Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dignity, Hospitality, Community

[Edited, from an original blog of mine.]

I am looking at where the fault lines lie our in our society and what needs to change to make certain that our republic truly holds out life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens and indeed all residents, citizens or not.

And that brings us to the culture wars.  The battleground of wedge politics.  The place of hatred and exclusion and bigotry.  A really terrible moral blot upon our nation.  Something we must address, because it destroys dignity and community for all of us.I am convinced that the dignity of each of us is inextricably connected to the dignity of every one of us.  And that the concept of community is meaningless if dignity is denied to some individuals by others, regardless of religious claims that such exclusion is righteous and admirable.

In order to make my claim that community is destroyed when persons are declared lacking in terms of human dignity, I am turning to the spiritual well.  Indeed wells in our Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition were always considered sacred.  Giving a drink was sacred.  Providing food and drink for strangers was sacred.  Community depended upon taking care of the stranger.  And we have lost that.  We have lost that value in our society.  I don't need to go into all the ways.

It distresses me greatly that religion itself has too often been invoked to undergird bigotry.  And I am convinced that whether religious or not, we need to have in hand arguments and frames, with which to demolish the religious arguments used in the service of wedge politics.  Because if we do not confront indignity with the language of religion or spirituality, we may never reach some people whose beliefs and voting patterns are swayed by pathological doctrinal interpretations wielded by religious bigots in the service of denying persons rights that other persons have - under our Constitution which promises equality and justice for all.

So here's a little attempt to build a case.  I'm sure others can build even better cases.  And I'm going to build my case based on one tiny story from the Old Testament.  A story related to Abraham.  And I choose Abraham because he is venerated as prophet by 3 religions we term "Abrahamic."  It's a story that easily reaches forward into the heart of Christianity.   And I bet there must be parallels in Islam, though I am far from an expert here.  A story that likely fits with Buddhism and Hinduism as well..  But I'm starting with the Abrahamic tradition because unfortunately the very idea of a "chosen people" may underlie a great deal of bigotry in this nation today.  The idea of a "chosen people" and "ritual purity" as a way of remaining "apart" - remaining "holy" and thus favored and righteous.

But the story I'm going to share does not urge bigotry or exclusion or holiness as a function of ritual purity.  Indeed the story celebrates "hospitality."  And hospitality, I suggest, builds community.  (Benedictine monasteries practice hospitality.  We can learn from them.)

Here is an icon (spiritual Presence) of the story I'm going to quote.  Where Abraham is visited by strangers.  And he goes all out to feast and honor these strangers as "guests."  He gives food and water and shelter in the form of shade.  He eats with the strangers.  And it turns out that in honoring the stranger, he has honored God.

Now, remember, this is a story.  It's not an attempt to convert anyone to anything.  And arguing the existence or not of Holy Mystery is not where I'm going here.  I'm trying to find "ground" to persuade those who not only believe, but whose beliefs have gone astray from longstanding and important spritual/communal values.  Civic virtues.  Community-building practices.  And my assertion is that the practice of "hospitality" can counter bigotry.  So enjoy the brief story:
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3He said, 'My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on--since you have come to your servant.' So they said, 'Do as you have said.' 6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, 'Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.' 7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.  (Gen 18: 1-8)
 Compare this to Jesus eating with tax-collectors and sinners.  Compare it to the story of the prodigal son, where the father looks down the road and sees the son who has been away and even sqaundered his inheritance, and yet he runs to meet him and commands that a huge banquet be made ready to honor his son.  Compare this to the command to "love your enemy."

I'm not writing a sermon here.  I'm simply laying out an argument that I think we need to have with conservative religious people who want to deny dignity and civil rights to those of a different sexual orientation or illegal immigrants.  Or the poor or sick, those of another religion, culture, race.  And I think we need to take these folks on right where they are vulnerable - their own turf - turf which they must be forced to wrestle with, turf from which, I think, we can establish some values, based upon which some might be swayed, even converted to more hospitable and communal behaviors.

I challenge us all to come up with arguments to address wedge issues which may fracture us as a nation.  To welcome the stranger.  And not to marginalize or dehumanize anyone - which destroys community and dignity for all of us.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Free Indulgences over here please!

You may have read that the Catholic Church is giving out indulgences again.  Then again, you may have wondered:  What is an indulgence?  The Church used to sell indulgences and that was a huge controversy, which led some to start new churches in protest.  Now they claim not to be selling them.  But that claim does not fool me!  It's a form of barter they're pushing.  It's like saying you're not buying a car if you exchange it for something else.  Barter is selling, I say.  And what's an "indulgence" if you have to buy it?  Or barter for it?

