“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – John 8:32

“The truth,” he said, “will make you free.”
“What is truth?” someone would ask.

And another time
he would say.
“I am the truth.”

If that is the case,
then is everyone else . . .

So then . . .

Truth walked by the Sea of Galilee
and called to untruth,
"Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."

Truth, walking along, saw untruth
sitting at the tax booth
and called, "Follow me."

Truth withdrew to a deserted place.
But untruth heard it and followed;
truth taught untruth;
truth healed untruth;
truth fed untruth;
truth blessed untruth; and
truth sent untruth away.

Truth tired out by the journey,
sitting by Jacob’s well
asked untruth for water,
and received none,
but gave.

Truth said to untruth, "Take nothing for your journey,
no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money —
not even an extra tunic.”

Truth walked in the temple
and untruth asked,
"By what authority are you doing these things?”
and truth declined to answer.

Truth said to untruth,
"What are you discussing while you walk along?"
and untruth was unable to answer.

What is truth?
Truth is as truth does,
as truth offers to untruth.

Truth is neither to stop nor to sit;
truth is to walk.
Truth is neither to surrender nor to listen;
truth is to call.
Truth is not to be ignorant or stubborn;
truth is to teach.
Truth is not to be ill or distressed;
truth is to heal.
Truth is neither food nor hunger;
truth is to feed.
Truth is neither water nor thirst;
truth is to quench.
Truth is neither baggage nor destination;
truth is to journey.
Truth is not to answer;
truth is to question.

And to question will make untruth free.

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.

It's complicated

Psalm 148, 149, 150 (Morning)
Psalm 114, 115 (Evening)
Job 11:1-9,13-20
Revelation 5:1-14
Matthew 5:1-12

What an interesting combination of readings today--the Beatitudes on the Gospel side, Zophar's response to Job on the Hebrew Scriptures side, and some really strange stuff in Revelation about golden bowls and sealed scrolls in the middle!

148px-Kievskaya_psaltir_iov_02.jpgWell, let's catch up to Job for a minute. Job just recently announced that he loathed his life; unfortunately, Zophar (whose name, interestingly, comes from the Hebrew word for "chirping") is being rather non-helpful. "You say you're blameless, but you must have done SOMETHING wrong...or maybe your kids did...well, someone did, anyway. Get it out and I'm sure God will be merciful to you, b/c you are a pretty good sort of a guy."

When we're miserable and inconsolable, really, anything anyone says to us is just so much chirping. So many times, our misery often resides in the fact we can't seem to reconcile ourselves to the fact justice and mercy, to God, quite easily coexist, and for us, well...not so much. I've said for years that the difference between justice and mercy is, "Justice is what we crave for the person who's hurt us; mercy is what we hope for when the person doing the hurting was us."

When we're miserable from being on the short end of justice, we tend to really want that other person to suffer. When we're miserable from the realization we have hurt another person, though, we want to be let off easy--or off the hook entirely. Of course, for every thing we think or feel strongly about a given situation, there's someone out there with the exact opposite viewpoint. It's probably safe to say we crave justice when it comes to other people, but want mercy when it comes to ourselves.

Yet as Jesus points out in the Beatitudes, it's precisely those times when we are poor in spirit where God's presence in our lives is incredibly near. The problem, of course, is we're in an awful place, and probably the last thing we want to do is explore this presence. We don't want to entertain the possibility of showing mercy to the people who have harmed us, nor do we want to consider the possibility that God will accompany us as we attempt to right our wrongs and make amends...but we still have to make amends.

If this were a Facebook relationship, we'd check the "it's complicated" box.

It's important to remember, though, that the big difference between the way God handles justice and mercy and the way human nature handles it, are two different things. God's over-arching plan is restorative--that all things will be brought to fulfillment in eternal relationship with God. Our tendency is to do the accounting and stop. "Let's see, you did X, well, if Y happens I think I can let it go and call it square." We, however, fail to account for the unquantifiable nature of transformation--both in ourselves and in others.

We also have evidence in this world to show that changing our mindsets about retribution vs. restoration is possible--what happened in South Africa with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (and continues to happen) there, with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, is nothing short of miraculous. Although imperfect, and not without its criticisms, it is at least a glimpse into the world of God's restorative justice.

We can at least hang onto the hope that our prayers really are golden bowls of fragrant incense, and that we have enough inherent worth in the sight of God that some day, we'll be able to open the seals on the truth of the things that have dogged us in this world.

When is a time that showing mercy to someone who harmed you transformed you? When is a time that doing the hard work of reconciliation helped you to feel God's presence in your life?

