Monday, April 27, 2009

Home Buying Anxiety

Posting has been slow for a good reason...

For the first time in my life, I'm looking to buy a home. I'm been renting space for almost 20 years (my parents might suggest that I was "renting space" at their place even before that).

I am just amazed at how much anxiety goes into this process...even as things appear to go smoothly, every step feels like a potential landmine. The agents, bankers, and inspectors Darlene and I have worked with have been friendly and helpful, but I can't help but wonder what is lurking behind the next corner...

I attended a home buying class two Saturdays ago: run by the nonprofit AHEAD. I admit that I went for the money...most banks will give money back at closing for attending the class (the promise of free pizza sounded good too...those who know me are now shaking their heads...)

The truth is, I should have attended a class like this one years ago. I learned a great deal concerning things that I knew nothing about, and I also feel that I now get some of the things that went in and out of my head from the books I've read. Attending a class like this one (for home buying, financing, or preparing to sell) may not be the ideal way to spend a day, but it's really worth it.

The only bad thing is my anxiety is still pretty high...knowledge is a good thing, but knowing everything that could go wrong doesn't help calm ones nerves. Perhaps my anxiety will come down if we ever get to (and through) closing...then again, a whole new set of anxieties await with home ownership.


Mom and Dad, have you rented out my room yet???

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Right Easter Ending

We’ve walked 40 days of Lent...the agony of the cross, the humiliation of denial and betrayal, in order to finally get to Easter

And here it is: the Easter Payoff!

Mark 16, verse 8...the ending to the Gospel of Mark.

Are you ready???

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”


"...and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Are you kidding me???

How can this be the Easter message??? This is what we journeyed through outer darkness to get too? What in the world was Mark thinking? This is the triumphal conclusion to the Gospel?

Well, it appears that the early church didn’t care for this ending much. After awhile, a new ending appeared for the Gospel of Mark.

“And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”

This is referred to as “The Shorter ending of Mark.” If you open your New Revised Standard Bible, you will see these exact words (and you'll find it in most other Bibles as well).

But there’s even more text in the Gospel of Mark...referred to as “The Longer Ending of Mark.” I’m not making this up. It includes three post-Easter appearances, a commission to the disciples to go out in the world and proclaim the good news...and finally these words:

"So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to the eleven, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it." (Mark 16:19-20)

No one knows for sure where and when these endings all come from, or whether or not one was intended to be “the right” ending, but this last ending appears to be a nice recovery by the early church. This makes the disciples look a lot better, and it’s an ending we can feel good about. We can all now go home from Easter happy and content.

But, humor me for a minute, and let us reconsider Mark’s original odd, abrupt ending.

Here it is again: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

This was the text I chose for All Saints' Celebration of New Ministry back in February, the official start of our ministry together with me as the rector here in Littleton.

I chose it then because it is, without a doubt, my favorite moment in any of the Gospel’s of Jesus.

It may sound strange, but this ending speaks to me in the most powerful way. Jesus has done everything that he promised: he has showed us a different of love and honesty. One filled with hope not for some people, but for everyone.

God has come through as well...subverting the shame and sadness of dishonorable execution and death to something truly miraculous: The stone is rolled back, and the young man in a white robe says

"‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’"

God has turned darkness and defeat into something else: new life.

But the story does not end continues with you and me.

The next chapter of the story is up to us, just as it was up to the women at the tomb, and the eleven disciples. We have been told to share this live as Jesus would have us, loving and caring for one another.

The enemy is embedded deep into our human psyche: fear...a force that has real power, enough to initially cause the women to flee in terror and say nothing to anyone...

It remains to be seen as to what happens next

Mark has it right...the Easter story, even today, remains unfinished.

It’s now up to us: how we live our lives now, really does matters.

Thanks be to God, and Happy Easter.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Life at All Saints' by Hemmie

Hemmie Gilmore, a member of All Saints' Littleton, has a blog called "Hello from Hemmie." On her blog is a gallery of photographs from our community called Life at All Saints'. In addition to having the link here in this post, it is now in the links list on the left side of my blog as well.

Hemmie has graciously agreed to be the All Saints' web guru! Look for changes to our website this summer!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Still Sleeping???

Trinity Cathedral has a wonderful tradition for Maundy Thursday called "The Liberation Feast." It's a potluck dinner as well as a remembrance of our biblical stories and a Eucharist service. A major part of it is a "Presente Celebration" which acknowledges the presence of those who have witnessed to their faith.

I was excited to bring this to All Saints' Littleton, and it was a wonderful evening last night.

One thing that I have personally done the last 5 years is offer an additional audio-visual experience of what happens AFTER dinner...which I've called "In the Garden of Faith and Fear."

Sometimes it's been a slide show and reflection, other times a music video and meditation.

My offering this year at All Saints' was Melissa Etheridge's music video "I Need to Wake Up," written for the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. I showed the video first and then shared a commentary on it which follows below:


“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?” Mark 14:41

One of the strange things about Holy Week is this: we know how it’s going to end. So walking through Holy Week is often seen as a remembering of our story. We try to imagine what it was like for Jesus’ followers to actually experience the events of Holy Week.

