It is early Christmas morning, and I should be sleeping, but I’ve been woken up by our canine alarm system. Most of the time, I am not pleased about being woken up this way. It is often false alarms caused by deer or other wildlife crossing our property. However, there have been a couple occasions were our large dog has alerted us of something wrong, of something that needed attention.
This evening, there was a strange vehicle in our driveway. No, it was not a sleigh. It was dark outside, so I couldn’t get the make and model but it appeared to be a large pickup truck. When I turned on the lights, the truck pulled out of our driveway and into a neighbor’s driveway. There have been a bunch of burglaries in our town so I called the local police department which sent out a patrol.
Things have settled down now. The canine alarm system has returned to its normal detect mode, laying quietly on the couch next to me. The holiday lights are on. Everyone else seems to be snoring, but I cannot get back to sleep.
Instead, I will write about Christmas Eve. I go to Grace and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Hamden, CT. It is a wonderful church and the Christmas Eve service was as special as always. The homily particularly struck home for me. It started off exploring the idea of God saving the word through sending an infant. If this had been suggested to a committee, the priest said, it would probably have been rejected, but God works in wonderful, unexpected ways.
As I thought about the sermon, a different verse from the Christian scriptures came to me. In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. This is the behavior that Jesus modelled for us.
Another verse also came to mind. In 1 John 3:2 we find, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Usually, when I think of this verse, I think of the adult Jesus, speaking in parables, performing miracles, crucified and resurrected. I don’t think about the infant Jesus, vulnerable, needing to be fed, held, and changed.
2016 was a rough year for many of my friends. Many are very concerned about the incoming administration and how it will affect the poor, minorities, women, and other people that are supposed to be included in “Liberty and Justice FOR ALL”. They are talking about resisting, marching, and doing whatever they can. I hear that as a strong calling, but somehow it doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t sound like it will break the cycle of partisan hatred.
God came into this world vulnerable. Jesus conquered death by submitting to it. What if we were to become more vulnerable, instead of less vulnerable in this coming year? What if we were to admit our need to be fed, held, and changed? What if we allowed others to feed, hold, and help change us, the way we want to feed, hold, and help change others? What if, by seeking to imitate Christ, we sought to imitate the whole Christ, not only the risen Christ, but also the infant Christ? What if we found the light of Christ in our hopes and dreams, even as a small flickering light, and sought to grow that light within us into something new and unexpected?
Such an idea sounds like something that most of us would reject, especially many of my political activist friends, but it could also be one of those wonderful, unexpected ways that God could work through us in this broken world around us.
Yesterday, a friend posted on Facebook about a review of a church his wife works at that starts off, “These people are Zigeuner trash. These Gypsies should be all be rounded up and exterminated”. He said he had reported the post to Facebook, but they were not taking down the post.
I’ve shared my friend’s post a few different places suggesting others request the review be taken down or that the review gets drowned out by positive reviews. I am not a big fan of removing content, or of trying to silence other people’s speech, even if it is hateful or promotes violence. I’ve had to do it for work, and I often wonder if it is the best approach.
Who is Milton? What has happened in his life that fills him with such hate and hurt? What has gone on in his life that makes him think it is okay to post stuff like this. I set these thoughts aside, and got on with my day.
Throughout the day, as I read articles about the anniversary of Sandy Hook, the conviction of Dylan Roof, and the latest news about President-Elect Donald Trump, my mind went back to Milton.
I believe it is a sin to refer to any person as ‘trash’ and I wondered about the word “Zigeuner”. Wikipedia says this is a racist term most likely from a Greek word meaning “untouchable” used to describe Romanians and Gypsies, especially by those, like the Nazi’s, intent on genocide. My sense of Milton as a broken person, a sinner in desperate need of God’s love became clearer.
I did a little searching online. Milton’s Facebook page talked about going to various elite schools, but the times didn’t make a lot of sense. He posted a very positive review of a church in New York.
He posted on the page of a Bar “I hope you die.” about a week ago.
All of this made me think of Evan. What are we supposed to do when we see someone posting about death, hatred, and genocide? My first reaction is to pray for Milton. To this, I’ve posted a comment on many of his posts that I am praying for him.
