AD 2016: The Election Year of Mercy

From the Facebook Feed of

Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 16:1-8

The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness.
Luke 16:8a

Do you find this passage confusing? It’s one that usually stumps me when it comes up in the lectionary. Here’s my go for this year: If this is a parable of the Kingdom, then the Rich Man is like God and the Steward is like a priest who has many sins of his own as he hears the confessions of the people. Mindful of his own sins, and of how it is that God is being merciful to him, he is also merciful to those who come to him; giving them light penances, and generous pardon.

Such mercy is also our own business. We name this and claim this in the Lord’s Prayer, right? Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Yes, the man in the parable is forgiving debts owed to his lord rather than to himself, but all sin is against God, is it not? “Against you, you alone have I sinned” says the Prophet David in Psalm 50. Even when we sin “at” another person, it is the icon of God, the presence of God himself that receives the offence. It is God against whom we always sin. This is a realistic view: the Church teaches we are all sinners. It also teaches that I can not judge the sins of my neighbor. Rather I must acknowledge that my sins are the cause of my destruction – and be merciful to my neighbor.

The Fathers say that he who covers another’s sin will find his own sins covered. He who uncovers another’s sins will find his own sins shouted from the housetops. That’s an interesting proposition in this election cycle, no? I have Facebooked in Anger about the sins of at least one candidate. I can imagine my readers coming up with all sorts of theological justifications for why we should broadcast the sins of XX or XY to the internet – as if the talk show hosts are not already doing that for us. But the reality is that all the candidates (especially the one you don’t like the most) are merely sinners like me. Dare I say, like you.

It also seems as though there are enough haters in this world without Christians adding to the pile. We – and they – fit into St Paul’s description of “many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

I’m not good at this, mind you: I think one is just dragging us down to despotism yelling and screaming and the other is smiling whilst doing the same. Neither of them will do anything to stop the killing at home, abroad, or in utero. And, being sinners, both are part of the hedonistic and usurious culture of immodesty, sex, and greed that gives rise to that killing at home, abroad, and in utero. Truly, “their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” In other words they are garden variety sinners of today, modern in every way and needing salvation. And in a system built on lies, calumny, gossip, and rancor, it behooves a Christian to remember that we are only forgiven as we forgive. That is the bargain we make with the God who loves everyone – especially the candidate you like the least – with a love so great that it cost him his life.

Certainly: to point at real sin and name it sin is not to commit a sin. But: preach, brothers and sisters, don’t make it a political point. We are all sinners. Most of the things we allow in our society will damn people to hell. It is real love to say so and call people out of that, although it will gain us no popularity, nor political strength. It is in fact, a sin of our own if we fail to do so. But it is not charity – it is sinful, in fact – to make political hay and call it theology.

Getting Gold for Dung

Philippians 3:3-8a
Luke 15:1-10

Rejoice with me, because I have found my…
Luke 15:6 or 9

Jesus tells us two parables saying, Look, some things are very important to God and he shows us in two ways: the lost coin and the lost sheep. The coin we understand, I think: If I only have 100 pennies and one is missing then I need to find the other. It’s gone: I can’t go buy a cup of coffee being one penny short. I won’t be able to exchange it for a paper $1 bill, because who would give me a dollar for ninety-nine pennies? Tearing up the house means no more bother than having to put it together again. The sheep, though, seem different: because leaving the ninety-nine alone, unguarded “in the desert” means that they could wander off as well, no? And, after all, properly tended the sheep will make more – that’s what animals do. Just wait, next year there will be more. Pennies don’t breed. So, searching for a penny seems safe, as it were whilst the sheep business is markedly risky.

Jesus is hanging out with sinners again and eating with them. As in an episode of Southpark, the crowd stands around and “Rabbles” although in the Bible everyone “murmurs”. Murmur! Murmur! Murmur! Murmur!

He is accused of “receiving” sinners. The Greek verb used (προσδέχομαι) implies reciprocity: it’s a mutual hugfest, really. They are taking him in and he is welcoming them. It’s a synergistic dance.Yet remember: God is always the leader in the dance. They are drawn to him, they are welcomed when they get there.