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.

"Kievskaya psaltir iov 02" by unknown medieval painter - photocopy of reproduction, created by user:Butko. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kievskaya_psaltir_iov_02.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Kievskaya_psaltir_iov_02.jpg

But You Don't Know Me

AM: Psalm 16, Psalm 21:1-7(8-14);
PM Psalm 110:1-5(6-10), Psalm 116, Psalm 117
Job 9:1, 10:1-9, 16-22
Acts 11:1-18
John 8:12-20

Often when I read the readings for the day I can't easily make a connection between them or, if I can, it's a very tenuous one. Today, though, with each of the three lessons all I could think of (and hear in my inner ear) was a continuing line from a song sung by Ray Charles, "You Don't Know Me."* It's a song about someone who loves another but who can't quite get up the courage to tell them until it's too late and they've gone off to marry someone else, leaving the singer mourning the unrequited love. Ok, it's hard to picture Job, Peter and Jesus in a romantic triangle and suffering unrequited love, but the last line of each verse of the song really sums it all up, "But you don't know me."

Job is doing what, in Yiddish, would be called a kvetch, a complaint (Job himself could be called a kvetch). In short, it's a variation on "Why me, God?" He's not cursing God, just calling attention to the fact that he really didn't deserve all this-the itching, pain, loss of home, family and just about everything that made life worthwhile. Most of us in much less drastic situation would have the same "Why me?" question. Job wasn't being punished for who he was or anything he'd done. He'd been a model citizen and his prosperity grew. The Adversary had approached God with the notion that taking away all the prosperity stuff would make Job turn against God. What Job endured was to prove a point. Job had friends, however, who try to get him to see the error of his thinking, to confess the reasons why he's being punished in this way. To them, Job's short response would be, "But you don't know me."

Peter's vision of the sheet with animals.jpgPeter was confronted about eating with non-believers by the church hierarchy in Jerusalem. Peter then told them about the vision of the sheet with all the animals, birds and reptiles that came down from heaven and the voice telling him, "“What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 9b). The voice wasn't talking just about pork chops or shrimp cocktails; it went a lot deeper than that. It was about reaching out to those whom tradition and culture said they should shun. Peter's version of "But you don't know me" was that when it looked to others that he'd simply been misbehaving while away from home, doing things like people do when on vacation that they'd never do when at home and back under scrutiny of family and neighbors. He was actually doing precisely what he was supposed to be doing. It took a bit of persuasion, but then, Peter wasn't always the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

The gospel reading comes right after the story of the woman taken in adultery as Jesus was teaching in the temple. Jesus' moment of "But you don't know me" was in response to the Pharisees who questioned his right to judge the woman and release her from the threat of stoning. Jesus' response was that if they knew him, they would know the Father who sent him, and if they knew the Father they would then know the truth of why he, Jesus, was here and why he was doing what he was doing. The Pharisees were quite knowledgeable about the law but when it came to the actuality of belief, they didn't get the point. Of course, it was their job to enforce the laws given to Moses by God, but somehow, over the millennia, something had gotten lost in the translation it seemed.

Each of us has our own "But you don't know me" experiences. Sometimes things have happened that shouldn't have and we've been judged by others on the basis of what they knew (or thought they knew) when that was or wasn't really what happened. Reputations have been ruined, relationships have been rent asunder, families torn apart, communities embroiled in conflict, all because there was a gap in what people thought they knew and the truth. I think Ferguson, Missouri, is a case in point. We hear different stories, one from witnesses, one from the police, another from the forensic findings of a boy/man who could no longer speak for himself in any other way.

Both Michael Brown and his police shooter could say, "But you don't know me," and both would be perfectly right. The intersection of their lives was brief but bloody, and neither one really knew what the other was about. The community has been left with questions that seemingly have no immediate answers, and public opinion is polarized by defenders on both sides. It's created an atmosphere of distrust, hard feelings, even violence on both sides, and one can only pray for calm and for answers that will help to begin the healing, bring the two sides together for the common good and, hopefully, bring about an end to whatever inequalities and racial tensions that were present in the community but not completely exposed until the day of Michael Brown's murder.

The event shines a light on something we don't like to think of, even those of us who are only observers from a distance. Everyone has a "But you don't know me" side to them, and, for many, how they feel inside about things like race, orientation, gender, social or economic status, even religion or lack of it, remains under the surface. Sometimes it will fester until it is accidentally lanced and the poison will be released and sometimes it will be a partially-healed scar that is ripped open. Sometimes something will happen that causes us to realize that we had a shadow side we weren't even aware of and which we now have to examine in the sunlight. That's when the "But you don't know me" becomes a personal "Now I know me."

"Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle"** is something we might need to keep in mind especially when it comes to our own judging of others and their motives. Even those for whom life seems good, and pleasant and worthwhile, there might be a painful struggle going on of which we know nothing until later, as we found with the tragic death of Robin Williams. What appear to be small challenges might be camouflage for deep chasms of inner pain and turmoil.

The lesson today is that we will never know everything about everyone. We could become like Pharisees or the Jerusalemites or even the Job's comforters, or we could be open to a greater compassion and understanding. The choice is ours. The readings definitely give us something to go on and the news we hear offers us further opportunities. Today would be a good day to remember "But you don't know me," both in ourselves and in everyone we meet.

It's worth a try.

*Walker, Cindy (composer and lyricist) and Arnold, Eddy (title, storyline) 1955. First recorded by Arnold in 1956. Ray Charles recorded it in 1962 and a host of other artists before and since have likewise recorded it and used it in live performances.

** Quote attributed to Rev. John Watson, writing under the pseudonym Ian MacLaren. Found at The Quote Investigator.

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.

"Peter's vision of the sheet with animals" by Illustrator of Henry Davenport Northrop's 'Treasures of the Bible', 1894 - http://www.lavistachurchofchrist.org/Pictures/Treasures%20of%20the%20Bible%20%28Church%20Age%29/target6.html. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Dunbar's Number

We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. – Hebrews 4:12-15

139px-John_Bunyan.jpgThese verses are from the epistle lesson for a mass in commemoration of John Bunyan, whose feast day this is on the Episcopal Church calendar of saints. Bunyan, best known as the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, was a tinker, a maker and mender of metal pots and cookware, by trade. According to hagiographer James Kiefer, he “underwent a period of acute spiritual anxiety” which led him to become a lay preacher among the non-conforming English Baptists.

I have to be honest and say that if I were dealing with “acute spiritual anxiety” becoming a preacher is not the remedy that I would choose; being a preacher was probably among the causes of my own experience several years ago with acute clinical depression! And keeping with the theme of honesty, continuing as a preacher, pastor, and parish priest is an on-going source of spiritual anxiety or (at least) of spiritual irritation!

Recently, in a Facebook discussion group, a member posed the question, “Why don’t Episcopal priests make hospital calls anymore?” and then related a tale of the member’s spouse’s hospitalization during which no clergy from their church paid a visit. Wow! Blanket condemnation of all Episcopal priests on the basis of one hospitalization experience! I began to suffer from “acute spiritual anxiety” just reading the comment, and began to give thought to becoming a tinker!

In the ensuing discussion, in which many spoke up for our clergy and suggested that the over-generalized denunciation was unwarranted (for which, by the way, thank you!) another commenter recounted a story of someone leaving the Episcopal Church because a priest had said, “I can’t visit everyone.” And someone else responded with approval, saying they would leave a church if told that and that if a priest said that, that priest should leave the ordained ministry!

“Wait!” I commented, “It’s probably true that the priest said that, but we cannot know the circumstances of the conversation. If someone were to talk with me about visitations, somewhere in the conversation I would probably say the same thing. Clergy cannot visit everyone! That’s a true statement, but for uttering that truth I am told I should leave my ministry?” I don’t think so! I suggested the commenter’s expectations were unrealistic.

I related the example of my current congregation which has a registered membership (which we all know is a meaningless number) of about 500, with an average Sunday attendance of about 125. I am the only priest on staff (an elderly retired priest is a congregant and helps out with hospital calls from time to time). There is no way I can visit everyone in this congregation; I don’t even know everyone who’s on the books as a member. During my eleven years here some of those supposed members have never darkened the church’s door!

Not only that, we live in an age when all the adults in a parishioner household may be, and probably are, working people. They are not home during the day to be visited, and their evenings are spent with family and children. Unless they have a particular need for their priest, they are neither available for nor interested in a visit. So my practice, and that of many of my colleagues, is to visit in hospital (when advised a parishioner is hospitalized) and to call on congregants at their homes when invited.

Needless to say, I received an online lecture about my inadequacies, a lecture which branched off into the tangential assertion that a parish priest should know every parishioner’s name and have a meaningful personal relationship with every parishioner. If one couldn’t do that then one was “100% unacceptable” as a priest. Talk about exciting “acute spiritual (or pastoral) anxiety”! Tinkering with metal pots was looking better and better!

