Archive for February, 2014

Dinner Conversation: Horcruxes and Adverbs

Posted in Education, Family with tags , , , , , , on February 19, 2014 by timtrue

Conversation around my dinner table is often quite entertaining.  A lot of the time it involves a great amount of noise, so great, in fact, that often my wife and I sort of zone out, peckishly attending to our plates until the teenage-daughter talk, interspersed with the interjections of a protesting younger brother not wanting to be left out, dies down.  We’re firm believers in the daily family meal, my wife and I, even if it doesn’t always result in the type of quality family time we dream of.

Tonight, however, gave us one of those quality-time meals.

Two things we all seem to appreciate are Harry Potter and grammar.  Even the boy, who is not yet five, knows the curses banned by the Ministry of Magic and the name of he-who-must-not-be-named; and, yes, even the boy gets grammar.  Recently he’s been working on a difficult rule breaker: the verb “go.”  It’s no problem to say, “Today he goes with a friend to the park.”  But why isn’t it, “Yesterday he goed to the park”?  It’s an exception, I explain.  (“What’s an inception?” he asks.  And I think, hey, at least he’s got the “a” and “an” rule down.)  Just say “went,” I say.  Yesterday he went to the park.  (“No he didn’t,” he responds; “yesterday he went to school.”  Okay, fair enough.)

So there we were, all of us, sitting at the dinner table, practicing our practice of eating a daily meal together, hoping for stimulating conversation and quality time for all, when it actually happened.

“What’s the big deal with splitting an infinitive anyway?” daughter 1 asks.

“I once had a professor answer that question by saying editors find them annoying,” I answer.

“What’s really annoying is when someone doubly or triply splits an infinitive,” daughter 2 says, smirking in only her way.

“What do you mean?” my wife asks.

“Like when someone puts two or three adverbs between the ‘to’ and the verb,” daughter 2 explains reasonably enough.

“Whahuh?” a few voices say in unison.

“Whahuh?” a 4.975 year-old voice echoes.

“Give an example,” daughter 3 suggests.

So the conversation turned to Shakespeare’s paradigmatic statement of infinitives, “To be or not to be . . .”  No split here.  But to say, “To be or to not be,” would be to split an infinitive.  This is annoying, perhaps especially for editors, but probably as well to anyone who has ever heard the statement said properly before.  I mean, really, could you imagine a stage actor saying, “To be or to not be, that is the question”?  How annoying!

Now throw another adverb in there: “To be or to just not be.”  More annoying still, yeah?  And another: “To be or to just not really be”; and even another: “To be or to like just not really be”; and you get the picture.

“Kind of loses its effectiveness,” my wife observes, “like a horcrux.”

True that!

As he-who-must-not-be-named has taught us all, to split a soul into seven horcruxes really reduces the soul’s effectiveness.  So too with infinitives.  In the end, to do so is to really, truly, actually, substantially, enigmatically, truncatingly, miserably deny the verb its inherent power.

Advertisements

Reconciliation: It’s All About You

Posted in Homilies with tags , on February 16, 2014 by timtrue

Matthew 5:21-37

There are a lot of reasons why I love the Episcopal Church.  But the particular reason I’m thinking of today will take place in a few minutes, right in the middle of our liturgy: the exchanging of the peace.  Right in the middle of the service, week in and week out, we take a moment to focus very intently on one another; and we exchange handshakes or embraces and say peace.

Why do I love this about the Episcopal Church?  I love it because this action, this moment in our liturgy, puts into practice the very Gospel passage we heard today, where Jesus says:

“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

Each Sunday we come through those doors on the west side of the room and sit in pews facing the east side of the room and we worship Christ.  But as we worship we don’t focus exclusively on Christ.  It’s mostly on Christ, yes, but not exclusively.  It’s also on our neighbors.

The worship leader calls out, “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  And you respond, together, “And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever.  Amen.”  You do this collectively, as one body made up of many parts.  Together, collectively, we focus on Christ.  But just in the fact that we are doing this together means others are involved.  Other people.  Together.  With you.  Collectively.

One of our opening prayers is even called the Collect.  Think of it as a prayer to collect everyone’s individual thoughts into one, unified whole.

As we focus on Christ actively in worship then, together, there is at the same time a passive focus on each other.

And this active-passive relationship becomes inverted at the peace.  Suddenly the worship leader says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you,” and you reply, “And also with you”—and suddenly the focus on Christ is passive as we focus actively on each other.