So it is with us, here and now, of course. Some sinners in the world are like the Lost Coin: they’re just around the corner, maybe still in the Church, just not quite connected. It’s like they’re on the inside. There’s a cleaning under the bed and a finding of the little sparkles among all the dust bunnies. The Lapsed come home at Christmas, you know.

Some, however, are more like the lost lamb: we’ve gone so very far away that God has to go to extraordinary lengths to bring them home. But so far he will go. And happily. He may have to wander far in the wilderness; there are pits and peaks, valleys and rivers to navigate. The sheep are there, but it’s harder to find them all, surrounded by their natural beauty and the glories of the world. These sheep left the church a long time ago, or were never inside at all. Some of these went astray from the very beginning: they were never even part of the House of the Israel of God. They are surrounded and engulfed by the false beauties and deluded by the illicit half-lights of the world. Yet God only made one humanity: he never intended a division, only an icon. As the Fathers say: there is only one Human Nature. Many persons share in the human nature – including, by virtue of the Incarnation, God the Son – but the nature itself, is one. And that is how far God has gone to get us: into this messy world and beyond, into Hell itself.

In Philippians Paul says, having listed his right to claim authority among his own people (elsewhere adding to this list that he was a student of St Gamaliel), he says, “All the things I have gained I count as loss for Christ.” Meaning they were wasted time, if I had known Jesus 30 years ago. And he goes further and says in fact, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as dung that I may gain Christ.” Paul made his own finding rather more like the sheep than the coin for he had even engaged in persecuting the Church. Fallen into a pit, God had to appear to him and say, “look, here’s the way out…” That’s how far God will go. And further.

Will you come home? Will you count the wilderness or the dusty floor to be lost energy and wasted time? Will you count it all to be dung so that you can come home, finally?

Dies Irae

Wisdom 3:1-9
Romans 5:5-11
John 6:37-40

God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath received them, and in time there shall be respect had to them.
Wisdom 3:5b-6

All Souls Day: the day we set aside for these prayers in the Western Rite, although, actually, pretty much the entire month of November is set aside for these prayers – masses for the dead are said nearly every day. Individual order (eg, the Benedictines, the Cistercians, etc) will have days celebrating “All Saints of our Order” followed by days of prayer for “All Our Departed Brethren”. In parishes, the departed will be remembered by name. Some will go to a cemetery for prayers at gravesites. In the Eastern Rites, there are four such days throughout the year, called “Soul Saturdays” – they were, in part, brought into the Church from pre-Christian Slavic tradition. They serve the same purpose.

The only real difference between liturgical East and West on this teaching is that the West (at least in the Anti-western mind of the East) seems to posit a specific place. Dante draws this more evidently – a third placement of souls between Hell and Heaven. But the Roman Church teaches Purgatory is a “state of being“. In that I think East and West agree: it’s a thing in us. A state of being. The East teaches, really, there’s only one place to go after death: into the presence of God. But for some of us that will be joy, peace, bliss, and all light and love. For some, that very concept of all that light and communion will be hellish. But we will work it out, as a long-ago friend of mine said, “roasting in the unending fires of God’s love for us.” That’s it. Right there.

God hath tried them… As gold in the furnace he hath proved them Humans do not like to imagine a love so pure that it purifies them; or, more correctly, we do not like to imagine we’re not pure enough for that love. There are parts of me that must go. Maybe there are parts that I wrongly imagine are a central part of my “identity as me” that will burn away. Right now, where I am, these parts of me feel as if they “really are me”. But if they are misconceptions, if they are constructs based on false or even sinful understandings of what God wanted a human being to be, then “roasting in the unending fires of God’s love for us” will fix it.

When we hear that God is calling us to be our true selves what we vainly imagine is “my true self is this dude right here right now.” We imagine our choicest sins are, in fact, ourselves. “I AM WHAT I AM: PROUD TO BE A (fill in the blank),” as if we could really be anything other than the image and likeness of God’s purity, God’s love, God’s charity. Anything less is missing the mark, anything less is sin. When God tries us, proves in the furnace, he removes all the dross: the egotism, the prideful actions, selfish ideas of sex, failed conceptions of love; it all goes away and frees our self, finally, to be.

