d only been married for seven months and hadn’t acquired that much, right?

Wrong!  Too soon I realized that the bed of the old pickup and the 6×12 trailer really only gave us about two-thirds of what we needed spacewise.  Rather than take the trailer back, which is what I probably should have done, my friend Jerry, who lived in Colorado, said he’d make a second run to CA with me, after dropping off the first load in Denver with Holly.  Sounded logical enough.  So that became my revised plan.

All went smoothly enough to Denver.  But on the return trip to Sacramento, right at about Elko, NV, and right at about four o’clock in the morning, the lights went dim and the pickup died.  That issue took half a day to resolve.  The alternator was holding a charge, the mechanic said, so it must be the battery.  That replaced, we resumed our trip, made it to CA, loaded the trailer, and turned around before dark.

This time it was around Winnemucca, NV, not quite to Elko; this time at about one in the morning, as I’m mostly asleep in the passenger seat, when I’m violently awakened by a sudden shout from Jerry: “We got a fire!”  Sure enough, out of the rear view mirror I could see flames shooting twenty feet from the trailer’s left wheels.

Fortunately I had a fire extinguisher on board–it was an old truck.  So we screeched to a halt–literally–and I ran around the deserted interstate putting out the fire.  It was the U-Haul trailer, by the way; evidently a wheel bearing was so old and produced so much friction that fire was the result.  I’d be a liar if I said the thought never crossed my mind to let it all burn though.

Well, then it was a waiting game in Winnemucca–waiting for U-Haul to come and replace the trailer on the shoulder of Interstate 80.  Not much to do in Winnemucca, by the way, in case you ever break down there.  So the new trailer came and U-Haul very apologetically renewed my contract for a week at no charge.  “Pshaw!” I muttered.

Anyway, after a good night’s sleep–U-Haul paid for the hotel too, if I recall correctly; but not for a crew to reload the cargo–Jerry and I were on our way.  Until sixty miles east of Green River, Utah, now on Interstate 70.

More electrical problems!  And yet another break down on the side of the interstate!

Mind you, this was 1994, before the common usage of cell phones.  Neither Jerry nor I had one.  Besides, we were sixty miles from the closest town, halfway between Green River to the west and Fruita, CO to the east.  I don’t think there’s cell phone service along this remote stretch of highway even today.  So, what to do?

We ended up duct-taping “AAA” across the back of the trailer, managing to catch the attention of a trucker after ninety minutes or so.  He stopped, smiled, and offered one of us a ride to the next town, i. e., Fruita.  Jerry said yes before I’d even had time to process the trucker’s question, perhaps intimating that Jerry’s patience had begun to be tried.  I couldn’t blame him.  So he was off and there I waited.  I climbed in the pickup’s cab and took a nap.

I was awakened by voices some time later, maybe an hour.  These were accompanied by that telltale smell a car engine makes when it burns too much oil.  I sat up.  And what I saw brought questions to my mind indeed.  I was in remote Utah, remember.  Walking towards me now was a very short red-headed man, scruffy and unkempt, and three women, all of a similar age, all significantly taller than the man.  He was giving orders–“Get the tool kit,” “Keep the motor running,” “Grab the jumpers”–orders to which each woman promptly responded.  I stepped out of the pickup, biting my tongue.

“Yeah,” the short man said apparently to me, though he didn’t look me in the eye, “I used to have a truck just like this.  What’s her problem?”

“Stalled,” I said.  “It’s electrical.  Alternator’s my guess.”

“Why doncha open the hood?”

So I did.  To which Short Man said, after climbing up on the front bumper and taking a hasty look, “This here’s your problem.”  And he pulled out a pocketknife and, lickety split, cut a wire.

I wanted to scream, “What in the name of Joseph Smith are you doing!”

But before I could he said, “There now.  She should start right up.  Give her a try.”

So I did.  What else was I to do, after all?

But, of course, nothing happened.

And of course, as I looked up from whatever I was fiddling with at the moment, Short Man was high-tailing it to his smoky station wagon and saying to one of the women, “Honey, get in the car, now!”  Then he said it to another.  Then to the third.

