Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Do You Have a Puny Jesus?

STH Community Worship
Wednesday 28 November 2007
Celebration of Christ the King

Do you have a puny Jesus?

When I ask this, I am not so much concerned about the height of your Jesus.  Jesus lived in a time when the stature of human males was somewhat diminutive in comparison with present demographics.  If you believe the Shroud of Turin, Jesus was about 5 foot 7 inches.  Here at Marsh Chapel we have three Jesuses, one in the rear stained glass window, one in the altarpiece and one in the Rose window.  I think the one in the rose window is probably the tallest although he is seated so it is somewhat hard to judge.  The moral of this story is that if you find the height of your Jesus to be a topic of existential concern for you, you can see Dean Hill and I’m sure he would be more than happy to loan you one of ours.  Just be sure to have filled out your pledge card.

I, for one, am not particularly concerned about Jesus’ height but about Jesus’ depth.  I am concerned, on this celebration of Christ the King, that perhaps our Jesus has become puny and shallow.  So I ask again, do you have a puny Jesus?

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray.

Sovereign God, ruler of creation,
we come before your throne
in meekness before the mystery of your majesty.
We pray you send your Spirit, the holy comforter,
to enlighten our hearts and minds
in the glory and power of your Son, Christ the King.
May the words that we speak and the meditations we offer
be a prayer of sweet smelling incense before you,
who reigns with your Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever and unto ages of ages.  Amen.

There are two ways in which we make Jesus puny.

First, we make Jesus puny when Jesus becomes for us merely Christ the King.

The soldiers hanging out near the cross certainly saw Jesus as merely Christ the King.  They placed the sign that read “This is the King of the Jews” on the cross and then demanded of Jesus that he save himself.  They had a view of kingship based on the Roman imperial model.  The idea that Jesus, if indeed he was a king, was also God would not have been strange to them who worshipped the emperor as a god.  But, if indeed he was a king, and thus a god, he should have been able to get himself down from the cross.  And yet, there he hung.  Apparently, Jesus was not merely a king, or even a king, let alone a god, at least according to their test. 

The people standing by, who mere days earlier hailed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the coming of the king who would redeem Israel, now demanded the same sign from Jesus to prove that he was Messiah, the anointed one, the king.  Get yourself down from the cross!  Save yourself as you saved others!  Bah!  How dare you call yourself a king!

The first thief had more hope.  Of course, he had more at stake.  Please Jesus, be the Messiah, the king, because if you are king you can save yourself and me!

Either/or; one or the other; all or nothing.  Jesus hung on a cross between two thieves, reduced to the dichotomy of king or bandit.

In our day kingship is not the reduction we most frequently hear demanded of Jesus.  Much more frequent is the image of Jesus as savior.  If you pray the right prayer and assent to the right beliefs Jesus will save you from your sins.  Other times it is Jesus the healer.  If you only pray hard enough, Jesus will heal you or your loved one.  Of course, all too frequently, Jesus fails the test.  Some of the most sinful people in our society are also the most convinced that they are saved, and the recovery of our loved ones is equally likely predicted by the flip of a coin as by the intensity of our prayer.

But even when it works, even when lives are changed by commitment to an ideal of goodness, courage, and righteousness and when people are healed from their diseases, conditions and infirmities, still Jesus is impoverished.  Jesus becomes uni-dimensional.  Jesus is king.  Jesus is savior.  Jesus is healer.  Either/or; one or the other; all or nothing.

What happened to the expansive vision of Jesus advocated by the author of the letter to the Colossians?  Image of the invisible God!  Firstborn of all creation!  Creator of all things in heaven and on earth.  Creator of all things visible and invisible.  The one before all things who holds them all together.  Head of the church.  Firstborn from the dead!  Dwelling place of God! 

Where is this Jesus who is before, above, below, beyond?  Such a Jesus certainly cannot be stuffed wholly or even partly into a single image or symbol.  Such a Jesus cannot be reduced to either/or.  Such a Jesus defies one or the other and transcends all and nothing. 

Do you have a puny Jesus?  Or does your Jesus burst the bonds of narrow categories and images?  Does your Jesus fit neat and tidy in a carry-out box to be toted home and conveniently stored in the refrigerator until he is convenient for consumption?  Or does your Jesus demand a rich panoply of overlapping and interrelated symbols that impinge upon your every thought, belief and action merely to be present to you in the various ways relevant to your existential situation but still and beyond the needle-eye scope of your imagination?  Is Jesus merely Christ the King, savior from sin and healer of infirmities, or is Jesus also Lamb of God, the Cosmic Christ, Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords, second person of the Trinity, historical figure, liberator, judge, prophet, priest, bread, wine, water, oil, soldier, sage, saint, black, white, brown, yellow, red, male, female, gay, straight, tall, short, broken, whole, lover, enemy, master, servant, stranger, friend?

Do you have a puny Jesus?

Second, we make Jesus puny when Jesus is stripped of his kingship entirely.

Kingship was an important symbol for ancient Israelite religion.  Our reading from Jeremiah points to this first in reference to David, the quintessential image of the ideal King for Israel.  Jeremiah then goes on to draw a line from David through the present and projects it on into the future when a new king, a “righteous Branch,” will be raised up.  The suggestion that this king will “deal wisely” is a reminder of Solomon, the penultimate expression of Israelite kingship, or the ultimate depending on whether you are reading Chronicles or the Samuel/Kings narrative.  The reading appears in the lections for Christ the King Sunday as we Christians have a penchant for reading Jesus back into the prophetic tradition.

The symbolism of kingship is also a frustrating one for the Israelites, however.  Not that they hadn’t been warned!  All the way back in First Samuel, God declared:

‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’

They had indeed been warned, and yet were somehow surprised when it turned out exactly as God said it would!  The Book of Kings is a rehearsal of the kingly reign over Israel, many of the depictions including the line, “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as his ancestors had done.”

In the prophetic tradition, kingship has been transformed, as terms are wont to do.  Terminology – theological, liturgical, scriptural, and ordinary – is transformed as it is specified to particular contexts and then transposed, along with its specified meaning, into other contexts.  In the new context, the meaning of the term must expand to encompass the new situation along with the old, but also leaving something of the old behind.  Over time, such as the period from the end of the kingly rule to the rise of the prophetic tradition in the context of exile, terms are adapted for present use, even as they seek to carry over the best of their prior meaning.  Such an historical link is important for the value of the new meaning of the term, even if the history carried forward is only partially representative of the facts of the past.  Jeremiah looks back at David and Solomon, the progenitors of kingly rule in Israel, and highlights their qualities of wisdom, justice and righteousness, overlooking their indiscretions and minor transgressions.  Just as Jeremiah overlooked the indiscretions of his primal leading figures in the face of national travesty and destruction, so too we may overlook the indiscretions of our not-too-distant leaders for hope and courage in the face of economic recession and humiliating moral collapse.

The importance of kingship for Israelite religion is not justification in itself for keeping the symbol in contemporary practice.  Symbols can be, and sometimes are, excised from traditions.  We no longer live in a medieval feudal society, and so it may be that the image of the king is one that is up for such erasure.  More frequently, however, symbols are transformed from the context in which they were initially introduced to have altered meanings such that the value of the symbol is carried over.  Such is the case with the very feast we celebrate today.  The feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by the papal encyclical Quas Primas as a means of combating the virulent –isms of its day – communism, Marxism, fascism, and above all secularism.  The encyclical announces a kingdom not of this world.  “It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.”  Doubtless, however, is the fact that such a kingdom will indeed have an impact in mortal, finite, temporal life.

Of course, the carryover of value in the symbol from the past along with the finite creation of value for the symbol in the present inevitably brings with it unintended referents.  Kingship derives from an inherently masculine word and so risks the continued exclusion of women.  Kingship implies the unrestricted ability to exercise power and so invokes the very reasons democracy has developed as the hallmark of modern western civilization.  Kingship, looking all the way back to First Samuel, risks oppression and enslavement, which would be a crushing blow to the achievements of freedom and universal human rights.

