Discernment: it's complicated

The Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ – Luke 9:57-62

“Let the dead bury their own dead.” “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” These are harsh statements. They seem to suggest that under no circumstances ought we to compromise. We ought to choose the most important thing, even if it means cutting our ties with friends and family. We ought to live a life dedicated to God, go where Jesus is and proclaim the kingdom.

What would that mean for you? For me, it gets complicated really quickly. If I were to leave everything behind, where would I go? Would I enter a monastery? Join a group like Doctors without Borders? Go to seminary? Go to Guatemala? Do I cast my lot with the poor and help the impoverished in my own country? Become a street evangelist? Is leaving my children and grandchildren behind the right thing to do? How about my life-long partner? All these are perhaps valid responses to the call of God in one's heart. But they aren't mine.

Perhaps I am just making excuses, but I really do feel that the unrelenting perspective that puts God first in my life is both less dramatic and more elusive than that. It is not a once and for all decision that gets me there, but rather an ongoing process of dialogue and discernment. There is never an end to it. The thing that was right a few years ago is wrong now. New opportunities, the closing off of certain pathways, the need to develop some neglected aspect of my person, all these things and more factor in. It's always a bit of a crap shoot, always an approximation, always “getting there” rather than “being there”.

128px-Ignatius_Loyola_by_Francisco_Zurbaran.jpgIn this process the spiritual feelings of consolation and desolation described by Ignatius of Loyola play a part. When I am on fire with God, moved to praise and to love, I know I am on the right track. Decisions that bring me a solid peace, joy, tears of understanding or relief are the ones that lead me to God's dream for me.

By contrast, restlessness and anxiety or uncertainty indicate that what I am choosing is not quite right. My soul is not inspired by it. It does not guide me into greater fulfillment in relationship with my Creator.

Discernment is a time-consuming activity. It involves plunging into our confusion and working with it, clarifying nebulous thoughts and feelings and learning what spirits move us, when and how. It is an art rather than a science, and it works best when we know ourselves well in all our complexity – our particular brand of pettiness and grandeur, arrogance and selflessness, wisdom and stupidity.

It also works best with a spiritual director, someone who can challenge us, point out where we are fooling ourselves, and ask the questions that lead to true insight. Having the perspective of the other helps us find the perspective of God.

Today I will light a candle in thanks to St. Ignatius of Loyola whose Spiritual Exercises have given us such wise and practical ways of learning what following the Way of Jesus really does mean in our lives at any given moment. I will also light a candle to each of the spiritual guides and companions who have listened in and helped me discern my own path forward in my ongoing journey to live a life dedicated to God.

"Ignatius Loyola by Francisco Zurbaran" by Francisco Zurbaran (1598-1664) - Art.co.uk. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Where are you going and what will you take

I know a monk in Myanmar -- high ranking, as monks go. He is able to go inside of pagodas. Not all monks can do that. I most certainly can not do that. But he can.

We go to different places. Some go to offices, others to classrooms. Still others go to the food pantry, to stand in lines, to factories, or shoppes, libraries, refineries. Some stay home.

In our story today, Ehud went somewhere too. He went to King Eglon's palace, and it was not a social call.

Ehud's situation was grim, you see. He was a leader of the smallest tribe in Israel, and oppressed by a triumvirate of distant cousins: The Moabites, The Ammonites and the Amalekites. Ehud was probably pretty mad about that. Maybe even mad enough to.... kill!

I can just about see it in my mind:

Ehud pacing back and forth in one of the rooms in his house: “I don’t want to give tribute to that fat old laggard,” he might have fumed to no one in particular. “I am sick of him lounging around the city of palm trees, profiting off our backs, and taking our women. He and the others have brought Chemosh and Moloch. into the city that Ya Himself gave to us, our first victory, our own land. It’s just too much!”

Ehud would have been aware of Eglon’s fancy new Jericho villa, used mainly as a weekend retreat. And Ehud would have had first hand experience of Eglon’s oppression. And the oppression wasn’t getting any better. In fact, he was due to take a tribute payment to Eglon in just a few days.

Ehud knew that he had to do something. But, what.... what to do?

It’s like the start to an adventure story, isn’t it?

Well, it is an adventure. We are all on an adventure, after all. Even Ehud.

