Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pause Pressed

After that 50 day marathon of daily blogging, I've (as may be obvious) taken the last week off.

Someone watch me and if it looks like I'm even thinking about doing a 50 day run again, please do what you can to stop me. It was exhausting. (And let's be real---there were some real clunkers in there.)

But what it did was prove to me that I can do it, so there's that.

And this has encouraged me to see if I can set up a regular schedule (as all the "successful blogs" blogs say you should do). So, when I come back, I hope to have a day of the week set so people know when they can expect a new post.

(I'm open to suggestions for what day of the week works for you, gentle readers.)

So, I hope I'm saying goodbye to the haphazard "post when the mood hits me" way I've been treating this blog for the 7 years of it's existence.

Hello to regular Crumbs.

But not daily.

That was just nuts.

Stay tuned. I'll make a decision before too long here . . .

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Easter 50 Breath

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  [Acts 2:1-4]

And so the church begins and this year as I read the passage, I'm struck by how the coming of the Spirit signaled the ability to communicate.

There's a myriad of ways to look at this story, both as a literal text and as a symbolic text. But this time, I'm seeing how the coming of the Holy Spirit on these first Christians brings about a means to easier communication.

In a world where multiple languages were spoken across a relatively small part of the world, that would be an amazing barrier to take down.

In our present world, where I can travel miles and miles and trust that I'll be among people who speak my language, I also see how speaking the same language does not always facilitate our communication and certainly not our unity.

I could easily go into lament about the divisions in the world, in my country. They are disheartening and perhaps there will a be time to look at them.

Here, on the final day of the Easter season, the day we call Pentecost, a festival day to cap a festival season, I am turning to the promise of this story, that the Holy Spirit can come into a crowd of people with many differences and they will understand one another.

May the Breath that spoke the universe into being once again descend on us as flame and bring into existence the new thing, the hope for a way forward. May the Word, in whom there was light and life, be heard through the confusion of many voices.

Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth! Alleluia!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Easter 49 Watch

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit.  [Joel 2:28-32]

I'm having a quiet Saturday. I'm thinking about how, 50 days ago, we were keeping vigil and how, again, we keep watch again. 

I have often said that the first job of an artist is to look, to see. Perhaps, even, to watch. Artists show the world the commonplace by seeing it first and then by reflecting it, refracting it through an artist's lens, we see it all fresh again. Common, everyday, but anew. 

Inspiration. Expiration. Respiration. 

In this way, religion is an art. 

Today, again, we keep vigil. Watch.

We're waiting for the wind to stir. 

Alleluia, come Holy Spirit . . .

Friday, May 13, 2016

Easter 48 Silver

When I got off the bus Thursday evening, I saw a dark cloud to the west and the upper edges of it were glaring white. "The silver lining!" I said softly.

Sometimes, I look at things like this and think about the cliches associated with them and how people in a less wired world experienced them. The intensity of the white/silver line around the cloud must have surely generated more than one myth to explain it.

And, of course, we know it's simply the sun behind some rain clouds.

Which got me to wondering about the sun, mostly how long it's been shining, how much longer it will shine. So off to the Google.

NASA tells me that our best estimate is that the sun is about 4, 500,000,000 years old. Let me spell that out for you. That's four billion, five hundred million years. Also 4.5 billion. These are no exact numbers.

NASA also tells me that our sun has about 5,000,000,000 more years to go. Which is long enough to count as "forever" for our immediate purposes.

I feel the pull into something trite. I'm not interested in easy metaphors.

What I'm circling around with these facts and figures and images is that there's a lot of history and a lot of future and we're only around for a blip of it. In our brief blip of a life, we see death and sorrow and pain but we also bump into life and joy and pleasure.

In my worst moments, I wonder about the purpose of it all, if there is a purpose to it all, and how can my brief blip of a life matter in a cosmos where a sun that has burned for 4.5 billion years and still has, likely, another 5 billion to go?

Then I'm surprised by beauty, by awe, by pleasure.

