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I had a very good discussion with an Ohio pastor friend this morning. We chatted about some key life and ministry experiences, about our families, our children. In so doing, we reinforced our relationship. And we talked about the argument in our denomination around sexuality. We don’t agree about questions of gay (GLBTQ, affectional orientation) membership or marriage or leadership. He stays with the MCUSA 1995 confession. I walk outside several of the definitions in that confession. But we can definitely work with each other. I would even say we can work with each other better than with some folks who would happen to agree with us.

It is even difficult for me to say “agree” and “disagree” in this context, because these words may imply static positions from which we relate. And with someone like this friend, what I experience is a solidity of personhood and relational capacity, rather than the more raw solidity of a simple position.

He talked about a wonderful preaching series he did, which included the question of sexuality – something that was very challenging for his congregation. This series invited folks into conversation, and these meetings were good. They engendered some lovely surprises, including thoughtful perspectives from history and even apologies and forgiveness offered. Powerful!

I talked about how I was deeply committed to being in community with gay folks, to the point that this is like a “civil rights” movement for me. But that deep commitment doesn’t mean for me that I am right and others are wrong. It means I’m working whole-heartedly to see something new be born on earth. But I’m also deeply committed to remaining available for learning and relationship from wherever it may come. This includes learning from, and relationship with, those who differ from me.

I think what’s at stake here (and I’ve written about this before) is Ed Friedman’s distinction between “certainty” and “clarity”. Certainty is characterized by having a rigid position, the need to convert others to my position, and the inability to be present with difference. This means when I’m in disagreement with others I need to either win-over and convert them, or I need to banish them from my circles, or I need to avoid them. Rigidity tends to be fragile. A good argument can break everything.

Clarity is characterized by deep commitment. But that commitment is held with a sense of openness to new light and more information and receiving counsel and care from others. In clarity, I remain flexible and resilient, with a pliable strength, even in argument and difficult conversations. This allows me, as Parker Palmer puts it, to be present with “all of myself”. In so doing, I carry far more wholesome and powerful resources into conversations and meetings.

I think this is true about my Ohio friend and his ministry, and I pray that it is more and more the way I am in my person and work.

I’ve been on retreat with Parker Palmer for several days in Wisconsin. One thing he said about “truth”: “Truth is a matter of the life long work of attempting to navigate the layers and turns and new moves in our lives. You have to get into the conversation. You can’t rest in the conclusions because things keep changing.” (not a direct quote, but my memory of what he said this morning)

I think I understand the desire for fixed truth, whether in the form of Biblical reading or church practice. We long for something solid in our lives.

Nevertheless, things do keep changing. And that which is fixed often eventuates in harm to someone. This is because the fixed truth is somehow incomplete, and being incomplete, it fails to account for everyone properly. So people are harmed. This evokes the need to pay attention to change, the need to “get into the conversation.”

This idea of getting into the conversation can be a clue for us. Perhaps it is in sound and true and authentic conversation that truth lies. That is, truth lies most clearly in well-tended relationships rather than in propositions, by-laws, or guidelines. All of those may have limited value, but they are not the thing we are going for. What we want is not a timeless set of words, but an authentic community of love.

In the Christian tradition, this is Christ-like love, that has that particular deep commitment to relationships both divine and human. Jesus shows a deep passion and delight for living in the flow of such great relationships. How often is Jesus’ great love expressed in wholehearted devotion to his “father in heaven” and to his friends.

That’s what we want, I think. That’s what will serve us well as a denomination, and make us a blessing to each other and in God’s good earth.

One final quote from Palmer: “It’s better to be in right relationship than to be right.”

Hi friends,

Just a few quick notes in response to our MCUSA board’s wording of action for the coming days as we walk up to the Kansas City national convention next year.

