Saturday, March 9, 2019

Materialism: An Accuser

“If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday.” Isaiah 58:9b-10

            Materialism has been at the forefront of my mind recently, and it seemed only appropriate for me to reflect on it when the reading in the Lectionary was the one above. Materialism has been showing its face to me in so many different ways lately, and I noticed that when I look into it, I see both the face of a menacing, demonic gargoyle and an attractive, well-crafted idol.

            For pretty much as long as there has been a Judeo-Christian culture, there has been materialism. It’s been something that comes up in so many writings, from Exodus and the Ten Commandments, all the way through Jesus’ teachings. In fact, it is such a common issue, yet, judging from the number of treatments of the issue, it has not gone away.

            In secular society, materialism is brought to the fore, with advertisements, product placements, jobs, and so many other aspects of our lives being governed by it. Even our relationships with one another are dominated by materialism: what’s the shiniest gift to give to my crush; what’s the best restaurant to take my family to; how can I impress my friends this time? However, even when we walk into our churches, we find the same problem. We have churches closing their doors to the communities of the poor, the sick, and the needy surrounding them. We have committees voting to buy the “newest trends in evangelism” while refusing to serve the person begging at their door. We have church staff members who have paychecks so much larger than the incomes of congregations combined, making me wonder if there is even enough there to support a community in need.

            In addition to the tangible manifestations of materialism, we also have an ideological issue in our churches as well. At the surface, we have people preaching a “prosperity gospel,” where all of God’s blessings are material blessings. Going deeper, we will even ignore what the Bible tells us about materialism. We shy away when Jesus says to get rid of all of our belongings to follow him. We try to reinterpret what Isaiah means when he says if we draw out our souls to the hungry and the afflicted then we will become light. We downright ignore the laws of Moses regarding the harvest, where leaving a bit of our crops for the less fortunate and travelers was mandatory, not just a thing to do if we happen to have a large enough plot of land to sustain a miniscule community garden next to our towering, gothic building. We have tolerated greed and materialism so long that we grow uncomfortable looking at what life would be without it. Going further into this notion of institutionalized materialism in the Church, we have people who start to look at congregations as small businesses. Rather than consider what it means to reach people who need to hear the Gospel, we look at the specific number of people in pews as figures in graphs. We turn down programs that are for spiritual enrichment in favor of events that serve solely to bring income into the church.

            Now, what happens when we look at the world through the lens of materialism? Our place in society becomes a competition. One day we are at the bottom; the next day we are above a few other people; and then a few days later, we are back down again. When we are at the top, we start looking at those who don’t have the same car, the same house, the same job, the same skill, the same talent with contempt and/or shame. We point fingers at them. We fabricate stories about them. They no longer are human. Instead, they are creatures who have failed their duties to God. The artist working for non-profits is blind and silly, unlike our careers in the sciences, which is filled with the culmination of intellectualism and wisdom. They are reaping the wrath of an angry God, and we, at the top, with our precious belongings, are near angelic in our existence. This most certainly is not the life that we are called to as Christians. For, when we propagate this sort of society, we end up hurting ourselves as well. Rather than giving ourselves a community of compassion and love, we turn into a society of ridicule and competition, one where, once we fail, we can no longer exist as functional beings in the world. When we bow down to this idol, when we bring our souls, our talents, our time to its altar, we descend into the darkness. Our vision vanishes, and we are left with a devotion filled with greed and selfishness until we too are consumed by all the negativity, unable to fulfil the necessary offerings needed to continue this cycle.

            Instead, we are called to follow Jesus, to show love to all of those around us. We are called to use our talents to glorify God, to show the world what the unconditional love of God is. We are called to bring the light into the world as it continues its flirts with darkness. We have to look around us and listen to the cries and groans from all of those around us, including our own souls. We have to realize our talents and how they fit into the Kingdom of God. We have to take our treasure and use it to bring others closer to God rather than distance ourselves from God. We have to heal the world around us from all of its wounds.