This was not (I probably don’t need to emphasize) the first time I had read or heard such complaints about parish clergy in this or other denominations. I think everyone, at least most clergy and most people who have served on search committees or vestries, have seen the humorous (but not untrue) lists of the contradictory expectations of the “perfect pastor” –

The perfect pastor condemns sin roundly but never hurts anyone’s feelings.
She is 29 years old and has 40 years experience.
The perfect pastor has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and he spends most of his time with the senior citizens.
She smiles all the time with a straight face because she has a sense of humor that keeps her seriously dedicated to the church.
He makes 15 home visits a day and is always in the office when needed.
The perfect pastor never misses the meeting of any church organization and is always busy evangelizing the unchurched.
Etc. etc. etc.

I was unable to post a further response because the original post was deleted (whether by the original poster or the group administrator, I don’t know). I figured that was best and made no effort to pursue the discussion further, and didn’t join when it cropped up again later in the same group. However, today I find this reading from the Letter to the Hebrews in the saint’s-day propers, while in the Daily Office lectionary we are reading through the Gospel according to John and, tomorrow, will hear Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd.” And I am compelled to say, “I am not the great high priest! I am not the good shepherd!”

That bears repeating: I am not the great high priest! I am not the good shepherd! And that, I think, is the source of the problem – the source of the criticism in that Facebook comment thread and the source of clergy anxiety. I once had a three-year old parishioner who refused to be disabused of the notion that I was God, but despite his confidence in me, clergy are not Christ! We cannot be everywhere; we cannot visit every parishioner; we cannot know everyone’s name! We cannot respond to every pastoral need.

Another participant in that discussion had already made note that we clergy no longer receive notice from hospitals when parishioners are admitted. She suggested the complainant consider the HIPPA regulations which prohibit that and, further, that often there are in-house controls in hospitals regulating clergy visits with patients. Unless we are notified by the patient or the patient’s family, we may be completely unaware that there is even a need of a visit. (Of course, I don’t speak for those clergy who took the seminary training in clairvoyance and extra-telepathy. However, I and many of my colleagues missed that class.)

Had I been able to reply in that now-deleted Facebook discussion, I would have suggested that my correspondent also consider the impact of Dunbar’s number.

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical limit on human emotional interaction proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He suggested that 150 is the average cognitive limit on the number of other persons with whom one can maintain a stable social relationship (the actual individual limitation may range from a low of 100 to a high of 230 relationships). Dunbar’s hypothesis is that this limit is set by the size of the human neocortex; our brains are simply unable to process the cognitive and emotional data from additional social interactions.

Dunbar’s suggestion was based on a wide range of data across multiple primate species; he studied the correlation of brain size with social group across 38 kinds of primates, including humans. Other researchers, limiting their research to human populations (and, interestingly, specifically including clergy as a study group) have suggested the average limit may be somewhat higher at 231. Nonetheless, the point is that human beings are limited in the number of meaningful relationships they can enjoy.

So let me reiterate: parish clergy are not the great high priest; parish clergy are not the good shepherd; parish clergy are human beings. Like every other human being, parish clergy have limitations. We cannot be everywhere; we cannot visit every parishioner; we cannot know everyone’s name!

But we try our best! We really do. And we often suffer “acute spiritual anxiety” because we are all too familiar with our limitations; if we’re not to begin with, some parishioners will make it their job to make certain that we eventually are.

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” but we frequently have parishioners who are . . . and not all of them have the excuse of being three years of age.

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.

John Bunyan: Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Learning to Love

Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. – John 14:6

Teaching someone how to use a brush to paint a picture is best accomplished through a combination of “telling” and “showing”. For instance, the student must be aware of how much pressure to apply to the bristles, and in what direction. The bristles can be flexed, but only so far, otherwise the brush is ruined. Within the proper limits, varying pressure will produce a line of varying width. The line of paint produced by a brush will get narrower as the pressure on the brush is eased. Variables such as the shape of the brush, how thin the paint is and how much of it is on the brush will also affect the line created.

In order to truly understand this, the student must have it modeled by the teacher. An actual brush applied in the proper way will show the student what is meant. And then the student must practice, because it is only through developing hand-eye coordination that the student becomes facile in the skill of brush use.

When Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”, Jesus said to him, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” This is the “telling” part of his teaching. But there was a “showing” part as well. It was through interaction with Jesus that the disciples learned how to follow his Way.

Who showed you the ins and outs of loving others? Was it a grandparent who seemed to “get” you when everybody else, exasperated, had given up? Was it an older brother who teased you mercilessly but protected you from the bullies at school? Was it your mom who tucked you in at night and fed you your favorite foods when you were feeling blue? Or was it a friend who wandered the lanes with you in the afternoons when school was done?