134px-Speculum_Darmstadt_2505_55r_cropped.jpgEhud's adventure continues when he gains entry to the palace. Then, he gains entry to King Eglon's very private rooms. And, finally, Ehud manages to get his sword deep into Eglon's gut. Into the palace, into the private rooms, into Eglon's gut... In, in, in... Ehud was a man who got in.

We are all getting in to one place or another. Maybe it is just getting in to work, or in on a meeting, or into wherever... Sometimes I even get myself into trouble. But, wherever you and I go, we carry a sword. It's not like Ehud's sword. It's the sword of the spirit, the word of God, or the Christ Spirit. And allowing that spirit to get into the cracks and crevices of our meetings, shoppes, classrooms, and lives is where the real adventure begins.

We will not all go to the same places today, but we will all carry the same spirit to the places that we do visit.

Where will you go today?

How will things change if the Christ Spirit is with you?

Linda "Lindy" McMillan is a native of the American state of Texas. She currently resides in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Lindy's vocation is adventure, expressed in the ministry of loving the world back to its peace in God.

"Speculum Darmstadt 2505 55r cropped" by Speculum_Darmstadt_2505_55r.jpg: Anonymousderivative work: StAnselm - This file was derived from:Speculum_Darmstadt_2505_55r.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Bottomless Basket

Matthew 14:13-21

The miracle of the loaves and fishes is a tale we have heard over and over since childhood. It is the only miracle recounted in all four gospels. Yet despite its familiarity, its full meaning often escapes our understanding.

Was this miracle merely a crowd pleaser? Did Jesus just throw in a free meal for the multitudes… sort of a biblical version of free-hot-dog-day at the ballpark? Or was it a simply a huge parlor trick meant to wow the faithful and confound the skeptics? Doubtless the miracle served both purposes. But in all of Christ’s words and actions, there is a single, much deeper message: God loves us. And Jesus is literally the embodiment of that love.

Where we see scraps, he can create abundance. Where we see emptiness and depression, he can create profound fulfillment and boundless joy. He is the bread of life. And in Christ, that life is abundant. The crowd did not need to come back for seconds. They were filled to satisfaction and there was enough left over for doggy bags… twelve baskets worth. What a perfect analogy for God’s love. Out of scarcity comes the endless buffet, the bottomless basket.

This is a very different kind of miracle, but a very familiar kind of gospel… while it is comforting, it is also challenging. In other miracles, Jesus is presented with a problem. He acts miraculously to resolve it… publicly calling on the Father, laying on hands, commanding spirits… and then the miracle happens. But in this gospel the miracle takes place off-stage. And it comes not directly from Jesus, but through the hands of the disciples, which is a minor miracle in itself. As the gospel begins the disciples are ready to shoo the crowd away: Go home folks. The show’s over. But Jesus transforms them from would-be bouncers into sacramental servants. He instructs them to share their meager provisions with the people. It is a teaching moment for the disciples and for us. We are not meant to be passive recipients of God’s grace, but to be active channels of his love. We do not come to Christ merely to be fed, but to feed others.

That is a condition of our discipleship.

That does not mean occasionally making a painless contribution or going through the motions of community service. Charity is not mindless, mechanical giving. It is sharing the love on which we are nourished. It’s not dispensing empty, loveless calories. It is sacrificially giving of ourselves as Christ has given of himself to us. Like the disciples when they fed the hungry crowd that had over-stayed their leave, Jesus expects us to be loving, to be nurturing, especially to those who are inconvenient… the poor, the aged, the infirmed, the addicted.

While the gospel speaks of “crowds,” each one on that hillside was a beloved child of God. Like us, each had primitive survival instincts that ask: “Where’s my share? Why didn’t I get that piece?” Yet every one was fed and each went away satisfied. God does not love us as crowds, or as a species… a mere category of his creation. He knows and loves each one of us in our own personal failings and foolishness. He has a plan for each one of us and more than enough love to fill your basket and mine to overflowing. In that blessed assurance, let us taste and see the goodness of the Lord. And like the disciples, let us have the faith to dig into our own scarcity and share in abundance from the bottomless basket of God’s love.

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

Letting the bread rise

“He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Matthew 13:33)

Yesterday’s gospel reading from Matthew, chapter 13, included the parable of the yeast, or leaven, to use a more antiquated term. This little nugget of scripture sang out to me in light of several events going on at this time.