What then are we to do with kingship?  Some, no doubt, would advocate its erasure.  But eliminating a symbol is not so easy.  Symbols are the bearers of meaning and value in religions and in all aspects of our lives.  They should not be cast aside without great care and consideration.  To do so risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater, a cliché with perhaps greater resonance as we look toward Advent and Christmas.  And we should give our symbols a second look, a second glance, a second chance given their propensity for transformation.  You never know, it may just turn out to be ourselves who are transformed.

Do you have a puny Jesus?  Or is your Jesus so deep that no symbol alone is large enough to contain him and even a plethora of symbols are only able to mediate him in the relevant respects?  Are you willing to risk an engagement with your creator, the one who gives you life, love, hope and courage, the very ground of your being, with all of the attendant baggage of unintended consequences?

Christ is the king who hangs upon the cross and does not save himself, and so reconciles all things to God.  Hosanna to the son of David.  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  Amen.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cape Town Day 9

Emily had to go in to her internship on Thursday morning so I got up early, ran a few errands nearby, and then took the taxi into town. My first stop was the District Six Museum which commemorates a neighborhood of Cape Town that functioned very much like Harlem in New York City, a center of culture and cosmopolitanism, before Apartheid policies kicked everyone out and the entire neighborhood was razed to the ground in the name of urban planning. In some of the historical material leading up to the displacement, I was surprised to discover a reference to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an Anglican monastic order that has a monastery in Cambridge, MA. The plaque in part read thusly,
Lydia was a young woman when, on 1 December 1834, bonfires lit up the slopes o Table Mountain and Signal Hill, announcing Emancipation Day and the end of slavry. The law required slaves to serve a further four years as 'apprentices.' Freedom of movement only came in 1838 and slaves flocked from the countryside into Cape Town. Included in this flight from the rural areas was Lydia, on whose back were the scars left by the sjambok of her master. She was one of the thousands of the city's poor. She was baptised and became a Christian, living in a cottage situated in the vicinity of 2C in Cauvin Road. Years later a school was built on the site of Lydia's cottage. It was known as Lydia's School.
The first monks of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), Fr. Puller and Fr. Sheppard, arrived in the summer of 1864 to start the Mission of St. Philip's. They held their first service in Lydia's cottage. She is remembered standing in her doorway, ringing the bell calling congregants to worship.
I also discovered that the building the museum inhabited used to be a Methodist church that was started for the descendants of former slaves. During the displacements in the 1960s, the church became a focal point of resistance efforts to the displacements and to Apartheid generally. Congregants commuted back to District Six to worship from the sometimes distant places to which they had displaced and the congregation continued until the late 1980s. Throughout this time, the congregation maintained its commitment to working on behalf of the people and so started a children's center and remained a focal point for anti-apartheid meetings and events. When displaced, the congregation placed a plaque on the church building that remains there today:
All who pass by remember with shame the many thousands of people who lived for generations in District Six and other parts of this city and were forced by law to leave their homes because of the color of their skins. Father forgive us...
After the museum I took a walking tour of the city. I stopped for a cup of tea at a café to get my bearings on the map and then set out for the Bo Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town which is a historically Muslim quarter. The neighborhood is distinctive for its extraordinarily colorful homes. There is a mosque on virtually every block and they are as colorful as the homes that surround them. Someone had a sense of humor because there is a mosque built right on the corner of Church Street! Walking further there was a driveway area between some of the colorful homes and tin and wood shacks could be seen down the way, just as colorful as the homes that lined the streets but obviously inhabited by the poor. The poor are never far in Cape Town. My next stop was the Lutheran church which has a grand high pulpit and a beautiful organ. The church was originally started when religious practice was severely restricted by law and so the church was initially disguised as a barn. Later, when freedom of religion became established, a German artist was brought in to beautify the space. I found it ironic that they were playing the Misereri Mei by Allegri over the sound system. A Renaissance setting of Psalm 51, the Allegri was for centuries thought to be too beautiful for the populace to hear and so was reserved to the Pope's hearing in the Sistine Chapel. A precocious young Mozart recognized the beauty of the piece when he happened to be in Rome during Lent and so he asked the choirmaster if he could look at the music whereupon it was explained that the music was reserved to the Pope's ears. Indignant, Mozart simply went and wrote the whole thing out from memory! Regardless, the piece is hardly contextual in a late 18th century Lutheran Church in South Africa! I stopped and grabbed a sandwich on my way back to the taxi stand and then made my way back to Rondebosch and home. Interestingly, the taxi let me off at the opposite end of the block from Emily's street and as I stepped out I looked up and saw a sign through the trees, “C.G. Jung Center.” Intrigued, I looked at the sign on the gate and discovered that the library had open hours just then. I walked around the building to the library entrance and was met by the curator who explained that this was the central place for training Jungian analysts in southern Africa. I looked around the library for a bit and found my friend Deirdra Bair's recent biography of Jung on the shelf. The little gems to be found just under our noses! After running a few more errands, Emily and I caught up with Jenn and her friend Steven who was supposed to have arrived a week earlier but got stranded in Cairo after his passport, money and other personal effects were stolen in Israel. Assured that he had arrived safe and sound, albeit exhausted, we headed off to dinner with Elliot at a gourmet burger restaurant called Royale that featured an extensive selection of vegetarian burgers. Elliot took his leave to go study a bit more while Em and I headed to the Green Dolphin, a world famous restaurant and jazz lounge. We hung out there for about an hour and a half and listened to a very good local band. It was a wonderful way to end my time in Cape Town as on Friday I depart for Johannesburg.

Cape Town Day 8

Wednesday morning I got up early and went into Cape Town in the taxi to buy my train ticket to Johannesburg for Friday. The taxi system is more like a minibus route that runs in and out of Cape Town from the various suburbs and townships. On board each minibus is a driver and a manager who collects fees, sorts everyone into seats, and rides with his head out the window shouting the route of the taxi to passersby who may want to catch a ride. The taxi stand in Cape Town is right next to the train station. I got out of the taxi and headed into the station and walked up and down both sides, unable to find the distance train ticket booth. I finally asked a security guard where it was and they said that I had to go back upstairs, through the taxi stand, and over to the other side of the train station. I made my way there, bought my ticket, and got back to the taxi stand only to discover that I had no idea which line I wanted to be in! Fortunately, another security guard was walking by, saw me looking confusedly at all of the options, and took pity on the stupid American. He asked where I was going and then pointed me in the right direction. The ride home was quick and easy. I got back just in time to take the shuttle up the hill with Em to UCT where I had a meeting with Professor Andre du Toit, one of Em's professors and a planner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). I explained to him that I was interested in the role of religion in the establishment, challenge, and end of Apartheid and then the establishment and implementation of the TRC. He explained that the planning of the TRC was really a secular process and that the religious element really only became prevalent once Archbishop Desmond Tutu was appointed to chair the commission. While not exactly hostile to the religious element, Dr. du Toit spent most of the conversation explaining why the introduction of religion into the process was problematic. He also introduced a distinction between official and unofficial TRCs, the dividing line being their sanction by secular government. I found this interesting because there are many people in the world who would find a religiously sanctioned, but not necessarily state sanctioned, TRC to be more official, or at least more legitimate, than a state sanctioned TRC. This notion of what is “official” and not is something I would like to pursue further. At the end of our meeting I thanked Dr. du Toit for his time and then went to find Emily down in the atrium. We walked back down the hill to get her car and then drove out to the International Center for Transitional Justice for a meeting with her boss, Alex Boraine. Dr. Boraine was the chief architect of the TRC and a former Methodist pastor. In our meeting he explained that he left the Methodist church when he felt it was not being prophetic enough in denouncing apartheid and so made his way into politics. Nevertheless, he maintains that his underlying motivation in working for justice and peace is theological and, at least in certain respects, religious. He cites Dietrich Bonhoeffer as one of his primary models in this. As a member of Parliament, Dr. Boraine denounced as blasphemous the invocation of God in support of Apartheid policies and legislation. In the formation of the TRC, Dr. Boraine maintains a distinction between Archbishop Tutu's stance and relation to the church and his own even as he has the utmost respect for Archbishop Tutu being able to maintain his prophetic voice along with his priestly and episcopal functions. Apparently, prior to the end of Apartheid, Dr. Boraine came to Boston and gave a lecture at Boston University but the lecture was protested by black Bostonians who assumed that as a white member of the South African Parliament he must have been pro-Apartheid. Dr. Boraine was most understanding, but I nevertheless suggested that perhaps arrangements could be made to have him back to BU and a more receptive audience might be arranged. After a brief discussion of the relationship between memory (and forgetting) and reconciliation, Dr. Boraine had to go to a lunch meeting but we agreed to remain in touch. It was a deep honor to spend even a short time with such a prophetic voice and an inextinguishably energetic practitioner of the gospel. Em and I had lunch and afternoon plans of our own so we hopped in the car and drove 45 minutes out of town to Stellenbosch, one of the premier wine regions of South Africa. It was the best day since I had arrived so it was perfect for wine tasting. We stopped for lunch at the Skilpadvlei winery and then went to our first tasting at the Asare winery. Em decided not to taste there since she was driving so I tasted five wines and did pretty well at discerning the various scents and flavors in the wines. I wasn't impressed with any of them enough to buy so we headed on and decided to stop at the Stellenbosch information center for some expert advice. Advice in hand, we headed out to the area we were told had the best views. We decided we would go to the Rainbow's End winery. We headed down the road which became a back road and then a dirt road and then potholes began appearing. After going through numerous potholes and bouncing over a number of rocks (Em's car's shocks got a good workout) we arrived at the winery only to discover that they only did tastings by appointment! Thankfully, the views that had been promised were indeed spectacular and we got to see a flock of guinea hens. After taking a few pictures, we headed back out and then stopped at the Le Pommier winery for our last tasting (it took us so long to get out to and back from the Rainbow's End winery that that's all we had time for!). Here we decided that we would have dessert in the restaurant after the tasting so Em decided to taste too. We each tried five wines and I decided to buy a couple of bottles to take home to the States (I imagine Dad is already reaching for the wine glasses!). We had a dessert of waffles with caramel and ice cream on the veranda and then headed back into town. I fell asleep for a good part of the way but awoke as we were driving through the township on the N2 back into Cape Town. We got home and got a call from Jenn that she needed us to pick her up and take her to pick up her new car. We did and discovered that it was exactly the same as Em's with the exception of the fact that Em's has a spoiler and leather seats! We drove back to Jenn's place to use the internet and chatted for a while before heading home to eat a snack and get some sleep.