If this isn't resurrection, it's close enough for today.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Easter 47 Human

"By trying to kill the human spirit . . . the answer of the human spirit is to revenge with beauty." [Osvaldo Golijov, composer]

Not to offend anyone, but one of my pet peeves is to hear someone say, "everything happens for a reason, it's all part of a bigger plan" or anything along those lines. In short, I simply don't believe it. I see that horrific things happen and I don't believe that people---or any part of creation---are crushed for some greater divine plan. Heck, I don't even hold that view of the cross!

What I do believe in, with great force and feeling, is redemption. I do not believe that awful things happen so that something good can come out of it, but I do believe that God is working---and we can work with or against God here---to bring about something good, to redeem the horror in whatever way horrific events might be redeemed.

A few weeks ago, a friend posted, on Facebook, the trailer to the movie, The Music of Strangers. In it, composer Osvaldo Goligov gives us the quote I posted above. "Revenge" would not be the word I'd use, but the sentiment is something I can endorse. The best part of us, which I would contend is the Imago Dei implanted in each of us, will meet violence with beauty, in whatever multi-faceted way we want to define beauty.

The fully human part of us is the fully divine part---these are not in opposition as is popularly believed---and out of this humanity, we are working with God to redeem all the ugliness with beauty.

It's a constant, ongoing process, but then so is the present and coming Reign of God, the completed and future resurrection.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Easter 46 Friends

"I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father." [John 15:15]

In the Reign of God finds us not just worshipers of God, but friends with God Incarnate. The community of saints is made intimate with the promise that Jesus calls us friends.

As an often socially awkward introvert, I don't always find this at the center of my gospel comfort, and yet there are ways that I know I crave it---just not always in the ways that you may picture intimate friends behaving. As I've often joked, we German Lutheran farm boys often have a more subtle warmth to offer.

Nonetheless, in these last days of the Easter celebration, I find myself thinking about friends, near and far, Christian and not, who sustain me in what is most certainly a foretaste of the feast to come. They are the Reign of God among us, come near, on the way to the fulfillment that we already experience.

I often say that on Sunday mornings, I go to see Jesus and some of his friends. Amen and alleluia for the friends Jesus brings together.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Easter 45 Work

Liturgical live, life in the body of the risen Christ, is not a part of the Christian's experience: it defines the shape and illuminates the meaning of his total experience. Since his whole life is a drama of death and resurrection, there is a constant interpenetration between our our everyday experience and the liturgical cycle. [Elizabeth Briere in "The resurrection in liturgical life in the Orthodox church" in If Christ be not risen . . . Essays in resurrection and survival, Collins, 1988]

"Liturgy" comes from a Greek word meaning "work of the people." In the communion liturgy we traditionally use the words, "It is indeed meet, right, and salutary that we should in all time and all places offer thanks you . . . " (I did that from memory---your memory may vary by a word or punctuation mark.)

It is the duty and work of the Christian to offer worship and praise. More than that, it is a way that we enter into the work of Jesus.

I think this is difficult to understand in our century. I think it is difficult for me to understand. (I realize those may be two different things.)

For some churches, we have pop/rock music that gets people feeling like they're hearing Jesus' greatest hits live and they get to sing along. Others have organs and centuries-old hymns. Others still may simply have spoken words. A lot of this is often looked at how we shape these experiences. What we often overlook is that the experience of worship is supposed to shape us, possibly more than the other way around.

There's no doubt that any liturgy is the work of human minds, hearts, and talents. Of course we shape the liturgy. I do wonder if we shape the liturgy so people "get something out of it" rather than so the liturgy gets into the people.

I think that's what Elizabeth Briere is getting at above. And there's all kinds of ways that this opens a can of words. I know, I had that class in seminary.

But when our "work" revolves around the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, we may accidentally find that Jesus begins to shape us. Whether we're led into a frenzy by electric guitars or centered in silence, the resurrection life is what shapes us, in whatever cultural trappings that resurrection story may have.