First, we are approaching the 40th anniversary tomorrow of the ordination of eleven women to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, which happened on July 29, 1974 at Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. Second, it was recently announced that the General Synod of the Church of England had approved legislation for women to be selected as bishops, twenty years after the Church of England admitted women to the priesthood in 1994. Third, and at nearly the same time as we received that news, several hundred Episcopal youth were raising the roof at the Episcopal Youth Event in Philadelphia—some of them even got to visit the church in Philadelphia where that first ordination took place. Further, I write these words today from Camp Phoenix, which is the summer camp for youth operated by the Diocese of Missouri.

What does all this have to do with this parable?

I would bet that most of us have experienced times when we have been discounted or overlooked for some reason, regardless of our capability. Maybe it was due to our age—either being too young or too old. Maybe it was due to our gender or sexuality, especially when we try to do something that traditionally has not been stereotypically within our sphere of activity. Maybe it was because of our body shape, or our accent, or the credentials we hold or do not hold, or perhaps because it was feared that our admission into a role would diminish that role’s prestige or traditions. Nonetheless, sometimes the most discounted or overlooked things have the most to offer us. One such person was Jesus. He didn’t have the right pedigree, the right accent, the right credentials. Even his neighbors disregarded him and his authority to teach.

That’s part of why Jesus told this little parable—he was explaining how something that could be discounted, that could even be considered unclean, could actually do great things. If you’ve ever made bread from scratch, you know that yeast is tiny little granule-looking things that are actually alive—they are micro-organisms classified as a fungus. But if you had lived at the time of Christ, you would not have thought of yeast as something found in cute, sterile little packets in the grocery store, but was instead you would have had to cultivate from old bread that was allowed to decay. Something that appeared to be useless provided the starter for something good: leavened bread.

Add yeast to flour, water, and salt, and the entire mixture rises and becomes what my more rural relatives used to call “light bread” (as opposed to biscuits). Over time, it grows in size: yeast added to three measures of flour created enough bread for a feast, or so my commentaries tell me. It’s a sometimes messy process, but it’s also amazing. Another facet of this short parable is that Jesus can be compared to the woman in the story, and it is one of the places in scripture where feminine imagery and “women’s work” is used to describe an action of God—in this case, revealing to the world the realization of the reign of God in our lives and in all of creation in the leavening and rising of that bread. Bread that feeds the soul, and the world.

For the last fifty years in the Episcopal Church, the leaven that women provide as laity, deacons, priests, and now bishops—even presiding bishops!—has been allowed to rise, and continues to evolve. Now the Church of England itself is moving further toward an fuller embrace of that same truth. At the same time, we are steadily evolving in our understanding and celebration of the role that our youth can play within the Episcopal Church and the greater church in the world.

We are all leaven. Each of us—male, female, transgendered, old, young, gay, straight, bisexual-- may look like an unlikely source of enlightenment to the world at large, but each of us has a part to play in the Kingdom of Heaven. It may take time and patience but also perseverance for this to come into fullness. When all are encouraged to come fully into the gifts and talents we all have, the entire Body of Christ and the world is lifted up and rises toward a fuller realization of the Kingdom of Heaven right now. May we all have ears to listen!

Leslie Scoopmire is a newly retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She will attend Eden Theological Seminary beginning in the fall of 2014. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.

Avoiding "oops"

Psalm 24, 29 (Morning)
Psalm 8, 84 (Evening)
Joshua 24:1-15
Acts 28:23-31
Mark 2:23-28

Although I do think the adage "never get sick near a teaching hospital in July," is a little overblown, July in a teaching hospital does have its moments. I get asked some pretty strange questions, where I literally have to hold myself back not to say, "Whaaaaa? You mean you don't KNOW this????"

I admit when I was younger, I didn't hold myself back very well. More than one new clinical medical student got charbroiled by my response. But as I've gotten older, I've moved to a new tactic. I frame multiple questions until the learner either goes, "Oh! I get it!" with the light bulb of recognition, or the stony silence of "Oooops." If it's the "oops," I now commiserate and say, "yeah, we've all gotten that one wrong ahead of you. But here's how you solve it next time. The good news is you are asking me now, ahead of time, before someone could have gotten hurt--not after the fact, which would upset a lot of us, most of all the patient! So pay attention to what I'm going to tell you, so you can make a good choice."