I am sharing this post as a question to all of us about how we respond online.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Last week, I had lunch with a friend whose path to the ordained ministry was difficult. I’ve been having meals like this recently to seek a clear understanding of whatever ministry God is calling me to. At one point, she suggested that I go to some ordinations. I’ve been to plenty of ordinations in the past, but it’s been many years. She suggested that the sermons at ordinations might be particularly helpful as I try to find the ministry God is calling me to.
The idea was interesting, and this week there are three ordinations to the priesthood taking place in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. Yet it felt a little like the movie Harold and Maude, where a young boy and an old woman meet at funerals of people they don’t know well and establish an unlikely friendship. Would going to ordinations at this point in my journey be wise? Could I do it respectfully, focusing on God, our community, and the candidate for ordination?
All of these things were in my mind as I headed off to The Ordination of The Rev. Kim Jeanne Litsey to the Sacred Order of the Priesthood. I felt a little uncomfortable as I headed off to the church, but I knew that recently, the most meaningful events in my life have been when I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone. I prayed that God would bless the time for me at the same time as God blesses the time for Kim and the church. I thought of times in the past when I’ve been in the participant observer role and hoped for the best.
The service was at St. Paul and St. James in New Haven, CT. I have various connections to that church. I’ve been to meetings there for the South Central Region with a friend who attends that church. Another friend attends whose path has been intertwined with mine at a couple different churches, and two friends of mine were at this parish or its predecessor parishes during their thwarted journeys to ordination.
As I approached the church I saw a sign that said something like, “Diversity isn’t our idea, it is God’s idea”. It was a sign that made me feel welcome, feel at home. It is part of what I love about the Episcopal Church.
I sat in the back, out of the way, following the lead of Harold and Maude. I saw Bishop Ian and members of the Commission on Ministry. Did they see me? If so, what were their reactions? I hoped my presence wouldn’t be a distraction, so I kept my eyes downcast in prayer. Perhaps they were hoping my presence wouldn’t be a distraction either.
My memories went to ordinations in the past where people had attended intent on being a distraction, and speaking up when asked if anyone knew any reason the candidate should not be ordained. I prayed there would be no such distraction at this ordination.
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
One thing I love about ordinations is the music. St Patrick's Breastplate and Veni Sancte Spiritus are two of my favorite hymns and are often sung at Ordinations. At St. Paul and St. James they were sung as jazz renditions. It was beautiful.
St. Paul and St. James are just a few blocks down the street from Trinity on The Green, also in New Haven. St. Paul and St. James has jazz. Trinity as traditional Anglican music. It is another wonderful example of the diversity in the Episcopal Church. It is great to have the opportunity to worship God with beautiful music in many different styles.
The sermon was by The Rev. Marissa S. Rohrbach, a member of the Commission on Ministry that went to seminary with Kim Litsey. I first met Marissa, as best as I can remember, when she officiated at the funeral of my uncle-in-law. This was a few days before a discernment retreat where I got to spend a little more time with her.
Marissa told a story of when she and Kim went on a trip to El Salvador, and after a difficult trek in the jungle ended up at a hut drinking beer and eating plantain chips. Kim had brought the chips as snacks which ended up nourishing the whole group. Marissa spoke of this feeding of the flock in the context of how Kim will go on to feed her flock.
Sitting in the back, I ended up being one of the last people to receive communion, one of the last to be fed. Afterwards, I continued to be fed by wonderful food at the reception. I had originally planned on slipping out immediately after the service ended, but the food was in the narthex (that’s the back of the church for any of you who are not used to Episcopalian lingo) so I couldn’t easily leave without passing the food and I got drawn into several discussions.
I finally got home, much later than I had intended and pretty much went straight to bed. In the middle of the night, the dog awoke me scratching at the bedroom door, asking to go outside. I let him out and then had difficulty getting back to sleep. I spent time resting in a feeling of God’s overwhelming love for me, for all of us, on this the darkest evening of the year.
This blog post started taking shape in my mind and I knew that if I didn’t get up and write I would be unlikely to find rest.
I was fed a feast of God’s love at the ordination. I pray that The Rev. Kim Jeanne Litsey will continue to feed the flock in such wonderful ways and that my words may also help feed others.