This Lent calls us to action. Let us follow Jesus; no turning back.

Monday, November 12, 2018

I am the BCP

I am prayer.
            I am community.
            I am God’s anointed.

I am the standing, sitting, processing,
            kneeling, genuflecting, all as able.

I am the gestures across the heart,
            the twiddling fingers tracing the Gospel cross
            I am the stillness,
                        the stiffness,
                        the reverent,
                        the irreverent.

I am he/him/his,
            ally of her, zir, and singular them.

I am the erring and straying lost sheep,
            lost, because the resolutions rain down on me,
            the arrows of the hordes standing behind their high walls
                        their altar gates,
                                    their chasubles.

I am that oil running down Aaron’s beard,
            caressing his pomegranate skin,
                        knowing the ephod’s secrets,
                                    his cast of stones.

I am looking,
            searching for that love that endureth forever,
            searching for my “in sickness and in health,”
                        my “til death do us part,”
            searching for my dearly beloved.

Of those 1,000+ pages, where is my name mentioned?
Of the Rites, where am I a worthy partaker?

            Does not my history, 26 years and counting, give me authority?
            Does not my family of clergy and laity give me weight?
            Do not my education, my “thy before thee except after thou,”
                        my ἐκέκρικα, my experience,
                        my visions and prayers count?                      

μὴ γένοιτο!
            I am the μὴ γένοιτο.
            I am not Paul’s model:
                        the celibate man,
                        the polemical,
                        the God-damning
                        the eraser of false teachings.

I am not the good will on both sides—
            bearing torches and flaming crosses
            stabbing with my piercing tongue
            throwing brothers, sisters, siblings
                        from the rooftops,
            beating with chastening rods
                        leaving them to hang on fenceposts
                                    to give up their ghost.

I am the meek heart and due diligence,
            the people walking to the new creation,
                        el desamparado, el necesitado.

Wait, I thought I was a very well organized,
            very strategic,
            very well financed,
            very powerful hijacker—
                        then why do I get death stares?
                        Why do people want me behind electric fences?
                        Why do I have to work against the grain
                                    flailing my arms at policies smothering me,
                                                as I shout out to a panel
                                                            of men staring at each other
                                                                        while I throw the Bible right back at them?

If you know where that money is,
            show me, sugar daddy.

I am the Texan, rising in support
            of my own voice.
I am treading the path through the blood of the slaughtered,
            facing the rising sun of my new day begun.

I am the weak theology,
            I am Te Deum, Hildegard, Bach,
                        Wesley, Willan, Price, Pulkingham;
            I am Montes, S and A’s.

I am solace, strength, pardon, renewal.
I am 高興歡喜
I am in print, featured in Church Publishing,
            not that other idea from long ago,
            left to collect dust,
            or suffer, scaffolded in irate and greedy beaurocracy.
I am página 284,
            las campanas,
            el órgano.

You can decide what you want
            in this ecclesia viae mediae,
But just know,
            I know how best to show God’s love in my life,
for I am the Book of Common Prayer.           

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I Am the Reformation

501 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the doors of All Saints’ Church in the German speaking region of Europe. I had heard of this and heard it mentioned again and again in different classrooms to explain how the Reformation began. However, it was not until recently that I actually read that famous text: 95 sentences, each one more polemical than the last, to condemn the practice of selling indulgences (basically, using money to be guaranteed a spot in heaven). Now, this document was not one that I was hoping would explain all of what came out of the Reformation. There is no mention of congregational singing. There is no mention of translating the Bible into
languages people actually spoke. But, I realized it was just the first step in that direction.

Christianity suffers from seizures of power throughout history, with the victors putting in their own twists in order to promote their own agenda. However, alongside those power struggles, we see people standing up for what is just and fair. Our whole faith started with Jesus, who stood up for
the oppressed against all those in power. At the start of the Reformation, Luther stood up to an institution of preachers and even the papacy to fight for the poor. Today, we have countless theologians, laypeople, clergy, musicians, and many other kinds of people fighting to open up the doors in our churches to all of those who have been oppressed for ages. We are all still doing the
work that Jesus commanded us to do from day one.