Some have expressed anger and frustration. I am also unhappy with the decision to not recognize Theda’s credentials. But I think the day will come, and will come sooner than we may expect! Let us work for that day with whole hearts and strong, compassionate strategy for connection, conversation, and conversion as the Holy Spirit grants it to us and to all.
1) I am old, and have been fighting this for a long time, and so I don’t feel an immediate flush of anger. I must admit, confessionally, even, that I don’t feel anger but more of an annoyance. A kind of “Here we go again” is sort of what I’m feeling. But I think anger is a very appropriate response. The action is demeaning to the gifts of a gifted pastor and, as far as I can tell, demeaning to our process of discernment. Our process in our congregation and conference surely had flaws but was also a carefully crafted and spiritual discernment time characterized by listening rather than rigid pontificating. I would like to hear more of this tone in the denomination.
2) I’m not even sure that the denomination can recognize or not recognize credentials. I need to look into this further. Our executive board can say that they don’t support anyone recognizing Theda’s credentials, but my impression was that it was the conference, not the denomination, that has authority around credentials.
3) I think the clue and invitation in the board action in the phrase which goes something like “unless the delegates change the policy about same-sex marriage.” My thought is, let’s do that! Let’s work on that! With good hearts, full of love and passion for justice, let us enter the halls of change singing and praying.
4) I would love to chat with any interested others about what we might craft as a response. I’m very interested in offering something paradoxical, that expresses our joy in the Holy Spirit and in our community and our deep sense that this is a river of change among us, a river of justice, that will not be turned by actions of boards or denominations. And that what we live in and have to offer others, including those with whom we disagree, is love, love, love. This creates a gentleness among us that is “like a river glorious” (song lyric), non-violently but powerfully flowing. I really like the Unitarian hymn (at least I found it in my copy of the Unitarian hymnal), that says “We are a gentle angry people.” I think this is a Holly Near song:
We are a gentle, angry people
and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are a justice-seeking people
and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are young and old together
and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are a land of many colors
and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are gay and straight together
and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are a gentle, loving people
and we are singing, singing for our lives

Most politicians are willing to kill to get elected and stay in office. I note this now because of the rhetoric coming from the Republican gubernatorial candidates here in Colorado. But it is by no means a partisan sentiment. Politicians both Democrat and Republican support the death penalty. They do so, perhaps because it is what is true for them.

They may also do so because we the people support it, in the majority. We citizens also are willing to kill – not only willing, but at least in some cases righteous and eager to mete out death as a cure and answer to criminality. This is understandable. We want to lash out with great ferocity against disgusting and appalling killings, especially when they have so brutally ended the lives of our dear ones.

There are people who are so dangerous, who have committed such horrors, killing young and old, children, women, and men, that they need to be stopped in their tracks. But the death penalty is not a matter of stopping. That can be done with prison. The death penalty is considered a deterrent. And it is offered as a path to closure and even revenge to families, friends, and loved ones of the victims of the most horrible murders (phrases are used such as “they will pay for their crime”). Neither of these, however, is well-supported by any study of the matter. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. It is not a deterrent. And while it may bring revenge (is this what we want for our society?), it does not bring closure. (There is evidence that what does bring closure is work like addressing trauma and doing restorative justice.)

In addition, the death penalty is not courageous. It is one thing to kill someone in open combat, or when they are immediately threatening your life. I do not support that kind of killing either (it is another discussion), but it makes more sense then the death penalty. Here we have a person “in a cage” of prison and then we slowly and bureaucratically work toward killing them, and finally in some cases actually kill them. How demeaning this must be for the participants, to spend their days in such work and mindset. What is the meditation of the heart required to slowly kill someone through legislative process? What does this do to the human spirit?

This is all apart from the reality that more and more death convictions have proved to be faulty and even completely false.

The death penalty seems to me to be a kind of addiction. We’re used to it, we think it feels good or satisfying, but it leaves us empty and strung out as the years go by. It is full of false promise. In the end, it is simply adding killing to killing. Rather let us consider how we may remove killing from our social practice altogether. May we step our way out of this addiction and into something more satisfactory and substantial for dealing with the most horrifying of crimes among us.

Sanctions in the Mennonite way

June 3, 2014

As is the case during most church conflicts, there has been talk about the denomination creating sanctions around our conference’s action to license Theda Good toward ordination. I have often said that excommunication is the Mennonite movement’s “original sin”. It’s something we definitely inherited from the Roman Catholic church. The idea of dissociating with the “unredeemed” is already in the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. An entire article is devoted to the practice of the “ban.”

It is understandable that we don’t want to associate with people who are doing things we deem destructive or undermining of our life together. But my impression is (unscientific and anecdotal!) that exercising the ban or excommunication or other sanctions has not generally enriched and strengthened the life of the church or made us more grace-filled and joyful. Rather, it has pretty consistently been a short-circuit for a conversation that really needed to be had, a conversation that perhaps the Holy Spirit was inviting us into! This does not mean we never ask or require people to stop behaviors, even including attendance or participation in church. Sometimes there may be behavior that is so immediately egregious and destructive that it simply will not work to let the person be among us. But in my experience, that is an extraordinarily rare circumstance.

