Being a Local Guide

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci. Rogate ergo Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam.The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

In my “work” as a Google Guide, answering questions about businesses on Google Maps, I’m asked the same sort of questions over and over about local shops, restaurants, bars, and events. One of my favourite questions is “Is this place easy to spot from a vehicle in normal traffic?” Since I walk a lot, I don’t usually think of that, and in this day of GPS and “catch a Lyft right to the street address” it’s not something that bothers me.  But I do think about it for gMaps.  In fact, on SF streets where the speed limit is 25 mph but most folks do 45 unless you know where you’re going, you’re going to end up somewhere else. It’s not an issue in my current house of worship (see the photo above). I usually tell the Lyft driver, “turn left and you’ll see the front door…” I would make a comment about “most” Catholic churches, but the 70s kinda ruined it. A bishop once said of my former Catholic parish (in Georgia), “Is this a Church or a Pizza Hut?”

I was asked on Sunday why I had become Russian Orthodox (the subtle difference between the OCA and ROCOR is a bit hard to convey) and I told the story of how, even though I lived within walking distance of an Antiochian Parish, they had no sign outside with a service schedule, they had no Yellow Pages ad (this was in the early 00s), they had no voicemail (churches used to put their service schedule on their voicemail), and they had no website. Father Victor, memory eternal, the dean of the OCA cathedral, had not only a website, but one that was often updated by either himself or by his eldest son who is now the dean of the Cathedral. Fr Victor was committed to evangelism as was his assistant, Fr David – and as is the new Dean, Fr Kyrill.  A neighbor of the Antiochian parish tells me they still don’t have service times posted. SInce he had never seen what we call the Orthoburka, he thought maybe they were Muslims.


Since a lot of us are on the road somewhere, having visible churches is important. But walk-in or drive-by traffic is not the best source for new folks. Getting most folks into church still requires an invite.

When I was younger, I would hear our Lord in today’s passage talking about “laborers” and think “ordained ministry”. That’s not a very Catholic idea at all. In fact, there are places the non-ordained can go and things we can do that are too difficult for clergy and, sometimes, even for the non-ordained members of religious orders. Sure: a friar looks cool, but he sure does stand out in a crowd!

A former boss, an Episcopal Priest, once shared this with me: Every member of the People of God (Greek, “Laos” which means “people” gives us the English “Laity” More on that in a minute)… every member of the People of God is called to be an Evangelist, an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. All of us Evangelists are called to the Eucharistic Table for strength, solace, and empowerment by God’s Spirit. Some of us, however, don’t do quite so good as Evangelists, so we give them other duties. We make them waiters around the table. Some don’t do so good, even so. We still have a function for them. We make them each a maître d’ and give them a staff of waiters. 

Now, the Eucharistic community of Evangelists (with our waiters and maître d’s) is often in trouble. So we’ll take a maître d’ every once in a while, maybe one that’s past his prime, and we’ll let him serve in a new function. We’ll dress him up in fancy robes and a big hat, and put him out in front of the community to draw fire, as sort of a decoy. This way, the whole community, of Evangelists, waiters, maître d’s and decoys can do the work of spreading God’s Kingdom, each in their own role and function.

It’s not quite what you might think of the ordained ministry, but it makes a point I’ve heard over and over in the Catholic Church: it’s our job, as the Laity, to do this work. The ordained ministry is there to support us in this work and call ups to deeper holiness (which is the internalized version of this work). We turn the whole structure on its head when we forget that the point of our hierarchy is service: the higher up you go, the more folks you have to serve. The Pope is called “The servant of the servants of God”.  

So when we pray for more laborers, we don’t mean more clergy (although we need more Priests in America, at least). What we mean is more folks in the Laos. I heard an Evangelical – whom I rather like – say that there should be no division between the “laity” and the “clergy” (fair). He then said “Laity” comes from the Greek word for “nobodies”.  In fact, quite the reverse: in the Greek Old Testament which Jesus would have used, “Laos” is used for Am Israel, the people of God, but not for the Gentiles (the Goyim). The People is an “us” term. It’s not a nobody, it’s a member of and worker for the Kingdom.

