Archives: Ordinary Time

Anita Hill, Sexual Harassment, and the 10 Virgins

Trigger warning: this piece contains discussion of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

 

 

The floodgates have opened on the reality of everyday experience for American women.

Sexual harassment is a daily occurrence, and the number of women who have not experienced sexual assault is vanishingly small.

In the circle of women who are most dear to me, several have been raped.

I myself had what I would describe as a semi-consensual sexual experience in college that had deep repercussions for me.

And with regard to sexual harassment, the reaction of most women I know to men who are asking, “Is it really this prevalent?” is, “You mean you didn’t know?”

There are few of us who do not have strong emotions about this cultural moment.

I have talked to straight male colleagues who are frightened.

They are examining years of their lives in retrospect, wondering if they ever crossed a line somewhere and will find out about it on the front page of the local paper.

I have talked to male colleagues who react with scoffing dismissal, insisting these accusations are a fad and a bandwagon for every opportunist holding a grudge.

Other male colleagues have reacted with sensitivity, solidarity, and commitment to being part of a solution.

The female colleagues I have talked to have had a range of reactions as well.

Some have had to shut down all news and social media in their lives because the constant barrage of sexual harassment allegations has triggered their own memories and swamped them with PTSD.

Some who have not dealt with outright abuse or assault have felt guilty or privileged compared with those who have.

Many are deeply cynical that any real change can occur in a nation that elected as president someone who freely admitted to sexual assault in what he called “locker room banter.”

And this doesn’t even begin to address the additional levels of harassment and assault experienced by those rendered even more vulnerable than those in my dominant milieu of middle class white women.

People of color and LGBTQ colleagues I’ve spoken to have shaken their heads as they’ve affirmed that my privilege has shielded me from additional layers of poisonous harm that bombard them from the outside world every day.

I think one of the questions everyone is asking is, “Why now?” Continue reading

How To Avoid Becoming a Burden When You’re Carrying a Burden

Do you feel burdened?

The writers of our epistle and gospel want to know.

“You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God,” Paul says.

Jesus speaks of the scribes and Pharisees, saying, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.”

What is the difference between the two? What separates those in the Beloved Community who impose burdens on others, and those who remove them?

The topic of burdens is important throughout the Bible.

Paul tells us in the Letter to the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.”

Jesus himself says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

We all know what it is like to feel burdened by life.

Every single person we know is bearing a burden of some kind, some seen, some unseen. Cancer, financial hardship, caregiving for an elderly parent, a child struggling in school, addiction—the burdens add up and weigh us down.

And we all feel the collective burdens of lives lost or altered in natural disasters, mass shootings, and the global struggles of poverty and disease.

It’s no surprise that the bearing of burdens shows up all over scripture.

And in our texts for today we have the contrast between how Paul is trying to relate to his spiritual community, and how the scribes and Pharisees are.

What differentiates the two? Continue reading

1549: Who Will Finish Our Journey?

How do you think Moses felt when he realized that he would not get to enter the Promised Land?

What heartbreaking and crushing moment!

He has poured out over forty years of tough, uphill leadership of the people of Israel, and God is now telling him that the goal will be forever out of his reach. He will die without entering the Promised Land.

It seems even more cruel that he will actually see it, but not enter it.

In our lesson from Deuteronomy today, Moses is led up to the top of a mountain, “and the Lord showed him the whole land…The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants”; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.’ Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command.”

At first it seems like a pretty poor reward for such long and dedicated service.

But like so many things in the Bible, we realize that it is meticulously faithful to the way things happen in real life.

Many times we have a dearly held and longed-for goal for ourselves, our family, or our community, and despite the years of work we put into it, we never see it accomplished.

That’s in fact almost guaranteed for the biggest and most important goals of transformation.

Consider Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech—he said it explicitly, that he had seen the Promised Land, but he did not know if he would enter it.

But he did not speak those words with despair.

His voice rang with hope and even joy.

This is the difference between people who have been transformed by God’s work in their lives and those who haven’t. Continue reading

1662: Costly Faith

In our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we’ve been journeying back in time together through the history of our Church with increasingly older editions of the Book of Common Prayer.

We tackled 1928 and 1789, and today we work our way through the 1662 edition of the Holy Eucharist in the Church of England.

The stories of the Tudor dynasty during the Reformation are well-known by most of us–Henry the VIII and his short-lived wives, Cranmer and Edward and Elizabeth, Luther and all the rest.

Heads were getting chopped off left and right, palace intrigue both political and sexual ruled the day, and it all makes for very good television for us now.

But what a lot of modern Americans don’t realize is that the events leading up to the prayerbook we’re using today, the 1662 edition, are equally dramatic and gory.

To understand this story, we have to remember that religion, politics and violence were virtually inseparable in this time and place.