And as we’ve been worshipping, thinking mostly about Christ but some about each other, perhaps someone has come to mind—someone you may have had an issue with earlier in the week, or last week, or the week before.  The Holy Spirit has brought someone to mind, maybe even in this very room, with whom you ought to be reconciled.  And you know it’s the right thing to do.

Well, now’s your chance!  Go over to that person during the exchanging of the peace, grab her hand, and say peace to her.  When you do, it’s as much as to say, “Look, I know we’ve had our differences.  But we’re siblings in Christ.  And that’s more important than whatever petty disagreements we’ve had with one another.  Let’s be reconciled!”

But it’s not always so easy, is it?  The people we disagree with aren’t always in the room with us, are they?  And even if they are, we can avoid them if we want to, right?  The peace only lasts a minute or so; it’s plenty easy enough in that minute to shake a few hands in a different direction, with my back turned to the person I’ve really got a beef with.

Whatever else you make of the peace, Jesus in fact brings three scenarios to mind that are not so easy to deal with regarding reconciliation: anger, divorce, and forsaken promises.

He says things like, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not murder.’  But I tell you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

But the simple truth of the matter is that people do make us angry.  They hurt us; they disappoint us; they let us down.

For Jesus, it’s not just the acts themselves of murder, adultery, and lying; but what’s in the heart—the motive behind the acts.  And—here’s the real difficulty for some of us—it doesn’t really matter if you’re the perpetrator or the victim.  If you are unwilling to forgive, then you are the one Jesus is speaking to here.  You are the one who needs to let go of whatever feelings you have of bitterness or hatred or anger.

Forgiveness is extremely personal.

So, to return to our Sunday morning scenario:

Let’s say you’re in church worshiping Christ actively but focusing passively on others.  And in that worship the Holy Spirit brings someone to mind who wronged you some time ago.  And you realize now that you’ve been harboring resentment and maybe some anger towards that person for these past several years.  But the problem is they now live in Los Angeles; and you’re right here in San Antonio!

According to Jesus’s words here, what are you supposed to do?  Are you really supposed to forget this present worship experience, forget the Eucharist we are about to celebrate together, run out of the church, hop on a plane, fly out to California, and be reconciled to this person?  Really?

If you were really to do this—let’s pretend just a little more—you know what would happen?  Chances are, after all that hassle and expense, you’d find your old friend in California and he wouldn’t even be aware that you were upset in the first place!  Which would probably make you even more upset because of all the hassle and expense!

No, Christ’s words throughout this passage are focused on your heart.  Rather than literally leaving your offering at the altar and running off to California to be reconciled to some far-off friend or foe (who probably knows nothing about your beef anyway), it’s your heart that matters here.

Reconciliation begins with you.  You must forgive your offender.  You are the only person who can do so.  It’s all about you.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go over during the peace to that certain person that the Holy Spirit brought to mind; I’m not saying you shouldn’t go home this afternoon and call that person from California.  If you feel the Holy Spirit is leading you in that direction, then do it!

But what I am saying is this: if someone has offended you, forgive them.  It is a part of your spiritual act of worship.  And that action we do each week here in church, the exchanging of the peace—that is your visible reminder to let go of all bitterness; and instead to approach Christ’s altar as an offering, whole and undefiled.

Reconciliation is all about you.

From the Frame Up, Part 2

Posted in Motorcycle with tags , on February 12, 2014 by timtrue

The slow work of dismantling and cleaning parts has begun.

DSCF2795

This photo is sort of sideways, but you get the idea.  The front wheel has been removed from the forks along with the disc and the caliper (i. e., the brake).

DSCF2798

Here I am beginning to polish the disc.  It’s long and arduous work, hence the relaxing agent in the background, a. k. a. Belgian pilsner.  My initial thinking was to dismantle the wheel assembly completely and essentially rebuild it with new stainless steel spokes and nipples and a new aluminum rim, sandblasting the hub and powder coating (a type of electromagnetic paint job) it matte British racing green.  This would be matched on the back hub and drive mechanism and gas tank.  The frame, fork sliders, swingarm, and subframe I’d then powder coat matte black.  Cool idea.  But as I’ve been cleaning the disc and fork sliders, I’ve realized that the aluminum will polish up nicely on its own, so no need for powder coating the hubs and sliders.  The rims and spokes are too tweaked to salvage though, I’ve concluded.  so I’ll continue with my idea to rebuild the wheels with new stainless steel spokes and nipples and aluminum rims.  Maybe I’ll do something color-wise to the rims when I get there–to match the tank.  Anyway, it’s a casual work in progress.  I’m in no hurry.