Learning to love is like learning to use a brush. It isn't as simple as it looks. It takes a certain “soul-eye” coordination that only comes after modeling and with practice. For instance, one has to understand that loving is an intention rather than a feeling. It involves tuning the ears of the heart to the other and listening hard.

The disciples received both modeling from Jesus and the opportunity to practice his Way. Both within their community and when Jesus sent them out two by two into the world, they applied the skills they had been shown. They then came back and talked about what they had done, and through this process they learned and grew.

How do we model the skills involved in following the Way of Jesus in our faith communities? How and with whom do we practice?

Image by Laurie Gudim.

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.


Commemoration of Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle, priests

Psalm 25:7-14
Isaiah 35:3-6a
1 Thessalonians 1:3-4
Mark 7:32-37

I wonder what a world of silence is like. As I have a constant tinnitus, even when things are very, very quiet, it's never total silence. I used to sit in a very quiet church back home but even when I was totally alone there was always a ringing in my ears that I thought was a church-y sound. Normally my world was so filled with sound that I didn't hear the ringing until I was in that quiet place. Now that I'm older the tinnitus is a thing I can't total forget about, something not really pleasant but something I can ignore for the most part. But I still wonder what complete silence is like. I wonder, if I lose my hearing, will the tinnitus still be there? Or would I finally know what it is like to be profoundly deaf?

I often wondered what would be worse, losing my eyesight or my hearing. The older I get, the closer I get to finding out about one or the other, not as a certainty but as a possibility. I think I would hate to lose my hearing most because there is so much music I want to hear and so many sounds I cherish like the chirp of birds or the cooing of doves, the lap of waves on a beach or the sound of a friend's voice. Of course, I would have the memory of the sounds and the music, but it isn't quite the same as hearing it, is it?

The two men commemorated today had one thing in common - working with the deaf who have been an under-served group in church life. Gallaudet had a deaf mother and a father who was involved in education for the deaf, a calling Gallaudet himself undertook when he founded the university that bears his name in Washington DC. Syle lost his hearing at a young age but studied with Gallaudet and, like Gallaudet, became a priest. Syle was the first deaf American to be ordained to the priesthood and founded a church dedicated to serving the deaf community and whose services were conducted primarily in sign language.

In the Bible, deafness was seen as a punishment from God for something done by either the person themselves or perhaps their parents. It was a curse from God and, without doubt, a curse to those who were deaf. Often the deafness was accompanied by an inability to speak or to speak clearly, a double dis-ability. That was the case of the man in the gospel reading today. Fortunately for that man, he had friends who took him to Jesus.

Gallaudet and Syle weren't Jesus but they worked for Jesus to help the children of God that others might have ignored. Even though deafness is a rather invisible dis-ability, it still can be a barrier. Gallaudet and Syle were, in a sense, ground-breakers. Today it isn't uncommon to have churches who, along with the traditional music, prayers and sermons, have interpreters using American Sign Language to bring the deaf into the worshipping community.

Watching the interpreter is for me like watching a dance, a graceful (and grace-full) dance. It is like seeing a foreign language spoken since ASL has its own syntax and vocabulary that usually is incomprehensible to anyone not familiar with it. Still, it brings congregations together and doesn't marginalize those who don't or can't participate because of hearing issues.

Part of the mission Jesus set for us was to reach out to those in need of any kind, including those who might need to feel a part of a faith community but who aren't proficient lip-readers or for whom reading written words or symbols are the only way of doing so. In a way, I think it fits perfectly with Episcopal worship. We stand, sit, kneel, make the sign of the cross, reverence the processional cross and the altar, and move to the altar rail for the Eucharist. We involve our whole bodies into the service through these actions. Adding the element of people signing the hymns and prayers are another way of bringing the whole body to worship. It's another way of glorifying God not just through the physical act of the signs but as a reminder that people are differently-abled but still children of God and equal in God's sight. That means they should be equal in ours as well, right along with all the others who are somehow different, whether through gender, race, religious belief (or no religious belief), orientation, economic status, mental status, or any other thing that we can come up with that conceivably might separate "us" from "them." We are all "them" and we are all "us.".

Through witnesses like Gallaudet and Syle we learn that different doesn't mean less, it just means different. It would be good to focus on what people CAN do instead of what they can't. Maybe that's a lesson to learn today or at least try to do. How can I, or we, see others as fellow children of God instead of someone dis-abled, strange, or even suspicious? Like ASL, lip reading, speaking Spanish or obeying the teachings of Jesus, it requires the same thing that gets a person to Carnegie Hall -- practice, practice, practice.