During Elizabeth I’s reign, Via Media Anglicanism took solid hold with what is now called the Elizabethan Settlement.

Famously claiming that she did not seek windows into men’s souls, Elizabeth presided over an end to heresy laws, which allowed people more individual freedom of religious conscience than had ever existed before in England, all within a stable state Protestant Church, independent of Rome.

Many people longed for a return to Catholicism, the familiar faith of their forebears. But many others felt that Protestantism in England was lukewarm, and agitated for a far more Calvinist, Presbyterian, reformed Church of England.

Add in major conflicts over the role of the monarchy and whether its occupants were fit to lead and fair in their dealings with Parliament, and you have a recipe for violent armed conflict.

The English Civil War, which was actually a series of three wars, broke out in 1642 and raged until 1651.

King Charles I was ultimately tried and executed, and a Protectorate was formed under Oliver Cromwell.

Eventually the monarchy was restored, but never again with absolute rule. All subsequent monarchs would have to share power with Parliament.

During what’s called the Interregnum, the period between kings when Cromwell and his associates were in charge, the ultra-Protestants were in power.

These super-Protestants were called Puritans, whom you may remember from Thanksgiving pageants at school.

The Puritans considered the Church of England to be far too Catholic, and that’s where we get our connection to the prayerbook.

While the Puritans ruled, as you may have read in the front of your bulletin, use of the Book of Common Prayer was illegal.

You would be fined 5 pounds the first time you were caught using it, 10 pounds the second time, and the third offense could result in a year in prison.

As everyone I’ve told about this this week has said, “Wow! That escalated quickly!” Continue reading

1789: Idols and Identity

How do we communicate to ourselves and to the world who we are as a community?

As we think about this question, we notice an interesting intersection between our passage from Exodus and our use today of the 1789 Book of Common Prayer for our worship.

The 1789 BCP was the first prayerbook by Americans, for Americans.

Many of the founders of our republic were Anglicans, including George Washington, and they quickly realized that they needed ecclesiastical independence along with political independence. Church leaders began convening in 1785 to compile a new prayerbook.

The American Revolution had ended two years earlier, in 1783. The new nation was now at peace, but had to create its own economic and political stability.

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia would not convene until 1787, and the constitution would not be ratified and go into effect until 1789.

So for those who were involved or affected by all three events, it went in the following order: war, prayerbook, constitution. Interesting.

So what we have is a people in violent crisis, trying to escape from what to them was a foreign oppressor in Great Britain.

That’s a situation not unlike the Israelites in our Exodus text today.

They have been delivered from enslavement, but have found that their troubles are only beginning.

They need something to unify them, something to express their identity, something to say who they are now that they are free.

For American Anglicans, that was the new Book of Common Prayer, the very one we’re using today.

For Americans broadly, that was the U.S. Constitution.

For the Israelites, as we read last week, that was the 10 Commandments.

These are documents that express identity.

They are documents that prescribe behavior, and by doing so set up a set of aspirations of how we are to live together.

They say who we are by saying how we would like to behave.

But it’s more complicated than that. Continue reading

1928, 2017, 10

Today we’re starting our Historic Liturgies project at St. Francis.

We really started it last week with the 1979 prayerbook liturgy that we use every week, but that’s so familiar it doesn’t really count.

This is the first week we’ll really strike out to try something different with our 1928 prayerbook liturgy.

Next week we’ll do 1789, then 1662, and finally 1549, the first Book of Common Prayer compiled by Cranmer himself.

Robert and I have collaborated on this project, and we’ve had to shorten most of the liturgies a bit.

The older prayerbooks had long, long exhortations to communion. This goes back to the days when lay people were not used to receiving communion more than once or twice a year and had to be encouraged by the priest to come to the altar.

One bit we took out this week which I’ve since realized we really should have kept in, was the Decalogue.

The Decalogue is the recitation of the 10 Commandments in worship, and it used to be at the beginning of every service of Holy Communion.

This goes back to the days when most people were illiterate, and Cranmer and his associates hoped that hearing the 10 Commandments at the beginning of every service would help people learn and memorize them.

In the 1662 rubrics, the priest is instructed to “rehearse distinctly all the 10 Commandments,”—make sure they really hear it!

We took it out this week to shorten the service, but you’ll see we’ll have a chance to reflect on it anyway because it is our scripture today from Exodus.

A colleague told me this week of a fascinating interpretation of the 10 Commandments he read that I’d like to share with you. “At the Red Sea, God took the Israelites out of Egypt. At Mount Sinai, God took Egypt out of the Israelites.”

Wow! Isn’t that an interesting thought? Continue reading

What Are We Even Doing Here?

Do you know what the “canon within the canon” is?

When we talk about the “canon of scripture,” we simply mean the texts that we rely on as authoritative—the books that got picked to be in the Bible.