In the 16th Century, the English Christians produced an act of devotion called “The Jesus Psalter“. It, together with the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin, sustained the Church through the persecution following the English Schism. It’s a collection of devotions centered around the recitation of the name of Jesus. By the end of the recitation one will have said the Holy Name more than 450 times together with an increasingly abstract set of prayers. It’s starts out with “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: Have mercy on me.” The tenth petition, is “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: send me here my purgatory.”

Jesus, send me here my purgatory, and so prevent the torments of that cleansing fire, which, after this life, awaits unpurged souls. 

Vouchsafe to grant me those merciful crosses and afflictions, which Thou seest are necessary to break off my affections from all things here below. 

Since none can see Thee that loves any thing but for Thy sake, permit not my heart to find here any rest but a seeking after Thee. 

Too bitter, alas! will be the anguish of a separated soul that desires, but cannot come to Thee, clogged with the heavy chains of sin. 

Here then, O my Savior, keep me continually mortified in this world; that purged thoroughly by the fire of love, I may immediately pass into the everlasting possessions.

That is purgatory – both here and hereafter – in both the East and the West: those merciful crosses and afflictions, which Thou seest are necessary to break off my affections from all things here below. It is the place where we, mere mortals, can find our perfection. That is only in the light of God’s love for us.

Today we pray for the souls in purgatory and our prayers avail much. We are all part of the same church: the Saints, the LIving and the souls in Purgatory. We all pray for each other. This is the meaning of the Three Days of the All Hallows Triduum. Christ the King rules over us all: on Earth, in Heaven, and in Purgatory. To not pray this day – and every day, in fact – for the souls of the departed is to cut off the larger part of our Church not-yet in heaven. To limit our prayers to a few lucky stiffs who happen to be walking on the surface of this orb is to have a really tiny, tiny Church.

12b or Not 12b?

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
I John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12a

For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.
Matthew 5:12b

The Eastern Rite (both Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic) sings this Gospel passage – the Beatitudes – every week at Liturgy (at least in the Slavic traditions). That singing does not include the second part of verse 12. That part of the verse does not show up in any of the assigned readings in the traditional Byzantine lectionary. Likewise, neither the Gospel assigned for this feast of All Saints Day in the older, Extraordinary Form (the Latin Mass) nor the Gospel assigned for today in the Novus Ordo Mass include verse 12b. It would seem it’s never assigned to be read (although someone reading from a Bible, rather than a pre-printed text, might accidentally read to the end of the verse). I can’t find it in any of the traditional lectionaries, so I’m going to talk about it.

Please chew on it first: they persecuted the prophets that were before you. The “they” in that verse is other Jews. Israel enjoyed having prophets around – because, Hey, look! We have real prophets and you don’t! – but they never really liked listening to them. They killed them or drove them into exile. Even when they were around to rescue Israel from some bad folks, the Prophets got themselves killed when they started explaining why the bad folks were there in the first place.

The why was sin, mostly. All of Israel was involved in sin so God let bad stuff happen to them. The prophets said so, the response was “How dare he say that? Kill him!” Jesus basically says, “When things get really sucky, you know you’re doing something right because they did this to other folks whom I also called to speak up in my name.”

I have no doubt that nonbelievers do and will continue to persecute believers, but “so persecuted they” with  “they” meaning other Jews seems to read to me like a prophecy that some, at least, of the coming persecutions will come from people who wear the name of “Christian” at least in the eyes of the world.

There are Church people out there who think that “Christian” means doing what a “good” gov’t says. (That is defined as “agrees with me”.) Christians in England met a lot of persecution from politically-active Church people. The Queen, herself, was a nice Church Girl, of course, but she killed faithful Christians at the drop of a feather, making holy and pious martyrs out of some of the best minds in her country. She even killed one of my ancestors. An icon of the 40 Martyrs of England, slain by that nice Church Girl, is at the head of this post. (There is an excellent fictionalized account of this period written by another convert to Catholic Church, Robert Hugh Benson, called Come Rack, Come Rope.)

There are people out there who think Christianity is about being nice and giving social services, not about getting saved and certainly not about contravening prevailing misunderstandings of humanity or sexuality. These are not Christians, properly understood, but they are Church people. They are quite happy to ditch the rest of us if they can have their pretty music and their nice buildings. One Anti-Christian Church Girl spent a lot of her denomination’s money filing lawsuits against Christians. It came as quite a shock to Christians how willing she was to punish them. They never read 12b, I think.

