Saturday, December 31, 2011

His Was Not the First Cry at Birth

His was not the first cry at birth
and certainly not the last cry at death.
Many before and since have crossed
these vast thresholds and likewise uttered.
Yet his brief span, his first and last cries –
sinewed with flesh and blood, as ours,
contrapuntal with joy and pain, as ours –
voiced all birth and death, all hopes and sighs,
and sounded heaven and earth, above,
below, with full-spent passion, with love:
thus pierced our silent, brooding night
with heart-cleft notes, toward a lilting light.

Christmas 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Expectations and God's Good News

"Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel."

Rejoice. God will be with you, Israel. It seems a simple thing. God comes in grace and love to dwell among his people. Surely his people will welcome him and take joy in his presence. Yet clearly many, even most, in Israel did not rejoice when God came to be with them in Jesus. They did not recognize, they did not welcome, God-with-them-in-Jesus. Jesus, the long anticipated and much hoped for messiah, savior, did not meet expectations.

We are no different today from Israel then. God's good news does not conform to our expectations, yet it is good news. How can it be good news if it does not appear to fit our expectations, even our hopes? It is good news because God makes it good news, because God, not we, knows what news is good for us, what is good for us. Our radical disjunction from God so profoundly affects us that we cannot accept or even know the good God knows we need, the good God has in store for our being.

So we miss it and even reject it. The good news of the child born in Bethlehem gets tossed into the rubbish pit of the cross. Yet even there, in God's grace and love, it remains good news for Israel, for us, for all the world. For this news, as God himself, with us in Jesus, persists and indeed triumphs through life and death to new life, from good to good, more true and more glorious than any good we can imagine or hope to know and live.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Honeysuckle in October

Light rain and mist spatter the last of October,
even as this late, oh so late, fragment of summer
vines through the rusted bracken and bramble
which crowd both sides of the road we travel.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Overcoming Evil

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Anniversary of September 11

Ineluctably, this week we come to the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against targets in the United States. The hatred and evil of the attacks were stunning and heartrending, particularly for those intimately affected by injury and loss. The storm of effects carved, and continues to carve, the landscape of life for individuals, families, and communities. And now, this anniversary of the attacks raises afresh the complex challenges of remembrance and response. How do we remember and respond to such hatred and evil?
Romans 12:9-21

I contend that Romans 12:9-21 should frame and form how the community of Christ remembers and responds to the events of September 11. This passage from this letter of Saint Paul to the followers of Jesus in Rome begins with these words: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good….” It concludes with these: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In this week when the remembrance of those acts of hatred and evil is prominent in the hearts and minds of most in the United States, this passage is God’s grace to guide and shape the remembrance and response of the community of Christ.
Remembrance and response

How then do we – the community of Christ – remember and respond to such hatred and evil? How does this passage – Romans 12:9-21 – guide and shape the community of Christ as it remembers, prays, and acts in response to those events? In the truth and power of God’s Word in this passage, the community of Christ remembers and responds through genuine love and steadfast adherence to what is good, in order to overcome evil with good.

What does it mean to love genuinely and to hold fast to what is good, in order to overcome evil with good? The community of Christ loves genuinely and holds fast to what is good in the following ways, enumerated in the passage.

Rejoicing in hope, being patient in suffering, and persevering in prayer. Contributing to those in need, whether fellow saint in Christ or stranger (for in Christ the stranger is always a neighbor). Blessing those who persecute the members of the community – blessing, not cursing. Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep – acting in solidarity, compassion, and empathy to bear other’s burdens. Not repaying evil with evil, but doing what is noble in the sight of all. Doing all we can to live in peace with all people. Not seeking to avenge ourselves or others, but leaving the sorting of actions, consequences, guilt, and blame to God. Acting in great charity even to our enemies. In short: overcoming evil, and doing so with loving and good actions, not evil ones.
Transformation and renewal

How is it possible to remember and respond to such hatred and evil through genuine love and steadfast adherence to what is good, in order to overcome evil with good? It is possible through the transformation and renewal of our lives in the powerful grace of God.

