Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Small Rant

I need to rant a little today. 

Carol recently told me of a commercial, actually a Public Service Announcement, she has seen several times. She was stunned, and I think you will be as well. The PSA starts by reminding us this is a hot time of the year, and goes on to tell us that the internal temperature of small children can rise five times faster than adults. As the narrator talks, you see a small child in the backseat of a car. As the video continues, the scene cuts to a man walking, who, as he walks, pats his cellphone case on his belt and realizes he doesn’t have it. He apparently remembers it must be in his car and returns to his car. His cellphone is there. So is his child, strapped into a child seat in the back seat of the car. All this is awful enough. Then comes the advice on how to avoid leaving your child in the car: put your cellphone in the backseat! The clear message is: you may forget your kid, but not your cellphone!

This is wrong on so many levels and I’m appalled at the sponsor’s belief that this is a good message to deliver to save kids lives. First, I’m pretty sure, given the number of people I see on their phones while they drive, noone is going to put the phone in the back seat and miss a call. Worse, with the phone in the back seat, as obsessed as we are with answering the damned thing, if it rang, the driver would likely try to retrieve it--which is probably far more dangerous than having it in the front with you.

But, of course, the most horrible message is that our cellphones and the connections we feel we must have at an almost continuous level, are more important than remembering you have parenting duty today! 

I’m not anti-cellphone. I have one. I use it. When I wrecked my car a few years ago, having a cellphone made a big difference. However, I can turn it off or I can silence it at church, at the symphony, or while talking with friends at lunch. I don’t need to check it at intermissions or the moment something ends. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten a call on it that was so important that I should rudely interrupt these kinds of places or events. How in the world did we ever get to the place where talking on the phone, checking emails, texting or taking photos is so important? Is this a message about how fundamentally isolated or alienated we each feel and how desperate we are for some kind of contact with others? 

I remember during the CB radio craze in the 70s and early 80s, I likened the use of a CB radio while driving to our “new front porch.” In the neighborhood of my youth, people sat on their porches and greeted and/or visited with those who passed by. Since by the  70s, as a culture, we had moved from our front porches to our air conditioned dens, or our bedecked or patioed backyards, we lost that contact. It’s interesting to me, that about the same time the CB craze was returning to just truckers, cellphones emerged into our culture. 

I also find it interesting that, at the same time cellphones and the internet became so accessible, the decline in the number of people who consider themselves religious and/or attend church accelerated. I wonder if there is a connection? Have we decided we no longer marvel at “what a friend we have in Jesus” because we have several hundred “friends” on our Facebook page? Is constant chatter on cellphones in the form of inane conversations and texts more fulfilling that conversations with God?

I don’t know. I know this, though. If your cellphone is so important you won’t forget it, but you might forget your kid, something is badly wrong.

IMHO*, Jerry

*Text speak for “In my humble opinion,” for the less text literate of my readers.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

One God, Three Persons. Right.

The Church had arguments for centuries over the idea, which eventually became the doctrine we hold to be orthodox. We affirm it at every Eucharist and at every Office. The traditional blessing that ends the Eucharist reminds us again of the doctrine. Yet, of all the things we Christians say we believe, it is perhaps the most difficult to grasp or explain. You may have guessed by now I’m talking about the doctrine of the Trinity.

I bring all this up, because this coming Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost Sunday, is the traditional Trinity Sunday--the day we celebrate this mystery of ours.  By ‘this mystery of ours‘ I mean our belief in one God, in union with our Jewish heritage, but the idea that God is Three at the same time.  “God, in three persons, blessed Trinity,” we sing in the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Do we know what that means? Here’s my best shot at describing (not necessarily explaining) it. 

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three gods and not three beings. Yet, they are distinct persons, who together are God, while each is also God. Each is self-aware, has a will of its own, can speak for itself, and can love, to name only a few characteristics of personhood. Though three, they are in perfectly in tune with each other and, as the Church Fathers asserted from very early, consist of only one substance. The Greek word which they finally agreed on is homoousian which means “essence or being.” The word that lost out, contains an additional letter “i” and is homoiousian which means “similar.”  So, orthodoxy asserts that Father, Son and Spirit are not similar in essence, but are exactly the same in their essence.