At least, that is the ideal. And I'm ready to opine that if the "work" we do on Sundays doesn't shape us to go out and treat one another with love, compassion, peace, and justice . . . perhaps we're doing the wrong work on Sunday.

Resurrection life happens in unexpected ways, there's no one way for God to bring it to us. Entering into the liturgical life of the church, however, seems to be one way we might be shaped for the Reign of God.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Easter 44 Fruition

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. [John 15:11]

In John's story of Jesus, we have this moment in his long address to the disciples just before he goes out to the garden to meet Judas and his betrayal.

John paints a picture of Jesus as someone in complete control, as someone who is doing what he came to do and if he's not exactly making it happen himself, he's certainly walking into it. John's Jesus knows the cross is his fate. This is why I tend to gravitate to Mark's story of Jesus, who seems more swept up by events not of his making, but I digress.

But within the context of John's omnipotent Jesus, we find Jesus talking of joy even as he prepares for the cross.

That there's some crazy talk.

And also it tells us that what Jesus brings to us isn't smooth sailing on clear sunny days, but a joy that is made complete, anyway.

I'm going to say I don't have a solid idea of what that means. I think I've had a taste now and then, but I've yet to say it's "complete."

Here, in this last week of Easter, I repeat what I confessed at the beginning of this discipline of celebration: Joy does not come easily to me.

I trust that it will come to fruition in Christ. As we say in the liturgy, we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. For me, it is enough. The promise that this joy will be complete is enough.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Easter 43 Forever

On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven 
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end. [The Nicene Creed]

Christian teaching tells us that the Reign of God, which has already started among us but is still to come, is forever and as Prince told us, "that's a mighty long time." 

It's hard to comprehend and our temporal understanding. As I am solidly in middle age and maybe even slipping into old age (I'm pretty much guaranteed not to doubt my current age, so what's "middle" about it?), I know nothing lasts forever. I know people die, relationships end, material possessions get lost or destroyed or even thrown away. 

Still, there is reason to believe it. Some athletes talk about "flow," when they are running, skiing, or swimming and time bends. It stands still and at the same time opens up to something moving in all directions. I've experienced it when performing or writing. In Greek terms, the word is "kairos," the right time, the perfect time, the fulfilled time. 

That's a little bit how I understand (as best as I can understand) forever. 

We look forward to it even as forever is now, reaching in all directions.

Christ is always rising, always coming again, always reigning in kairos, even as every last old thing is passing away. Alleluia. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Easter 42 Shalom

This week, I've been thinking about silence and sounds our relationship to resurrection, but what I've really been poking around is peace.

What we really need to get at is shalom.

We see in the New Testament many greetings of peace. Being that most of these people greeting one another this way were Jewish, I think it's safe to say they were greeting each other with shalom. This greeting found its way into Christian liturgy as the "kiss of peace" which in my American context is slightly watered down to a handshake and a sometimes awkward "peace be with you." (Or else and explosion of hugs and greetings that are not what the liturgical moment is all about, but I digress.)

It's how Jesus says goodbye to his disciples in John's account of the Last Supper. It's also how Jesus greets his followers when he appears to them after his resurrection.

Shalom, like many words we have to translate, has broader implications than just feeling peaceful. It's a blessing of general well-being, comfort. It is a blessing of harmony, comfort, wholeness, harmony.

And probably more. When we say "peace be with you," it's a blessing saying, "I hope all good things for you."

And so, as we move into the last week of this "discipline of celebration," I say to you:

May the shalom of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Shalom! Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Easter 41 Hum

A little fun thing I've done with performance groups is a vocal experiment. I've never actually ever used this in a performance, but I've always thought it could be really interesting.

It needs to be about 5 people, more is better. I ask us to stand in a small circle and hear a note in their head, but  not vocalize it yet. I instruct everyone to hold onto that note, no matter what they hear from a neighbor. When I give the signal, everyone is to vocalize on their note, not matter how much it clashes with their neighbor. I then signal for them to change notes and volume, conducting a sort of post-modern improvisational choral piece. With enough voices, even the ones that are discordant can simply add a color to the chord that, ultimately, isn't that unpleasant. As the voices move around and crescendo and decrescendo, it can be otherworldly.

