Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Imagine No Religion

An unfinished art project. A new take on John Lennon's song "Imagine" (which for the record, I like). Click for full-res:

It's easy if you try.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Thoughts on Independence Day

The ideals and precepts which ground the nation are - strictly speaking - revolutionary. The Constitution particularly so because of its flexibility and ability to change; Such a concept contains the seeds of prophecy and echoes Biblical injunctions to "act justly and love mercy" to care for "the least of these." Two centuries later, we are still striving to actualize a vision of that world, where all human beings are indeed created equal.

Garret Keizer, a former Episcopal priest, writes, "How does a Christian population implicated in militarism, usury, sweatshop labor, and environmental rape find a way to sleep at night? Apparently, by making a very big deal out of not sleeping with Gene Robinson."

Remember that to whom much is given, much is required.

Every once in a while, even "The Message" translation of the Bible (Amos 5:21) is bound to speak powerfully:
"I can't stand your religious meetings.
I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.

When was the last time you sang to me?

Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That's what I want.
That's all I want."
Let's keep listening to the voices of our prophets. Seek peace and pursue it. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jesus, Lord of Death

The Gospel is from St. Mark 5:22-23, 35-43:

One of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw Jesus, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." He went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

Some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe."

He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him.

Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

The story this week is the latest in a whirlwind series of tales from the life of Jesus. Jesus has – as usual – attracted quite the following upon his return from the Sea of Galilee, and one man in particular has come to him with an urgent request.

Jairus, one of the leaders of the Synagogue, presumably a man of wealth, social prestige, intellect and theological training falls at the feet of Jesus. He begs for the healing of his young daughter, who is on the verge of death. Jesus obliges and the crowd follows.

When they reach the girl, she has passed away, and mourning is already in full swing. Jesus tells them she is not dead, but asleep, and they stop weeping long enough to laugh at him. Shutting the crowd out, Jesus brings only the family to the bedside. He takes Jairus' daughter by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up!” This is a tender expression in Aramaic, something one would say to a child. It is perhaps better translated as, “Get up, sleepyhead!” Jesus then tells them to give her something to eat.

Most psychologists agree that there are several stages an individual goes through when dealing with the death of a loved one, the final being “acceptance.” What a sad truth that is. We eventually give in to resignation. Death is saluted and feared and honored in our society. Back in Jesus' time, there were “professional mourners” whom one could hire to attend the death of a loved one. They were charged with weeping and wailing loudly, making a fuss over the body and presenting an image of true bereavement. If you think they are a relic of the past, watch the burial arrangements for Michael Jackson! Or take a look at the booming funeral business. The reaper, in his black cloak, sits atop a throne we have built for him.

We would do well to remember Jesus' words. “Do not fear, only believe. She is not dead, but sleeping.” We mourn, yes. Of course we mourn and feel deep sadness! However we do not mourn with resignation, but hope.

The Laramie Project is a play that chronicles the brutal murder of Matthew Shepherd. During the funeral scene, stage directions call for the “minister” to read from the Book of Common Prayer, since Matthew was an Episcopalian. Specifically, these words are proclaimed loudly and boldly: “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection.” A friend of mine, unaware of their origin, later recounted to me that those words moved her the most during the play.

Sometimes we despair about trials and tragedies that seem too big for even God to handle. We, like the crowd, say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” The compassion Jesus displays shows that he is not “too busy with the rest of the world” to care for us as individuals. He takes us away from the crowds, gently holds our hand, offers tender words of new life, and sends us on our way with a meal. He loves us – what an extraordinary thought!

The crowds that follow Jesus are often “amazed” at his miracles, but they do not “believe.” Sometimes, we find ourselves “amazed” at the love of God, but never truly internalize it. And that's okay. Even the smallest amount of faith (like a tiny mustard seed) is enough to flourish.

This is true faith, where we are saved by our hope (see also Rom. 8:22-27) rather than an imperfect belief. There is enough faith in the Kingdom of God. And together, we can rejoice and proclaim that Jesus is Lord – of sea and storm, of disease and even death.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

We Receive You!

This is a reflection written by an acquaintance of mine on the art website deviantART. I thought it appropriate for Trinity Sunday, and loved his unique take on baptism. Many parts reminded of me of my own baptism/confirmation as an adult convert, particularly the part about not wanting to wipe the water off.

All rights reserved to Will Burrows, whose original work may be found here.

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We Receive You
by Will Burrows
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20 April: birthday of Adolf Hitler, anniversary of the Columbine killings, and of the death of Granny Belle.