DSCF2799

Here are the forks, still intact but about to be dismantled.  The oil pan is to catch the fluids.

DSCF2800

Now I’m in mid-dismantle.  Notice my son’s bike; he wants in on the action.  Who’s to argue?

DSCF2801

Fully dismantled now . . .

DSCF2802

. . . and cleaned.  Notice the sliders (short pieces on the outside, standing vertically).  They’re cleaned of gunk inside and out but haven’t yet been polished.  Won’t they look nice when reassembled?

So now the question is, why did I disassemble the forks at all if all I’m gonna do is polish the sliders?  Well, that’s not all.  The forks will be overhauled (cleaned out on the inside, seals and oil replaced).  And I’m also considering an upgrade to progressive springs, a non-negotiable (my friends tell me) if I plan to upgrade the rear suspension.  Which I do.  Stay tuned.

Next step, rear end.  Got to get that swing arm ready for powder coating.

NFL, MLB, and the Pax Romana*

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on February 9, 2014 by timtrue

1 Cor. 2:1-12; Matt. 5:13-20

Michael Lewis is a sports journalist.  Not too long ago he wrote an article appearing in New York Times Magazine, called “The Changing Room,” in which he compares an N. F. L. locker room to an M. L. B. clubhouse.+

“The first time I walked into an N. F. L. locker room,” he writes, “I was shocked at how little effort went into making me feel as if I didn’t belong.”  He goes on to explain that no one in the locker room tries to make you feel unwelcome for being there.  In fact, he argues, if you pick the biggest, most frightening-looking man in the place and go up to him, he’ll probably do his best to help you out.

Joining players after a Major League Baseball game, on quite the other hand, there is a certain “edginess,” making outsiders feel uncomfortable, even unwelcome.  Indeed, the name chosen for their gathering place itself is exclusive: The Clubhouse.  Either you are a member or you don’t belong.

As I read through this article I was thinking about our theme for the year here at St. Luke’s: radical hospitality.  Which setting do I like better, I asked myself; which scenario seems more hospitable to me?  Why, the football scenario, of course!

Of course I’d want to walk into a room as an outsider and feel instantly welcome.  If I were in Michael Lewis’s shoes, as a sports reporter, I wouldn’t want to walk into some exclusive-feeling clubhouse where people are generally unwilling to help me out, where a feeling of intrusion comes across.  No way!  I’d much rather walk into a scene where people smile and are generally happy that I’ve come to visit, happy to share their experiences with me.  Give me the N. F. L. locker room any day over the M. L. B. clubhouse!

But then I continued to read the article.

“There’s a reason for this,” Mr. Lewis writes: “In a football locker room, there is no question who really belongs.”

And he explains that in Major League Baseball the reporters can actually be the physical match of the players, especially when the reporter is young, or when the reporter was a former M. L. B. player himself.  There is something of an insecurity in the M. L. B. clubhouse.

But in an N. F. L. locker room, there’s no question.  “There’s no doubt about who could beat up whom, if it came to that.”  In other words, there is a clearly defined hierarchy.  “This clarity,” Lewis concludes, “has the effect of putting everyone at ease.”

So, with respect to thinking about radical hospitality, I did a double-take.  The football locker room seemed at first glance to me to be the place I’d want to visit.  But now, if Mr. Lewis’s assessment is correct, I’m thinking, um, maybe not so much.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want to be a part of a church where visitors walk in and feel welcome from the moment they pass through the door, where the members are more than helpful to the visitors.  But I don’t want this to be merely surface behavior.

What happens when visitors come back?  What happens when visitors want to become members?  Michael Lewis could never have been anything other than a reporter in that N. F. L. locker room.  And all the N. F. L. players knew it!  He wasn’t a threat to their established order, their established hierarchy.  I should certainly hope that this inhospitable N. F. L. pecking order wouldn’t happen in churches.

Oh, but it does!

How can I say that?  It comes right out of today’s scripture passages.

In Matthew, we find Jesus preaching what we call the Sermon on the Mount.  He has just finished the beatitudes in which he defines who are the citizens of the Kingdom of God—in contrast to the citizens of the kingdom of Rome.  Jesus is preaching to common Jews in Palestine.  They are poor in spirit, mourning, and meek.  For they are very low on the Roman hierarchical pyramid.  Yet they are also pure in heart, merciful, and peacemakers.  They don’t upset the status quo.