Countries behind the Iron Curtain gave us millions of martyrs in the last century (Orate Pro Nobis!) but they, as it were, saw it coming.  We’re blind to the fact that we’re surrounded by people who want to use the “How to Boil a Toad” method of killing the Church. Some of them are just being anti-Christian, but a good few are sitting in the church down the road preaching a different gospel. They just imagine they have it right, finally, after 2000 years of error. The rest of us need “reeducation”. They don’t know that trying to kill the Church is how you make it grow, but that doesn’t do us much good in the short term. Boiling is still boiling. We’re not in a place to fight back: turning the other cheek and all that. We may be called to be the blood of martyrs watering the seed of the Church. But if we’ve never read 12b it’s a surprise. I afraid we’ll all chicken out. Some folks seem to think one candidate for president will be worse, in this regard, than the other. But I think not, I think both could be rather nightmarish to their “not-supporters”. Both, it is to be noted, are Nice Church People.

On All Saints Day, it helps to remember how we got the feast: the Church realized there were so many martyrs that she couldn’t celebrate them all properly. To be honest, your host thinks the Martyrs of England, slain by a nice Church Girl, may be our proper model be the reader Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or elsewise. I think they may even be pertinent for some Muslims, Jews and other religious folks. I say this regardless of who gets elected: because regardless of who gets elected, the Gov’t wins. The Gov’t over the last 50 years has been taking power to itself not granted by the Constitution and using that power against decent, God-fearing people. It has done this regardless of who gets elected, regardless of their state policy. When it all crystallizes, it won’t be pretty regardless of who is in power.

We may (or may not) be about to enter a new growth spurt, if you will. Do everything else in the Gospel, but read 12b. Make wise choices and don’t be surprised.

Holy Martyrs of England and Wales, pray to God for us!

Source for the painting at the top and this key:

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Philippians 2:1-4
Luke 14:12-14

When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends nor thy brethren nor thy kinsmen nor thy neighbours who are rich; lest perhaps they also invite thee again, and a recompense be made to thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind. 
Luke 14:12b-13

Many Orthodox Churches have lunch after the main liturgy on Sunday, this is a great boon since those who take communion have been fasting since midnight. At Holy Trinity in San Francisco it’s a huge meal, cooked by volunteers. At St Raphael’s in Asheville, it was a potluck every week of good, down-home cooking. It was most often the largest meal of the week for me – very helpful when I was earning minimum wage. Father Joseph told us one day that, in fact, it was not simply for breaking the communion fast: rather the meal after the liturgy, called Trapeza by some (really, that’s the name of the dining room in a monastery), is intended to be more communion: a sacred breaking of bread as a community. The Sacrament is not for everyone, but the Table Fellowship is. It’s the Agape Meal of the New Testament, itself a continuation (and evolution) of a Jewish tradition called a Chavurah, which may or may not be related to the hellenic practice of the Symposium (as described by Plato). I say “may or may not” because it could be a direct connection, or it could be just a thing common to Mediterranean culture. To this sacred meal the Early Christians added the rite of communion, but by the middle of the first century it was already being broken away from the meal function.

Most other traditions of Christianity have dropped this meal entirely which is sad: it was, really, a sacramental practice for the community. The meal itself is not “the Body of Christ” but it is the Body of Christ gathered around the table. It was a time of actual communion with the Body for those who could not share in the sacramental Communion at the Altar. As we used to say at St Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, “The feasting continues…” Other traditions, (almost everyone) have the “Coffee Hour” which can be more or less food, more or less formal. At St Mary the Virgin Church in Manhattan, back in the 1980s, at least, it involved a full tea service with Church Ladies pouring into china cups and a gentleman named Charles, IIRC, selling glasses of sherry. I do miss sherry after Mass…

Other traditions have huge potlucks often: once a month or once a quarter. However I find the further away from “sacramental” you get the further away you get from sharing food in community. That’s not always the case, although I think some communities are really rather sacramentally-minded without realizing it.

So, following Jesus command to not hold feasts for ourselves: let’s fantasize about what would happen the next time your religious community holds some kind of official food function… and you bring all the homeless people you passed on the way. As well as those you passed on the way that didn’t want to come to church, as such, but showed up about an hour later waiting for the meal part. Maybe you handed out little cards with the address and time – and a reminder it happens every month or every Sunday at the same time.