Now, what I end up telling them, whether they are in the "Oh, I get it," category, or the "Oops" category...well...I'm pretty sure is more than they wanted for an answer, especially if they sort of found their way to the correct answer. My answer often starts with a historical perspective of how something was treated or what lab tests we used to order, to bring them to a place where they understand why they are doing things this way, now. At times, they have the look like someone who asked for a drink of water and got a 5 gallon bucket poured on them in reply. But I do it anyway, so they can understand their choice. Sometimes I qualify my answer with, "Now, there are lots of other ways to do this, but this is how I would do it," i.e., I have a right way I prefer, but that doesn't make someone else's choice wrong.

In our reading in Joshua today, Joshua, old and near death, does sort of the same thing. He tells the people that they are at a crossroads, they need to choose. Is it going to be the God of Israel or the gods of the neighboring folks? He starts it off by telling the narration of the relationship between God and the Hebrew people.

Now, you know some of those folks in the crowd, well...I'm sure some of their eyes were glazing over through most of it. "Yeah, yeah, we know this stuff already." Also, he doesn't really threaten, although he certainly is a proponent of choosing the God of Israel. He says, "If you're unwilling to make this choice, then choose this day whom you will serve." In other words, whatever you do, make it your choice--don't just drift.

Later in the chapter, you will see the various ways he reinforces the people's choice to follow God. It's not a lot different than what we do in the times we renew our Baptismal Covenant. Although some folks were baptized as adults, and made a conscious choice, others were baptized as infants or young children, when it was not really our choice at all. Still others have yet to be baptized but are considering the possibility, and a lot of folks simply won't be, having chosen another path.

Yet, if you spend much time in the Episcopal Church, you will probably see and hear the congregation renewing their Baptismal Covenant at each baptism and during selected times in the church year. We do that, not because it didn't "take" the first time, but to hold before us as a reminder of the places where we feel we are doing okay serving God, and the places where we need to do some more work. Like the people of Joshua's time, we're asked to choose this day whom we'll serve, over and over.

Which line in our Baptismal Covenant is the one that most frequently speaks to you, when we renew our baptismal vows?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.

Joachim and Anne: parents of Mary

Commemoration of Joachim and Anne, Parents of Mary

Psalm 132:11-19
Genesis 17:1-8
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5
Luke 1:26-33

They were probably an ordinary family, just like the rest of the families that made up the neighborhood. The families knew each other quite well although those outside the neighborhood or perhaps the local synagogue would have known them from Adam's pussycat except, maybe, by reputation. They were probably a quiet family, going about the daily job of living and doing the various jobs that were assigned them by their gender, age and station: some would go to work like the father, learning his trade and contributing to the family income while some would stay at home, either because they were still too young to be of help (an time that would not last long as children went to work early in life) or because they were learning the art and craft of managing a home and a family. They were observant in their religious duties and taught the kids to do the same. They were no different than dozens of families in their neighborhood or even billions of families throughout the centuries since then.

">104px-Santi_gioacchino_e_anna.jpgThings were going well for this family. Perhaps they had a number of children but we only know of one. She was their daughter, of marriageable age and already betrothed to a man the family hoped would support her well and treat her with kindness. She was a very good girl, obedient to both her family and to her faith. Everything was moving along just as expected but then there was a fly in the ointment -- or, rather, an angel? She was just sitting there, perhaps mending or sewing a new garment, when out of the blue someone (or something) appeared out of nowhere with a message so preposterous she could hardly believe her ears. But, trained to be meek and obedient, she agreed to what was being proposed to her and then the angel/being left her. She was probably awash with emotion and probably more than a little afraid of how all this was going to work.

I wonder how the young girl told her family. I also wonder what the family's reaction was. Did they think she was having a hallucination when she said an angel? By the time she got to what the visitation was about the family would probably be in a state of shock. Their daughter, the one whose virginity they had protected for her almost-husband, was announcing that she was pregnant by God (not pregnant, by God!) and would have a son. Did they think she and Joseph had jumped the gun just a little, which, I believe, they were entitled to do as formally betrothed? Did they think she had slipped out to meet a secret lover and it had caught up with her? Or perhaps that someone had raped their daughter under their very noses and this story was to cover the daughter's own shame and guilt? How about their own shame and guilt at having a pregnant daughter who wasn't married yet? What would the neighbors think?

We know the young girl's name was Mary and we know that she had parents although we don't really know their names. They were called Joachim and Anne, names that first appeared in the Protoevangelium of James, an early Gnostic gospel in which Anne was childless and advanced in years when a miracle from God made her pregnant by her husband of many years, Joachim. The child was taken to the temple at the age of three to be devoted to the service of God but by the time she was twelve the priests decided she needed to be married and so, though a process of divine guidance, Joseph, an older man with sons already, was designated to be her husband. Did it happen? Probably not although it was a way of explaining a number of things the gospels of Luke and Matthew left out.