This passage, from the last part of Romans 12, follows as the necessary or inevitable ethical outworking of the first part of Romans 12. A key statement from the first verses of chapter 12 provides the foundation for the ethical injunctions in verses 9 through 21, as summarized in verse 21 with the injunction to overcome evil with good. In verse 2 of chapter 12, Saint Paul exhorts the community of Christ, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Hence, we are not to be conformed to this world but transformed and renewed in our hearts and minds by the powerful grace of God. Because of the transformation and renewal of our lives in God’s grace, the community of Christ is framed and formed, enabled and empowered, to live in what God determines to be good and acceptable and perfect – as against what any particular nation, culture, or government determines to be good and acceptable and perfect.
Citizenship in heaven

This passage highlights the truth that our citizenship and allegiance are fundamentally and ultimately in heaven, not in the United States or in any other country. We do of course live in the United States. Our earthly citizenship in this country is profoundly significant for our lives – for the general shaping of our perspectives, emotions, and identity, and for our remembrance of and response to the particular events of September 11, 2001.

Yet our earthly citizenship and allegiance are not unmixed goods. Our earthly citizenship and allegiance – with their influence on our perspectives, emotions, and identity – are ambiguous and penultimate. They are always to be measured and qualified by our fundamental and ultimate citizenship and allegiance. They are always secondary and subordinate to our fundamental and ultimate citizenship and allegiance.

As citizens of heaven fundamentally and ultimately, in the power of God we are to be transformed and renewed in our whole lives, and thus conformed to the patterns of heaven, not to the patterns of this world. And in conformity with the patterns of heaven, we are to love genuinely, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, and overcome evil not with evil but with good.
The way of Jesus

This passage from Romans 12 does not indicate that it is easy to overcome evil with good. It does not specify when good will overcome evil, or how much effort it will take to overcome evil with good. The effort to overcome evil through genuine love and doing good may take much time and effort. It has already taken 2000 years. It may involve much suffering, even death. It cost God his only son. Yet, as we remember and respond to the terrorist attacks of September 11 as the community of Christ fundamentally and ultimately, this passage from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans clearly describes none other than the way of true discipleship for the community of Christ, because the way of hating and overcoming evil through love and doing good is the way of Jesus, and the way of Jesus in this world of hate and evil is the way of the cross.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hope in Relationships

Perhaps the truest and best hope we can have in and for any relationship is that someday the other will say, "My life is better for having known you."

Friday, August 5, 2011

Simply Sounds of Birds

Neither symphony nor cacophony,
simply sounds of birds in day's first light
awake, awake, among leaves in the wind.
Ah, to be as a bird in this plein morning ...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Baptism: Death and Resurrection in Christ

Reading in Colossians 2:6-15, especially verses 12 and 13 ...

The divine, salvific mystery is that God exchanges Christ's death for our death, such that our death is no longer our own but is Christ's. We must make no mistake about this. We die. Indeed, apart from Christ we are already dead spiritually. This side of the second coming, ineluctably and certainly, even if we are in Christ, we will eventually die physically as well. Yet in this God-acted mystery of salvation, which we experience sacramentally in baptism, we no longer die in ourselves; we die in Christ. God translates us from that death which is our death to that death which is Christ's, which becomes our life in the mystery of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Summer Rain

Summer rain --
against the inscrutable screen
of beech and big-tooth aspen,
fractal leafing seeming endless --
silvers the massed cloud down
to earth, to soil and pavement,
and all creatures here below,
of life sore beauty-parched.

Monday, May 30, 2011

This Late May Morning

On this late May morning
in the hour before dawn
southwesterly-born breezes
gust the massed honeysuckle,
its supple vines and flowers
barely seen but amply sensed
in air so moist, intoxicating
swirling toward the surging day.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

More on the Powerlessness of Jesus

Arrested and brutally interrogated by the secular and religious leaders in Jerusalem, about to be pushed off the precipice into the abyss of crucifixion, Jesus knows he is one with the true creator and ruler of the whole congeries of elements of which the abyss is perversely made by all pretenders to the ruler's power; and then he lets himself be pushed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Powerlessness of Jesus

Reading closely the accounts of the arrest, suffering, and death of Jesus in the gospels, one can only be struck by the utter powerlessness of Jesus in the face of the forces against him. If this was -- is -- God's method to overcome evil and recreate the world in truth, beauty, and goodness, it is astonishing, stunning. Give self up completely. Give up every claim to privilege, right, power. To love, only to love, utterly and absolutely to and through the end, no matter the end.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Non Sequitur in Holy Week