How blessed would everyone be?

(I find people are happy to feed the homeless as long as they’re out of site. What about announcing your scheduled meal on the reader board outside? That’s just really scary.)

Yaya knows… she knows…

Wisdom 11:22-12:2
II Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

And therefore thou chastisest them that err, by little and little: and admonishest them, and speakest to them, concerning the things wherein they offend: that leaving their wickedness, they may believe in thee, O Lord.
Wisdom 12:1-2

Yayas see everything. Everything. One of the things I was taught in Orthodoxy was “if you miss a liturgy for a month, you have excommunicated yourself and must go to Confession.” It makes logical sense. Once, I missed liturgy for three years. Then, feeling homesick, I was standing, one Sunday in the line to kiss the cross at the local greek Parish. The nice woman in front of me said “it’s nice to see you back, why do you not take communion?” YaYas see everything, you understand.  And I told her I was sort of a “Lapsed Orthodox” just here for praying and she laughed.  As I kissed the Cross and Father Chris’ hand YaYa said, “He says he’s an exorthodox, Father. Tell him there’s no such thing.”  Father Chris called me later that week and said, “I expect to see you at the Chalice on Sunday.” And I said, “What time is Confession?”  He said, “In time, when you’re ready. Come to the Chalice.”

Among some Orthodox there is a tendency to stay away from Communion because “I’m not good enough”. There is, of course, little within the Church’s teaching to back that up: when is anyone ever “good enough”? In fact, the whole point of Communion is to give us bread for the journey, strength for the road. That’s why it’s called Viaticum: “via” goes “cum” with, or “on the road with”. Father Chris knew what the Church knows: healing comes from communion. It doesn’t precede it. To have Christ on the road with you is a requirement, not a reward.

Our scripture readings make that clear. In the book of Wisdom, we see God holding off judgement and whispering advice in love to move away from sin. In Thessalonians, Paul knows he’s got a church filled with sinners: he’s praying for them to grow into the fullness of their vocation. (Wherefore also we pray always for you: That our God would make you worthy of his vocation and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness. II Thessalonians 1:11) That means they are not there yet. Paul is loving them forward into God’s grace.

But most bigly (double plus bigly? we’re going to need training in this new English) dig God’s grace in the Gospel: Jesus coming to the household of Zaccheus before he converts, before he claims faith, before he repents – he just wanted to look a minute. And Jesus yells up, Zacheus, make haste and come down: for this day I must abide in thy house. (Luke 19:5) Jesus brings him into Table Fellowship and because of that there are miracles. Some of my Orthodox friends would point out here that Jesus responded to Zaccheus desire to seem him by self-revelation yet notice: Jesus was surely on the way there already. Z only heard he was coming and so then climbed a tree. Jesus is always ready to respond because he’s always there, like Yayas. We have a synergy here, in our salvation, but God is always the leader in our dance. All creation responds to God’s prevenient Grace.

Some of my more-progressive, Protestant friends make of such texts arguments for Open Communion (for everyone, even the non-baptised). I’m not willing to toss out 2000 years of Christian tradition as if we finally figured it out now. That’s simply Chronological Arrogance. Yet the point of our fellowship, of our embracing the stranger is to use that embrace to draw the stranger into sojourning with us, and from thence to full, Fellow-Citizen in the Kingdom. We can’t do that if we want to wait until “them” is pure enough to become, at least, half-way like us. We need to go out and get ’em while they’re not and draw them in by prayer, by love, and by hospitality, like Jesus or your Yaya.