To the Romans, then, who are in charge, much as the N. F. L. players are in charge in their own locker room, all is well.  The world is at peace.

The Roman leaders had a name for their peaceful empire, by the way: pax Romana.  There was peace, yes; but only because the persons lower down on the pyramid felt like an N. F. L. linebacker was looking over their shoulders, watching every single move they made.

Over in Corinth, another region under the umbrella of the pax Romana, there was now a Christian church.  But it had established a pecking order within its own body mimicking the Roman hierarchy.  The wealthy were taking all the communion bread and wine and leaving none for the poor.  Certain members were shown preferential treatment in matters of morality—or immorality—for whatever reason.  And Paul knew it.  So he writes the letter we now know as 1 Corinthians to address this very un-Christian approach to life in community.

Here’s what these passages say—and here is the lesson today for us.

First, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. . . .  You are the light of the world. . . .  Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The scribes and Pharisees had established a sort of hierarchy of righteousness.  They mimicked the Roman hierarchy in their own, inhospitable way.  This is not the way of true righteousness.  Relationship with Christ is the way of true righteousness, a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.

Second, Paul says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ.”

The Corinthian church was one body made up of many parts, sure.  But many parts does not mean pyramid.  That type of thinking leads to division, exclusion, class distinction, who can beat up whom, and so on—regardless of how hospitable things might seem to a visitor.

So put these together and here’s our lesson: as we grow in our understanding of radical hospitality, our focus has to be relationship with Christ.  We must make no distinction in our life together between Jew or Greek, male or female, old or young, or whether someone is an N. F. L. linebacker or a reporter.  We are all one in Christ.

Mr. Lewis’s article states that baseball players view the visitor—the reporter—as a threat; whereas football players say the outsider is no threat whatsoever.  (For football players, the reporter has never been baptized into the church of the N. F. L.; nor will he ever be.  Plain and simple!)

Now I’m not here to argue with Mr. Lewis.  Instead I want to point out that neither the N. F. L. locker room nor the M. L. B. clubhouse provides us a good model for hospitality.

St. Luke’s is not a baseball clubhouse, a sanctuary into which we retreat after facing opposition for the week; it is not a place whose peace is disrupted by the slightest disturbance in the equilibrium.

But neither is St. Luke’s a football locker room, a place into which we invite outsiders to view us only as spectators, as if to say we have something awesome; too bad you can’t be a part of it!

Rather, we are in relationship with Christ.  And that relationship means loving others through service.  We are a body characterized by serving God and one another, by putting others’ needs before our own—whether the “others” are members or visitors.

We are all one in Christ.  Let us therefore strive to love Christ through serving one another.  This is radical hospitality.


 

*               I am grateful to Roger Gench for pointing out “The Changing Room” in connection to the passage from 1 Corinthians.

+               Published Feb. 3, 2008.

Marveling at Christ in our Ordinary Lives

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2014 by timtrue

Luke 2:22-40

Today we encounter a bit of a twist in the Epiphany season.  For ordinarily we would call today the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.  And ordinarily the colors you see—on the altar and my stole—would be green.  But today they’re white.  And while today is indeed the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, it is also February 2.

On February 2, according to our church calendar, a feast occurs.  If this feast happens to land on a Sunday—as it does this year—then it is to take precedence over the ordinary Sunday Eucharist.  So, today’s feast is called the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple; or as our music director likes to call it, the feast of Simeon’s Funeral (Simeon’s words make up a very well-known musical setting called the nunc dimittis).

Point is, today we encounter a contrast.  On the one hand, we have been hearing about Jesus’s epiphany to the world.  The Son of God has come.  He has grown into a man; he was baptized; he then fasted in the wilderness for forty days; and now he has begun his ministry to a needy world.

But on the other hand we encounter this feast today, when we celebrate his presentation in the temple.  Here he’s not a man but an infant.  Here he is not yet known to the world around him but a seemingly ordinary child with ordinary parents fulfilling their ordinary obligations.

Today we encounter a noted feast day in contrast to an ordinary Sunday; today we encounter a seemingly ordinary baby in contrast to the revealed Savior of the World.

Let’s explore this contrast further.