Stunned, amazed, flabbergasted, stupefied, whatever, I was momentarily paralyzed with disbelief.  By the time I stepped out of the truck onto the road, the quartet was speeding off into the sunrise.

Not knowing what else to do, I raised my fist and yelled, “Polygamists!”  I don’t know, maybe they read my lips.

Anyway, a tow truck driver showed up with Jerry maybe an hour later, towed me to Fruita, looked under the hood, and said, “Yep, it’s the alternator.  But why’s this wire been cut?”

So check this out.  The string of bad luck on this present hare-brained trip to New York began when we arrived at the San Antonio airport and discovered that our flight had been delayed by ten minutes.  No sweat, Holly and I agreed.  But it was nonetheless a bad omen, kind of like when the stuff wouldn’t fit in the U-Haul trailer.  Yet ancient augury is nothing I learned in seminary, and Holly and I are both optimists.  So we didn’t see it.  But you do, don’t you?

Predictably, at our layover in Houston things got worse.  At Gate 43 we learned that our flight to LaGuardia would be leaving ninety minutes late.  So we decided to enjoy a dinner.  Fine and well–except for the 400-pound guy squished in next to me in the airport restaurant, inhibiting my and Holly’s conversation somewhat, to say nothing of our personal space–until we returned to our gate to see no sign of our flight anywhere.  Not to be dismayed, I checked the “Departures” monitor, discovering that we were moved to Gate 49, and that we would be delayed another twenty minutes.

Okay.  So we were supposed to have taken off at 5:20; now we’re scheduled for 7:10.  That should put us in New York before midnight, I thought, and to the hotel by 12:45.  We’d be asleep before 1am.  Okay.

But things got worse still during the flight.  For the record, the flight itself was decent.  But we had to wait a while before taking off.  Bad weather at LaGuardia, pilot said.  Then when we landed, we had to wait on the runway not a hundred yards from the gate for more than an hour.  A lot of flights had arrived at the same time, pilot said, since the weather had recently cleared, he said, and we had to wait our turn to get a gate, said he.

Then it was to Baggage Claim, where we soon discovered that everyone’s luggage who’d come from San Antonio was lost.  That included ours.  Should be here by 11am, Baggage Services said.

“Fat chance,” I muttered.  “It probably went onto that plane at Gate 43 in Houston.  I remember.  That flight was bound for L. A.”

Holly shot me a look showing she was none too pleased.

“Another ten minutes and I’d have given up,” the shuttle driver told us when we finally met him.  It was after two o’clock.

So we arrived at the hotel, finally, at 2:45am.  So much for no redeye, yeah?  Fortunately, the hotel hadn’t cancelled our non-refundable reservation.  Otherwise I’d have screamed, optimist or not.  (Even infernal optimists have their limits!)  But I did wonder how we ended up with a room on the fifth floor, the same floor that happened to have a lot of construction work being performed at the moment–construction, by the way, that woke us up before 7:30am.  Would we have been issued Room 509 if we had arrived before 11pm, as originally planned?  Probably not.  The floor seemed deserted except for us and the construction workers and the overwhelming smell of fresh carpet glue and paint.

As we stepped towards the elevator that evening–or rather morning–two six-foot six-inch transvestites appeared from behind a corner and entered the elevator before us.  Okay, maybe “transvestites” is a hasty conclusion.  But the word translates from Latin simply as “crossdressers.”  At any rate, they were clearly people of the night; they looked like they used to play football–broad shoulders and biceps the size of my quadriceps; they were wearing low-cut, revealing women’s clothing; and they were–how shall I put this?–um, busty.  Like, implant busty.  It was an awkward moment.

But even with all the events of the day, and even though it was a redeye hour of the morning, my optimistic mind was at work.  “Hey,” I thought, “Jesus would get on the elevator with these two guy/girls.  He chilled with prostitutes and other outcasts.  Why hesitate?”

My hesitation must have come across.  For just as I was resolved that, yes, I needed to ride the elevator with these two people, one of them looked at me, smiled, and said gently, “It’s okay, honey.”

And it was okay.  I entered the elevator; Holly followed; I pressed the “5” button; and the doors to the elevator shut.

“Now what?” I thought.

