Friday, September 25, 2009

celebrating Ted Kennedy

Edward Moore Kennedy, February 22, 1932 – August 25, 2009

Ted Kennedy served as the senior United States Senator from Massachusetts and came to be known as "The Lion of the Senate."

Mission Church, RoxburyHis funeral was on a rainy Saturday, 27 August 2009 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, built by German immigrants and "since 1878" a parish church; using geographical designations like parish and ward, churches dare describe themselves as congregations especially for a particular neighborhood. In the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Mission Church is situated amidst the have a littles and have nots, creating an apt setting for the remembrance of someone who lived his life in service to often underserved and frequently disregarded populations. I've driven past the church quite a few times, though I don't recall ever being inside.

The celebration, the liturgy, the acknowledgment of Ted Kennedy's achievements and the promise of the inbreaking Reign of Heaven began with a magnificently played and sung entrance hymn:
Holy God, we praise thy name;
Lord of all, we bow before thee;
all on earth thy scepter claim;
all in heaven above adore thee.
Infinite thy vast domain;
everlasting is thy reign.
...words to stanzas 1-4 attributed to Ignaz Franz, circa 1774; translated by Clarence Walworth, 1858 (they processed into the church singing all 8 stanzas).

Scripture readings included Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 72 with the recurrent response, "Justice shall flourish in his time in fullness of peace forever"; Romans 8:28-31 – "nothing can separate us from the love of God"; and for the gospel, Matthew 25 – "whatever you did, for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me."

Beginning with covering the casket in a white pall (technically a baptismal garment), the baptismal imagery was telling and pervasive: baptizing us into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God clothes us in forgiven, sinless righteousness; each of the baptized wears a baptismal calling to a life of justice, a call to a journey to the cross if – "when" – necessary; a call to speak and to act prophetically against the political, economic, social, and cultural establishments. In the Spirit God calls and enables us to talk the talk and walk the walk. Figuring out and discerning a specific career path can be tough, scary, and difficult, but we all receive the same baptismal call to lives of justice and equality, to living the Magnificat...Luke 1:51-55
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Although the Kennedy clan originated from tribal cultures of ethnic Ireland and religious Rome that back in those days were not welcomed or accepted in elite residential or vacation communities in this country, these days commentators often call them America's Royalty, and they have become essentially a dynasty. In Greg Ferguson's words:
The ground is level at the foot of the cross...
We all are equal in the light of the cross
For the love of God is given freely to all
The ground is level, at the foot of the cross

Men and women, younger and older
Every culture, every color, every tongue
No more labels, no separation
As we stand forgiven at the cross
We all are one ...

Doesn’t matter your social position
Doesn’t matter if you’re rich or if you’re poor
Race or privilege, tribe or tradition
At the cross of Christ it can’t divide us anymore
Baptized into Christ, the Kennedys are God's royalty; the baptismal hymn from 1 Peter 2:9-10 would have been perfect for a reading at the service for Ted Kennedy:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The grandeur and sweep of the memorial service and media coverage were worthy of a head of state—of royalty! Ted Kennedy lived and served in the traditions of liberal, activist politics and liberal, activist, prophetic Christianity. He was a coalition-building, conciliatory politician who initiated and sponsored legislation of the people, from the people and for the people. And during the funeral liturgy, the celebrating of Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, taken, blessed, broken and given, the Eucharist, a feast of thanksgiving, reconciliation, and life of all creation, for all creation.

Ted Kennedy's schooner Mya provided a wonderful icon of the sometimes rocky and rough, occasionally surprisingly smooth and glassy passages everyone needs to navigate through life. Water is the basic substance of creation, the essence of life: Water Is Life! We live baptized into water, drowned into our first death and raised to second birth of bounded freedom in Christ, and we need to trust God, the One Who really is the Baptizer.

On the Friday before the funeral Ted Kennedy lay in state at the Kennedy Presidential Library, located right next door to the University of Massachusetts at Boston, an urban school for non-traditional students, many of whom go on to help change their part of the world.

Psalm 72:4a insists, "He shall defend the afflicted among the people."

President Barack Obama quoted Ted Kennedy: The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on. Indeed it does, and it will:

Infinite Thy vast domain; everlasting is Thy reign...the dream lives on!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers, 1936-2009

If I Had a Hammer

words and music by Lee Hays & Pete Seeger

Peter, Paul, Mary self-titledIf I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

If I had a bell
I'd ring it in the morning
I'd ring it in the evening
All over this land
I'd ring out danger
I'd ring out a warning
I'd ring out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

If I had a song
I'd sing it in the morning
I'd sing it in the evening
All over this land
I'd sing out danger
I'd sing out a warning
I'd sing out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

Well I've got a hammer
And I've got a bell
And I've got a song to sing
All over this land
It's the hammer of justice
It's the bell of freedom
It's the song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

© 1958, 1962 (renewed), 1986 (renewed)
TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc. (BMI)

Mary

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

blogger @ 10...

blogger @ 10

blogger has aged into double-digits
all the way into 10 whole years
a couple months back I milestoned, too
with 7 years on desert spirit's fire
this blog, my main blog
my flagship theology blog

but what now can I say today
about traveling with blogger and before?
some of it's been like a country song
parts of it seem to qualify
as genuine Pauline shipwrecks

shoreside by sands of ocean pacific
by a snack shop at a Nevada truck stop
alongside an urban state of habitation
desert designs at a nearby hot spot
cycling countlessly through crayola, pantone and adobe
blog rings and theology schemes
Jeremiah, 2nd Isaiah, Luke and Revelation
illustration inspirations...

leading to hearing and saying
and almost everyday...
"that's something to blog about!"