Whether or not we know their true names isn't important any more than we can remember the names of the parents of the latest sports hero or the most brilliant scholar in the world. They had a task to perform, namely raising the child, and after that they sort of vanished from sight. Mary's parents were never referred to at all, but in order to make a story complete there has to be a starting point and the Protoevangelium of James provides a bit of that, a sort of Christian midrash.

What I still wonder is whether Mary's parents promptly packed her off to her cousin Elizabeth, herself a bit of a scandal after having been barren for many years and suddenly was as pregnant as could be, or whether it was Mary's idea to visit in order to let the furor over her own pregnancy die down a bit before returning to take up her life as best she could. Whichever it was, we know the story well as we feature it every Advent and celebrate the fruit of Mary's labor at Christmas.

Parents have a huge responsibility to raise their children. Some are more successful than others, probably just as it was in Mary's neighborhood in Nazareth. I'm sure the lessons she learned from her parents didn't cover an unorthodox pregnancy, life as a refugee in Egypt to escape the possible execution of their infant son, and then watching that son grow to be an itinerant rabbi and healer that the family, including perhaps Mary herself, considered crazy. However Mary's life proceeded from that moment when she, an ordinary girl preparing for marriage and her own home, was confronted by something greater and larger than anything she could have imagined, she became the parent the world would remember, one who birthed a son and then watched him die.

We commemorate Joachim and Anne, honoring them because of their daughter, an absolutely normal human being whose assent to an incomprehensible offer changed the world. To those living in Nazareth, though, they were just the family next door, just like almost everyone else and, at least, living seemingly unremarkable lives.

It makes a person wonder, doesn't it, about the neighbor next door and what exceptional things they might do?

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

"Santi gioacchino e anna". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Santi_gioacchino_e_anna.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Santi_gioacchino_e_anna.jpg

Missing the big picture or overlooking details

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. (Mt 27:3)

41 million! That's the number of tiles (tesserae) in the mosaics which cover the walls, arches, domes, and vaulted ceilings of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, the Roman Catholic cathedral in the Missouri city of the same name.

41 million! I head that number several times from the volunteer docent who guided my daughter and me, and several others, through the cathedral a few days ago. 41 million tiles, nearly all no bigger than 1/4 inch square, put in place under the watchful supervision of (if not personally by) two immigrant mosaicists (a father-son team) over an 76 year span from 1912 to 1988.

41 million! They are assembled into pictures of prominent persons in St. Louis city history, stories of the life of St. Louis of France, portraits from Hebrew history, of saints of the church and of angels of heaven, scenes from the life of Christ, verses of scripture, Celtic knotwork (with dragons!), Moorish tracery, floral designs. One could spend days in the cathedral and not really see all of the mosaic art it contains.

41 million! We followed our guide through the narthex (where St. Louis's life is portrayed), down the center aisle of the nave (as she pointed out the important events of the city's history depicted on the walls), up to the crossing (where the arches are decorated with saints and angels in scenes of judgment, justice, and mercy). As she told us about the mosaics, her narration fairly dripped with her pre-Vatican II spirituality: she punctuated her descriptions of the artwork with "prayers we used to say before 1960," and her criticism of recent popes' appointments to the cardinalate (too many Asians and Africans, not enough Americans). We decided to leave the tour group.

41 million! An interesting fact, that number, but hardly the point of mosaicists work; they weren't installing 41 million tiles - they were creating a whole cathedral full of scenes, pictures, and designs. Our docent's focus on the number of individual tiles detracted from appreciation of the overall beauty of the work. Lovely, those old prayers, but a new sort of Roman Catholic church had emerged from the Second Vatican Council. Our docent's focus on the ancient forms seemed to have blinded her to the renewal of the faith. Perhaps there are some American prelates who should be made cardinals in the Roman church, but that tradition declares itself universal and recent popes have tried to live into that be broadening the international scope of the college of cardinals. Our docent's focus on national ecclesial pride distracted her from the comprehensiveness of her tradition.

Was that Judas's problem? Was he focused on some narrow aspect of Jesus' program and unable to see the whole picture? Is that why he was surprised that Jesus was condemned, why he sought to undo what he had done, to give back the 30 pieces of silver?