That’s us, the Evangelizing people of God.

Can someone see your Parish from the road in normal traffic? If not, why are you not standing in the traffic directing folks into your spacious parking lot? You are the best local guide going. But you gotta work it.
_____

Please consider supporting my my writing via my Patreon. 

Math is hard.


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et sponsabo te mihi in sempiternum; et sponsabo te mihi in justitia, et judicio, et in misericordia, et in miserationibus. Et sponsabo te mihi in fide; et scies quia ego Dominus.
And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD. 

Zaphod Beeblebrox, the former president of the galaxy, was once condemned to a form of torture so cruel that no species was known to survive it. The Total Perspective Vortex showed the condemned being their true place in the universe by showing the entire universe and they, themselves in it. As this was the universe created by Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker trilogy, there was a humorous point, of course: but it was driven home. We’re nothing.

Dr Sagan tried to make this same point in a different way, using an image of earth taken from beyond the reaches of our solar system and sent back. It’s more complex than Zaphod’s experience, but the message is much the same…

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Through an odd literary conceit, Beeblebrox was not destroyed in the torture. I think Adams was on to something far more Christian that the self-described Atheist would ever know.

These verses today from Hosea are part of the blessing recited daily by pious Jewish men as they wrap their arm with the Tefillin. Specifically the bit about betrothal is added as the finger on the left hand is wrapped three times, as if it were a wedding ring.

I found this image in the wild,
but memory tells me this is Daniel Sieradski

The Tefillin are a sign of the wedding between God and Israel, the covenant struck at Sinai. This marriage, in turn, is a prefiguring of the restored union between God and all mankind, lost in paradise but restored in the last days.

God has bound us to himself in love by becoming one of us, by entering into this world as it’s creator, living and dying in it as its subject, and rising from the tomb as the conqueror of death and the Lord of all.

Wrestling thus with this passage I began to wonder at two things: the gender bending in that it is only men who wear Tefillin according to tradition, and yet it is men who speak as being betrothed (as bride) to God. And, in what way might this be personalized? Could one speak of himself as personally the Bride, in the Church or in the New Israel? Certainly the Tefillin are done individually, a sign, a connection, a sacramental, if you will, of the covenant itself between God and his people. But can that be seen as “one’s personal relationship”?

As Zaphod is exposed to infinity he discovers that he is, in fact, the center of the universe. It takes a while (in the books) to figure out why, but when I first read that it made perfect sense, at least in a mathematical sense. What is the center of infinity? Some, today, would want to say infinity means we are nothing. This is a sort of tyranny of gigantic numbers. The large wins, the small is lost. But in God’s economy, it is the proud that is lost. The humble wins. And, as Dr Sagan noted, these infinities leave us humble.

In God’s creation, as close to infinity as we can imagine, and God himself, who is an infinity of Love, what is the center of infinity? The math is clear: the center is you. The identifiable center of the infinite ocean of Love flowing from the Eternal, Radiant Is… is you. In a circle whose circumference is infinite, the center is everywhere. Far from being destroyed by the perspective of infinity, we are blessed to realize that it is one, in the first person, who is betrothed to the Eternal One, blessed be he. And it is that love, the source and ground of all being, that makes my own being, all other being possible.

If you were the only person left, God would die for you. In love. Infinity is in your hands and your heart. And you are betrothed in Love.

A few twists and you’re good to go.

JMJ

The Readings for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Libenter igitur gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis, ut inhabitet in me virtus Christi.
Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 

Paul reports having a “thorn in the flesh”, some secret skate key that Satan can crank on to send Paul coasting; a way that Satan knew he could get to Paul. And Paul kept praying that God would take it away. And God said, No.

What was this thorn? The KJV makes it sound kinda like a sickness of some sort. Think like maybe the Ague, or the Dropsy, or Lumbago: some kind of old-timey illness that we might cure nowadays with a shot, but back then was just annoying. The Greek, though, says it’s more like a “pointy thing in my flesh” using the Greek word for the actual body, sarx ,the physical thing itself rather than a complex metaphor. This is something that bothers or hurts his body. The Latin of St Jerome renders this as “stimulus carnis meae” an irritation or even a “stimulus” of my flesh, in my sarx, my physical self. Paul has something rather more like a case of scabies,  physical scabies with spiritual implications.