Far more common are differences, and I would say honest differences, in Biblical and theological interpretation. It is not a matter of simply disruptive behavior, but a debate of life and ethics and shared faith. Here I think the Ban, etc., has served us extremely poorly. Here is where conversations that might have been had and understandings that might have been deepened are simply cut off because of lack of emotional and social capacity to carry on a difficult conversation.

These conversations often have as their underpinning the question about “who are we” as a church? Are we a peace church that does not go to war? Are we a church of Jesus Christ? Are we a church that reads the Bible? Are we a church of radical and caring community? Those definitions seem to go to the heart of what it means to be Mennonite. We probably will find our way to some sense of agreement and collaboration around these questions or we simply won’t feel “Mennonite” anymore. But questions of Sunday School and insurance and divorce and the sex of leaders and the sexuality of leaders may not go to the very core of who we are. In fact, in retrospect, many of these arguments look like they erupted more from the anxiety of their time rather than the wisdom of their time. So extensive conversation over a long period of time often may be desirable, and may make us stronger. I think in the cases of many “topics of the day” long conversation and deep listening is far preferable to the cut-off of the Ban or something like it.

There are sanctions I do accept in my life. But they are not at all motivated by the Ban or anything like it. When I come to recognize that I have conspired with a system or institution in the process of my own diminishment, it is so important and wonderful to have that brought home to me. Diminish no more! Have courage and love! Am I living my life divided from that which I know in some way to be the truth of Christ for my life? Am I letting fear or ambition or peer pressure keep me from the expression of that deep, resonant Christ-self? If so, I live divided from the very thing that would give me life – the great fountain of joy of Jesus Christ in my heart! Having that brought home to me so that I realize it is so lovely and important.

But how are these lessons learned? In my experience, the great teaching does not happen by way of official sanctions of various sorts. Rather, what generates true growth and change is a deeper and better quality of listening and conversation. These practices create a space for my soul to “show up” in ways that are more honest and open.

(Thanks to Parker Palmer for some of the key understandings in this article, especially the ideas of diminishment of self, living divided, and of the soul showing up.)

CMCL trip 1-05 005

 

12

“Immortal diamond: I want to hold your hand”
Easter Sunday; April 20, 2014
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
©Vernon K. Rempel
Worship leader – Michael Regier

Bible reading: Bible reading – John 20:11-16
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

Introduction
Good Easter to each one of you.
​It is a privilege to be gathered here with you.
​​For a chance to see friends,
to reflect on ancient wisdom
​to sing some beautiful music.

By the way, even though today is 4/20
​and there are many events downtown
​​we are not going to have a joint worship service.

“I want to hold your hand”

Back to our Easter story!
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

And so death is turned over from separation to relationship.

Here is a story I love about relationship:
It was Thanksgiving time. People were to call in to the radio show All Songs Considered with a song that kind of named their family gathering at Thanksgiving.

Many were celebrations: We are family, by Sister Sledge.
Some were poignant: Still crazy after all these years, by Paul Simon.
Some were about the common family struggle: We’re on the highway to hell.
If I had called in, I might have offered the song “America” by Simon and Garfunkel “I’ve gone to look for America”, since my family has always been about exploration and seeking new experiences and understandings.

But one story stood out to me in the podcast.
​It was about young love.
​​A woman called in and offered the song
​​​I want to hold your hand, by the Beatles.

She said that she and this young man
​had met and been getting acquainted via the internet.
​​It had been going very well.

But now they were meeting for the first time in person.
​They had arranged to meet at a restaurant.
​​They got out of their respective cars
​​​and began walking side by side
​​​​toward the restaurant.

As they were walking,
​he turned to her and asked:
​​do you need something to do with that hand?

And so they held hands.
​And she said they have been together ever since,
​​married 10 years,
​​​a 3-year old daughter….

This story is a romance
​but it is not only about romantic love.