Propped Up and Breathing

…to live is Christ: and to die is gain…
 Philippians 1:21b
A few years ago I had a sleep-study done.  I can snore enough to wake the dead, see. And it was bothering my housemates and, in fact, it was bothering the people upstairs. So… I had a sleep study. Bill Cosby has an excellent description of his father’s snoring. He says the whole house breathes in and out with his dad and every once in a while, there will be a pause… and the whole family is like gasping for breath.  Then Dad takes a breath and AHHHHH the whole family breathes again. So I kind of imagined that would be what it was like for me. Every once in awhile.  But no: evidently I was stopping my breath and nearly dying 80 times every hour. So I got a CPAP breathing machine to wear at night. 
A friend of mine telling me about his CPAP reported how it had changed his life and he wished he could take it to the office just to keep the extra oxygen flowing to his brain. Since I’m pedantic, I had to clear it up: that’s not how a CPAP works. The machine just keeps you inflated, as it were. You have to keep breathing yourself! A CPAP is not a breathing machine, it’s more like a prop to keep your lungs open. You still have to keep alive. To get more oxygen at work, Bro, just breathe more. You’re awake… breathe.
This verse (along with Galatians 2:19-20) is the Mystery of the Faith as far as I can tell. St Paul wants to go be with Christ full time – but knows that his people, the Church, can’t do very well with his departure just yet. So he notes: to stay here (to live) is Christ and to leave (die) is to get my “final reward”.  Get that: to live, to be here, to keep doing the thing you’re doing, is Christ. In other words: to keep going is to bear my Cross.  To be fully alive (to be fully living in and through Christ) is an ongoing process of self-death and being Christ.
The Scriptures speak of all creatures having the breath in them, yet God has Life, the real Life – not just breathing. So, it’s totally possible to breathe your way through the world and die. Humans are designed to live the life of God. We are crafted in his image, we are made with a God-shaped gaps in our being and yet we want to (or I will, anyway)  do anything to avoid plugging into the real Power Source. We will make anything into a CPAP to help us not-stop breathing. It can be work, or money, or politics, or sex, or drugs, music, jogging, flying airplanes, whatever. Roller coasters and scary movies are good examples, too. We use it to “feel alive”. We have to catch our breath and we have to feel the adrenaline rush or the endorphins. We can even make it into an addiction. Sex and “adult entertainment” can be made to get more and more twisted as we get more and more bored with the old stuff. So we need a stronger hit next time. But man, I feel alive. O mighty CPAP, just keeping us propped and feeling something.  
We never notice that we’ve stopped working, just sort of hovering at the edge of things, feeling the breath come and go. But hey, I’m only dying 80 times an hour.
God is life. If we stop pretending all that stuff is living… and just plug in, grok, God’s right there.  Letting all that stuff go will not just “feel like dying”. No: it is dying. It’s dropping the puedo-life of this world completely in exchange for the real thing. 

You Ain’t from Round Here, is You?

Ephesians 2:19-22
Luke 6:12-16

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners…
Ephesians 2:19a

I move a lot. At fifty-plus, I’ve still never been in the same place for more than 4 Christmases. It’s not like I don’t try: but life in the lower-middle class (or upper lower-class, whatever) is lived from paycheck to paycheck. My last layoff left me stranded in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in America. My only defense was more mobility. That is one thing I can do. I’ve been doing it since I was born: never spending too much time in one place was a skill my mother learned from her father, the train-riding hobo. Mom and Dad were both in the Air Force: moving was a given.

Someone coming from outside to “here” for the first time or recently is a stranger. We’ve never met him before and he smells funny. Someone who has been around for a while – but ain’t from here – is a sojourner. You can be a sojourner for a lot of time if you’re in a small town. In a big city it won’t take as long before you “become” a native. In and after college, I lived in NYC for 12 years, with 8 different addresses.  At the point when I had been in SF for the same amount of time (with 9 different addresses) I began to feel sort of like an SFer. SF, however, is very different than a small town in Alabama.  In the latter they will know – nearly forever – that you’re not from there: you stay a Sojourner all your life. At your requiem, the old ladies will say, “He was nearly like one of us, weren’t he?”  In SF, a new generation of newbies shows up every couple of years. You’re the relative native in no time at all.

A friend of mine, who was an Episcopal Priest, once said he had gotten use to the idea there was no home for him in this world. I am with him on this – based only on my moving experience, although San Francisco and Asheville, NC, feel most like home to me. (If you ask me, yes, generally I feel rather sympathetic to refugees of any sort or condition.)