This is a blog for indulgencesYou can get one entirely for free.  Right hereNo questions asked.  If you have a desire to turn over a new leaf or you just want to feel you've put certain things behind you, there will be no bartering over what those turned pages looked like, no questioning of your will power to do so, no prayers or other holy actions required.  No requirement to be Catholic.  No requirement to be Christian.  No requirement to believe in God or anything about God.  You can be an atheist.  You can be agnostic.  As I say, no bartering whatsoever!  It's free - for all who truly want it.  And whatever "truly want it" means to you - that's fine with me.

Indulgences:  When I was kid, you could get these holy cards that told you if you said so many Hail Marys or Our Fathers, you'd get so much time "off" of purgatory.  Purgatory was this place you were supposed to go after death.  Where by some means you'd be engulfed in flames for a specified time.  It was better than Hell.  But it never sounded much better to me.  And to be honest, while I never doubted the existence of God, whom I thought of as a kindly Father (yes, with a long beard), I never really believed the stories about indulgences.

Confession:  Indulgences were somehow related to confession, but I never really did figure out how.  Now they've revived indulgences and to me it seems like nothing more than a way to get people to go to confession.  What will they do in there?  It's a secret.  You have to go and tell your sins.  Or make some up, like I used to do as a kid, when they made us line up and go to confession.  How did I know what I'd done wrong?  Even when they punished me, I always felt it was undeserved (except for that time I dropped a rock on a kid's head from the top of the slide - I think I testing gravity).  Besides, around that same time, when they taught me about confession, at age 5 or 6, I caught on right away.  I understood that if you did something and you felt bad about it and told God you were "sorry" that was the end of it.  God was ok with it.  They told me that I got it right away!  But somehow the adults didn't seem to understand the message as I had - right away - when they told me about it.  Didn't matter if you were sorry; they punished you anyway.  I think that was when I stopped believing in confession.  So when I had to do it, I just made stuff up.  Stuff like: "I disobeyed 5 times.  I talked in school 10 times."  Whatever.

Penance:  After confession you had to do Penance.  That was the Hail Mary and Our Father part.  Now here's the thing.  We were taught that Hail Marys and Our Fathers were prayers.  We were forced to say a lot of them when we had to pray the rosary.  That was so boring!  Saying the same prayers over and over and over.  Well, by the time I'd said them just a few times, I had them down pat.  Why say more?  Anyway, back to penance.  It was confusing, you see.  On the one hand we were taught these prayers.  But on the other hand, after the forced confession  (not as bad as harsh interrogation, but still forced), you had to say these prayers, could be 3 Hail Marys and an Our Father.  So they made praying into punishmentHow sane is that???  (As a kid I actually used to "talk" to God, on my own, like a friend.  But I digress...)

So now they've started up these indulgences again.  Is it to make people believe in Purgatory?  Not gonna happen!  Is it to get them to go to Confession?  Well.... to me that's bartering, you see.  It's the same thing as selling the indulgences (the time off purgatory).  Besides, if you don't believe in purgatory, why would you want to barter over it anyway?

But you might want an indulgence.  You might like the idea of a free pass.

Forgiveness, like I heard about it as a kid.  The kind where you simply say you're sorry - in your heart - and you're totally forgiven.

That's why I put up this blog.  You can have an indulgence right here.  Right now.  Free pass!  You can walk away feeling free and light and peaceful.  Like you've just come from a nice shower.  Like you've walked under a waterfall on a sunny day surrounded by green trees and blue sky and whatever else you'd like to imagine.

So please feel free to come to this blog any time you like.  Any time you'd like an "indulgence" - for free.  No questions asked.  A nice blessing of whatever type you'd prefer.  Inner peace.  A little humor.  A bit of sanity in a crazy world.

(first published at TPM Cafe)

Monday, July 20, 2009

St. Clark of Kent - a "Little Known" Saint

Bio on St. Clark of Kent (as told by Boo - private communication):
Saint Clark of Kent began life early in the Kentish countryside. Because his parents were unknown -- er -- unwealthy, he was apprenticed to the local abbot, and taught to read and write. He became a clerk at the local monastery store (Clerk = Clark, as the Brits say it).
One day, a band of brigands (two, actually) held the store up at gunpoint (difficult, as guns hadn't yet been invented, but after all, the guy's a saint!). Brother Clark, the clerk, threw himself over the collection plate (which served as a cash register back in the day) and was, as they say, "blown away."
This disappearance cum levitation was adjudged a miracle very quickly, and the abbot, no fool he, started organizing pilgrimages to see the very spot where Brother Clark took wing! The patron saint of newspaper men (and women, I suppose) and pilots, it is open to question whether or not he was martyred or just leapt the tallest building at a single, and terminal, bound.
Vestments at the discretion of the celebrant. Some choose red and blue, with a large gold "S" on the chest. Others, especially news people, choose grey with a white pinstripe.