# # #

Monday, September 07, 2009

ELCA: structured flexibility

ELCA emblemOriginal post, September 2009.

It happened recently at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Church Wide Assembly: six years later, the asp page is offline now; title is/was, "Sexuality Report and Recommendations, executive summary"; here's a brief excerpt:
The proposal suggests that this church, because of its acknowledgment of and commitment to the bound consciences of all, incorporate structured flexibility in decision-making into its policies and procedures so that synods, bishops, congregations, candidacy committees, and others involved in the candidacy process and in the process of extending calls will be free to act according to their convictions regarding both the approving or disapproving in candidacy and the extending or not extending of a call to rostered service of a person who is otherwise qualified and who is living or contemplates living in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship.
When I heard someone ask, "But how can human creatures bless what the Creator God does not bless?" I needed to respond with at least a short blog. When I'm teaching I always explain the bible is a culturally conditioned and culture bound document, that we try hard, sometimes very hard, using appropriate critical and interpretive tools and skills to contextualize the words on the pages for other times, other places, particularly for the time and the place where we live right now. When I'm teaching a new group or people who don't know me well, I tell them I have high regard for scripture as a divine word but equal respect for it as a human word "with all the ambiguity that implies." It's a specific witness and as Martin Luther insisted, "what preaches Christ" carries greater weight and authority than what does not. Simply put, all scripture is not equal. Jesus Christ, God's living Word, ultimately interprets the written word of the bible. The very idea that a text could be infallible or inerrant is at right angles to any convictions that could have been held in the worlds that originated those texts that oftentimes were verbally conveyed and written down at some point in time much later.

As the Barmen Declaration signatories confessed in 1934:

Barmen Declaration 50 years"Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

"We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation."

Who is this Jesus scripture attests to? Living hospitality, a faithful friend, the embodiment of covenantal, non-exploitative relationship. Both fully human and fully divine, in the power of the Spirit of Life Christ Jesus calls the Church and the churches to live as the demonstration and exhibition to the world of the Reign of God, in the Spirit enables us to the same ways of being and acting as he shows us. (Although Jesus' First Followers would not have had a clue as to the meaning of "church," and Matthew is the only gospel that includes the word ecclesia.) This Jesus is God incarnate, holiness enfleshed, the essence and reality of embracing love, of justice and righteousness for all creation. Jesus also is at home in the culture and religion into which he was born and spent his life.

People with more knowledge, education and insight than I possess have explained ways concepts and realities such as marriage and family have developed, evolved and changed; historically, there never has been a single normative style or structure for marriage or for family. Scriptures witness to God's nature and being, but just as much the word of "holy" writ reveal a particular place and time as some of the canonical texts condone practices like selling your daughter into slavery. In that case, "what would be a just price?" has been a typical response because after all, God mandates equitable compensation. Along with dietary proscriptions and prescriptions... you get the idea.

There may be one or two or a few passages against sexual activity with persons of one's own sex, and for a fact scripture forbids divorce, eating cattle and dairy at the same meal, eating cloven-hoofed ruminants and crustaceans (lobster, crab, and their ilk), wearing garments made of more than one kind of fiber (in that case, even 5% spandex for a little stretch is unscriptural, not to mention true abominations such as 50% cotton / 50% polyester). As Martin Luther insisted, all sin is idolatry, all sin amounts to violating the 1st commandment. In addition, 20th and 21st century medical, psychological and behavioral research and studies have demonstrated knowledge about sexual attraction and behaviors totally unknown in recent centuries, and unheard of when scripture was recorded (and when it was canonized). I've read that about 1% of the population is hard-wired to be either 100% gay or straight; the rest of us are gradations in between. So is everyone "a little gay?" Apparently not, any more than everyone is "a little bipolar," though most people's mood and affect varies considerably from one day to the next and particularly from one season to another. Recently someone suggested there's a strong element of choice in some folks' decision to life partner with someone of the same rather than the opposite sex. The individual pointed out that in general it's a lot easier to understand and therefore to spend most of your days with someone of the same gender because a lot of our attitudes and behaviors tend to be guy things, girl things, guy type or girl type in style. Similarly, most of us have abilities and interests that could lead to employment or a career in a number of areas or disciplines, but if someone who potentially could work as a history teacher chooses a less demanding path as a classroom aide, have they abrogated God's call and purpose for their lives? Possibly to a small extent, but more than anything God's call to faithful living is about good stewardship of time, talents and opportunities and especially to kind, loving non-exploitative relationships, to considering and treating others as "thous" rather than "its."

So especially regarding open factors of circumstance, choice and opportunity, much of the ELCA's decision as well as the recently defeated Proposition 8 in California simply is about equal rights.

Today is a somewhat lazy Labor Day in the USA and Labour Day in Canada, making it feel like an excellent day to get another blog online, and I needed to say something about the recent ELCA decision; here it is...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

psalm 116:12-16

This is the appointed psalm for Maundy Thursday.

What shall I render to the Lord
for all his benefits to me?
I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and will call on the name of the Lord.
I will take the cup of salvation
and will call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord now
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the Lord's house,
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.