Today, we take for granted that we have a Book of Common Prayer in a language we can understand. We take for granted that we have so many songbooks with hymns and songs from our different traditions. We take for granted that we can actually play maracas and sing to our heart’s content when we are in church. It was because of the movement that Luther began, one of standing up to oppressors, that we could have all these things. But we can’t just stop there. We now have a responsibility to stand up for those who are still being marginalized in our society. We still have
congregations that say that trans people are sinning against God. We still have clergy and powerful laypeople deciding whether same-sex couples are sacred or not. We still have music directors and influential musicians who think that non-white-European voices are not worth listening to in our liturgies. There is a lot of work to be done, but by living our lives with Christ at the center, we can continue to lift up the voices of all of those around us. Jesus called us to reform our Church so that all can be welcomed. Let’s live in that teaching. Let’s be the Reformation.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lent, Day 4: The Journey

"If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday."  Isaiah 58:9b-10
We've got a journey ahead of us, the journey of Lent.  It has been going on for a few days, but the first few days are often the hardest for those observing some sort of fast.  But, if you are one who eases your fast on Sunday, then the first break is near!  If not, then keep on truckin'.

Many times, when we look at the Lenten fast, we think about ways that we can improve ourselves.  We look inwards.  We add prayer, we read the Bible, we talk to God, we take on a special diet, among other things.  However, Lent is not only about our own personalities.  It's about how we live with those around us.  None of us are so far removed from the world that we do not interact with someone else (especially if you are reading this blog).  Today's reading brings that point home.  When we start to accuse others of anything, when we judge people of doing something wrong (especially in our eyes), then we start to bring a darkness around our lives.  Rather than spending time with God, we distance ourselves.  Rather than walking in the light, we fall behind, running towards the darkness.  That's not what we want.

Now, the verses above are talking about literal things, but we can read deeper into them.  It's not just the pointing of the finger or the speaking of evil that keeps us in the darkness.  It's the negative thoughts.  It's the jealousy.  It's the anger that boils up inside of you.  Instead, we should be trying to resolve these issues.  One of the easiest ways of dealing with this is by leaving everything to God.  We need to practice loving each other rather than dividing ourselves.  When we listen, when we talk, we can learn more about each other and learn to live in harmony.  It's a way for us not to get too stressed or concerned with those around us.  God will deal with that.

The latter words about giving to the hungry and the needy are also things that we can take more deeply.  Of course, it is always good to volunteer at the food banks and donate to charities.  There are countless ways for us to donate our times.  However, sometimes we will go out of our way to mend relations with people we don't know rather than resolving issues that are around us.  Maybe we don't get along with that one person who used to be our friend.  Maybe a political argument went astray.  Maybe we haven't spoken to someone for a very long time.  These can be the people that are needy as well.  We should take the time during Lent to mend our relationships with those around us.  Lent is not supposed to be easy, but hopefully we will be purified throughout the journey.  Let's pray that we will be ready for our ministry after our fast.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lent, Day 2: Following Truth

"It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away."  Psalm 1:4
I have to admit, I haven't really liked reading Psalm 1.  I guess that comes from the fact that it starts with a beatitude about following God.  The whole Bible could be said to be about this message, so to read it just feels like hearing a broken record.  However, just as what happens when we read the Bible over time, a different verse jumped out to me: they are like chaff which the wind blows away.  It spoke to me today because of what it implies.

Jesus taught us that the main message of the Gospel is love.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Love yourself.  That's the Gospel.  That is the truth.  Love.  When we walk in the ways of the Lord, we walk in love.  When we follow God, we follow love.  We show love to others when we live righteously.