More pics posted.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cape Town Day 7

Tuesday began with a trip in to the International Center for Transitional Justice where Emily is interning to see if I could get a meeting with the founder, Alex Boraine, a former Methodist pastor and one of the geniuses behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He was not in that morning so I took the car and spent the rest of the morning at the internet café before heading on to a meeting at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) while Emily was working at her internship. I was quite proud of myself for not having any problems driving on the wrong side of the road; that is the left side of the road which in South Africa is the right side of the road which is to say the correct side to drive on. My meeting with Dr. Conradie at UWC went very well. We discussed the work of the Boston Theological Institute on ecclesiology in response to a request from the World Council of Churches for reflection on their new “Nature and Mission of the Church” document. We also discussed differences in ecclesiological perspectives between Africa and North America and agreed that ecumenical theology must take global perspectives into account. I am hopeful that there can be some collaboration between theological institutions in Boston and in South Africa in the future. After that meeting I returned home just in time to change clothes and head off to the Mount Nelson Hotel for afternoon tea. While the tea left a lot to be desired (Twinnings tea bags, which I use at home but would have expected loose tea at such a fine establishment), the atmosphere and food were spectacular. The desserts were served on what appeared to be a tray but upon further inspection turned out to be a very large bar of chocolate! Emily and sat, ate, drank tea and chatted for a couple of hours before heading home. We arrived back at the apartment with a bit of time to spare before we were picked up by her Rotarian counselor Don to go to the Rotarian dinner in Hout Bay. While the dinner was not particularly accommodating for vegetarians, (I can't really blame them since they didn't know about my dietary restrictions in advance), the presentation following dinner was a thoroughly stimulating discussion of the AIDS epidemic in Africa in general, in South Africa particularly and in Hout Bay most especially. Furthermore, it seems that the Hout Bay Rotary Club has become extremely involved in responding to the crisis, raising 75,000 Rand (a bit over $10,000 US) for emergency supplies that was matched by support from Rotary clubs in the US and now turning to more long term issues. They have a detailed plan for addressing the AIDS epidemic in Hout Bay and are now setting out to implement it. It was quite inspiring to see how a community can work together to better the situation of everyone. Clearly, there is still much to be done, but the people at the meeting were energized to continue working and so there is much hope for the future. After being dropped off at home, Emily corralled Emily and Elliot to go downtown for milkshakes again and to give me an opportunity to eat something that suited. All in all, quite a busy day!

Pics from Cape Town thus far.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cape Town Day 6

The day began with Em and I running errands up at the University of Cape Town and then I went back to the library while Em sat in on the dissertation proposals of some of her classmates. When she finished we had Indian food for lunch in the atrium and then I went back to the internet café to make my bookings for Johannesburg. I worked on my blog most of the afternoon and then that evening we went into town for dinner and djembe lessons. We had dinner at Mama Africa, clearly targeted toward tourists, which specializes in serving game dishes that neither I (being vegetarian) nor Em were interested in. Nevertheless, we both had excellent meals and thoroughly enjoyed the marimba jazz band that included two marimbas, a xylophone, saxophone, trumpet, drums and everyone sang. It was a fusion of African and jazz rhythms and harmonies that was really quite cool. Afterwards we headed upstairs to Zula Bar where the swing dance lessons were just wrapping up and the djembe lessons were getting ready to begin. The djembe is a traditional African drum. The teachers, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), began by just having us emulate them and then taught us the two basic strokes: an open palm against the center of the drum for a lower pitch and just the fingers against the edge of the drum head for a higher pitch. As the night progressed they taught us more and more complicated rhythms, breaking each one down, teaching it slowly, and then speeding up and putting all of the pieces together. Finally, once we more or less had it (some in the group had it less than others), they let us maintain the rhythm patterns they had taught us while they improvised. It was great fun even though our hands were very sore by the end of the evening.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cape Town Day 5

Sunday morning Em and I went to the 11AM multilingual worship service at Rosebank Methodist Church (Mom, Dad and Dean Hill would be so proud!). In precise reverse to the Anglican church, here the clergy were both white and the sacristan was white but the congregation was either black or colored! Emily and I stuck out a bit because we were the only white people in the congregation. The 11AM service specifically catered to college students and was filled with young adults from the University of Cape Town. The singing was all in Xhosa, one of the indigenous languages of South Africa, and was projected onto the wall in the front of the sanctuary with English translations underneath. One of the interesting things to note was that all of the songs were clearly very English hymns (including “Abide with Me” which we sing every Wednesday at Evening Prayer at Marsh Chapel) and the hymn tunes were even the same. The thing was, they were sung in Xhosa, the harmonization was clearly African, and there were djembes and a cowbell being played! A very interesting mix of indigenous and colonial, to say the least. The service was mostly led by a black layman although it is really hard to say that he led it. He read the scriptures and announced each part of the service but whenever there was the slightest pause a woman in the congregation or in the choir would pick up with a Xhosa chorus that was not projected on the screen and we would sing that for a few minutes while whatever transition that was happening happened. One interesting part of the service was the induction of the executive committee of the Young Women's Manyano, a sort of cross between a United Methodist Women's group, a United Methodist Youth Fellowship, and a religious order. The pastor explained that there is both a Young Women's Manyano and a Women's Manyano, the former wearing white blouses with red collars and the latter wearing the inverse. They all wore white hats. They make a commitment to a life of prayer, holiness and social engagement, not unlike the Benedictine rule of prayer, study and work. This was the leadership committee of the Young Women's Manyano being inducted. Em commented after the service that she thought that it was strange that some of the women in the Young Women's Manyano appeared older than the one woman present from the Women's Manyano. This is because in Africa, womanhood is often determined by whether or not a woman has borne a child, not by age. After the induction was the scripture readings and the sermon, all accompanied by more Xhosa singing. The service concluded with communion which was taken with little wafers and then the grape juice in little glass cups. The pastor did not have a formal liturgy with words of institution, epiclesis, etc., but instead spontaneously and improvisationally made up the communion liturgy on the spot. It was quite a bit shorter than the formal version printed in the worship books in the pew racks but it had all of the elements of a communion liturgy. Afterwards there was a collection, announcements and a final song. After church we went and had lunch at an internet café and then to Emily A's house so that the two Emilys could finish making plans for a nine-day excursion to Durban, Mozambique and Kruger National Park. We left with Emily A to meet a couple more of cousin Em's friends, Ilya and Melanie, at Madame Zingara's where the jazz-electro band Goldfish was playing. Em's Rotarian counselor's son is in the band. The place was packed and the band was amazing. We danced for two hours or more before heading into town to get a late night bite to eat and go home to crash.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Cape Town Day 4