Here we have the deep connective tissue of the universe.
Here we have what David Bentley Hart says
is centrally true about God:

“The Spirit is the one in whom … love most manifestly opens out as sheer delight, generosity, and desire for the other.”
(Read 2x)
(p175 The Beauty of the Infinite)

The love of the “I want to hold your hand story”
is not just for romance.
It is God’s character
and therefore the character of all creation,

and therefore the character of all friendships, all society,
even Mennonite churches
trying to follow the great path of Jesus Christ
in our lives:

“sheer delight, generosity, and desire for the other.”
​That is the undistorted life, the true divine intention,
​​in sorrow and in joy, in hard times and easier times,

it is for us the love that takes delight,
​that longs for the presence and well being of the other
​​and indeed for all people: the common good,
​​​a blessing for all humanity and all creation.

“Ham salad sandwiches”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him “Teacher”!

And so death is turned over from separation to relationship.

And so death is turned over from separation to relationship.
​It is of course always separation.
​​Death is the great and terrible goodbye.

So much dying among us.
​So much tearing apart of relationship.
​​So much loss in all the earth,​
​​​as if we were born to die,
​​​​and life is here merely to be scattered
​​​​​to the four winds.

Some early death certificates had this simply written on them:
​Broke what breaks. We die because we were born;
​​because we are mortal; because that is, after all, life.
— Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker 4/7/14

And that is certainly true.

In the Midwest, as you may know
​ham salad was the constant food for funerals.

In the days before cremation was often the practice,
​the funeral had to be held quickly.

Ham salad was probably used because it is easy to make.
​The ham is already cooked,
​​just grind it up and add the relish and mayo.

Then with love it is brought to the church,
​for the meal that had to be convened too quickly.
​​Ham salad eaten together

before our hearts could bring ourselves to say goodbye.

And yet our hearts remain unsatisfied with that story,
​with that ending.

It’s not quite the right ending,
​It’s like the movie they couldn’t figure out
​​how to end well so they sort of just ended it.

And it’s not only because we may miss our loved ones so much,
​or that we carry accumulated regrets
​​about the dying process
​​​or about how we lived.

Those may all be in it for us.
​But the story does not finally ring true to our hearts
​​because if we listen closely
​​​if we listen well with deep reflection

our hearts want to teach us something else,
​and it is of course something else about love,

something about a love that does not prevent goodbyes
​does not take away the goodbyes
​​but rather takes another look at the goodbyes
​​​and discovers not just devastation

(that is still there; our hearts still feel it)

but also a deeper river, a finer beauty of truth,
​a lovely and warm beckoning hearth
​​that transcends all that we know as life and death

and so the mystery is how the human heart
​climbing out of great devastation
​​time and again turns itself to love

love that not only holds on, although that is really something
​love that not only rebuilds, although that is really something

but love that turns and delights in the gifts of life
​all around us

even when we do not want it,
​even when we reject the beauty
​​still there is love

and if nothing else, others carry it for us
​and so the mystery is carried

and so the mystery remains,
​as old Paul, convinced and amazed by love,
​​but also experienced in much suffering,
​​​wrote in a letter to his friends in Rome:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8)

As Hart puts it:
“The Spirit is the one in whom … love most manifestly opens out as sheer delight, generosity, and desire for the other.”

Or as the young man in the story asked the young woman
​“Do you need something to do with that hand?”

How may we extend such delighted community to each other?

“River art”
We are talking about resurrection today.
​And about the love that teaches us about resurrection.

Of course it is a mystical, intuitive story.
​Some people understandably remain unconvinced.
​​Did you hear about the unbeliever who died
​​​and went to heaven?

When he saw the shining gold streets and the gates of pearl,
​he exclaimed “I don’t believe it!”

Or did you hear about the liberal seminarians
​who died and went to heaven?
​​One gate said “Heaven”.
​​​Another gate said “Seminar about heaven.”

But if you need a real seminar about heaven,
you’re in the right place.

We are talking today about eternal love,
​and a community – this community –
​​that holds the practice of eternal delighted love
​​​near to our hearts.

If you haven’t yet done so,
​take a look at the gorgeous river art installation on our wall.

Each Sunday of Lent, this community has celebrated
​the waters of life, the waters of baptism
​​by adding to this river of life.

There are personal notes on some of the papers,
​but look at the powerful beauty that is a combination
​​of great artistic planning
​​​
and the collective action and play of the community.

We have held community together in these weeks.
​What could be better?

Now here is the inevitable Easter ministers’ joke
​for those of you who seeing this river for the first time.