I have a fear, a deep seated fear that rises from this verse. But also from an obscure, fringey (and admittedly heretical) teaching in Russian Orthodoxy called the Toll Houses.  This is like the idea of Purgatory, but with no way out: after we die, as we journey to the heavenly throne, the demons will be allowed to tempt us with our sins and we must rely on God’s Grace. Yes, I know this sounds rather more like the Hungry Ghosts of the Tibetan Book of the Dead or some other Pagan parasite on Christian truth. But I have a fear that after death I will be just as distracted as I am now by certain temptations of the flesh. And even though these cannot be fulfilled by the dark ghostly powers, they can be spuriously proffered. And what it I give in? And I am so afraid, that even at the last, a tautly flexed curve or a husky growl will doom me. 

Look… here is my weakness. Yes, I have other sins, but here is where God’s grace must be my sufficiency. What was Paul’s? I do not know. But here is stimulus carnis meae. For some it may be power, or wealth, or some other form of pleasure. But for me, just now, this is it.

Sufficit tibi gratia mea. This whispered promise, this trumpeted grace, these softly spoken words of my divine lover are the anchor of my hope against that fear I described. There is my weakest point and even so, there is the grace the strongest.

And I don’t know who you are who are reading this… but we are all taught to fight, to struggle, to reform, to build up, yet I think right here (or right there, where it is for you) that is the place to keep calm and pray. It’s not right to say, “Ah, well, God’s gonna fix it” because what if he doesn’t? What if “fixing” is not the point? What if the whole point is to give God the glory for rescuing even someone as messed up as me? Yes, we are to fight, to struggle, to semper reformada oursleves more and more into conformity with the Cross of Christ. But here, where the base material is least supported, where the foundation stones are the weakest, where the ice is thinnest… God’s glory comes from us saying, “You better got this. Cuz I do NOT got this.”

St Paul says that pro me autem nihil gloriabor nisi in infirmitatibus meis. As for myself, I will glory in nothing but my infirmities.  I will glory in nothing, myself, but these very things that God’s got for me. I can do nothing else… the actual reality that I am standing here (or sitting here) on a Saturday night typing at all and not, right now, chirruping up some bloke in bar is not an act of self control, but rather an act of prayer.

That’s not some holier than thou condescension, as you have no idea at all how easy it is to turn that skate key, to stand me on top of some hill in San Francisco and just give a shove. 

It is for the grace to pray at that point, when the skate key starts turning, that I beg God for each day. The three times to pray for this are morning, noon, and night, for all the ways that key might be turned are subtle, covert, and gentle. One does not need more than a lyft ride and a chatty fellow passenger, or an extrovert rider on the bus. There are so many affectations that need repair, so many coded idioms that need to be overcome. And in the end, the issue is only this: one doesn’t fight alone. This is a tag team match. And I’m not the main partner.

God’s grace is sufficient and, to paraphrase an old movie, the power of Christ indwells me.

This is God’s glory, not my own. We can dance in the fiery furnace not because we’re skilled in fending off hot coals but rather because God makes the flames throw dew. There is nothing sweeter than the breeze on a summer’s evening when it is carrying God’s grace from the furnace heated seven times and even killing those who stoked the fire. But here there is healing, mercy, peace.

A Hymn to God the Father

BY JOHN DONNE

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun, 
         Which was my sin, though it were done before? 
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run, 
         And do run still, though still I do deplore? 
                When thou hast done, thou hast not done, 
                        For I have more. 
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won 
         Others to sin, and made my sin their door? 
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun 
         A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score? 
                When thou hast done, thou hast not done, 
                        For I have more. 
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun 
         My last thread, I shall perish on the shore; 
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son 
         Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore; 
                And, having done that, thou hast done; 
                        I fear no more. 



_____


Please consider supporting my my writing via my Patreon.