Four floors of continued awkward silence later the doors opened and Holly and I exited.  As the doors closed, just before they cut this connection to another world off forever, one of the transvestites giggled and said to the other, “Aww, isn’t that so cute?”

Twenty years, honey, and we’re still cute.  And, by the way, I’m still an optimist.  Happy anniversary, dear!

For what it’s worth, the rest of the getaway was awesome.  We navigated the New York subways, took in Central Park, purchased a new outfit each courtesy of the airline company, saw the 9/11 Memorial, ate a suptuous dinner at Rosy O’Grady’s, and enjoyed a phenomenal show on Broadway.  The trip home even arrived fifteen minutes early.

Confronted by “Hate”

Posted in Homilies with tags , on September 8, 2013 by timtrue

Luke 14:25-33

Did you hear my last sermon?  If so, then you heard me begin with words that went something like this: “I have a confession to make.  I don’t like today’s Gospel passage.”

Do you remember?  It was that passage where Jesus says that five people from the same household will be divided; mother and daughter will be divided, father and son will be divided, and so on.  Then he says, “I have not come to bring peace, but division!”  And I confessed that I didn’t like it.  What was I, a curate—which, by the way, means new: I’m still relatively new at this whole preaching bit—what was I supposed to do with this?  Jesus’s overall mission was and is radical love, not division!

Anyway, now—the next Sunday I’m scheduled to preach—I find these words of Jesus: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

And I think, “Who’s in charge of the preaching schedule anyway?”  Last week’s Gospel was all about doing good and showing hospitality to those who are less fortunate.  Why wasn’t I assigned that text?  Or next Sunday’s Gospel shows Christ sharing a meal with sinners.  Now that’s something I can sink my teeth into.  But this!  Hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even life itself?  Just what are you asking me to do here, Jesus?

If anything, this mental wrestling match shows not that my fellow clergy are somehow conspiring against me, pawning off the difficult Gospel passages on the curate to see what he does with them; rather, it shows that difficult passages in the Gospel are somewhat commonplace.  Indeed, on any given Sunday, we might find ourselves confronted by something unpalatable in the Gospel, a sort of spiritual meal difficult to swallow, concerning our understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

What do we do with such passages?  What do we do with this passage?

A good place to start is with the term that causes us difficulty in the first place.  The word hate here, for instance, is µισεĩ in the Greek; it shows up in the English language in words like misogynist, woman-hater.  But, like in English, it has a broad range of meanings.  A mother who said she loved chocolate cake at yesterday’s birthday party says she hates it today as she scrubs a stain out of her daughter’s sundress.  And that’s a different use of the word than when someone says, “I hate racism.”  This ambiguity is the same in Greek.

The word shows up (Mt. 5:43-44) when Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

But—more to our point, I believe—the word also shows up when Jesus says (Lk. 16:13), “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.”

I believe this usage of the word is more to our point because it juxtaposes two things, God and wealth, that are necessary and good when considered by themselves.  To this list of necessary and good things we could add family—wife, children, brothers, sisters—possessions, even life itself.  But the point is that one will take priority over all the others.  For those who call themselves Christians, Jesus Christ must be this top priority.

So we started with a troublesome term.  But we continue to gain understanding when we look at the passage’s larger context.

Today’s Gospel has a parallelism.  Did you catch it?  It begins: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  Then it ends with these similar words: “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

So Jesus starts his teaching with, “Here’s what it means to be my disciple: hate father and mother” and so on.  And then he ends it with, “Here’s what you need to do to become my disciple: give up all you have.”  It begins and ends the same way.  But in between he starts talking about something else—about carrying a cross and building a tower and fighting a war.

This parallelism really serves as a frame to a bigger, more important picture.  Jesus is telling the crowd that they must count the cost of what it really means to follow him.  There is a cost to being a Christian.  That’s his main point.  Someone desiring to build a tower wouldn’t want to abandon the project halfway because he’s run out of money.  A military commander wouldn’t send an army to fight a hopeless war without first attempting a parley.  Neither should someone follow Christ with unrealistic hopes.

Putting it all together, what this passage is saying is that keeping Christ as top priority requires a sort of personal detachment.