Clearer? Probably not. That’s why it’s called ‘this mystery of ours.’ We can say the words, but our finite little minds can’t wrap themselves around the “how” in this equation. How can this be accomplished? Usually analogies are helpful. In this case, not so much.  Since Father, Son, and Spirit exist simultaneously, consequently the analogy of water which can be liquid, solid, and vapor, while still H 2 O, doesn’t hold up because a “unit” of it can’t be all three of these at once. Human analogies break down pretty quickly, too. One of those analogies is the man or woman who is parent to children, spouse to spouse, and friend to others is a weak one as well. All analogies break down eventually--these just break down very quickly.

The Creeds were developed to propagate this doctrine, because various groups of Christians were coming up with ideas that just didn’t capture what seemed to be the experience of the wider Church. Theologians argued about it. Councils argued about it. Bishops and priests were exiled over it. Ordinary folk in the street argued about it. Really. They did. They took it very seriously. Finally, in 325, the “three person, one substance” party prevailed. Now we could all say the same thing even if we didn’t quite understand how it could be.

By the way, the Eastern Church didn’t like the idea and today have a slightly different understanding. They didn’t like the idea of the Holy Spirit “proceeding from the Father and the Son.” They say the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father,” leaving the Son out of the process. So, see, there is still room for confusion and disagreement.

Also, by the way, I firmly suspect most Christian are heretical on the matter. I think most think of three separate persons, Father, Son and HS, each of who is different in substance. To put it another way, I think most think something like this:

The Father is really God.
The Son is God’s son, and should be worshipped, but isn’t the same as the Father. He’s sort of subordinate, like any son to his father. Sort of.
The Holy Spirit is God’s spirit, the way God reaches us today.

Completely heretically, but I strongly doubt that God cares.

To threeness in oneness, Jerry

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Spring has been struggling to come to Memphis. Six weeks ago, I could walk in shorts and a tee shirt one day and then have to bundle up a day or two later. Much more bundling has been going on than shorts and tees at our house. We’re a month later than usual in having to water the lawn and shrubs because of the abundance of rain. And usually I’ve mown the lawn four or five times by mid-May. Not this year. Even with lots of green and lots of pollen, spring has been coming in fits and starts.

As I write this, we’re in the low 80s--shorts and tee day. But the house is still a little chilly because of the very cool days we’ve had. Still, when I look at the forecast, I’m given hope that maybe, just maybe, spring is actually here now.

So what? Well the strange weather made me think of my personal spiritual journey. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of spiritual time in the kind of variable season I’ve been describing. I feel renewed and alive and then a “cool spell” sets in and all I can say is, “Not so much.”  There are certainly “winter days” to deal with, but some blessed “summer days” as well. Still, most of the journey is in a spring that can’t make up its mind. To put it another way, “sometimes I feel ‘it’, and sometimes I don’t.” 

Am I the only one? After all, I know people who seem to be continuously in the warmest of spring seasons, even lots of summer days. “There’s a reason for everything, and the reason is God’s will ‘cause God knows best,” they seem to say--and in fact, have actually said to me, just not recently. Not that they don’t believe it; I just tend not to be around people like that very much--by choice. Maybe that’s a mistake. Maybe I need their spiritual cheerfulness to rub off on me. 

All this reminds me of a book I read when I was a young teen. It’s science fiction and named The Door Into Summer.  The book opens with the narrator telling us about his cat. He and the cat live in an old house that has almost a dozen doors to the outside. In the depth of winter when snow and ice cover everything, the cat will still want to go out. He will go to his favorite door and yowl until the narrator opens it. The cat will gingerly touch the cold frozen stuff and, wisely, refuse to go out. But, then on to another door and another, all with the same results. Certain there is one door that leads to summer, he tries them all.

I suppose, bottom line, I’m like that cat. I keep thinking, “not every door leads to the frozen world out there.” I must truly believe that, because in my high school yearbook under “ambition,” I wrote: to find my door into summer.

Hope you have or will find yours too.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pentecost. Already?

Even though we’re not completely through the season of Easter, it’s not too early to begin thinking about Pentecost. May 19th is Pentecost Sunday and we will hear the reading from Acts that recounts the Spirit descending and the immediate aftereffects. The passage begins with “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all in one place.” Two things need to be mentioned. Pentecost was a Jewish festival which took place fifty days  after the Passover (from which we derive the name of the feast). For the Jews it celebrated the covenant with God that was made at Sinai. Consequently, we know that almost fifty days had passed since Jesus’ resurrection when this particular Pentecost occurred. 

