Thursday, November 20, 2014

Broken Breakers

The breaker that controls the kitchen, living room and hallway lights broke yesterday. Luckily the refrigerator and kitchen plugs weren't on that same switch. It was nice lighting candles this morning when I brewed my 5 am cup of tea.  It reminded me of one of my favorite W.H. Auden's poems, which I will include here.  May we all show an affirming flame.

by W.H. Auden

by Christopher Hitchens
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade: 
Waves of anger and fear 
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth, 
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death 
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use 
Their full height to proclaim 
The strength of Collective Man, 
Each language pours its vain 
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare, 
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are, 
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash 
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish: 
What mad Nijinsky wrote 
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart; 
For the error bred in the bone 
Of each woman and each man 
Craves what it cannot have, 
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game: 
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street 
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky: 
There is no such thing as the State 
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pastors and sabbaticals

June 21, 2014

The curse of ingratitude

By Tom Ehrich
Pop quiz.

You are a pastor. You work six days a week, sometimes seven. You are on call 24/7.  Every detail of your life is out there for public consumption. People project their unresolved issues onto you, especially parental issues from their childhoods.

By church rules, you are entitled to a sabbatical, perhaps three months every seven years. But when you propose it, you hear what a pastor heard the other day:  "Sabbaticals are for academics who are making a significant contribution to their field, not for clergy who want an extended vacation and can't take working for a living."

What do you say?

In that one dismissive sentence, someone you trust tells you your work is insignificant, you want a benefit that you don't deserve, and you are lazy.

What do you do?

I read this comment on Facebook and was stunned. It reminded me of comments I heard during my parish ministry. It echoed comments other clergy report. I was stunned again at how casually cruel some people can be toward their pastors.

And saddened. Saddened for this pastor, who now must suck it up, look beyond the rudeness and be there for this arrogant twit when he needs care and doesn't hesitate to demand it. And saddened for the rude man, because he is receiving so much and doesn't realize it. How much else of God's love for him is he failing to see?

Churches die for many reasons, from bad leadership decisions to bad luck to poor execution of programs and ideas. One reason they die is ingratitude. Like the ingratitude of the man who thought himself so clever and analytical when he dismissed his pastor's request for a sabbatical.

Families die for the same reason. When spouses take each other for granted, or when one partner does all the giving, or when children take ceaselessly and feel entitled to more, even the sturdiest family crumbles.

Enterprises die when bosses demand but don't thank, when executives feel entitled to extravagant salaries, denounce underlings seeking better minimum wages, and lobby hard to deprive workers of the very benefits they take for granted.

Societies die for ingratitude, too. The social contract shreds when those who have much feel entitled to more, not grateful for what they have. Suffering and resentment breed when the wealthy give no thought to leaving the edges of the field unharvested for others to glean, and when they consider themselves superior human beings for the good luck of being born into privilege.

I am going to guess that the man who dissed his pastor is a moderately successful professional or businessman, who thinks his comfortable paycheck signifies wisdom. He lives within the common delusion that he earned it all, no matter how many contributed to his success, not to mention the role of luck.

This is the profile of ingratitude: someone who measures himself against others, takes satisfaction in having more, gives all the credit to himself, sees little of the web of interactions that underlie any success, lords it over the have-nots as inadequate persons, and feels entitled to be as rude and selfish as he likes.

What should the pastor say to him?

The safe response is nothing. The power imbalance is too great.

The Gospel response is something riskier: "When you have need, I am there for you. Now I have need, and I expect you to be there for me."
Fresh words!
Fresh voices!
Fresh ideas!

Fresh Day!


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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Life, Love, Wonder, Joy, Awe, Connectedness

"You are anointed with this oil and sealed as Christ's own forever,"
 I said as I made the sign of the cross on her forehead with the oil for baptism...

she asked, "will you put some on my toes too?"

All you need to know about how to live can be found in a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer that is used when we baptize: - I adapted it a bit..

'Gracious and loving God, we thank you for life itself. 
Sustain me, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give me
an inquiring and discerning heart, 

the courage to will and to persevere, 
a spirit to know and to love you, 
and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.'

Inquiring - so we never lose our curiosity and desire to engage and learn.

Discerning- I could have used this a bit more when I was 17 & decided to hitch hike across the country by myself.  Bad idea. 
Very Bad. 

Courage to will & persevere- Some days it takes a lot of courage to just keep on going. I recently read a book that my 16 year old daughter brought home from school called Thirteen Reasons Why. It was written from the perspective of a girl who committed suicide and sent audio tapes to the people who contributed to her decision to take her life. I felt compelled to write a response called Thirteen Reasons Why Not - from the perspective of teen who attempted suicide a couple of times. She wrote letters to people who helped her stay the course, hang in there for just another day, another hour until she reclaimed the spark of life that was meant for her all along. 

A spirit to know and love God - we need to know it's not all about us, there is more, so much more....

The gift of joy and wonder - so that we never ever ever lose the capacity to stand in utter awe whether we are gazing at a new baby, a full moon, a small flower or a admiring the beauty of a horse running free, or.... add your own.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Faith and religion

I'm reading Daring Greatly by Brenee Brown. I have underlined notes on almost every page. A quote from her book that I read today is:

"When religious leaders leverage our fear and need for more certainty by extracting vulnerability from spirituality and turning faith into 'compliance and consequences,' rather than teaching and modeling how to wrestle with the unknown and how to embrace mystery the entire concept of faith is bankrupt on its own terms. Faith minus  vulnerability equals politics, or worse extremism. Spiritual connection and engagement is not built on compliance, it's the product of love, belonging, and vulnerability."

Amen to that!!

The photo was taken on Pentecost Sunday at Episcopal Cathedral in Topeka.