Consider a couple of scenarios.

First, someone insults you personally because you’re a Christian.  Your initial gut reaction is to one-up this person, to insult him more deeply than he insulted you.  You might even be tempted to punch him in the nose.  You feel your blood beginning to boil, heat rising to the top of your head.  But, somehow, by the grace of God really, you keep yourself together for the time being.  Still, you want to get that guy back, say something mean, do something nasty, something to retaliate.  The nerve!  Then Christ convicts you.  You talk it over with other people, pray it through, and in the end you decide to overlook the offense entirely.  Christ’s mission of radical love, you decide, is far greater than a petty personal insult.

Second, you’ve discovered widespread misconduct among your colleagues, and you’re told by your boss just to go along with it or you’ll lose your job.  It’s not a personal insult this time.  No blood boiling, no heat rising.  Still, it’s dishonest and you know it.  But your paycheck, indeed your family’s livelihood, depends on this job.  What do you do?  Are you willing to part with your paycheck for the sake of Christ?  In the end you decide to confront the situation, risking the loss of your job but bringing a somewhat large injustice to light.

Both scenarios—one requiring you to overlook an offense and the other requiring a confrontation—demand something of a personal detachment from you.  In the first, you need to separate yourself from the heat of the moment.  Even your own life, your own dignity, takes second-place to Christ.  In the second scenario, personal detachment comes in the form of things: you have to separate your possessions, your family, and your livelihood from Christ’s mission.

In themselves, then, things are good.  Relationships are good.  But let them never trump Christ and his mission.

The Martyrs of New Guinea

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on September 2, 2013 by timtrue

I begin with a charge from a certain bishop, Philip Strong, delivered to missionaries in New Guinea on January 31, 1942:

“As far as I know, you are all at your posts, and I am very glad and thankful about this.  I have, from the first, felt that we must endeavor to carry on our work in all circumstances, no matter what the cost may ultimately be to any of us individually.  God expects this of us.  The church at home, which sent us out, expects this of us.  The universal church expects it.  The tradition and history of missions requires it of us.  Missionaries who have been faithful to the uttermost and are now at rest are surely expecting it of us.  The people whom we serve expect it of us.  Our own consciences expect it of us.  We could never hold up our faces again if, for our own safety, we all forsook Jesus and fled when the shadows of the Passion began to gather round him in his spiritual and mystical body, the church in Papua.  Our life in the future would be burdened with shame and we could not come back here and face our people again; and we would be conscious always of rejected opportunities.

“The history of the church tells us that missionaries do not think of themselves in the hour of danger and crisis, but of the master who called them to give their all, and of the people whom he trusts them to serve and to love to the uttermost, even as he has served and loved to the uttermost.  His watchword is none the less true today as it was when he gave it to the first disciples, ‘Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s shall find it.’  No one requires us to leave.  No one has required us to leave.  Our people need us now more than ever before in the whole history of the mission.

“No, my brothers and sisters, fellow workers in Christ, whatever others may do, we cannot leave.  We shall not leave.  We shall stay by our trust.  We shall stand by our vocation.  We do not know what it may mean to us.  Many already think us fools and mad.  What does that matter?  If we are fools, ‘We are fools for Christ’s sake.’

“I cannot foretell the future.  I cannot guarantee that all will be well—that we shall all come through unscathed.  One thing only I can guarantee is that, if we do not forsake Christ here in Papua in his body, the church, he will not forsake us.  He will uphold us; he will sustain us; he will strengthen us, and he will guide and keep us through the days that lie ahead . . .  Let us trust and not be afraid” (Faithful Unto Death: The Story of the New Guinea Martyrs; Stanmore: Australian Board of Missions, 1964).

Stirring words, yeah?

This charge came one week after Japanese forces had captured Rabaul, a militarily strategic port on the Island of New Britain, just northeast of New Guinea.  The lives of several Australian Anglican missionaries were indeed threatened.

A month or so later, Bishop Strong himself set out to make personal visits to all missionary stations in Papua, traveling by boat and foot.  Twice he narrowly escaped death: once when the boat on which he was traveling was shot at by a Japanese seaplane; and a second time when he was shot at on foot on a beach.  In the end he succeeded in visiting all stations.