In the gospel reading for Tuesday in Holy Week -- John 12:20-26 -- some Greeks attending Passover in Jerusalem approach Philip, a disciple of Jesus: "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip goes to Andrew, and together they go to Jesus with this request. Does Jesus agree to meet these Greeks? Or does he put them off with a claim to being too busy, here in this tumultuous week? Neither. Jesus responds to Philip and Andrew with what appears to be a strange non sequitur. He begins to talk about the Son of Man, about a climactic moment approaching the Son of Man, about the need for a grain to die in the ground before it can produce a bounty of wheat. Does Jesus misunderstand Philip and Andrew and the eager Greeks? Does he not care about these Greeks and their request as he seemingly launches into these oblique references to himself and his sense of mission? Is his response a non sequitur? The answer is no and yes.

The answer is no in the sense that Jesus -- in his commentary on the Son of Man, on death, on losing one's life for the sake of Jesus, and only thus and then gaining true life -- precisely answers the Greeks, precisely tells them what it means to see Jesus. Do they wish to see Jesus? Do we wish to see Jesus? Look to the cross. There he is, loving God and loving the world, in and through suffering and death, for the sake of the world. This is where we see him, or we do not see him at all.

The answer is yes in that Jesus on the cross does not portray or embody the wisdom of the world. Jesus crucified is, in worldly terms, a non sequitur, a cipher of utter foolishness and failure. Moreover, to see Jesus truly is to be where Jesus is, in suffering love, not in self-focused pursuit of achievement, satisfaction, and fulfillment, the way of the world. In Holy Week, crossing off the days to the climactic end of the week, we follow the non sequitur of our crucified savior and lord, or we do not follow him at all.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Eastern Redbuds

Mid April, and long down the lane the eastern redbuds in bloom, prior to leafing, mist the gray dawn in purple understory.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Kind of Wild Beauty

On an early morning drive to the Blue Ridge today, I stopped near Paris, Virginia. Clouds thickened down the ridges and valley, and a chill easterly wind drove hard rain across the land and pond, the surface of the pond being pushed relentlessly to the western edge. Such a wildness to the weather and morning -- all a kind of wild beauty amid the unfurling and flourishing of spring.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Today marks the grim 100-year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire: March 25, 1911, in New York's Greenwich Village. Due to heartless labor practices and negligence by factory owners, 146 people died in under 20 minutes from fire and leaping from the building's 9th floor in desperation. Most of the dead were females; most in their late teens and early twenties.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Near the End

Near the end
of this cold March day, mark
how the tall straight trunks
of tulip populars in mass -
leafless from winter
and ranged up the slope -
enbark and furrow
the last slant of light
to a ruddy-gold glory,
before dusk, before night

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A non-moral paradigm of the fallen nature of existence

Recently I experienced a non-moral paradigm of the fallen nature of existence, certainly including my own. On a Saturday morning this winter I left home by car before dawn to explore west. After I crossed the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah River, I noticed in the car's rear view mirror the light from the rising sun. Two horizons figured significantly in perspective here. The sun had emerged above the plane of the coastal plain east of the Piedmont, but it had not yet cleared the Blue Ridge itself, to be seen directly and fully in the sky by me west of the mountains. Thus hidden, in a sense, the morning sun nevertheless burnished the broken clouds overspreading the ridge to a ruddy luminosity. I turned off the highway onto a smaller country lane paralleling the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah to seek a back-east view conducive to an attempt to capture this moment of glory in a photograph. As I stood in the snow at the fence to a farm pasture, through the viewfinder of my camera I carefully framed and focused the scene with ridge and clouds and light. When the composition seemed right to me, and the color at peak in the sky, I pressed the shutter button. No image appeared in the display on the back of my digital camera. Puzzled, I pressed again. Again, no image, meaning no photograph. Baffled but stubbornly persistent, I pressed the button a third time. Still no image, no photograph. Frustrated, I pressed one last time to no avail, then checked the camera settings more closely. Deflated, I discovered the camera had no media card, so no image could be recorded. As it happened, when I had used the camera the week before and taken the media card out to transfer images to the computer, I neglected to reinsert the card into the camera immediately after the transfer. Hence, a malfunctioning camera, or to be more accurate, photographer. And so on this Saturday, west of the sun, east of my foolishness, I missed a moment for photographic beauty. When the glory passed from the clouds, I ruefully chuckled at my mistake and loss, tucked myself and my memory of the view back into the car, and continued through the gray morning.