A parishioner was coming out of church one day, and the pastor was standing at the door to greet folks. He grabbed the parishioner by the hand and pulled him aside. The Pastor said to him, “Friend, you need to join the Army of the Lord!” The parishioner replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.” The pastor questioned, “How come I don’t see you except at Christmas and Easter?” The parishioner whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”
(source: http://www.jokes4us.com/holidayjokes/easterjokes/easteronelinersjokes.html)

Easter! Welcome to all:
Skeptics and intuitive believers,
those with joy in their hearts
and those whose lives are infused with loss.

Welcome strong holders of community
​and those who are in the secret service.

Welcome dreamers and welcome if you are afraid,
afraid of disease or loneliness, or even death,
which is the ultimate shadow and subject of Easter

The joyful gospel of Christ walks right in to the story of death
and explores and finds it’s cry and voice about the matter.

The voice of love.
​For God so loved the world.
​​Love one another.
​​​The greatest of these is love.

“Memorial service”
The first memorial service I did as a young pastor
​was for a young woman
She and her husband had just adopted a son.
Then she died of a recurrence of ovarian cancer.

I preached, beginning with the words of Woody Allen:
​The problem with death is that it is so inconvenient.

As I recall, it was spring. At least it was warm.
​The world was lovely.
​​And this young woman had died,
​​​leaving her young husband and their son.

Very inconvenient.
​Very… inconvenient….

I ended my mediation for her
​with a reflection based on Robert Frost’s poem
​​Swinger of Birches

I imagined her climbing into the birch tree
​like Frost’s boy in the woods,
​​ getting out on the limb
​​​and swinging down and down

but for her, not only the forest floor
​but that she curved down into the arms of God.
​​But those were words for the memorial.

As she was dying,
​there came a time when there was nothing to do
​​nothing to say but to simply be there.

To be with her and to bear witness to her life
​and to her dying.

Parker Palmer notes that to sit with a dying person
​is what needs to be done,
​​and in fact is all that can be done.

There is finally nothing to fix, and so
​there is nothing to do.

But it is also a time to attend, to listen,
​to be present

And so while there is nothing to fix,
​it is also not a time to avoid being there.

We do have the impulse to try to fix.
​And we do have the impulse to avoid,
​​to maybe hide behind a book or the morning news.

But at the time when dying is coming,
​there is only one thing for it, and that is to
​​pay attention, to sit with
​​​to bear witness to the moment.

This moment of great mortality
​finding a connection to immortality

As Hopkins puts it:
Flesh fade, and mortal trash​
Fall to the residuary worm; ‘ world’s wildfire, leave but ash:​
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,​
I am all at once what Christ is, ‘ since he was what I am, and​
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,​
Is immortal diamond.
— 48. That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection

Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity – Ryan Stone – says at one point:
“I know, we’re all gonna die. Everybody knows that. But I’m going to die today.”

Well, we don’t know when we’re going to die.

Whether we’re going to die today, or shortly,
​or after some years,

What we can do, since truly we are all dying,
​is to bear witness to each others’ lives.

We can try to fix each other a bit less
​and just bear witness

We can try not to avoid each other in our hard times
​and just bear witness

in the great community of love
​we can bear witness to each other’s lives

we can hold each other’s lives,
​and live with each other in ways that help us
​​to grow in becoming
more honorable,
more courageous,
​​​more full of wonder
​​​stronger in good planning
​​​more decisive in getting the good done
​​​willing to create and hold solidarity
​​​
but most of all to walk with each other,
​hold each other,
​​view in other

from the perspective of Christ,
​which is the perspective of eternal love
​​the perspective of the immortal diamond

or perhaps just from the perspective of delighted love
​saying to each other in some kind and joyful way

bearing witness to each other’s lives,
​we might in some way say

do you need something to do with that hand?

And so love.
​And so love.
​​So the birch bends down
and Jesus falls from forsakenness
​​​​into love

and meets Mary in the garden.

And so we fall from forsakenness
​and into love.

Theme: The Lord’s Prayer

Meditation title: Speaking Christian; Speaking Downton

7th Sunday after Epiphany; February 23, 2014

For First Mennonite Church of Denver

©Vernon K. Rempel, 2014

 

Bible reading: Matthew 6:9-13

Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

 

Speaking Downton

Do you love Downton Abbey?

I love that show.

I didn’t think I would love a costume drama

set in the early 1900s.

But it has three great story elements

and I would argue that they flow in this order:

Good plot

Great characters

and Amazing dialogue

Amazing. I want to take a course in how to speak Downton.

The speech and conversational patterns

are elegant and lovely.