20 April: Ken woke us at 5:00 AM. I sat up on my sleeping bag on the thinly carpeted floor of Classroom One, still in the clothes I was wearing yesterday. I rubbed my eyes and remembered the night before:

Lights went out at 11 and everybody was to be in their sleeping bags – girls in the offices upstairs, boys in the classrooms downstairs. With Carl and Eli I had sneaked out, some time after midnight when everybody else was asleep. We ate cold pizza, played frisbee, and built houses of cards into the wee hours when they went back to bed.

I took a walk up the back steps, the narrow hallway like in a pyramid, to the dark nave. Lights were still on in town, but there were hardly any cars. Floodlights pointed up at the courthouse dome and the twin towers of W&J’s Old Main. I relented and lay down. I thought I was too worked up to sleep. Two hours or so had passed without my knowing it when Ken woke us.
Fiona and Karen were in the kitchen cutting bagels for the teenagers who had spent the night in the church. It was an effective way to get young folks to show up for the Vigil. There were a lot of bagels to cut.

The bagel I ate then was ruined with the after-taste of toothpaste. I changed my shirt, put on my corduroy pants and jacket (the ones I had worn to the prom), the pants rust orange and a bit small for me, the jacket olive green with suede elbows and a steel peace sign on the lapel. I tied back my dreadlocks.

Joe was still asleep. With a bare foot I kicked him; he groaned and rolled over. Last night he and Carl had called me their brother. I hadn’t told them how much it meant to me.

People were starting to arrive. I met Mum at the door, and we went upstairs. Dad was already there. We entered the nave in nearly complete darkness and silence.

At 5:45 AM a fire was kindled in the darkness. Mark took light from that fire with the Paschal Candle, and acolytes passed light from that candle by smaller candles to everyone in the room. Mark chanted, and we, the people, responded in call-and-answer fashion.

Then he chanted the Exsultet, including these words: “Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, | bright with a glorious splendor, | for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.”

Stories were read of the genesis of the universe and the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. We sang hymns and heard ancient prophecies read aloud. The room was full of orange faces with heavy eyelids of people holding candles that dripped on the seats and floor.

When it was time, I walked to the chancel where Carl and I had carried the font after the Good Friday service. My parents were behind me. Karen asked the youth of the congregation to come forward. These kids had camped out the previous night in the offices and classrooms of the church, numbering between twenty and thirty. Some were my closest friends, and others I hardly knew.

Karen asked me questions, like, “Do you desire to be baptized?” I said, “I do.” And, “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?” I said, “I renounce them.” She asked all the questions that the Book of Common Prayer told her to ask, and I gave all the answers it told me to give, but they were never insincere. The entire congregation joined in reciting the words in that book.

After appropriate prayers were spoken, I took off my glasses and leaned over the font. Karen used half a bivalve shell to pour water over my forehead three times. Then she put a hand on my head, and with her thumb she made the sign of the cross in oil on my forehead.

Mark handed me a candle and a white cloth napkin. I didn’t want to wipe off the water or forget how it felt, but it was in my eyes, and I couldn’t see. I wiped the water from my eyes while the rest rolled down my chin, onto my shirt.

My parents, my new adopted brothers, and an entire artificial extended family said at once, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” They clapped like we always do when someone is baptized, but this was different. I was different. I was not an infant but a convert. They were excited; they were doing what they were here to do. These words ran awed through my head: “Wow; shit.”

As I walked back to my seat, Carl patted me on the back, Joe shook my hand, and Dana put her arm around me. Wow; shit. There was more singing.

The sun was risen. Lent was over; the Son was risen. I came closer to understanding Easter than at any point previous. People said, “Alleluia” again, ringing bells or jingling their keys. The rest of the service proceeded much like normal.

I looked up at the ceiling, all those oak boards with my greasy fingerprints in Danish oil on their backsides. I thought about the convoluted series of events that brought me here. From staining wood and doing odd jobs around a construction site to seeing it dedicated to a God I didn’t know, I started going to that building for a summer job, and I didn’t ever stop. There were friends I’d known for years and strangers who became friends so quickly as they showed me I’d been wrong to think all Christians are closed-minded. As Thomas was allowed to inspect the crucifixion wounds of Christ, they welcome all the questions I’ve developed as I ease into their way.

Mum and Fiona hugged me long and tight during the Peace. Karen hugged me later; I don’t know how long it was before she let me go. There were so many hugs and handshakes. What do you say to a person who’s just been baptized? Most people said, “Congratulations.” Wow; shit.

I went to the altar for the first time to receive Eucharist instead of just a blessing. A warm feeling of the wine lingered in my chest.

Was everything different from that point forward? No, that was just the most conspicuous landmark on a journey marked by fits and stops, a journey on which no single step was really much more important than any other. Maybe Joe was being facetious, but maybe he was also right when he said I was “one of the swarm now.” Baptism didn’t make that happen, but it made it official. Wow; shit.