Saturday was mostly taken up by another driving excursion, this time down the Cape of Good Hope itself. We stopped first in Muizenberg to watch the surfers and check out the very colorful bathing chalets along the beach. This was also my first ever glimpse of the Indian Ocean! We then drove down to Simon's Town where I bought a Zimbabwean sculpture of a thinker holding a drinking pot with furrowed brow (since I couldn't actually get to Zimbabwe on this trip). We also had lunch there and tried to check out a large, single-masted sail boat but it was in the military enclosure (Simon's Town is the birthplace of the South African navy). We hopped back in the car and drove down the coast a ways where we pulled over to a beach area where we got to see penguins! Em explained that we had to jump over a low stone fence onto a rock outcropping to see them. I quickly vaulted over and found myself almost landing on top of a parent and baby penguin. The baby was almost as big as the parent, especially with all of the fluff! I apologized for almost jumping on them and then we walked over the rock a bit to find many penguins hiding in the bushes on the leeward side of the rock to take refuge against the wind. When we walked over to the windward side of the rock, we discovered why they were taking refuge. Em and I almost got blown off the side of the rock! We got back in the car and continued down the Cape. Em pointed out to me where her baboon incident took place (see Em's blog linked on the bar to the right) but we never got to see any baboons. We drove down the coast a bit farther and then cut across through the mountains to the Atlantic side of the Cape and then started driving back up. On the way back to Cape Town we drove along Chapman's Peak overlooking Hout Bay with its sheer cliffs dropping straight down into the ocean. Em and I had dinner at a little Italian restaurant called Diva's and then met up with Niv for drinks. Niv and Emily A went to a club and so Em, Eliot and I went to what was supposed to be a jazz bar called Dizzy's in Camps Bay but it only had a cover band (but no cover, thankfully!). We chatted for a while over a glass of wine and then headed back out into the rain to go home. It really is the rainy season!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Cape Town Day 3

Friday involved spending a good bit of the day in the University of Cape Town (UCT) library. After getting a letter of introduction from Dean Hill, which they never even asked for, I was able to use my Boston University ID to gain visiting scholar access to the library. Unlike US university libraries, the University of Cape Town organizes its library according to the Dewey Decimal System. This meant relearning how to find books! Fortunately, most of the books I wanted were in the African Studies Library which meant that I only had to fill out a little form and the books were brought to me in the reading room. I am researching the role of religion in Apartheid, its fall, and the establishment and implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Interestingly enough, many of the books were written by or edited by either Em's professor Andre du Toit or by her internship supervisor Alex Boraine. I was also surprised to discover that one of the books I was reading that involved both of these professors also had contributions from scholars of the Boston Theological Institute, including my boss, Rodney Petersen, and one of the International Mission and Ecumenism Committee members, Raymond Helmick, SJ. What a small world! I arrived back at the apartment much drier than the day previously. That night we went and had Indian food with Emily A and Niv again along with two more of Em's friends, Jenn and Eliot. Jenn is studying in a similar program to Em's and Eliot is studying community theater and social transformation. We had an invigorating discussion over dinner and then Jenn, Em and I went in search of gelato. Unfortunately, the gelato store was closed so we satisfied ourselves with milkshakes at a restaurant on Long Street that Em had occasioned before.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Cape Town Day 2

On Thursday morning Em drove me up to the Rhodes Memorial where there is a trail head leading to the trail up and around Table Mountain. She had to go to her internship to read fellowship applications so I had the day to explore. I hiked along and saw some amazing views of Cape Town and the bay. The flora is significantly different than in the US and so I had a good time looking at all of the different flowers, bushes, trees and other plants along with the diverse fauna, especially birds. At about quarter to noon I came to what seemed to be the end of the trail but it really just took off in an obscure direction up the hill. I followed it for a bit and at noon found myself on an outcropping with a bench and a canon on it. This reminded me that the day before Em and I had made a brief visit to the place where a canon is fired every day at noon. Just as I turned around I heard the canon go off and could see the smoke coming off the side of the mountain across from me. I found it a bit ironic that I had found this canon just in time for the daily shot. I said the mid-day office while sitting on the bench and then journeyed on. After going in a generally upward direction for a while, I came across a group of colored people clearing the trail. In South Africa there are three primary racial characterizations. Whites can be divided between English and Afrikaners; colored are mixed-race; and blacks are native Africans. There are also a number of Indians and quite a bit of French influence. Unlike in the US, the term “colored” is not pejorative, and several colored South Africans have broken out in laughter when I told them that we call colored people “mixed race.” The colored folks I ran across on the trail were very friendly and quickly picked up on my American accent. One of them commented that she wanted to travel to the US at some point. When I asked why, she replied that she had heard that in the US it was much better for colored people than in South Africa and she wanted to experience what that is like. I said something fairly benign but thought to myself that her vision of race relations in the US is quite a bit more utopic than reality. As I hiked on, clouds began to creep up. Just as it started to rain, I found myself at the mouth of a large cave. I ducked inside for cover and ate lunch while I waited to see what would happen with the weather. It quickly became clear that this was not going to be a quick storm so I steeled myself for the fact that I was going to get wet. I set out and indeed I did. About an hour and a half later I arrived back at the Rhodes Memorial just as the storm became incredibly windy and violent. I sat under cover and text-messaged Em to see if she could come pick me up. She replied that she was still reading applications but just then the storm cleared entirely and the sun came out! Cape Town is a lot like Boston in this respect: if you don't like the weather, wait a minute, it will change! I got home, took a shower and got warmed up. When Emily got home we headed downtown to St. George's Cathedral which was Desmond Tutu's church when he was Archbishop of Cape Town. We went to the Eucharist for the Feast of Corpus Christi at which the choir sang Monteverdi's Mass for Four Voices as the communion setting. It was spectacular, although Em was a bit confused which is understandable given that it was a very high, solemn sung Mass requiring quite a bit of familiarity with the South African Book of Common Prayer which I was not even particularly familiar with. A few things to note were that Emily and I were the youngest people there (not too surprising) and that the priests were all colored, the verger black, and the congregation almost entirely white. See my comments on Sunday for comparison to the Methodists. That evening we went over to Emily's friend Emily's house for dinner and I also got to meet Niv. Emily A, like cousin Em, is a rotary scholar. Cousin Em is studying transformation and reconciliation while Emily A is doing diversity studies. Niv is in town volunteering at various non-profits and will be headed back to the US at the end of July to start at Johns Hopkins for grad school in the fall. We ordered delivery and then chatted during the hour it took for the food to arrive. After eating, we headed home for the evening.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cape Town Day 1

Arriving at the airport in Cape Town, Emily was a sight for sore eyes. She was there with her friend Topher who had been visiting and was flying out later in the afternoon. Em and I headed for the parking lot and I met her 1992 Honda Ballade, a very nice little brown car that purrs like a kitten. We discussed learning to drive on the right as Em expertly navigated us onto the highway and on towards Cape Town. We discussed her studies, politics and the social situation in South Africa, family, and a number of other things on the way to her apartment. After dropping of my luggage and me taking a much needed shower, we went to get lunch at a little café in town and discussed our academic pursuits and career plans. It was a beautiful day so we set off into town to explore a bit. We stopped by St. George's Cathedral (Church of South Africa) to find out when the service for the feast of Corpus Christi the next day would be held and walked through the city gardens that are flanked by the library, the parliament, other government buildings, and several museums. We got back in the car and took a drive down the western side of the Cape a bit to Llundadno where we hiked out onto the rocks, watched the surfers and looked back on Devil's Peak, Table Mountain, and the Twelve Apostles. After dinner we were both beat and so headed home to bed. I got one of the best night's sleep I've ever had!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Travel to South Africa

From the retreat, James+ and I drove together down to Pittsburgh. We went to dinner in Pittsburgh's South Side with James+' roomate Steve and ate at a Japanese Hibachi restaurant. It was a great deal of fun because the meal is cooked at the Hibachi grill right in front of us by a performance chef. It turned out, our chef went to high school in northern Virginia. I keep running into folk from the DC area! After dinner I crashed at James+' and Steve's apartment for the night and got up at 4AM to get to the airport. That's when things got a little crazy.