And the Bible is so large and complex that it is impossible to mentally hold the gist of every single chapter and verse. And so we have what we call “the canon within the canon.”

The canon within the canon is the scripture texts that speak to your heart with greatest depth.

They’re your favorites, the ones you come back to time and again, knowing they’ll have something new to say to you every time.

They’re the ones that come to your mind in times of darkness and times of joy, to give you strength and to express your exuberance in praise of God.

My canon within the canon contains some classics, like the Beatitudes (Blessed are the poor in spirit) and the Magnificat (My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord).

Many of the psalms are in my canon within the canon, and some bits of Isaiah, the gospels and the epistles.

But today’s passage from Philippians is one of my all time top five Bible texts.

It expresses to me everything I need to know about Jesus, and everything I need to know about what Jesus is asking me to do. Continue reading

Forgiveness at the Red Sea

I do love Peter. I always have.

He has rare moments of radiant faith, naming Jesus as the Christ, walking to Jesus on the water, and so forth.

But most of the time, he’s putting his foot in it.

He’s revealing, God love him, how very much he is not picking up what Jesus is putting down. And I 100% identify with him in that.

I’m always so grateful for Peter’s dumb moments, because they make me feel less alone in my own dumb moments.

So what is Peter’s mistake in our gospel lesson today?

He is trying to quantify grace.

He wants to know exactly how many times he is required to forgive fellow church-members.

Is seven times sufficient? I mean, forgiving someone seven times does seem adequate, even generous.

If we’re patient and compassionate with someone who has hurt us seven times, that would surely be more than enough to fulfill any requirements.

But that is exactly what is wrong with Peter’s approach.

Life in the church is not about fulfilling requirements.

It’s not about checking off boxes for how many times we forgive someone, how many times we care for someone in need, how many times we practice a virtue like gentleness or self-control.

And Jesus tells Peter that he’s in entirely the wrong frame of reference.

He says we must forgive seventy times seven times, which is really saying we must forgive an infinite number of times.

Because as we said, it’s not about keeping count.

If we’re still keeping count in our relationships, we’re sowing the seeds of their destruction.

Anyone who has been through a bad breakup knows this.

When you’re first in love, you forgive little faults and forgettings easily and joyfully.

But as the bloom wears off, you start to keep count in your mind—how many times they forget to take out the garbage, how many times they turn up the radio too loud, how many times you put away the dishes by yourself without help, how many times you pick their laundry up off the floor.

This kind of keeping count leads to keeping score.

You store up ammunition against your partner.

You fight dirty in arguments, bringing up old mistakes and transgressions in new conflicts.

When that happens, you know the break-up or divorce is not far away.

And it all started with keeping count. Continue reading

What Jesus Is Really Saying About Church Conflict

Church conflict is nothing new.

Sometimes people think there should be no conflict in church, as though by virtue of being Christians we can and should cover over all disagreements with niceness.

Jesus in his teaching in our gospel lesson today seems to proceed on the baseline assumption that conflict in Christian community is normal and natural, and should be dealt with honestly and with compassion.

As we all know, honesty and compassion are all too rarely the watchwords of our church conflicts.

Many times anger, hurt feelings, and lack of clear communication drive us toward either sweeping everything under the rug to keep the peace, or openly hostile entrenched positions that lead to explosions and people leaving the church permanently.

The result is either a Body of Christ pristine on the outside but riddled with the disease and rot of resentment on the inside, or an openly dismembered and bleeding Body of Christ hemorrhaging members and vitality.

There must be another way. Continue reading

Life and Death Are Not Opposites

We live our lives by signs and symbols.

When we see a red octagonal sign with white lettering on it, we know it means stop.

When we see a rectangle with a blue square covered in white stars adjacent to white and red horizontal stripes, we know it means America.

When we see the double golden arches, we know it means hamburgers of dubious quality.

But as people of faith, our understanding of the symbolic universe goes much deeper than public safety, patriotism, or advertising.

God communicates to us through signs and symbols.

And in our walk with Christ, God is through our prayer and service helping us take these symbols deeper into our hearts until we ourselves become living signs and symbols of God’s love.

That is the journey these two children, Austin and Carter, are beginning today with their baptism.

And what we discover very rapidly in the life of faith is that God’s symbols are often ambiguous.

The images we take to our hearts, that we know will change us if we are faithful to how they point to God, cut both ways.

That jumped out at me so dramatically as I thought about water this week.

The images of homes and people drowning in water in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey are at war with our beautiful sacrament of baptism that we celebrate today.

For the people of southeast Texas and Louisiana, right now water means death and loss and fear. For those of us celebrating baptism with joy, water means life and rebirth and hope.

How do we reconcile that juxtaposition? Continue reading