There are worse things than complete silence. God can speak and, very possibly, do so even more clearly through silence than through all the words, sounds, and symbols the world can offer. Maybe it is those of us who have our hearing who have the harder time hearing God.

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.

The Price of Admission

Matthew 16:21-28

Death and taxes: It turns out that only one of life’s absolute certainties remains absolutely certain. Our physical demise has no loopholes, no shelters, no rebates. You can foil the IRS by relocating offshore, but you still have nowhere to hide when mortality comes calling.

Science, sanitation and nutrition have helped kick the can down the road a few decades. Infomercials are awash with pills and potions promising the fountain of youth. Fifty is the new thirty. But take it from a veteran of scores of final bedside vigils; our appointment with death can be put-off, but never cancelled.

In this week’s gospel, Peter doesn’t want to hear that stuff. Everything had been going along so well… the miracles, the adulation, the recognition. Then all of a sudden, Jesus busts his bubble. Christ is talking about betrayal and suffering, sacrifice and death. He’s taking all the fun out of being a disciple. The Messiah is supposed to be victorious. He’s going to put the Romans on the run. The disciples expect to live like kings… or at least like princes. But if Jesus is arrested, tortured and executed, you can kiss all that goodbye. So Peter tells Jesus to knock off the gloom and doom.

get-behind-me1-300x194.jpgGet behind me, Satan! is Christ’s answer. The same Jesus, who just named Peter the rock of the church, now calls him the Prince of Darkness. This is deadly serious business. Jesus is on a mission and nothing or no one is going to get in his way. In his anxiety Peter has missed the really big news. Jesus has said that on the third day he will rise from the dead. So, in fact, he’s not predicting a grizzly end. He’s proclaiming a glorious beginning. He’s not here to gain some tactical victory over the Romans. He’s here to conquer sin and death; to grant us entry into eternal salvation. And to do all that he’s prepared to pay the ultimate price… laying down a sinless life for all the sins of the world. His mortality is the price of our immortality. We simply can’t get there without it.

Jesus is telling us that the grave is not the end of the story for him or for us. He will conquer death, so that we can conquer death. But to get there he must carry his cross. And to follow him each of us must carry our cross, too. Suddenly death is not a onetime event that we spend a lifetime running from. To follow Christ means to be dead to the world over and over again… dead to pride, dead to infidelity, dead to escapism, dead to cutting corners, dead to a quick buck. But those many little deaths are a small price to pay for living in Christ… here and hereafter.

There are no parables or stories in this gospel. To the amazement of the disciples, Jesus lays it straight on the line; telling them: Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world but forfeit their life?

Clearly, to follow Jesus was never meant to be skipping down the yellow brick road to Oz. Even under the best of circumstances, active Christianity is almost always inconvenient and costly. At times it can be lonely and disappointing. And for most of the world, these are not the best of circumstances. We don’t come to our lovely country church to get a patronizing pat on the head from Jesus. We come to be challenged. And we are.

Straight from the shoulder, this is the basic proposition of Christianity: Give up the self-centered, grasping, fleeting life of the world. Make the leap of faith. Embrace God’s saving grace. Live in Christ. Invite him every day to come live in you. Grow in his love. Share it. Proclaim it.

In return, death is cut way down to size… while life is exalted… moving seamlessly from the finite to the infinite. Our souls transcend the life of our bodies. Sure there’s pain. There’s fear. There’s sorrow and separation. We are only human. But in Christ, our last breath and our final heartbeat are not a tragic finale. They are a joyful welcome home. And the best part is that it’s all for free. Jesus has paid the price of admission.

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.

Weakened Metaphors and Hard Questions

Jesus said: "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." – John 6:54-56

John's Jesus delivers a lengthy dissertation on bread of which today's Daily Office gospel lesson including these statements is a part. The Jews who were present disputed among themselves about what it could mean. What could he possibly be saying with his claim that his flesh was bread to be eaten by his followers: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (v. 51) To the Jews of Jesus' day, the very idea of consuming human flesh was off-putting, even disgusting, extremely objectionable. In a world where the zombie apocalypse occurs nightly on cable television, we are perhaps numb to the disgust that the idea of consuming human flesh should engender. Jesus' contemporaries were not; no wonder they grumbled and mumbled, complained and disputed. Even as a metaphor, the statement demands a lot from Jesus’ followers!

homecommunion.jpegChristians who participate weekly or more often in Holy Communion are perhaps overly familiar with the metaphor. It’s not that we have somehow explained it away, I don’t think we have. Rather, we have religiously we have made it routine, just as television entertainment has made it mundane. Frequent communion, with sweet wine and tasteless little wafer we laughingly call “bread,” together with those zombie movie and vampire television series, has weakened the impact of this shocking metaphor. I mean, really, to someone who does not hear these words through 2,000 years of eucharistic practice, eating flesh and drinking blood sound a whole lot like cannibalism and vampirism, but even those are only elements of popular entertainment.