However, it occurs to me that those who gathered the stories knew how it ended as well. They experienced first hand accounts that Jesus’ followers....his friends...all ran away at the critical moment in fear for their own lives.

But does the story really “end” with the known result: an empty tomb, the proclamation “Jesus is risen,” and the accounts of appearances?

It occurs to me that Jesus’ plea to “wake up” still stands. A critical part of the story continues in that Jesus’ disciples ultimately decide to “wake up!” Despite all of the guilt and shame associated with running away and denying Jesus, the result of Holy Week and Easter was a shake up! The disciples finally get it! They become this bold group of “doers.” They finally understand the wisdom of Jesus’ teachings, and set out to live their lives in a way that makes a difference.

I think that’s the point of the video. We all can find ways that we’ve been guilty and ways we’ve fallen short of God’s dream for the world. Instead of staying in that place, I think God is calling us to now wake up and act.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Krista Tippett and "Speaking of Faith"

Last week, I was able to go to Concord to hear Krista Tippett, who is the host and producer of the enlightening American Public Media show Speaking of Faith. Krista's show archives contains conversations with a diverse group of people, including Jaroslav Pelikan, Thich Nhat Hanh, Eboo Patel, Shane Claiborne, Jimmy Carter, Richard Cizik, and Barbara Kingsolver (just to name a few of the diverse perspectives.)

Krista's premise is that in the 1990s, religion was reduced to the sound bytes of Jerry Faldwell and Pat Robertson, and that journalists for the most part handed religion's role in the public sphere to them.

The problem with this is that religious voices and perspectives are especially bad in sound bytes. So Krista sought to change this with a show about faith and religion that gave human faces and voices to traditions and customs.

Kristra describes the process of selecting guests for show by asking "is this person wise?" Will they "dwell in the questions" instead of "dictating the indisputable answers?"

I wrote down notes pretty quickly that night, but these are some of the things that make sense to me when we are "speaking of faith":

---developing eyes to see and ears to hear

---exploring how to sift and how to sort

---knowing that discord is not the whole picture

---focusing on reflecting rather than debating

Krista Tippett then quoted Sister Helen Prejean: "Anger is a moral response, but what we then do with that anger matters!"

Krista developed this idea by explaining the "revenge impulse." She said that the human brain is hardwired for revenge. The threat of revenge has always had a place in societies, making people consider their actions because of the possibility for retaliation. The scale and potential for destruction in these times has dramatically increased.

The good news is that we (our brains) are ALSO hardwired to forgive! We can perceive that we have a stake in the other, and thus we can choose to care for the other.

Krista then quoted Shane Claiborne (for at least the second time), when he asked: "Who will we be for each other?"

I've written more than I intended to already, so I think I'll end here. Needless today, I was very inspired by Krista Tippett. Subscribe to her podcasts so you can hear the show (in many cities she airs Sunday mornings, making it hard for churchgoers.)

If you would like to hear her live, perhaps you'll consider a trip to Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland OH (where I moved from last December). An Evening With Krista Tippett is scheduled for April 29th at 7:30PM.

If you can't make it to hear Krista live, Trinity Cathedral podcasts its special events and forums. It was fun to see and reflect on how many of Krista's guests have spoken at Trinity.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Seeing Jesus

One of the masterpieces of American nineteenth-century church architecture is found at Trinity Church in Boston’s Copley Square. It is a feast for the eyes.

There is one aspect of the church that is for the preacher’s eyes only. There are words carved into the inside of the pulpit...words to remind the preacher just what his or her task is...the simple request made by some Greeks:

“Sir, we would see Jesus.” (John 12:21)

This is the task...both simple and daunting...that Christian clergy have been called to.

One might struggle with a certain amount of fear to “show Jesus the right way,” taking great care to show Jesus correctly without error directly from the Gospel text.

In its great wisdom, the early church selected four accounts of Jesus to present who Jesus is: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One can make the argument that there are even more accounts of Jesus when you consider Paul and the other letter writers...showing how early Christians lived in communities informed by Jesus’ life. The early church understood that one example of Jesus was not enough to weave the tapestry that would address Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am.” The final collection explores not only Jesus’ human life, but also the inspiration and affect that he had and those who followed him.

It seems to me that we struggle to see this tapestry of Jesus. The temptation is to sift through these accounts of Jesus to “show Jesus the right way.” We try and take everything we’ve heard from the Bible and reconcile it all in our heads as one complete image of Jesus.

This is a frustrating pursuit, for the four gospels do not agree with each other. When they tell the same story, they give different details. A story critical to one account is absent or even countered in another. Things happen in a different order. Even Jesus’ words change from book to book: in content as well as in tone.

It’s almost like they have come up with four different answers to Jesus’ question; “who do you say that I am?”