I was scheduled to leave Pittsburgh at 6:25AM but the flight was delayed so much that I was going to miss my connection in Newark and would not have made it to BWI until 2:30PM. Being afraid that I would not be able to make it from there to Dulles in time for my 6PM flight to London, I asked them to see if they could adjust it to get me there earlier. They first rerouted me still on the same airline but then that flight was cancelled so they booked me on a direct flight to National Airport on US Airways. I got to National a bit after noon where my parents met me. Unfortunately, in the confusion, my bags did not arrive. We went to the US Airways baggage area where we met Ashley who was extraordinarily helpful. It also turns out that she lives just down the street from my parents in Maryland. Strange. Anyway, she finally tracked down my bags which were on their way on my original itinerary to BWI via Newark. She made arrangements for my bags to be transferred to British Airways where they would meet me in London. Mom and Dad took me to a very nice lunch at Tysons Corner and then got me to Dulles. I slept for quite a bit of the flight and then found myself waiting around for my bags to arrive two hours after I did. They finally arrived and I retrieved them. I've been able to change clothes, wash my face, and brush my teeth. Finally! I wasn't planning on bringing both bags with me. I was going to send one home with Mom and Dad. Oh well. Maybe I'll find some use for the tent that I don't actually need until Taize!


Retreat Photos on Facebook

On Friday morning, Willard and I attended the men's breakfast at First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca. I ran into my friend Eric there and had a good time chatting with the various men who attended. Afterwards, I strolled around the Ithaca Commons and had a cup of tea at Juna's while Willard ran some errands. After lunch, a nap, and taking care of a few last minute details online, Willard and Dorothy drove me up to the Lindisfarne Community retreat, held for the past two years at Casowasco Camp, Retreat, and Conference Center affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

Casowasco sits right on the banks of Lake Owasco. When I was a student at Ithaca College, the Protestant Community took a retreat there my first year. I still remember that we stayed in Wesleyan Lodge. This time, the Lindisfarne Community stayed at Galilee Cottage, the mansion that was the original building on the property, called a mere cottage by its extraordinarily wealthy owners, that was then donated to the Methodists. The facility is quite nice with plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms, a large living room, a central dining room, a foyer, a kitchen, a nook, and a library. Just outside is a gazebo in which we held morning and mid-day prayers each day. Evening prayers and meetings were held in the library that overlooks the lake through the windows that line its outer edges. The ordinations were held in the living room because we needed space for James and Scott to make the prostrations.

Many members of the community were running behind schedule and arrived just in time to drop their bags off and rush over to Emmaus Commons for dinner. When we arrived for dinner, we learned that we were sharing Casowasco with a large women's group from a church that several members of the community had affiliation with in the past and a middle school group. The middle school group was quite loud, not very well behaved, and often downright rude. Typical middle-schoolers. After dinner we ventured back to Galilee Cottage for a meeting and night prayer. The meeting began with silent meditations for 10 minutes and then moved on to an introduction to the theme of the retreat - mindfulness - by Abbot +Andy, Abbess +Jane, Prior John+, and Prioress Chris+. Each of theme shared thoughts on what mindfulness consists in. In the middle of the reflections on mindfulness, James+ took vows of celibacy, the first in our community to do so. After the vows, Bishop +Joe of the Celtic Christian Church, a sister communion to Lindisfarne Community, asked for a chance to address the community. He explained that he had been a Roman Catholic priest who left the priesthood upon falling in love with Cait+. For the last 20 years, +Joe and Cait+ have been working with women who have fallen romantically in love with priests. +Joe explained that priests have two options in such a situation: either leave the priesthood and marry the woman, or stay in the priesthood and remain single and celibate. He went on to commend the way the Lindisfarne Community handled James+' vow of celibacy because it was a voluntary vow undertaken after much prayer and discernment. He further commended the community for making a clear distinction between the vocation of celibacy and the vocation of ordination. His reflections were powerful and provoked thought from members of the community throughout the rest of the retreat.

The following day I led morning prayer in the gazebo. For the meditation, I read a poem my friend Danielle commended to me for reflection before I left: “Heavy” by Mary Oliver. I also chanted the psalm, which many of the members of the community commented that they liked; perhaps it will become more common in the community in future. We finished at precisely two minutes to 8 and so had just enough time to get to breakfast. After breakfast we had free time until mid-day prayers. I took some time to chat with +Andy about the various projects we are both involved in: university chaplaincy for me, teaching for him, both of us writing in various academic genres, especially philosophy. After our chat I decided to try one of the many trails Casowasco boasts. I took the gorge trail which climbed rather steeply and sometimes precariously up the gorge to the main road. It was a thoroughly energizing hike and then I walked back down the road and through one of the camp sites back to Galilee cottage for a change of scenery. After mid-day prayers and lunch, we gathered in the large living room of Galilee house for the ordinations. We first professed Scott+ and James+ and vested them in the garb of the community. Following this, we had the service of ordination. As the deacon, I read the gospel and presented the candidates for ordination to the bishops on behalf of the community. James+ was ordained a deacon and then a priest and Scott+ was ordained a deacon. Both shared moving parts of their faith journeys that had led them to the Lindisfarne Community. Following the ordinations was Eucharist and then we moved out onto the lawn for pictures; many pictures. After the pictures we were all glad to get out of our vestments because it was in the high 80s that day; I had practically sweated through my alb! After dinner we had a time of sharing in which we got into a deep conversation about our role as ministers to people on the margins. This was punctuated by several lively games facilitated by Prior John+. After a snack and night-prayers, many people stayed up late into the night, carrying the conversation about ministry forward and reflecting on the ordinations. It was a deeply rich day for all involved.

On Sunday we had morning prayer on the gazebo again and then had the liturgy of the word in the library. In addition to the homily we had a time of sharing about what the retreat had meant to us and several of us shared some highlights from our ministry over the past year. I played a couple of recordings of the Marsh Chapel Choir, which has been a deep source of community for me over the past year even as it is also one of the best, if not the best, church choirs in Boston. Mike+ shared a DVD full of pictures from a mission trip he took to Haiti. +Andy preached on the Holy Trinity, it being Trinity Sunday and all, and talked about how the Trinity is a symbol that carries us beyond words to a deeper reality. Following the liturgy of the word, we vested for the Eucharist around the table in the dining room. I set the table as the deacon and +Jane celebrated. After lunch we packed up Galilee Cottage and departed.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Seneca Falls 2 and Ithaca

Yesterday Willard and Dorothy came up to Seneca Falls from Ithaca for lunch, to see the Women's Interfaith Institute, and to shuttle me back to Ithaca. Famous for wearing bow ties, Willard is an emeritus professor of German at Ithaca College and he was a highly involved member of the Board of Directors of the Protestant Community at Ithaca College while I was an undergraduate there. He and his wife Dorothy remain good friends. Here we are having lunch at Zuzu's Cafe in downtown Seneca Falls:

left to right: Allison, Dorothy, Willard

After lunch we went to explore the historic church the Women's Interfaith Institute calls home. Here's Willard and Dorothy standing by the peace pole planted outside the institute:

The institute is home to four libraries of books that we toured through (I was an intern at the institute the summer between my junior and senior years at Ithaca College and designed the book plates for each of the four libraries):

Furthermore, when the institute bought the old church, it came with two pulpits. Here is Allison standing behind one believed to be the pulpit at Wesleyan Chapel where Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others signed the Declaration of Sentiments:

Allison had posters displayed made by children advocating for peace that she bought when she was in Capetown, South Africa for the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1993, the next major stop on my Summer Excursion 2007:

Also visible was the stole the Lindisfarne Community gave her upon her retirement from Ithaca College to dedicate her time to the institute. It hangs right next to a poster celebrating the centennial anniversary of the admission to Ph.D. programs at Yale University. This fits well with the Lindisfarne Community's commitment to women's concerns, inclusive language, and scholarship.