How can we recapture the power of this metaphor? How can we make it make sense both to ourselves and to the non-church world in the 21st Century? How would we explain this to a person who has watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, read every word of the Twilight Series, seen World War Z, and can't wait for the next episode of The Walking Dead, but has never stepped foot in a church or even know what the Bible is?”

I don't have the answers to these questions, but the answers are less important than the questions themselves. Simply knowing that there are questions, acknowledging that they are real, that they are troubling, that they are important, and that there are no easy answers is the first step in answering our call to show that Christ is real, troubling, and important to the world, that Christ is relevant in the 21st Century.

Questions are much more important than answers, especially the hard ones.

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.

From cheers to jeers

Psalm 146, 147 (Morning)
Psalm 111, 112, 113 (Evening)
Job 4:1-6,12-21
Revelation 4:1-11
Mark 6:1-6a

The Gospels only record two times that Jesus was amazed; one is in Luke 7, when he is amazed at the faith of the centurion. Our reading in Mark today is the other, but Jesus' amazement has gone from the penthouse to the outhouse--he's amazed at the unbelief in his home town.

It's easily understandable. There's a special kind of sting when any of us are scoffed at by people we think we know--or even love dearly--and we think they are close enough to us to know and understand us. It can hurt in a far more cutting way than someone who's relatively a stranger. It's why bullying can hurt so much that the one bullied tries to stop the pain by attempting to end his or her own life. It's why rifts in families can, at times, be the hardest kind of situation to heal. It's why divorces can turn ugly. I suspect when the crowd turned in a heartbeat from being amazed themselves, to jeering him and dissing his family lineage, it truly stung Jesus. It certainly would have made him less likely to interact with the people there, and it would have made those desirous of healing a lot less likely to step forward to be healed--the end result being that Jesus ended up having a less than stellar day in the miracle department.

The hard reality, though, is that many of us, working under the presumption that those close to us know and understand us, often fail to give those folks the benefit of the doubt, when we are busy, or stressed, or fearful. When we're on the receiving end, it burns like fire; when we're on the delivery end, we're often confused. "Huh? What'd I do?"

We don't really understand exactly why the hometown crowd went from cheers to jeers, but we can take note of how Jesus handled it--"Then he went about the villages teaching." In short, he went elsewhere and tried again. He didn't let the hurt keep him down.

One of the problems when we study the Bible is we never get to hear the rest of the story. We're left wondering. Did any of those folks who gave Jesus such a hard time change their mind? Were some acting out of peer pressure and asked forgiveness later? Did they have regrets after the crucifixion? Did they go, "Well, I'll be darned," after the Resurrection? We'll never know.

Likewise, we don't know what will ever change later down the road in our relationships with others when we are stung by deep misunderstandings between us and those we love and care about--what particularly comes to mind for me is when we suffer the difficult and painful end of an intimate relationship, despite our best efforts to preserve it. We can't make other people see it our way. Sometimes, distance and time is the great leveler, hard as it is.

When is a time you tried too hard to reverse someone else's unbelief, and they would have none of it? What did you learn when you finally put some distance and time between you and them?

True Saints: Making life better for all

Commemoration of Martin de Porres, Rosa de Lima and Toribio de Mogrovejo

Stretch out your hand to the poor,
so that your blessing may be complete.
Give graciously to all the living;
do not withhold kindness even from the dead.
Do not avoid those who weep,
but mourn with those who mourn.
Do not hesitate to visit the sick,
because for such deeds you will be loved.
In all you do, remember the end of your life,
and then you will never sin. - Sirach 7:32-36

Today's commemorees are all linked with Peru, Martin and Rosa were Peruvian born, Martin of a very poor family and Rosa from one with more wealth and status. Each became affiliated with the Dominicans and spent their lives caring for and fighting for the poor in a society where the Spanish influence created a great gulf between the haves and the have-nots along with all the prejudices that come with that stratification. There is much to be admired about their lives, even without miracles ascribed to them. They exemplified what the word "Saint" has come to mean -- someone who comes into the world and works to make it a better place for all, including those who would be left behind if equality, safety and freedom were based solely on power and prestige.