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep…”
In this current phase of my discernment journey, people have been recommending many different books for me to read; Parker Palmer, Barbara Brown Taylor, Rachel Held Evans, Wendy Farley, Brother Lawrence, various Christian mystics, and so on. I read through many and picked up bits and pieces here and there, but something seems missing.
I think back to earlier days at Grace Episcopal Church in Manhattan when we read Dostoevsky, T.S. Eliot, and Flannery O’Connor as part of our Sunday morning adult education. I think even further back, to my first semester of college. I had headed off to college planning on majoring in religion, then heading to seminary, and becoming a minister. My first semester, I took a philosophy class with a professor who had taught religion for many years and switched over to teaching philosophy.
He was a great professor and I decided I would major in philosophy instead. One piece of advice he gave me was to spend time reading great literature. I didn’t take that advice at first and it wasn’t until my senior year, when my college experience was unraveling, that I started taking literature courses. Besides that introduction to philosophy course, some of the other best courses I ended up taking were that senior year, including a course on Virginia Woolf. I still go back to Virginia Woolf as touchstone decades later.
I’ve also always been very interested in writing, and one piece of advice that I remember, probably from a course on writing short stories was, “show, don’t tell”. What stories will help show me what I need to see in this part of my journey? What stories do you recommend and why?
I should note that while I’m thinking particularly about books, I’d also include in this suggestions for movies. Tarkovsky and Wenders come to mind as great directors. What movies do you recommend, and why?
A few articles caught my attention over the past couple of days. The first is in the New York Times by Neil Gross, a professor of sociology at Colby College. He asks, “ Are Americans Experiencing Collective Trauma?
He starts off by providing references to “collective trauma” in sociology and goes on to look at the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Last month’s presidential election has collective trauma written all over it.
Many of my liberal friends are sharing this article. It resonates with them. Those who have conservative friends are seeing comments like a quote from the Op-Ed in Wall Street Journal’s, Notable & Quotable: Trumped-Up Outrage
Perhaps the most perceptive comment on this tsunami of anguished and vituperative incredulity came not from a traditional pundit but from the cartoonist and blogger Scott Adams, who suggested that the whole anti-Trump fraternity “look as though they are protesting Trump, but they are not. They are locked in an imaginary world and battling their own hallucinations of the future.”
Yet I believe that the responses on both sides are missing what is really important about the article. The trauma is not the Trump election. The trauma is much greater, non-partisan, and underlies much of what has been going on in our country over the past few decades.
The Times article talks about the Polish transition out of communism and the loss of American manufacturing jobs. The article also talks about the collective trauma of Hurricane Katrina. The real trauma is of society moving from an industrial society to an information society. It involves aspects of globalization and free trade, of changes in the way we communicate, and the impact that industrialization has had on the environment.
This is not an American trauma over the election of Donald Trump. Trump’s election is just an after-shock, just like Sandy Hook, and many mass shootings, Hurricane Katrina, and many other great storms, 9/11, and many other terrorist attacks, all are after-shocks of the tectonic shift from industry to information.
Reflecting on the global nature of this trauma, I shared an article from The Sydney Morning Herald, Former prime minister Kevin Rudd receives honorary doctorate from ANU.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has used the platform of receiving an honorary doctorate to criticise the state of Australian public discourse, saying "civility is lost".
"We have lost a little of our national bearings, lost a little in a national culture of learned helplessness," he said on Friday at the Australian National University, where he accepted the degree.
He spoke of an unnecessarily "vicious public culture, well beyond the realms necessary for robust disagreement and debate. Where civility is lost and where to admit error is to admit weakness and therefore yield to defeat."
I’m not sure how we heal from this global collective trauma and all the traumatic after-shocks. We need to find places where we can work together. In a discussion about the Times article on a friends Facebook timeline I spoke with a person who shared the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed. One of my comments attempts to shift the discussion based on the sermon Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry gave at the Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s annual convention:
I'm not interested in blame. I'm interested in making America Great Again. Blame does not do that. Name calling does not do that. Liberty and justice for ALL, like we say in our pledge is what does that. Unfortunately, too many, on both sides of the divide have forgotten those two words, FOR ALL.