Joseph and Mary had experienced some remarkable events in the past year or so, right?  An angel appears to Mary to inform her that she shall bear a child—despite the fact that she’s a virgin; despite the fact that she’s not yet married to Joseph.

At the news of Mary’s pregnancy, we read in Matthew, Joseph has in mind to dismiss her quietly.  But an angel appears to him too, telling him not to dismiss Mary but to marry her and raise the child as his own, and to name him Jesus.  Which he does.

We are very familiar with all of these events from the Christmas story we recite and rehearse again and again every year.  But these remarkable events take place only here and there, on one day or another.

What about the rest of the time?  What about the forty weeks of pregnancy, when the baby grows in the womb and the mother experiences all the joys and trials that go along with it—the weird cravings, the increasing immobility, the morning sickness?  What about the six months when Mary is away at her relative Elizabeth’s house, helping her through her own pregnancy, with her daily routine of household chores?  What about Joseph who no doubt gets up day after day to complete his daily carpenter’s grind, or to sweat out another week fretting over whether ends will meet?

There were a few remarkable days, sure.  But what about all those ordinary days when Joseph and Mary lived their ordinary lives filled with ordinary, even mundane, tasks?

This ordinariness is the context of today’s Gospel passage.  When Joseph and Mary present their baby Jesus at the temple, they are merely fulfilling routine Jewish obligations.  There’s nothing at all remarkable in this.

Yet while doing so—while they are going through their routine Jewish obligations—they encounter something very remarkable indeed in two rather ordinary people named Simeon and Anna.

Oh, yes!  I called Simeon and Anna “rather ordinary.”  Yeah, I know that our choir sings different settings of Simeon’s words every Evensong.  But I’m going from the text.  And what the text says isn’t much.  Simeon is called righteous and devout.  We also hear that the Holy Spirit rested on him.  Anna is called a prophet, so we can infer that the Holy Spirit was with her too.  But aside from this they were simply ordinary worshipers at the temple, much as the people around you are ordinary churchgoers.

Just think about it for a moment.  Think about those here at St. Luke’s you know to be faithful Christians.  You see them here Sunday after Sunday, and you know them to be faithful in prayer, in service, in leadership, in hospitality, in teaching, in whatever.  Has anyone come to mind?  In some sense these persons—whoever they are—are remarkable, certainly.  But more importantly they are ordinary, someone you might shake a hand with or enjoy a meal with or simply say hi to.

That’s how Joseph and Mary saw Simeon and Anna.  And Simeon took the baby Jesus and held him in his arms and praised God—much as a St. Luke’s churchgoer might take your baby into his arms and praise God!  And Anna, an old widow, saw the baby Jesus and said good things about him—much as an elderly widow might rejoice in your baby right here at St. Luke’s!

And you know how Joseph and Mary responded to these rather ordinary events and people?  They were amazed!  Joseph and Mary marveled at Christ in their ordinary lives.

Here’s our lesson; here’s what the contrast that we encounter today teaches us: we need to marvel at Christ in our ordinary lives.

You have marveled at Christ in the past, at your baptism.  You are marveling at Christ now, just as Simeon and Anna once did, in worship.  You will marvel at him in a few minutes in the bread and wine.  And you will marvel at him again next week.

But what about after church today?  What about tomorrow at school or work?  Or what about when you feel anger’s heat rising up in your own soul?  What about when personal tragedy strikes?  Or when grief eats you from the inside out?  Will you marvel at him then?  Is it even possible?

You may know the Christian hymn It Is Well with my Soul: When peace like a river attendeth my way, / When sorrows like sea billows roll; / Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say / It is well, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford wrote these words on a ship while he was crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  The truly remarkable thing is that he wrote them following a tragedy.  Detained by business, he had sent his wife and four daughters to England ahead of him.  On their voyage, another ship struck theirs, which then sank.  All four daughters perished.  Spafford soon followed, to meet his wife and console her in England; and, near as he could figure to where the tragedy had occurred, that’s where he wrote these words.

It is well, it is well with my soul.  Marveling at Christ in difficult times is possible.  But it requires a mindset on your part of surrender, of yielding to God, of trusting that not my will be done but Thine.

Fortunately for us most of life is not remarkable.  We like the good remarkable events, sure.  But how many of us want to live a life of one remarkable tragedy after another?  No.  Fortunately for us our lives are rather ordinary.  And if we learn to marvel at God even in the hard times, it actually becomes rather easy to marvel at Christ in the ordinary times.