Marcus Borg in his book Speaking Christian,

is, I think, trying to get some of this back

for our Christian words as well.

In his final chapter, he writes this:

“…If we avoid the language of our faith because of uncertainty about what it means, we grant a monopoly on it to those who are most certain about its meaning. That would be unfortunate, for the language is extraordinarily rich, wise, and transformative.” (p234)

Rich, wise, transformative.

Like listening to the dialogue on Downton Abbey!

Today, we will look at the example of the Lord’s Prayer

rich, wise, transformative language.

But consider also these examples of elegant speech

from Downton Abbey. I can’t hope to fully convey

the import of the dialogue, without the background

of the characters, and without the brilliant actors

speaking the lines.

But perhaps you’ll have the gist.

So we have the lady’s maid Phyllis Baxter and footman Joseph Molesley…

Molesley: I thought I’d make some coffee, would you like a cup?

Baxter: No thank you.

Molesley: It’s just a cup of coffee, you won’t have to surrender any of your independence.

And on Daisy becoming engaged to William, who is off to World War I…

Mrs. Patmore: It’s too late for second thoughts now, Missy. You don’t have to marry him when it comes to it, but you can’t let him go to war with a broken heart, or he won’t come back.

Daisy: But I don’t know what to say…

Mrs. Patmore: You don’t have to be Shakespeare, just say nice things….

And finally Daisy and Alfred the footman figure out how to part as friends after considerable awkwardness and missed cues and bad feelings:

(In kitchen)

Daisy: I thought I’d missed you.

Alfred: I’m off to the station now, Daisy. And I won’t be back. My dad’s gone and my mother’s moving [away]…. so I’m glad you’re hear to say goodbye. I really am.

Daisy: I’ve brought you a present. Mr. Mason’s made you a basket full of things. Rolls and cheese and ham, and jams and pickles and he’s put some cider in too to keep you going on the train home.

Carson: That was kind of him, Daisy. Are you sure it wasn’t meant for you.

Daisy: No, he did it for Alfred. (To Alfred) I told him we were old friends, so he did it for you.

(Walk into hall for more private conversation)

Alfred: You know Ivy turned me down?

Daisy: I do, yes.

Alfred: It seems I’ve been a bit blind where she’s concerned.

Daisy: Love is blind.

Alfred: Maybe. But I wonder now I’ve not been a fool. You’ve always been so good to me, Daisy. So true. But I could never see it.

Daisy: That’s kind of you to say and good to hear. I loved you, Alfred. I’ll not deny it. But that’s done with now, and what I felt won’t come back. It’s time for you to go your way and me to go mine.

Alfred: But you wish me well?

Daisy: Oh, I do, Alfred, yeah. So well. So very well. Friends forever.

Alfred: Friends forever, Daisy. Right, now this really is goodbye.

(Alfred leaves and motherly Mrs. Hughes and gruff Mrs. Patmore walk over)

Mrs. Hughes: Are you all right, Daisy?

Daisy: I’ll just get this off and pop in the pantry for my apron.

(She walks off, and Mrs. Hughes nods to Mrs. Patmore. Daisy steps outside the kitchen, and Mrs. Patmore comes after her.)

Daisy: Well, that’s that then.

Mrs. Patmore: Do you know when you brought up that basket, I were so proud of you, I felt like crying out. If you were my own daughter, I couldn’t be prouder than I am now.

(And with a little breath, Mrs. Patmore touches Daisy’s shoulder and walks off.)

That’s so much more of a break-up scene than George on Seinfeld being given the line “It’s not you, it’s me” from a woman, and being offended because that’s supposed to be his line.

Seinfeld is brilliantly funny. But Downton Abbey is elegant.

Not because of the old class divisions.

Those are falling slowly away.

But because of speech that says what needs to be said,

says it in a way that lets the speaker speak their heart

but at the same time care enough

for the feelings of the other.

The verbal negotiation becomes a careful

and ultimately loving dance of mutual

respect and recognition.

 

Speaking Christian: The Lord’s Prayer

Speaking Christian & Speaking Downton

In both cases, speaking well to each other

enables people to do greater things with their lives

because of good and capable speaking.

Good speech allows us to do

greater things in relationship.

Allows us to walk in more wholehearted and graceful

relationships in our faith community.

We need Christian words that allow us

to do these greater things in relationship.

This is what Borg is working on

in his book Speaking Christian.