Surely I've used this image somewhere in this blog before, but I'm going to use it here.

When Paul speaks of the "spiritual body" of our post-resurrection selves, I imagine those bodies to be something like sound. Sound is a curious thing, not solid in any way and yet able to affect solid things. We've all heard a car rattle from the bass turned up on someone's car stereo. We've all seen the films of a high note hitting a frequency that can shatter crystal. Sound can pass through walls.

Sound is what I think of when I read of the resurrected Jesus appearing within locked rooms or disappearing from sight after being recognized on the way to Emmaus. Solid insofar as he affects solids, but also hard to hold onto.

So I imagine that the full Reign of God (which is here and coming) is something like a bunch of voices, each finding a note and being committed to it so that together they make an otherworldly sound, a chord of unimaginable complexity and beauty, full of tension and release.

I imagine that in the resurrection, together we will hum a great, unimaginable Alleluia.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Easter 40 Ascension

I'm going to be up front about this: Ascension Day has always been one of those festival days that never quite made sense to me. Of course, I knew the story---for forty days, the resurrected Jesus made appearances to the disciples and then on the fortieth, he ascended to the clouds, taken from their sight. (Acts chapter one has one succinct telling.) But for me, the ascension is more difficult to grasp than the resurrection.

What do I make of this?

So I googled. Specifically, I googled "Orthodox view of Ascension Day." I turned to the Orthodox on this matter because their view tends to be liturgical as much as literal or symbolic. I've noticed that they talk about festivals in terms of what hymns are assigned for the day. I can get on board with that.

This page, I thought, was a very good, succinct explanation of their Ascension Day understanding.

There is, of course, the number 40, which tends to connote a a time of fulfillment. It's a recurring number in the Bible. The ascension fulfills the Risen Christ's purpose in one sort of way.

But there's something in their understanding of the physical Jesus ascending that acts as a sort of final bridge between our physical lives and heavenly existence. We will be assumed in our "spiritual bodies" (as Paul talks about the resurrected body) into the physics-defying reality that Jesus might call the Reign of God. We are asked to remember that the Jesus who ascends is also always with us. It becomes the final act of the Incarnation while giving us a preview of who we will eventually become. Because Jesus has gone ahead to "prepare a place for us," we can be assured that our resurrection body will be like his.

And from that moment on,  no one experienced the Risen Christ as a fish-grilling, locked-room-appearing, "put your finger here, Thomas," sort of body. The Jesus that appears after this, as on the Damascus road to Saul/Paul, appears as blinding light.

I suppose that's the thing about Ascension Day. The Jesus who rose from the dead, ascends (which is problematic for those of us who dislike think of "heaven above" sort of hierarchy, but it's the language we have) in this physics-defying body, in some way still has a body "at the right hand of the Father" and still interacts with humanity.

And that last bit is something I do believe, the thing that makes me appear a bit crazy to atheist friends. I've never had the vision of light thing, but Paul is not the last to report such things. I knew a woman in seminary who reported something very similar to Paul's story. She wasn't a Christian, wanted nothing to do with Christianity, and was blinded by a light that told her its name was Jesus and for her to follow. She'd never read the New Testament before that and was surprised by Paul's story when she learned it. And so I'm left to believe that Jesus doesn't often put on a light show for people like me, who have grown up praying to him, but to people whose attention he needs to get.

Or something. That last paragraph wasn't really planned.

Anyway. What to make of Ascension Day? Being the one who is always going on about incarnational theology, I will think of the transformed and fully transfigured bodies that will, at the end of the age defy physics. I will try to find hymns to have in my earbuds at work that are appropriate for the day. I may even set aside my generally "low christology" Jesus and allow my mind to wander to the triumphant Christ in glory.