So then, the flip side of that is whatever isn't righteous, whatever isn't love.  And, it becomes more apparent with this verse.  You cannot root yourself without love.  When you start to discriminate, you make things very difficult for yourself.  You can no longer stand.  When you spew hate, you just start allowing for yourself to be taken by others.  Soon, that hate will grow into worse things.  It becomes habit.  It becomes distance.  It becomes everything that separates you from your neighbor.  It separates you from God.  It becomes sin.

And so, when we are trying to find the best way to live life, the best way to make the world a better place, there is only one answer: love.  Love will keep us strong in the midst of our challenges.  Love will conquer all that is wrong.  Love will protect us while everything is crashing down on us.  Love will help you push forward when things seem impossible.  Love is Truth.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday: Being Real

"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward."  Matthew 6:2
 This has to be the most important message of Lent.  Each time I come across this verse, I think about how much this message applies to today.  There are so many people out there that will just say a lot but not actually do things.  Heck, even I do that from time to time.  But, Jesus is very clear in this sermon, which is today's reading for Ash Wednesday.  He gives an example of what authentic worship is after showing what not to do.

Today's message is more than just about our personal relationship with God.  In each one of the admonitions by Jesus, there is the greater public involved.  If you sound a trumpet, you get people's attention.  If you stand on the corners and shout prayers, others will hear you.  If you look dismal, you are seen by others to be that way.  Today, I see these things happening not only out in public, but also in our social media.  I see countless posts, articles, critiques, videos, blogs telling us exactly how to live.  These messages tell others which body type is correct, which church is right, which theory accommodates everybody, which people should be around which people.  Many times, I read these things from people who are not even in situations where they would know what to say.  Bystanders narrate what should happen in schools, even dictating the roles of each staff member.

In the end, by being inauthentic with words, people start to make an echo chamber for their ideas, starting with something plausible, but ending with something that is so convoluted and impossible.  The same thing can happen with our spiritual lives.  When we just talk a lot, when we just do the motions, when we post the #blessed or other tags, we lose ourselves to our words.  Rather than better ourselves, we bog ourselves down with more and more words.

Lent is a time for us to dig out of the mess that we can create around ourselves.  Lent is a time for us to follow Jesus in our real, plain selves.  Jesus did not ask for us to come forward dressed in a wig, spandex, and heels (although I'm sure he'd be fine with that, too).  Jesus just tells us to live authentically.  When we make the good news become our truth, when we put our actions where our words are, when we are real, we will find Jesus.

I hope that everybody has a blessed Lent.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Day 164: Trusting Patiently

Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"  John 11:40
Don't we all need to remember this message more?

It is so easy for us to turn to fear whenever things in our lives get tough.  When we are out of a job, or if we are facing some conflicts with our families or friends, we might try to go straight to stressing out about the situation and fearing for the future.  Rather than comforting ourselves, our response only serves to harm us more.  We end up turning away from our faith and even downright cursing God whenever we start to rely on fear.

I'm certain that we all enjoy having instant results for everything we do (just look at where our feats of technology have brought us in that regard).  However, when we live our lives with such a fast pace, we start to think that everything should be moving quickly; or, conversely, we think that things that take time are faulty.  Just taking a look at practically any passage from the books of Samuel, Kings, or Chronicles will show how the nations of Israel and Judah were struggling with that.  When things didn't go quickly for them, they turned away from God and went to other idols.  In the same way, we will start to turn to idols.  We will start to throw money at our problems as if that will save us.

But Jesus has told us time and again, if you would believe you would see the glory of God.  How many times have there been miracles in your life?  I can count so many.  I was born into a family that supports me in all my endeavors.  My family loves me for who I am.  I have great friends in my life.  I have been supported throughout my school and as I transition into having a full-time job.  God has provided so much for me, and I witness God's glory in every aspect of my life.  When I start to fear or turn away, it is because I no longer want to see God in every situation.  Rather than trusting in God, I would rather trust in other things.  But God is the only one who will set things straight in my life.  When we believe, we see the glory of God all over our lives.