PS -- John Milton, no mean scribe himself, dedicated his "Areopagitica," the essay on freedom of the press, to St. Clark (little known fact). Feast day is movable, but tends to fall on the 29th of February.

This blog supports Little Known Saints.  If you know of one, please feel free to leave the bio in a comment here!  

It's such a shame to waste a saint....

My Own Personal Heresy

In December of '92,  I returned to a place that felt like home.  We used to live nearby and we went there all the time.  I'd returned to talk to the monks about my work:  To ask for their prayers - for victims of sexual abuse and for their therapists.

Upon my arrival I visited the Monastery Chapel.  Then I took the stairs, pausing briefly at the Blessed Sacrament altar, then down to the crypt.  As my eyes adjusted to the darkness - in the flickering candlelight - right before me stood the familiar medieval stone statue.

Then it hit me:  Mary is the patron saint of victims of sexual abuse.

My Own Personal Heresy:

  What if....

What if ... Mary is the patron saint of victims of sexual abuse?  Because what if she were molested from childhood to adolescence?

And what if she dissociated to preserve herself and protect herself from this knowledge?
What if ... she created an angelic side of herself to comfort her in her anguish and desolation?  A protecting angel within to remind her of her goodness and beauty, her innocence and grace.

And what if ... she eventually became pregnant as a result of the sexual abuse?  Yet never knew?

And what if her angel-self appeared as in a dream, saying to her:

Take heart, Mary, for you are very special in God's eyes.  His love for you is never-ending.  He keeps you close to his heart and lives within your very soul, breathing new life within you.

What if ... God, in his great mercy and tenderness, saw opportunity knocking?

What if he saw his chance to send his love and care to the outcast, to the lost, to the voiceless and the broken-hearted?

And what if the real miracle in the story is that he sent his own angel to Joseph, reassuring him about Mary and advising him never to abandon her and to treat her with gentleness and love?

What if God used a bastard child to bring hope and healing to the forgotten and the forsaken?

Someone who knew the pain and suffering of the lost and the lonely, the innocent and guiltless?

Someone with empathy and love for all those who feel cut off from human kindness, who feel abandoned by a God they cannot see, all those who feel like outsiders in life -- the lost sheep -- alienated, desolate, totally alone, without hope, feeling worthless and unloved.

What if ... Jesus understood first-hand?  What if his message arose within the furnace of a suffering heart?

What if he had to struggle to find meaning and purpose out of the depth of his anguish and loneliness?

What if the end was only an outward sign of his lifelong suffering?  Leaving him abandoned even in his mission to bring good news to lost sheep?  News of buried treasure within broken hearts, within the forsaken and the desolate?

What if we have missed the most important point?  That the message of love and rebirth arose within the anguish of undeserved suffering, speaks to those in the same position, and led to more of the same?

Advertising: Saintly and Otherwise

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Bird Feeder Needed

Know the language of Birds? Desire to leave wealth behind? You could be the one we need! Magnetic personality and ability to recruit followers to itinerant life of frugality and joy required. Poetry background helpful. Ample blood supply important.

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Do you have a restless heart? Have you failed to find what fills that hole inside? Ever found Gnosticism wanting? If you combine an encyclopedic mind with a need to speak and write, we invite you to try sainthood on for size. You could be our next Bishop!

Fire Spotter Sought

We have a pillar equipped with nothing. We are seeking someone called to “higher office,” willing to watch day and night. Fasting and Prayer granted to right candidate. Good balance essential.


WANTED: Someone seeking power - to loose and to bind.

Are you a male who likes old-fashioned dresses? Willing to make certain that illogical rules stay as they are? Can you insist on speaking a dead language? Willing to be called a four-letter word? Sorry, S & M devotees need not apply – celibacy rules!

Rachel's "Letter From a Believer"

 ***Warning!  What follows could have a powerful effect on you.***

Writing this (as humor) had a powerful - and altogether surprising - effect on me.  You are forewarned....

Originally written in late 2004.   Before the debt crisis.  Talk about a premonition!

P.S.  Myself?  I never saw the Passion of the Christ.  