The Church, says St Paul, is rather more like San Francisco than that small town in Alabama. One might be a neophyte, still learning things, but from the mystery of Baptism, one already stands at the the One Table of our One Lord, Jesus, both God and Man, surrounded by Patriarchs, Prophets, and the Pious of all ages, especially the Most Blessed, Ever Glorious, and All Holy Virgin Mary. We are all in it, together.  We don’t get to say, “You’re not good enough because you came from some other place.”  We don’t get to say “you can’t pray in that language” and we don’t get to confuse our country – the “Holy” Mother or “Holy” Father Land – with the kingdom of God and thus make other countries into something less than our “holy” place.

The Apostles (today we remember, especially, St Simon and St Jude) came from one, tiny place and went all over the world. Wherever they went, they had to create/plant/bring Church with the Eucharist, the Apostolic succession and teaching. Whenever Christians came together at the table of the Lord, they were Home.

That is how it is for us – or it should be. We’ve got some growing up to do: when a headline reads “to understand our country, you must look at our church” and then spends pages of space discussing the political situation – with nothing about Jesus at all – you know you’re in the wrong place. It can’t be church married to the politics like that. It’s just an arm of the state. Is outrage! And anyone who has visited such a place knows that the “natives” make all the strangers learn to be natives, not of the Kingdom of God but of that earthly “holy” mother, that sojourners must grow to pretend to be natives looking down on others, and people confuse working out their salvation with dressing up in folk costumes for the highest holy day of the year:  the annual Parish Food Festival.

In the world we are strangers to each other. In the Table Fellowship of God we are fellow-citizens: that makes us brothers and sisters to each other and, in the world, we are only Sojourners, now. We’re just here, just passing through.

Come home. Time to leave the childish foolishness of the world behind and go to Church.

Needed Armor in the Year of Mercy

Ephesians 6:10-20
Luke 13:31-35

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12

The readings from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this week have seemed to confirm a lot of social norms. I hope my postings from the last couple of days have showed otherwise: God wants us to be like leaven, making little changes here and there, taking what is good, moving forward. Paul didn’t want to overthrow all of the culture of Rome: yes there were some things wrong with it, but Paul didn’t blame the Romans for that problem. In fact, over and over, the Apostles and the tradition of the Church seems to say mankind would have been ok, prepped for the Gospel “with the law written in our hearts”, but for one thing: demons. There is no god, Zeus, but there is a demon that has made us imagine that deity. There is no goddess commanding sexual immorality as her worship, but there are evil spirits doing so.

To win all the Romans away from the demons, Paul and the other Fathers needed to baptize the culture – bringing into the Church what was godly – but also to liberate it from demonic immorality. To change the world, you must change hearts. Those hearts are not corrupted by self-abuse: demons do it. Paul really seems to believe if you change people’s hearts, all this other stuff (which is not even fit to be named among the saints) will just stop. Model Christian charity in your relationships and soon, people will ask why your relationships are different. When people see their brother or sister in Christ is this person they have maltreated, they will stop treating them thus.

We wrestle not with flesh and blood, with the person, the icon of God standing in front of us, rather we approach them with mercy. Pope Francis has named this the Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Roman Catholic Church, but God’s mercy is not limited to one year only, nor is it a special project needed only in the Catholic Church. We all need to be reminded of God’s mercy. The person you see attacking you is not the source of the attack. We should not be moved into a defensive posture – Jesus is our armor and he has already won the battle! Rather we should be moved by pity for this person who is being spurred by the demons like a horse by a vicious rider. It matters not if the attack is from courts, various sexual errors, or being yelled by “radical atheists”. The party in front of you is only a tool: not the source. Inside their soul is being killed too – just as yours is if you are moved by anger.

When we realize that the attack coming at us is not coming from this person here and now, but from demons who have deluded that person into saying or doing things, then we can be open to show God’s mercy and win a new brother or sister from the demons. Attacking other humans is right out. We do not wrestle with flesh and blood. It’s the spiritual powers that we’re fighting. These are not destroyed by logical argument or by yelling and screaming. You do not win fights with demons by posts on Facebook or angry tweet storms: but you can drive away a person God has given you to love. We need to woo our human brothers and sisters away from the demons. This may be by steps in a logical argument, or by emotions. Bishop Robert Barron says to show them the Beautiful parts of our faith and let them fall in love – we can get the teaching and morality later.  This is, I think, St Paul’s teaching as well. 