30 pieces or 41 million pieces, old prayers or foreign prelates, details can distract us from seeing the whole scene; we "can't see the forest for the trees." The common idiom "the devil is in the details" is usually cited to encourage us to pay attention to detail, but perhaps it is a two-edged sword, perhaps there is a Catch-22 in paying attention to detail. When we don't, some small overlooked problem can catch us up. When we do, we miss the big picture.

What was Judas's detail? What detail did he overlook? Or was it a detail he paid too much attention to? What was Judas's detail?

What is mine?

The Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston is rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, an EfM mentor, and a writer of Daily Office meditations offered on his blog, That Which We Have Heard & Known.

Blessed are the poor

And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor,for yours is the kingdom of God.” – Luke 6:19-20

house-finch.jpgA finch couple has found my bird feeder in the back yard, and they are sitting on it and proclaiming to the world that it is theirs. Silly birds. It is really mine. I bought it and filled it with seed – which I also bought – and hung it for them, wanting their bright colors in my yard for my pleasure.

But, saying that, I wonder. Is the bird feeder really mine? Where did the resources that allowed me to purchase it come from?

Silly me. I inhabit a life every bit as providential as the finches'. And I defend my luck just as strenuously from all comers. “My house,” I warble. “My food. My car. My yard. My bird feeder.”

Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

The poorest bird comes to the feeder and grabs a few bites while the mightier finches are doing something else. This bird does not stay at the single feeder. Her food comes from a variety of sources: trees and bushes producing nuts and fruit, and other bird feeders on other lawns. There is a way in which the whole world belongs to her. Not identified with a single spot, she has the freedom to dip in anywhere for sustenance.

There is a link between the freedom to find food anywhere and the healing power that Jesus exudes. I don't think it's as simple as a cause-effect relationship. But there is something the soul learns when it leaves the rooftop of the bird feeder it has been proclaiming as its very own, something quite unexpected.

What the soul learns is that we are each, always, already a member in the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God is more binding than blood bonds, more tenacious than the greatest wealth. We cannot escape from it; it embraces us everywhere, even in death. When we realize that, we discover who we really are. And when we discover who we really are? Why, the sky is the limit.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

Making Judgments

Romans 14:13-23

Isn't it amazing how misdemeanors, felonies and trials of famous people (or even sometimes one-step-removed-from-total-anonymity people) attract and hold our attention? I bet most people over the age of 20 or so would remember following the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. Martha Stewart's stock trading misdoings were big news in 2004 while just about every day there's a story somewhere about someone, well-known or not, who has done something we would consider dastardly and we wait like Mme. Defarge at the foot of the guillotine for them to lose their heads, or, at least, their freedom/money/fame. When it fizzles we are disappointed and when our personal judgment is upheld by a court or jury, we feel vindicated ourselves. If there's anything we like better than judging other people, it's judging famous other people.
We make judgments all the time. This peanut butter is better than that one. This pseudo-Tudor house is more ritzy than that small-frontage ranch. This denomination or political party is superior to all others which are misguided/mistaken/bigoted or just plain so wrong as to be laughable. The same act can be applauded or castigated, depending on which side a person happens to be and how strongly they believe in the efficacy or the heinousness of the act.

Take the recent influx of children from Central America. Some people want the little criminals sent back to wherever they came from as fast as they can stick them on a plane or a bus or a train. Others see them as refugees from poverty, crime, and a dozen other things no child should ever see or hear of much less experience. "Take care of our own here first before we start letting those kids in here." How funny that kind of statement is, in a very tragic sort of way. Yes, we have too many homeless, poverty-stricken, sick, desperate, needy people in this country already, but we aren't taking care of them very well, are we? No, we're busy telling women what they can and can't do with their bodies, urging GLBTs to just forget about equal rights and the ability to get married to the person they love, brushing off kids who come to school hungry and often go home the same way, and insisting veterans who volunteered to help protect our safety at risk of their own lives and sanity to just get on with life as usual. We've judged the world and it's become an "I've got mine, too bad about you, just work harder" kind of judgment that we give out.

When Paul wrote to the Romans about making judgments, he used the image of food to get his point across. If eating that pork barbecue sandwich is going to make someone else feel sick or even dirty for having been in the immediate area, then they shouldn't eat pork barbecue sandwiches, at least, not in the presence of those for whom it would create a problem. That's a bit simplistic, but it gets the point across, I think. In short, don't do something that will make someone else's life more difficult. If a friend is an alcoholic, we wouldn't offer him or her a beer as soon as they step across our threshold, would we? We wouldn't, if we're (a) a good friend and/or (b) have any idea that the person has a problem saying "No" to alcohol.