Robin Griffith-Jones, an English New Testament theologian, wrote a brilliant book called The Four Witnesses while occupying John Wesley’s study in Oxford. In the book he details how each Gospel writer detailed a distinctly different vision of Jesus. His first chapter is evocatively entitled “The Four Greatest Stories Ever Told.” He suggests that Mark’s Jesus is “The Rebel,” with focus clearly on Jesus’ relationship with the power structure in place by the Romans...a failed revolutionary who mysteriously still succeeds. Matthew’s Jesus is “the Rabbi,” teacher and revealer of Hebrew Scripture who fulfills Jewish expectation. Luke’s Jesus is known as “The Chronicler,” a social revolutionary speaking to a Gentile world from a place of extreme compassion for all of humanity. And, finally, there is John’s Jesus: "The Mystic" whose insights are almost too deep to understand, and whose persona is completely entwined with God.

I think that this is so helpful to our desire to see Jesus. We seek not a single portrait...the right image of Jesus...but instead are on a quest to understand all that there is to see.

The hour comes (or begins, if you will) for John’s mystical Jesus in John 12:20.

The proper hour is key to the Gospel of John. Jesus keeps telling people that “my hour has not yet come.” Twice we are told that Jesus’ adversaries are thwarted in their attempts to arrest him “because his hour had not yet come.”

His hour clearly is his ultimate suffering, and today marks the start of these events in the Gospel.

The Gospel writer’s task is to show how Jesus approaches the hour.

Clearly John is familiar with this passage found in the Gospel of Mark...text we will hear next week on Palm Sunday of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples:

“’I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible; that this hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’” (Mark 14:34-36)

John starts out in a similar way:

The hour has come, and in John 12:27 Jesus says “Now my soul is troubled.”

But John takes a track that is a stark contrast to Mark’s Jesus.

Verse 27 continues: “And what should I say---“Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

And God’s voice comes and confirms that Jesus perfectly understands what is happening.

This Jesus is in complete control of everything: he is self-reflective instead of one actually struggling with the task at hand.

Jesus is setting up his lengthy discourse of alone time with his disciples, which will include the words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled...” He will then make it clear (in the rambling, circling way that we all associate with the Gospel of John) that the hour of his suffering...his death...will be the hour of his most brilliant glory.

Griffith-Jones writes:

“This is the hour for Jesus’ return to the father: the hour of his death. By the end of his farewell to his friends they will be ready to recognize in Jesus’ exaltation the father’s exaltation as well. But the connection is not easy to see. “Walk while you have the light,” says Jesus (John 12:35). The light is fading. We should be moving toward the darkest hour of all. But precisely in this darkness, we learn, was the greatest glory. The darkness was not mere background, a night sky from which some stellar triumph would scintillate more brightly. The darkness was the brilliance. Deep seers in the later church asked if the darkness was the darkness we see at the source of a light when its brilliance is too much to bear....John’s Jesus does not pray at Gethsemane; neither does Judas touch him. There is no poignancy in this betrayal. Jesus, in complete control, lets the drama take its course. His death is no defeat, no invasion of Jesus’ person or supremacy by the forces of evil.” (The Four Witnesses by Robin Griffith-Jones, p. 292-293)

In John 10:17-18, Jesus says:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my father.”

What might all of this mean for us today?

Well, I happen to know that, for many of you, Lent is far from your favorite season.

Perhaps, then, you will enjoy this quote from the preacher Fleming Rutledge:

"I have flunked Lent. I flunk it every year."

Debra Dean Murphy, another preacher, takes these words and runs with the: suggesting that we always flunk Lent.

She writes: “When we set out on Ash Wednesday every year to observe a holy Lent, we pray Psalm 51 together, asking for mercy and cleansing, for wisdom, for an erasing of the record that stands against us—a blotting out of our iniquities. We pray that God will "create in us a clean heart and put a new and right spirit within us."

And then we often act as if we must accomplish these things ourselves. We embrace Lenten disciplines—a good thing—but we easily mistake them for what they are not: self-improvement programs meant to make us better (thinner, smarter, nicer) people. We come dangerously close to narcissism, shifting our gaze from Christ and our neighbor in need to ourselves and our trivial preoccupations.

And so this week, as Lent is rounding the homestretch, we return to Psalm 51—back to where we began. We re-assume the posture of the penitent one who knows she cannot do the work of transformation by her own power, who can only cry out from the depths: "Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me."

“We are reminded that the work of transformation is God's and not ours.”
(Debra Dean Murphy blog entry)

Murphy’s words connect with me in this way: that in Jesus our vision of God is transformed. We have been called into a new relationship with God that focuses not on the standard system: faithful gets reward from God…sin gets punished by God.

Instead, sin is our brokenness…thoughts and actions that isolate us from God and others, that creates despair and the sense of isolation.

Faith and belief then become what we give our heart to, the sense of God’s presence with us and others.

And our needed action, by far, is seen in Jesus’ the mystic’s simple words:

“Love one another as I have loved you.”