Acts relates that Jesus was among his followers for forty days after his Resurrection, a much longer period that even the longest one mentioned in the Gospels of about eight days. This is particularly interesting because Luke Gospel says Jesus ascended on the day he was resurrected and Luke is thought to have written both Luke and Act. This is one of those matters in Scripture that make you want to scratch your head.

But back to Acts and its story. After forty days, some of his followers witnessed his ascension and decided they needed to replace Judas so they would have twelve men in the inner circle again. Matthias was chosen by lots from among those who “had accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us...” The time began, we’re told, with Jesus’ baptism by John. (We’ll save for latter that at that time Jesus apparently had no followers. Another head scratcher.) We can understand they wanted someone who’d been around Jesus a long time, so we can overlook the little possible error.

The descent of the Spirit was a private event. The followers, we’re not told how many, were again likely gathered in an upper room. In researching this, every Catholic scholar I consulted said it was the apostles and Jesus’ mother, Mary. That is a matter of faith, since the record is silent on that. Nonetheless, whoever was present began to hear the sound of a rushing wind that filled the place. “Divided tongues, as of fire” appeared and one tongue touched each of them. They were “filled with the Holy Spirit” and began to speak in foreign languages, not tongues in the sense of “speaking in tongues.” Acts is clear; it’s foreign languages they did not previously know. Because of this reference, many parishes will have the story read Sunday simultaneously by people who speak languages other than English. I personally don’t find this very edifying, but many do.

Pentecost is often described as the birthday of the Church. With the arrival of the Spirit a new mission is established and the followers begin the mission with which they had been entrusted: finish Jesus’ work of proclaiming the reign of God.

Pentecost is one of the seven major feast days of the Episcopal Church. Baptisms are often performed and a celebratory sense pervades the service. The Church calendar will now begin a countdown of “Sundays After Pentecost.” It can reach as many as twenty-eight Sundays because it stretches from Pentecost Sunday to Advent 1. This period is sometimes called “Ordinary Time.” It’s “ordinary” in the sense that there are no other major feast days during he whole of the period, and technically, the season isn’t known as Pentecost, so it’s not a designated season, such as Lent or Advent. Some churches call Pentecost “Whitsunday,” i.e., “White Sunday.” This is because those baptized were usually given white robes to wear which gave the day it’s name.

The liturgical color for Pentecost Sunday is red. The following Sunday is Trinity Sunday and is white, and all the rest of the Sundays after Pentecost are green. 

Now you know, Jerry

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

The reading from Acts for this coming Sunday describes Paul’s foray into Europe for the first time. When he landed in Philippi, he was responding to a vision in which a man from Macedonia was pleading with him to come to and proclaim the Good News. On the Sabbath day, perhaps the first while he was in Philippi, he headed to the river where he expected to find people worshipping. Indeed, he did. He found Lydia, a wealthy woman--we know this because she was a “dealer in purple cloth” which was very expensive--among other women worshipping there.

Paul joined them and very quickly, Lydia, who was already a believer in Yahweh, became a convert to this new faith. She was baptized, and as was the custom of the day, since she was the head of the household, her entire household--family, servants, and slaves--were also baptized. Then she insisted in turning her home into Paul’s home base while he was in Philippi.

We know from reading Paul’s letters to the Philippians that his ministry there was successful. While he was there and afterwards, people heard the word and became believers. As you read these letters, you can see that Philippi’s community of believers held a special place in Paul’s heart. It may truly be called the “city that Paul loved.”

John’s Revelation describes another city: “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” The scene unfolds to John is one of a city of peace, beauty, light, purity, no night to fear, and abundance. Given the events of the past several weeks that have been front and center in local and national news, this holy city is not where we seem to live. It would be easy to despair if all we had to look forward to was experiencing more of what we’ve experienced. But John makes it clear, evil and its power will be ended and there will be a day when God’s reign is with us. This vision of John’s will be the reality.

In the meanwhile, John the Evangelist, tells us of a word from Jesus before his passion and resurrection. In this preview of Pentecost, Jesus tells one of his followers he is sending the Holy Spirit. He goes on to say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” This is one more time God gives us the command most often uttered in Scripture: Do not be afraid.

Feel that peace as you pray. Feel that peace as you offer and receive the peace passed on Sunday mornings. Feel that peace when your tongue touches the host and your lips touch the chalice. Feel that peace and obey: Do not be afraid.

Peace, Jerry