Paul asks them to make judgments but make them based on what is good for the other, not necessarily just for themselves. Whatever is done should be done in love, and there's where the problem begins for us. To love someone a person has to be able to get close enough to them to see them as real people and, even if we can't walk a mile in their shoes, we can, at least, follow close enough behind that we can see where the footsteps those shoes made are leading. To love means to see the humanity in another person, not just the parts we think need to be changed. To love means to want the best for them, whether it is what we think is best or not. To love means to see a need in a fellow human being and do what we can to fill that need. We shouldn't make them stumble because we insist that ours is the high road they should take, we go back to get them and take part of their burden to make their walking easier even if it takes us out of our own way to wherever we were going.

We make judgments every day, many times a day. What we need to consider is whether we're making right judgments or wrong ones. Are we making them based on legality or on love? Are we seeking the best for ALL people, not just the ones like us, or are we judging some as unworthy of our time and attention?

Today I have to look to see where I am judging unfairly and where maybe my judgments are causing someone else to fail in some way. I think a few prayers for the gift of mercy, compassion and ability to love even those folks I really don't like very much are in order because I know I'd like the same kind of treatment from a lot of folks who don't like me all that well either. If I hear of someone making some error in judgment, their own judgment, whether they're famous or the most invisible and unknown person in the history of the world, may I commend them to God with a prayer or them and for any whom they have harmed in any way.

That's a full day's work just in itself but one I think is very necessary. Then to go to work on those judgments I've been making...

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

I have seen the Lord

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

John 20:18

With this very simple, direct formulation, Mary Magdalene reports the miracle of the ages to the cowering, defeated disciples of Christ.

She had gone to the tomb; seen it empty and upon emerging saw Jesus, who called to her by name. How fitting that Mary, at best a second-class citizen, is the first to proclaim the miracle of the risen Christ.

She does not say: the Lord spoke to me and I spoke to Him. The gospel simply records: I have seen the Lord. There was no voice in the clouds; no burning bush. Face to face, Mary had seen the Jesus they loved and lost. He who was dead, buried and mourned; was now risen, alive and calling to them.

Mary proclaimed the risen Christ to the disciples, but they remained fearful and disbelieving – until they too had seen the Lord. Later that same day, Jesus came into their locked hideout. Suddenly He was there, showing His wounds, blessing them, calling them to carry on His work, exhorting them: As my Father sent me, even so send I you.

Later came the famous meeting with doubting Thomas. Jesus convinced the doubter of the resurrection by taking Thomas by the hand and thrusting it into His wounds with a message that comes down the centuries to us today: …blessed are they that have not seen and yet believe.

Which is where we come in: 21st Century Christians working out our salvation in a world apparently devoid of miracles. A world that tells us the resurrection is a legend. Jesus is an historical anomaly. Stop looking for him in a post-Christian era…

No less a committed Christian than C.S. Lewis warns us: Seeing is not believing. This is the first thing to get clear…about miracles. His premise is that miracles must be seen through the eyes of faith. And through these eyes we look at this central miracle of faith: our redemption through the sacrificial life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the face of doubt and despair, we are blessed to proclaim again: We have seen the Lord!

We have seen the Lord in sick rooms, welcoming the dying home to their Father, consoling the grieving with the gift of faith and love…

We have seen the Lord at christenings bringing us together to reaffirm our faith and pass the light down through the generations…

We have seen the Lord bringing the personal resurrection of hope and human dignity to the addicted and who suffer…

And we have seen the Lord in bringing brothers and sisters together over the ages to celebrate the miracle of our redemption. By His specific promise He is with us when we gather week by week in His name. That is the power of our faith.

To William James: Faith is the will to believe. But where do we find the will? Too often life has to break us and bring us to our knees before in our desperation we see the Lord. But whatever the route we take, He is there in His shining, risen glory. Not only waiting for us; but rising for us everyday. He is there only a prayer away, if we but open our eyes to see Him.

He is risen in our kindness and patience. He is risen in our forgiveness of injuries. He is risen in charity, truth and justice. What greater joy than to look to our families, our congregation, our daily lives and say: I have seen the Lord.

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

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