Willard took our picture next to the sign in front of the institute:

After touring the institute, Willard and Dorothy and I drove down to Ithaca. I spent a few hours getting reacquainted with the Commons, including having a beer at Simeon's as per Cory's instructions. I met up with +Andy, +Jane, John+, Scott+, Willard, Dorothy and others from the Lindisfarne Community on Cayuga street so we could watch the Ithaca Festival parade:

The Catholic Workers were there encouraging us to impeach Bush. Yea Catholic Workers!

And, of course, no Ithaca Festival parade is complete without the Volvo Ballet:

We saw about 80% of the parade when the heavens opened up in a torrential thunderstorm. We ran for the car. En route, Willard signaled that Scott+, Dorothy and I should go stand on a convenient porch while he ventured on to get the car. He got drenched while the rest of us were merely damp. We arrived at +Andy and +Jane's house for a pizza party and to dry out. Here's +Andy with Bekah's dog Lily:

As Willard, Dorothy and I were leaving, we discovered Scott+ was taking advantage of +Andy and +Jane's new hot tub:

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Boston to Seneca Falls and Seneca Falls Day 1

Yesterday at noon I boarded a train at Boston's South Station and began the first leg of my almost 2 month journey. The train was fairly crowded but we chugged right along and arrived in Albany-Rensselaer almost an hour early. This left me some time to go explore Rensselaer and stretch my legs. Just as I was coming to the conclusion that the only thing to note about Rensselaer was that there was nothing to note about Renselaer, I came upon this sign:

I'm not sure what it is, but it certainly stuck out in the midst of the town.

I got back to the train station and discovered that the train to Syracuse was going to be late because it was running late getting in from New York. When it finally arrived, we still had to wait around for them to restock before the train went on. My train is the one between the platform and the other train on the far side:

Now does anyone notice anything wrong with this picture? Here they've built a beautiful train platform and no tracks. Tracks on the other side but not this side. Go figure.

The train arrived in Syracuse about 35 minutes late. I was met at the train by my mentor, teach and friend, the Rev. Dr. Allison Stokes. Allison was my chaplain at Ithaca College and I wanted to visit her partly just to catch up and partly seeking her wisdom as I am becoming a University Chaplain at Boston University. Allison is an old hand at being a chaplain, having served at Yale, Vassar and Ithaca College. She's full of wisdom and insight and it is a privilege to have her as resource, mentor and friend as I move into this new endeavor. Allison is working on an endeavor of her own. She is the founding director of the Women's Interfaith Institute which is based in Seneca Falls, NY, the birthplace of women's rights and a landmark in the development of human rights. Allison's work is incredibly important in the current historical moment, located at the intersection of ministry, scholarship and activism. I am proud to have served as an intern for the institute during the summer following my junior year of college.

During the day today Allison and I caught up on our lives, talked about chaplaincy and the institute, and assessed the state of the universe and the place of humanity in it. Not bad for a day's work!

In the evening I took a walk through Seneca Falls. It is truly a fascinating town comprised of a somewhat surprising combination of people. There are people who are more country-folk; there are college students and families; there are the more sophisticated folks who associate with the historical ethos of Seneca Falls and women's rights; and there are the feminist-activists who continue to embody the work advocating for women's rights and ways of being in the world. This diversity plays out in strange ways as you walk down main street and notice that some of the shops are more run down, some have been fixed up while maintaining the old-town feel, and some are quite modern. Clearly, someone had a sense of humor as the center for alcoholism is right next to the VFW. All together, it makes for a charming town where people are friendly and say hello as they pass on the street.

Tonight Allison showed me the powerpoint presentation she put together about the institute and its work. I gave her a few pointers to sharpen the presentation, but mostly I was astonished to note that she had pulled together 70 slides of text and photos from a year's worth of activity and work at the institute without ever giving a sense of redundancy or over-elaboration. There is so much going on at the institute and so much more they are planning to do that I can hardly believe the whole thing started merely four years ago.

Enough for today. More tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Monster Trip Summer 2007

The time is fast approaching for my (apparently) annual Monster Trip! This year's highlights include South Africa and France. Let's hope my computer makes it through this time.

May 29: train to Syracuse to visit Allison and the Daetsches for a couple of days.
June 1-3: Lindisfarne Community annual retreat
June 4-6: fly to South Africa via London
June 6-13/15: visit Em and do some research in Capetown
June 13-14/15-16: train to Johannesburg
June 14/16-18: visit Johannesburg
June 18-19: fly home to Washington DC
June 19-23: visit family and friends in DC
June 23-29: Institute for Humane Studies Conference on Social Change at UVA
June 29-July 1: fly to Paris to see Stephen's production of The Rape of Lucretia by Benjamin Britten
July 1-15: train to and from the Taize Community
July 15-17: visit with John and Margaret in Geneva
July 17-18: fly home to Boston.

I will try to keep my blog updated but I know that I will be out of internet connection the entire time I am at Taize. Other than that I should be able to get on at least every couple of days or so.

You can contact me during the trip here, on facebook and by email.

Have a blessed summer!

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Road to Emmaus

Luke 24: 13-35

May God be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray.

Holy God. Holy and loving. Holy and eternal. We invite your Spirit to ignite our hearts that we may be as Christ to those we meet and that we might find within them your Christ, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in the main office at Marsh Chapel pursuing the never-ending quest to get the printer to do what I wanted when my friends Courtney and Steph came in. Others in the office were saying hello so I looked up and noted the two of them present. I had needed to speak with Courtney about a project we were both involved in and so launched directly into a conversation with her. As we wrapped up the conversation I became aware that something was not quite right. Suddenly, I realized that Steph had transferred back to her native California at the start of last fall and was only here in town to visit. I had not seen her since her visit six months prior, but her presence in the chapel felt so natural that the strangeness of her presence did not even register. When it finally did, I launched myself across the room shouting, “Steph!” and embraced her warmly. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I was unable to recognize the strangeness of my friend’s presence.

If the disciples’ vision of their friend Jesus can be so obscured, and my vision of my friend Steph can be so obscured, how much more must my vision of Jesus be obscured? This question is often posed theologically as the scandal of particularity: how can a particular man in a particular time in a particular place be the savior of all the world in all times and in all places? Jesus was a particular man living at the particular time of 20 centuries ago in the particular place of Roman ruled Palestine and within the particular cultural milieu of oppressed and Hellenized Judaism. I am a white Anglo-Saxon Anglican religious living in 21st century Boston. Is it not more likely that I will ask the question posed of Jesus by the demon Legion, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Luke 8: 28).

Furthermore, we do not know Jesus directly. We only know Jesus in his particularity through a variety of authors who wrote out of their own particularity. These authors wrote at a somewhat later date away from the places these events actually occurred and with their own particular worldviews that led to their own particular ways of understanding the impact of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Luke was trying to help the early church understand her own experience by linking the law and the prophets through the proclamation of Jesus to that experience. For Luke, the tension between God’s purpose for the world and human rejection of that purpose is resolved in the person and work of Jesus through whom God’s purpose is achieved precisely by Jesus’ rejection. Luke expects that when his hearers understand this, their lives will be reshaped and oriented properly toward God and each other. Luke has a particular role in mind for Jesus and so tells the story with Jesus playing the prescribed part. Hear me saying here with Paul, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly.” (1 Corinthians 13: 12).

The life and meaning of Jesus ring down twenty centuries and across continents and oceans, passing through numerous theological, philosophical, cultural, social, psychological and political interpretations. Is it any wonder that Jesus, for many living in the 21st century, is little more than a faint echo amidst noisy gongs and clanging cymbals? (1 Corinthians 13: 1). We may know something of what the Gospel authors, Paul and other New Testament writers thought about Jesus, but how can we possibly be expected to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9: 20).