Or in the words of the book of Hebrews:

To untie us from “every weight and the sin that clings so closely”, to untie us from that constricting stuff that blocks our capacity, so that we can, again in the words of Hebrews “run with perseverance the race that is set before us… for the sake of … joy….” (Hebrews 12: 1,2)

And so it may be with the what Protestants call

“The Lord’s Prayer”

and Catholics call the “Our Father.”

The Lord’s Prayer potentially offers us great poetry

arising from within the heart of Christian history,

and rich with generative Christian metaphor.

We have here a suggestive prayer

that carries within it forgiveness, liberation, and transformation

protection, equitable distributive justice.

Borg asks us to notice first of all what is not in this prayer:

It’s not about the afterlife – no plea to go to heaven

Not about material success – no prosperity prayer

It’s not about belief – there’s no request

to help us believe rightly

It’s not even about Jesus – nothing about believing

only in him and him dying on the cross

for our sins

Then Borg asks us to notice what is in the prayer:

And he notes that we need to remember

that Jesus mostly spoke to the peasant class

of his day:

It starts with a sense of deep spiritual intimacy

“Our father who art in heaven”

In the context, was like speaking

to a dear parent or loved one.

I personally like to use the phrase

“Dear One” or even “Our dear Spirit of God” in prayer

Spiritual intimacy for the socially disenfranchised.

Hallowed be thy name

Or as we used to joke “Howard be thy name.”

But it means Holy be your name

As Borg notes, this means for God’s name to be holy

in the earth, for this to be a holy house,

a city in the Spirit of God

full of God’s passion for distributive justice,

for joyful peace, for communities
of laughter and love.

On earth as it is in heaven:

As John Dominic Crossan puts it: Heaven’s in great shape; earth is where the problems are.

Again, the focus is on earth, on this life,

no just in getting saved for heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread:

for a peasant, a request for food in time of real need,

a request for justice, for some of God’s bread

which is intended for all people

Forgive us our debts

- likely the earliest reading –

peasants need debt forgiveness

God does not intend that anyone be

enslaved by economic misfortune

And if it is forgiveness more broadly

it is the daily goodness of letting things

pass so we don’t get bound up

and it is the great work of things like

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission,

deep and political and spiritual work of forgiveness.

And deliver us from evil,

from the power of evil in our lives:

our addictions, old habits, falsehoods,

pride, fear

everything that separates us from each other

and the from great love of God in our lives.

And this latter is really the thing:

Great Christian words, like the words in this prayer

have the capacity to open our hearts

and to increase our capacity for love,

which is the joy and creativity and passion

of lives well-lived

lives lived with all the elegance and grace

and joyful careful work of Downton Abbey characters.

These good words can open us up to something great and new

and wonderful in our Christian speech.

We can get untied from old burdens.

And when we get untied from some of that old weight,

even just a little,

we will find capacity blossoming in our hearts

 

An increase in love

In 1st Thessalonians 3:12 Paul writes

“And may the Spirit of God make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all….”

And in 2nd Thessalonians 1:3, Paul is pleased to write the most wonderful of notes:

“We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because you faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”

That’s what it’s about,

an increase in love,

an increase in capacity of love

an increase in great speech

“Speaking Christian” in such a way that we honor each other,

respect each other, care wonderfully for each other,

so that we become great-hearted,

so that as Paul writes:

“the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”

And all in the infinitely beautiful and powerful

and loving presence of the Holy Spirit

who is poured into our hearts,

our lives, and our relationships

daily and in every step we take.

What Borg calls “heaven-hell” Christianity

talks a lot about conversion,

but it is a lot about conformity

to a set of necessary beliefs,

in order to get into heaven.

But I think there’s conversion

for what Borg calls “transformation-goodness” Christianity

as well.

And it is this conversion to Paul’s “increase in love”

And the conversion is not about what we need to do

and about feeling guilty for not doing enough.

It is about discovering new capacity in our hearts.

And that’s a wonderful thing.

To find that where we felt limits before,

now there is new courage, a new grace,

a new generosity of spirit,

a surprisingly capacious

envelope of love

around our hearts.

That’s a conversion I can sign up for

It’s a conversion I’ve experienced.

It makes all the difference.

Thanks be to God!

As we pray in our New Zealand version

of the Lord’s Prayer:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!

The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!

Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!

Your commonwealth of peace and freedom

sustain our hope and come on earth.

Amen.

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