Turibius de Mongrovejo.jpgI had some trouble with Toribio de Mogrovejo, though, when I read the first few lines of his hagiography. He had been trained as a lawyer and was a brilliant one. The king of Spain rewarded that brilliance by making him the chief judge over the court of the Inquisition even though he was a lay person. There's where I got stuck. How could I honor someone associated so closely with such a thing? I have read that the Inquisition was not as severe or as wide-spread as maybe my Protestant religious education might have intimated (or come right out and said) but still, say the word "Inquisition" and I cringe. The more I read about the time following that period, the more I realized that his was a path like Martin and Rosa's, just on a different level. He was ordained a priest and then sent to Peru to be the new archbishop, this despite the fact that he had not been appointed and consecrated a bishop much less elevated and consecrated as an archbishop before reaching Lima. When he got there, he didn't just sit around the ecclesiastical palace. He actually walked through his entire archbishopric, tending the sick, teaching, baptizing and confirming thousands of people as well as establishing the first seminary in all of the Americas. Now how could I dislike a guy like that?

SANTA ROSA DE LIMAOne thing the hagiographies of all three recorded was that they were chastised and sometimes punished for their following the gospel mandate to care for the poor and unfortunate. Martin himself had a tough time because of his mixed heritage and the fact that his father had abandoned the family when he was a small child, leaving his mother to care for two children without any assistance. Rosa's family was the opposite, very much opposed to her desire for chastity and to join a religious order instead of marrying as she was expected to do. Opposition seemed to make the two stronger and more dedicated to doing what they felt they had to do to obey the teachings of Jesus.

In this age of "I've got mine, too bad about you," the same problems of poverty, sickness, despair and inequality still exist. We don't have to look far; just checking the morning newspaper or the evening news on TV, not to mention the social media tweets and Facebook commentary keep the fact that there is really a world full of life-and-death stories, each involving real people and, most often, those people are seen by another group as somehow less deserving or less faithful or some other qualifier.
Jesus said that the poor would be always with us as opposed to his being on earth but a short time. I don't think he really intended for us to take that first part as a given and accept that that is how it is supposed to be or even mandated by God.

People like Martin, Rosa and Toribio did what they could to improve the lives of thoseSaint_Martin_de_Porres_Church%2C_Tlalnepantla%2C_Mexico_State%2C_Mexico_03.jpg around them who were suffering. They showed that one person could and did make a difference, even if it wasn't on the scale of millions or even thousands. To each person they helped, it probably felt like they changed the world. We have people who are like today's honorees-missionaries and doctors who go to Africa to try to fight Ebola. negotiators and relief workers in Gaza trying to bring peace and needed medical supplies, food and water to the suffering, Kurds trying to help rescue Yazidis seeking refuge from a group that seeks to annihilate them if they do not convert to Islam, and others both known and unknown who try to make the world a better, safer, more equal place. Each person is an individual but they believe that one person can make a difference. How much of a difference did it make to Ferguson, Missouri, to have a Highway Patrol captain leading a peaceful march to protest the murder of an African-American, an event that has sparked reactions reminiscent of the violence and mayhem following the murder of Martin Luther King Jr as well as similar actions after the Rodney King verdict in LA. Peace seems very far away when injustice, oppression and poverty abound.

So what are we doing to end the cycle of perpetual poverty and all that comes with it? What are we doing to end injustice that feeds on separation and stratification on the basis of something that a person or group has no control over such as skin color, gender or orientation? Whose tears are we wiping as they mingle with our own? Whose burden do we share because we are all human beings and children of God, whether we share a religious faith, race, gender or any other difference?

Maybe one person can't change the whole world, but looking at Martin, Rosa and Toribio, it's easier to see that one person can make a difference to people who were suffering and in need. Like the little boy on the beach full of stranded starfish, maybe throwing one starfish back into the water doesn't accomplish much but it makes a world of difference to that one.

Where can I make a difference today? I don't have to join a religious order to do it, I don't even have to go to church to do it either. There's a world of starfish out there -- all I have to do is toss one back into the ocean that is its home, its refuge, its world. Now to find that starfish...

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.

"Turibius de Mongrovejo" by User en:User:Polylerus on en.wikipedia - http://www.lepanto.com.br/Imagens/w0323.jpg The image was transferred from en.wiki (en:Image:Turibius.jpg) under the {{PD-old}} license tag. Wars. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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