What I will not lose sight of, I hope, is that Jesus' ascension, however I want to think about it---literally, symbolically, mythologically, liturgically---is another sign of:

1. Incarnation---the importance of our flesh, inseparable in our identity from our spirit
2. The Reign of God here, now, among us, not in some far off heaven, if we'll only turn to see it.
3. Christ is with us always, whether we put our finger in a wound or are blinded by light or something in between.

Alleluia. Christ is Risen and rises still.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Easter 39 Still

Be still and know . . .

The temptation in speaking is to think we might wield power with our words (said the blogger).

The temptation in rushing to answers is to think we might clear things up if only we explained it the right way.

The temptation in saying a good word is to think we know what good is.

We might have a clue. We might know some things. We might sometimes be helpful by speaking up.

But even our proclamation of resurrection and new creation will be but useless if they are only adding to the noise.

It is very helpful (to understate) to practice stillness, to learn and to know that we are not God.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Easter 38 Silence

Let me get out of the way that "silence" is one of those sharp words that has several connotations to it. I recall a friend tell the story of confronting a family elder who was crying "peace peace!" around some ugly family history that needed to be confronted. My friend replied, "You don't want peace, you want silence." In her case, the silence was doing real damage to some people in the family and there would be no peace until the silence was broken and the ugliness worked through.

So there's that. The silence that equals death (to use the Act Up slogan).

But there is another kind of silence, an intentional one, one that I've really only experienced once or twice.

The instance that stands out for me is at a retreat at a convent. The rule of the convent was that everyone kept silence until mid-morning (I don't recall the exact time, but it was before noon and after breakfast). We were also expected to help make and clean up breakfast. It was a spiritually profound moment.

As John Cage told us over and over, there is no such thing as true silence. Without talking, the sounds of clean-up, with it's clanking of pans and rattling of plates and cutlery, had its own communication. We gestured for what we needed, smiled, nodded in thanks. I remember thinking how much easier it was to love all the people in the room when we were working together in silence. And of course, that made me smile (silently) but it was also true.

I think we talk too much. We spend too much time with chatter. I learned at that convent how much silence could soften a heart. At least for me.

Cooperation on a simple, understood task was one of the best prayers I ever lived in.

It's not something I experience very often. Really, everyone in a room has to agree to a rule like that and that's really hard in our world. But like other spiritually profound moments in my life, having experienced it, I know it is possible. There is a silence that equals death, yes, but there is also a silence that allows for the Spirit to move among us without the barrier of words. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Easter 37 Listen

As writers, readers, human beings, we cannot speak to or understand  each other unless we are first prepared to listen. Of all the gifts which the Holy Spirit is able to bestow, the one for which we should first and most earnestly pray is humility of ear. [W.H. Auden, sermon delivered for College Evensong, Christ Church, Oxford, October 24th, 1965]

A certain, true thing is that if you're talking, you cannot listen. There is a time to speak, of course, but there is also a time to listen. This is a hard lesson to learn, and I think it goes beyond using our voice, but also refers to quieting the mind.

I just ran across the above sermon by Auden. "Humility of ear" is my new favorite phrase. As we are in the homestretch towards Pentecost, this gift seems appropriate as we listen for the Wind/Breath/Spirit.

Resurrection may come as a whisper.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Easter 36 Quiet

This morning, I woke up before the alarm went off, a rare occurrence. I'm more likely to sleep through an alarm than wake up before one goes off.

The positive side of waking up this way is that there was time for quiet. Lying on my left side, left arm tucked under my head, is the position my cat best likes to find me in. He came and plopped into my arm pet and pressed himself against me, as he does, and I rubbed his belly with my ear against him to hear his purrs.

This day we enter into the 6th week of Easter. By this time, we've more or less all forgotten about the trumpets and lilies of the first day of Easter. All the chocolate eggs are probably long gone and even the half-priced marshmallow bunnies are gone from the CVS shelf.

It's not just me. Collectively, we have a hard time celebrating for 50 days, too.

So I had already pretty well decided that this week would be a week of quieter reflections, but my cat gave me an excellent start to it.

It's not all about the shouts of alleluias and trumpets and bells. Resurrection happens quietly, too.