My name is Rachel.  And my walk with the Lord has been a humble one.  For that reason I take no credit for what I need to write here.  I write only what the Lord has laid on me, a burden I wish had never been mine, but I must do it for the sake of my children.

We have a Christian household.  We seek the Lord daily.  In our effort to save our little ones from the agenda of paganism, we determined to school them at home.  That is my sacred duty and I try to fulfill it as I can.

Each morning I lay out the children’s lessons and then we join hands and pray to our Savior.  We ask for guidance and strength to study diligently and progress in our walk and our learning.  Each child chooses a verse to learn for that day.
My husband is a truck driver.  We pray for his safe travels with the Lord.  To feel close to their father on earth as well as their Father in Heaven, they choose their scriptures from the same trucker Testament he carries on every trip, one that begins, “Have you ever traveled the Romans road?”

For those reading this, who may not be saved, I pray our Savior will touch your heart as he has touched ours.  Please accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, if only for me (and my little ones).  If you are on the road you can ask at almost any truck stop for a copy of The New Testament from Highway Melodies - just like ours.  It answers questions from the word of God and leads you in the steps you need to take in starting your walk with Him.
Well, maybe I wrote that too soon.  But it just poured from my heart, so I hope you’ll let me go on with my story and why I’ve been burdened to write this.  (Please don’t stop reading yet!)

So every morning we pray together.  And then the children start on their studies and work on their verses.  And I sit down with my bible to read and to pray.  Oh, I must tell you first, that I saw the Passion of the Christ along with my bible study group and again with my husband.  But I haven’t seen it with the children yet.  So don’t worry that they’re having nightmares.  No, I’ll wait a little longer till they’re old enough to take all that pain, right along with our Lord and Savior.

So this particular morning, I think it was last Thursday (oh, it’s been such a week, I’m not sure exactly!), little Matthew wanted to pick the verse where Jesus throws the moneychangers (or is it money lenders?) out of the Temple.  Matthew had been punished the day before for getting angry with his sister.  (I do try so hard to keep them out of Satan’s clutches!).  He is a very smart little boy, if I do say so.  But I try to help him walk humbly as I do.  Anyway, Matty (we call him Matty for short) reminded me that Jesus, the Christ, was angry too. 

I wish he hadn’t chosen that verse, but it’s too late for that.  The will of the Lord has now been made clear to me.  And it was through Matthew’s verse that I was led.  That and the Passion of the Christ and the Rapture we are waiting for together.

Believe me, I have prayed much over this.  But the leading of the Lord is clear.  I ask you to pray over this, whether you’re saved or not, because you must be freed of debt, I am certain, before the Rapture.

You are saved if you take Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  But that is the saving of your heart and soul.  But money lending is of Satan.  Buying and selling is of Satan.  Christmas is like the Temple.  There can be no money changing hands when it comes to Jesus.  Our precious Lord does not want his Temple to be a “den of thieves.” And I see it now, as I did the day I was saved and born again. Jesus wants me with him and I must walk as he walked.  And he was angry in the Temple about the buying and selling.

Some pictures I’ve seen show my Lord using a whip to drive those in the clutches of Satan from the Temple.  And that reminded me of the Passion of the Christ.  Yes, whatever we do to the least of them, we do to him.  Connecting Christmas with stores and malls and buying and selling is just like the lashes he took to save us from our sins.

We must stop sinning.  Credit cards are sin!  Shopping for Christmas is a sin!  Jesus whipped the moneychangers but when Jesus was whipped, it was for sins like these!

Unless we are truly saved we cannot be swept up with the Lord when the Rapture comes.  Here is my greatest reason for writing this and reaching out even to pagans with this message.  You will not be with your loved ones on the day of Rapture unless all are worthy of the Lord.  I could be separated from my children, you see!

Credit cards prove we are buying and selling.  They are just like money in God’s eyes.  And the moneychangers and moneylenders, and all who do not shun them, will be cast out, when others are lifted up, on the day of Rapture!  So, please, I beg you, heed God’s words and actions as they are faithfully recorded in the Scriptures.

Shun the malls during the Holy Season.  Pay your debts.  Work together as a family to make sure you follow biblical principles when it comes to money.  Fast and pray.  Staying home from the stores is a kind of fasting.  When you think about it that way it becomes just a bit easier.  That and thinking about the goodness of your little ones and how you do not want to be separated from them when the day of Rapture arrives.

Do right and honor the Savior.  Commit yourselves to seek the Lord daily.
“If any man serve me, let him follow me.” (John 12:26)

Please pray over this and then send it to seven people and within 6 weeks you’ll receive a blessing.        (My Pastor added this part)