Notice what we are given (in verses 13-17): truth (a title for Jesus), righteousness (a title for Jesus), peace (a title for Jesus). Then there is faith (which I would read as my trust in Jesus) and my salvation (in Greek, wholeness/healing – which is only by communion with Jesus) and the sword of the Spirit, the “Word of God” although here the Greek uses not “logos” but “rhema” meaning the teaching of God. What weapons we are given, mostly, are all Jesus and our faith and communion in him. It’s not very martial at all unless you’re a demon. For our defense in the world – where we wrestle not with flesh and blood – all we are given is Love himself. All to proclaim the Gospel to those around us.

This verse has been on my mind a lot lately and here it comes up in the daily lections for mass. Why, you might ask, has this verse been on my mind? This seems even more important to say as the election is looming up in front of us. Even the candidate of the “other side” is a human being created in God’s image. How much more so his or her supporters who disagree with you on every side, who call you names, who even question your faith because of your political choices. At the end of the day, only the demons will profit from two persons, created in God’s image, having a huge fight in person or on line. But if you bring that person into a healed communion with you, in Jesus’ name, then you have gained a brother, and saved his soul and yours.


Self Will is Wrong Will

Ephesians 6:1-9
Luke 13:22-30

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ.
Ephesians 6:5

This is one of those hard places in the Church’s tradition. In fact this whole chapter from Ephesians is – yesterday I totally ignored the obvious “Wives submit yourselves to your husbands” on purpose. I wanted to come to this verse where Paul, to modern eyes, says “there’s nothing wrong with slavery” and that very point has been taken by both Abolitionists and slaveholders.

And they’re both wrong.

Paul is talking to a small sect of specific persons – what you think? Maybe 30,000 in all the empire? This is not a revolution, yes. This is brewing one. As with marriage – in fact, as with most of Roman Culture he encounters – Paul is subverting it but not, yet, overthrowing it. He’s making sacraments out of the whole thing so it can be changed.

Paul has come across a social custom – slavery – about which we can guess his attitude (see the entire epistle of Philemon) and he has this problem. The first Christian in a house may be slave or free, male or female, young or old. Paul wants the entire household to come into the Church but he knows if he sends someone back preaching revolution there’s just going to be a lot of slammed doors. In fact, even after the whole family converts (see Philemon, again) revolution won’t happen instantly. It takes a long while for Christians to grow into the fullness of the Kingdom and even then it will only be “as far as they can bear it” because individual humans can only get so far in this life. So: slow and steady wins the race.

Paul started this train of thought in Chapter 5, verse 21. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And then he begins to speak in culturally appropriate ways not as commands but as examples… Wives obey your husbands. Husbands reverence your wives, children obey your parents and respect your elders, parents don’t abuse your children, and today’s lines, slaves obey your masters and masters do the same to them (verse 9 – and also, again, 5:21). It’s important to realize that, in Church, it could be the slave that was the priest – or even the Bishop. No matter who they are in the world, at the table of the Lord, they are all in it together.

Have you ever read CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy? I’m thinking especially of of the third book, That Hideous Strength just now. There’s a character, Mrs Ivy Maggs, who is a housemaid. At the beginning of the book, in fact, she’s cleaning the house of the Heroine. As the plot develops (no spoilers), Mrs Maggs becomes quite important and, because of her developing Christian faith, the Heroine must learn that it is quite possible for a housemaid to also be one’s equal, one’s superior and, one’s friend, and finally one’s sister, all the while still being a housemaid.

Paul is walking the Church at Ephesus through this process. We only get one snapshot, but we see him doing the same thing in other places, other epistles. Paul is using if you will, Identity Sacramentalism: each person’s cultural identity – slave, wife, children, etc – becomes a teaching sacrament aimed at the powerful. This is possible because, in Christ, each person is an icon of God. How do you paint the icon of God as a slave? How as a housemaid?

The question is how to apply it now, today? It’s 100% true that mutual obedience is still the path of Christian virtue. Self-will leads only to one place…

We live in a world of “Demand Your Rights” and “Overthrow the Oppressors!” “Eat the Rich!” “Not in my backyard!” “We are the 99%!” Paul’s solution to this problem is evangelism. As the Tao te Ching says, “Water flows to the lowest place and fills up the valley”. By being the lowest we conquer. No protests, no revolutions, no overthrow. But subversion.

And self-will is not that. Decidedly not that.