Amazingly, all missionaries stayed on to do their work.

Japanese soldiers first appeared on the island on July 25, 1942.  They were okay, apparently, with indigenous peoples conducting western religious services.  Not so, however, with the white man.  Whenever soldiers neared, the white missionaries fled into the jungle.  Some escaped altogether; others were captured, some of whom were turned over to the Japanese military by natives who had not yet been reached with the Good News.  Of those captured, most were killed.  By September 2 the number of casualties reached ten: eight Australian missionaries and two Papuan nationals who had helped the Australians, all of whom we remember today.  By early October all remaining missionaries were evacuated.

“Thus they died,” Philip Strong wrote in 1964, now as the Archbishop of Brisbane, “faithful unto death.  They chose to remain with their flocks rather than desert them in their hour of danger.  They were martyrs for the Christian faith.  Their deaths were not in vain.  Their sacrifice inspired the Papuan church, and it remained firm.  Recovery after the war was rapid because of it.  Had they deserted, much of the work would have had to begin all over again.  But they were faithful unto death, and we honor them.  Once again the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church” (ibid.).

Monthly Reflection: August, 2013

Posted in Doing Church, Reflection with tags , , on September 1, 2013 by timtrue

In last month’s reflection I mentioned a sort of calm before the storm, feeling like I had some down time and not really knowing how to handle it yet at the same time not wanting to start something new for fear of what was about to come: the school year.  What if I were to have begun a noon Bible study, for instance, only to have to cancel it a month later for lack of time?

But now the school year is under way; the storm has made landfall.

My own kids have begun their routines of waking up to alarm clocks, eating a hasty breakfast and otherwise getting their things together for the day, going through a regimen of classes, lunch, and sports practices, tackling the evening homework load, connecting (sometimes not too) briefly with their extra-household worlds on Facebook, and sleeping in on weekends; and somehow Holly and I, between our own busy regimens of work, students, and chores, manage it all—getting the kids out the door in time for their days, juggling their sporting events, helping with homework, and cracking the figurative whip to motivate them to do their chores.

Additionally, the parish’s school year has begun, meaning a whole bunch of my day that was routinely open in the summer is now filled up if I so choose—chapel, pre-K chapel, visiting a classroom, lunch—or sometimes when I don’t choose, like when I’m on for a chapel talk.

And Sunday school is starting next Sunday, meaning I will be teaching a course, meaning prep.

Add this to my summer routine of weekly meetings, preaching roughly a sermon a week, the occasional other services like Thursday 7am Eucharist and funerals (I presided at one in August) and weddings (one over which I have yet to preside), the continuous stream of visitations, and other various meetings such as lunch with a parishioner or local priests and the monthly vestry meeting—add the new school year routine to the summer routine and, yes, my days are now quite full.

So I didn’t start that noon Bible study, fortunately.

But I did decide to audit a course at a nearby university, a Latin course on Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, also known as The Golden Ass, a title given to the story by St. Augustine.  It is the only complete piece of fiction from the classical world; but it also bridges the classical world of Jesus to the early medieval world of Augustine, a very valuable bridge for someone whose calling is concerned with these matters.  I’ve also joined the St. Luke’s choir ex officio; by which I mean I don’t sing with them on Sundays, because I’m not a ventriloquist, but I do rehearse with them on Wednesdays and hope to join them in some special services this year—Evensongs perhaps, and Lessons and Carols.  Oh, and they’re planning a trip to England next summer: perhaps they’ll need a chaplain. . . .

IMG_6819

Other highlights of the month include my first baptism as a priest, pictured here; and the opportunity to give away some money from my discretionary fund to worthy souls.  Both of these acts brought me a high degree of gladness.

Anyway, now a Saturday comes, or a night off, or my assigned day off, Monday, and it seems I now have enough to do.  “Today I think I’ll fix my motorcycle and then translate Latin all day,” I told my wife when I woke up yesterday.  She laughed and asked, “Can I quote you on that?”  I guess maybe I am a little eclectic.  But that’s one of the cool things about the priesthood: it’s a calling that allows eclecticism.