Perhaps our problem in answering this question is that we have made Jesus too historical. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are so concerned about the Jesus of the past that we overlook the Jesus of the present. In the Lindisfarne Community, our prayer is to be as Christ to those we meet and to find Christ within them. Our practice of mindfulness is meant to keep us attuned to the presence of Christ in our midst so as not to miss Christ in the people and the world around us. The stranger becomes the one who bears Christ to us as we bear Christ to the stranger in hospitality.

Fr. Henri Nouwen, or Saint Henri as we in the Lindisfarne Community call him, says this about the stranger:

And the stranger? Hasn’t he become a friend? He makes our hearts burn, he opens our eyes and ears. He is our companion on the journey! Home has become a good place for the friend to come. So they say, “It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over … come and stay with us.” He doesn’t ask for an invitation. He doesn’t beg for a place to stay. In fact, he acts as if he wants to go on. But they insist that he come in; they even press him to stay with them…
“Be our guest,” they say. They want to be his hosts. They invite the stranger to lay aside his strangeness and become a friend to them. That’s what true hospitality is all about, to offer a safe place, where the stranger can become fried. There were two friends and a stranger. But now there are three friends, sharing the same table…
Jesus accepts the invitation to come into the home of his traveling companions, and he sits down at table with them. They offer him the place of honor. He is in the center. They are alongside him. They look at him. He looks at them. There is intimacy, friendship, community.
-Henri Nouwen. With Burning Hearts. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994). 66-7, 74, 77.
For Saint Henri, the invitation of the stranger is the means by which Jesus is made known.

This is all well and good for those who knew the resurrected Jesus. The question remains, however, how can we know Jesus now in a post-ascension world? Answering this question requires a more radical theology. It is true that we know Jesus in the stranger. However, that is not to say that every stranger is Jesus in a historical sense. Furthermore, we are called to be Christ to one another so that Jesus may be known in our communities and contexts. However, this is not to say that we should all embrace Christ complexes. On the one hand, it is almost impossible to read the Emmaus Road story without thinking of Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” On the other hand, it still seems inadequate to have something like Christ, but not Jesus Christ himself.

My friend Danielle wrote a book about her experience working with street children in Lima, Peru called Nothing but a Thief. In it she tells her stories of being Christ to those rejected by the world.

The first words out of Manzanita’s mouth told me that he had to go right now with the other boys to steal.
‘Wait for me,’ he told me.
‘Where? For how long?’ I asked, hurt.
He shrugged nonchalantly. ‘At the stadium?’ It was a Monday, and the kinds always met us on Monday afternoons at the stadium.
‘Fine. At the stadium, I’ll wait for you.’ As soon as I spoke, the boys were on their way, disappearing into another crowd. I watched Manzanita walk away until I could no longer see him. Tears burned my eyes. It hurt worse than if he had never come at all – to see him and then not to have him stay…
In the end I never met up with Manzanita…
As I waited for Manzanita, I wanted so much to show him love, to tell him that he was important to me, to provide a meal for him, and to allow him to escape life on the street for just a few hours. I would have continued to wait for him, over and over, because I love him. Manzanita was one of the reasons I returned to Peru after having left, and he was one of the kids I loved the most.
-Danielle Speakman. Nothing But a Thief: The Street and Her Children. (Kent, TN: Sovereign World, 2002), 58-9.
Being Christ to the stranger means becoming vulnerable like Christ to rejection by the very ones we are called to love. Danielle also tells stories of the children as Christ to her and to others. She tells the story of Mudo, a deaf-mute who was killed in a street fight.

In the paper, Mudo’s death gained the attention of the public in the heading: ‘The deaf-mute doesn’t even have a dog to bark for him.’ To the general public, Mudo was just another pirañita, lost in the throes of the violence that is sure to swallow those who live on the streets. But to the other street children, and to those of us who worked with Mudo, we’re proving wrong the headline. Mudo’s silent voice has persistently remained inside of those who knew him; many of whom have made it their purpose to give a voice to him and to other children like him.
-Danielle Speakman. Nothing But a Thief: The Street and Her Children. (Kent, TN: Sovereign World, 2002), 101-2.

Like Christ, Mudo was killed and the world hoped he would be forgotten, but instead he has inspired and eternally changed those he encountered in his short life.

For Danielle, it is clearly not the case that Mudo was something like Christ to her or that she desired to be something like Christ to Manzanita. Her theology is much more radical than that. She says, “We, to the world, must be the body of Christ. In the hope that hurting children will be able to start again, we must act as His body. In the hope for the children of these children – for Menudo’s children, we must be His body. We may be the only Jesus Christ the world will ever see” (Speakman, 180). We may be the only Jesus Christ the world will ever see. We must step out and become Christ for others because they may never know Jesus otherwise. We must risk letting others be Christ for us because knowing Jesus in this stranger may be our only chance.

Come, let us walk together on this road to Emmaus. Let us be Christ to those we meet, and let us find Christ within them. Amen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Following the Lamb of God

First sermon prepared for the Rev. Dr. Dale P. Andrews, Introduction to Preaching

John 21: 15-19

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Jesus is the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. When our sins are taken away, we are reconciled to Jesus. In being reconciled to Jesus, we are reconciled to God. Fr. Henri Nouwen, or St. Henri as we in the Lindisfarne Community call him, says the following about our reconciliation with God:

God desires communion: a unity that is vital and alive, an intimacy that comes from both sides, a bond that is truly mutual. Nothing forced or “willed,” but a communion freely offered and received. God goes all the way to make this communion possible. God becomes a child dependent on human care, a boy in need of guidance, a teacher searching for students, a prophet crying for followers, and, finally, a dead man pierced by a soldier’s lance and laid in a tomb. At the very end of the story, he stands there looking at us, asking with eyes full of tender expectation: ‘Do you love me?’ and again, ‘Do you love me?’ and a third time, ‘Do you love me?’
[Henri J.M. Nouwen. With Burning Hearts. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994). 87-8.]
It is a bit odd, is it not, to think of Jesus as waiting expectantly? It is especially odd in the Gospel According to John in which Jesus is most often depicted as the one who knows everything. It is odd to think of Jesus waiting in rapt anticipation, vulnerable to whatever answer may come to his open question.

It is as if Jesus has taken on the role of the stereotyped insecure woman from whom the stereotyped white male flees on Thursday night sitcoms when, in her insecurity, she says, “Lets talk about our relationship.” Like the stereotyped insecure woman, Jesus wants Peter to affirm their relationship. He begins by asking, “do you love me more than these,” indicating the nearby disciples, the boats and the fish? Do you love me more than other people? Do you love me more than your job? Do you love me more than your wealth? Do you love me more than the NCAA Basketball tournament you have been watching virtually non-stop for the past month?

There is a popular style of parenting, one aspect of which is that the parents consistently offer the child pairs of options. Do you prefer the red sweater or the green sweater? Do you want milk or juice? Do you want to read a story or listen to music? I was at the grocery store recently, browsing the tea shelves, when I observed a mother employing this parenting method with her young son. As they walked down the isle, she asked, “do you want spaghetti or ziti?” The child eagerly grasped the bag of ziti while the mother put the spaghetti back on the shelf. “Do you want plain sauce or spicy sauce?” The child reached for the jar with the bright red pepper on the front, but this time the mother wisely put the jar in the cart before replacing the plain sauce on the shelf. “Do you want ginger snaps or chocolate chip cookies?” The child started for a moment with wide eyes and an open mouth. Then, with a wide grin he reached out and pronounced, “Both!” His mother was visibly shocked; I’m not sure he had ever done that before. She said, “I think we’ll just get the ginger snaps,” as she replaced the chocolate chip cookies on the shelf.

When Jesus asks the question, “do you love me more than these?” he asks, “do you αγαπας me more than these?” When Peter answers, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” he says, “I φιλω you.” While αγαπη is often known as the particularly Christian form of love, here it seems to be the lesser. Here, αγαπη asks for a preference or estimation while φιλω responds with a deeper kind of passionate love. It is as if Jesus asked Peter to make a determination, them or me, but Peter is unwilling to submit to the binary distinction of preference. This is no longer the Peter who is unwilling to let Jesus wash his feet. This Peter has a deep and passionate love for Jesus, a friendship with Jesus, so much so that he is willing to have his feet washed and then join Jesus in washing the others’ feet. It is as if Peter startles Jesus by answering, “Both!”

But after Peter answers the first question, Jesus is still insecure. He is still not sure that Peter really means what he is saying. Jesus is not convinced that Peter really loves him and may even suspect that Peter is just saying that he loves Jesus so that he can get back to watching the game. It is as if Jesus asked Peter, “does this dress make me look fat?” and Peter answered, “yes, dear; oh! no, dear. No, certainly not.”

And so he asks again, do you love me? Notice that Jesus is no longer asking a comparative question. Peter had better take notice, because Jesus is looking for a deeper answer. Jesus does not want to know whether the dress makes him look fat or thin, he wants to know if he is beautiful. Jesus wants to know if Peter loves him. The distinction here is neither qualitative nor quantitative. Jesus wants to know if Peter loves him absolutely, fundamentally, and ultimately. Peter, are you oriented toward me from the first to the last, and not merely in the epilogue? Is your will stretched out to its utmost in search of me?

Of course, even this is not enough for Jesus. Peter answers again, but Jesus is still not satisfied so he asks for a third time. Jesus’ insecurity is starting to make Peter uncomfortable. “Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’” Nevertheless, Peter plays a very good stereotyped white male sitcom star and breaks out the flowery Victorian rhetoric to set Jesus at ease. “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” The first knowing in Peter’s unequivocal and final response is the same cognitive and subjective knowing of his previous answers. But the second knowing, “you know that I love you,” changes verbs and now seems to indicate a much deeper and profound knowing. Peter affirms that Jesus not only knows that Peter loves him superficially but that he knows that Peter loves him at the very ground of his being.

Is it possible that even here, even after the resurrection, Jesus the Christ is in need of confirmation? How can it be that God becomes this insecure and in need of such confirmation? How is it that God can be so vulnerable in asking an open question to which our response might be terribly wounding? Who is this God? And what happened to our sure, omniscient, dependable Jesus?

This is the Jesus who wants to be reconciled with us, but it would not be reconciliation if Jesus already knew the outcome. Jesus poses the question and then must stand there, waiting, arms open, terribly vulnerable, for us to walk into them and affirm the bond of love. Peter had betrayed Jesus, terribly, three times. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus must ask repeatedly if Peter really loves him? And each time, Peter rises to the occasion, throwing off his unstable character and affirming that he does indeed love Jesus and is now ready to pursue the consequences of that love. Peter must affirm his love repeatedly following repeated offences. How many times must we affirm our love of Jesus? How many times have we betrayed him? Is it any wonder that Paul advises the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing? Rest assured that God always leaves the question open, is always waiting with open arms outstretched, for us to confirm that our love is yet deeper and yet wider and yet more profound. Be reconciled with Christ.

Of course, entering into a relationship of reconciled love with Christ is no time to rest on our laurels. Out of our continually renewed reconciliation with Christ comes a continually renewed charge to care for Jesus’ flock. Every time that Jesus asks us to confirm our loving relationship and we offer an abundant affirmation, Jesus goes on to command us: “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”

This feeding, this tending, this caring for Jesus flock requires a twofold motion on our part. First it requires that we lay down our lives. If we are to pick up this new task, this new mission of caring for Jesus’ flock, we must lay down that which already preoccupies us. We must lay down our lives.

Jesus tells Peter, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” Peter, apparently, was destined to lay down his life quite physically, quite carnally, quite fleshly. Peter was, in fact, to die. Peter’s manner of laying down his life was death.

This is what the Celtic saints called the red martyrdom, death on behalf of the faith, with its rather obvious allusion in the color of blood. Indeed, some today are still called to the red martyrdom. We need only think of some of the genocidal movements in these last decades: of the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, of the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians in Yugoslavia. We need only think of the Latin American priests who were executed, often enough at their own altars, for standing up to tyrannical powers. We need only think of our own alumnus, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I will not tell his story because if you do not know it then the Boston University School of Theology is in a sad state indeed.

Most, hopefully all, of us are not called to the red martyrdom. Neither were many of the Celtic saints. And yet we, like they, are called to lay down our lives. The Celts described this laying down as the green and white martyrdoms. The green martyrs were those who rejected societal life and removed themselves to seclusion in order to study and contemplate. This was the Celtic monastic tradition. The white martyrs, on the other hand, accepted a voluntary exile, setting out in small boats with no means of navigation, wicker coracles, to be blown where the Spirit willed. These martyrs were the Celtic missionaries who laid down their lives for the sake of the realm of God.

We, too, are called to lay down our lives. We are sometimes called to reject life as our society and culture would have us live it. We are called to come apart for a time of study and contemplation; we call it seminary. We are called to leave our homes and our families and our friends to go somewhere we may not wish to go, (Boston is not home for everyone), on behalf of those we do not know and may not even like.

The belt has been fastened around out waists. For Peter, the person at the other end, taking him where he does not wish to go, by tradition is Rome. Like Jesus, by tradition Peter was crucified, although perhaps upside down. But I wonder if that is what Jesus meant. I wonder if instead it is not Jesus at the other end, fastening the belt around our waists, all the while saying “be reconciled. Trust me. Love me. Follow me.”

Yes, it is this final command that indicates that the care of Jesus’ flock is not simply about laying down our lives but also about taking up. We take up the command, or maybe it is more an offer, to follow Jesus. “Follow me.” Just as Jesus first called the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee so too we are called. “Follow me.”

This is not the “Follow me” that the church has often made it. It is not a “Follow me” that gives primacy to Peter. It does not give Peter the flock nor does it give Peter charge over the flock but instead it makes Peter the servant of the flock, tending and feeding the sheep and the lambs, and it even tells Peter how to do it, “follow me and I will show you how it is done.” This “Follow me” reserves the flock to Jesus and makes Peter sovereign over none and servant of all. Even as he takes up the invitation, “Follow me,” still yet he must lay down his life.

Neither is this a “Follow me” a once and for all time. On a cold December evening, the 4th of December 2003, I found myself kneeling on the floor of the Lindisfarne Community motherhouse in Ithaca, New York. A cold, silver chain was placed around my neck with the community cross dangling from it that had blessed at Eucharist the previous day. With the community laying hands upon me, +Andy, my abbot, read the following, “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’” At the end of the reading, I was a novice in the Lindisfarne Community. It would be easy to think that joining a monastic order would be the end learning what Jesus’ means in saying, “Feed my lambs” and “Follow me.” It would be easy to think that being noviced, or even ordained, is a sign of achievement. They are not. They are merely signs of new life begun. They are present signs upon which to look back in seeking a direction for our constant conversion.

This “Follow me” is not what we expect. It is not the “follow me” the stereotypical white male sitcom star expects from his stereotypical insecure girlfriend after having the “lets talk about our relationship” discussion. Neither is it the “follow” me that the child in the grocery store ignores while staring transfixed at the candy in the checkout aisle. It is certainly not the “follow me” that Peter expects after reconciling with Jesus, having the manner of his death prophesied to his face.

Instead, this “follow me” defies all expectations. This is a “follow me” that will resound across continents and down twenty centuries. This is a “follow me” that is indicative of a faith that can move mountains. This “follow me” asks all that we have and promises more than we could ever imagine. This “follow me” is an invitation not only into the realm of God but to have a hand in growing the realm together with God. This “follow me” is offered by an insecure and vulnerable Jesus whose very insecurity and vulnerability are signs of the deep love and compassion that reconcile heaven with earth.

Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is also the shepherd who entrusts the flock to our care. As the lamb, we are the shepherd who accompanies Jesus through insecurity and vulnerability to reconciliation. As the shepherd, Jesus accompanies us in our insecurity and vulnerability to reconciliation, and calls us to “feed my sheep,” laying down our lives, and “follow me,” learning to be shepherds and servants, one of another.