Mushiness

It was four months ago today that I made up my mind to do something that I wanted very badly to do. To paraphrase Pete Townshend, a beautiful girl raised her mouth and yearned, and this time I remembered what lips were for. I can't begin to express, with mere words, how happy I am that I did.

"For 'tis love, and love alone, the world is seeking;
And 'tis love, and love alone, that can repay!
'Tis the answer, 'tis the end and all of living,
For it is love alone that rules for aye!"
  • Current Music
    REM : "Green Grow the Rushes"

(no subject)

Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

It's fitting that I should preach a sermon on this, the third Sunday of Advent.  You might remember that I preached this past Lent on a rose Sunday as well--the 4th Sunday in Lent--and mentioned that the lighter liturgical color was a signification of the relaxation of penitential discipline.  Traditionally, the third Sunday in Advent is a similar occasion; instead of the violet of penitence and preparation, we are bidden to put on the rose of rejoicing.  The Introit even admonishes us to "rejoice in the Lord alway," insistently repeating "and again, I say, rejoice!"  Of course, since St Joseph's doesn't own a set of rose vestments, you will have to imagine them; perhaps we should pass out rose-colored glasses at the door to give the effect (there's always next year).

Advent is a time with a dual significance.  In Advent, the circle that is the Christian year is most strongly pronounced, because not only are we leading up to the Nativity of Jesus--his first coming--but also to his second coming, in glory.  This week's Gospel concerns John the Baptist speaking of Jesus, and also Jesus speaking of John; the great Forerunner and the Messiah, commenting on each other.  We see John in prison, having heard of the marvelous things Jesus is doing, and longingly asking : are you the One?  Have you finally arrived, or do we have to wait longer? (This always reminds me of the saints in the Revelation, crying out to God "How long?"--and it's yet another illustration of Advent's dual significance).  There's something very poignant about this question, I think; it's something we can all relate to.  To paraphrase St Paul, the entire creation was groaning and travailing in pain together up to that point.  But what does Jesus answer?  "Tell John all the things you've seen : the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them."  Jesus is still being a little coy at this point; he says neither Yes nor No, but points out a few salient facts and lets John take care of the addition.

He then goes on to talk to the crowd about John.  Now bear in mind that, although John was acting in a manner consistent with the way prophets had acted in Jewish culture up to that point, there was probably a good number of people that thought John the Baptist was a lunatic.  How would you react if you saw a man on Sproul Plaza wearing animal skins, with matted hair and beard, stuffing locusts into his mouth and shouting blood-and-thunder about impending apocalypses and messiahs?  Well, hardened by living in the Bay Area, you'd probably give him a wide berth and mutter something about Berkeley under your breath; and most likely this is something like what his contemporaries must have thought.  Remember that Greek culture, through the conquest of the area by Alexander the Great some 300 years before, had infiltrated the Hebrew people, and made them more cosmopolitan and worldly than before.  A man who would have been considered holy in the time of the kings had become, in the minds of many, merely a public nuisance; another nutcase babbling on about nothing anyone needed to know about.

And so he opened his mouth when he shouldn't, criticizing Herod's marriage to his brother's widow, and Herod promptly slapped him in jail, leading up to the situation with which today's Gospel begins.  And having delivered his message to John's disciples, Jesus turns and talks to the crowd about John himself.  He asks them : what did you come out here to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  (Here Jesus is referring to something inconsequential , or easily influenced by circumstance) A man clothed in soft raiment?--boy, are you barking up the wrong tree, because people in fancy clothes aren't living out in the wilderness--a prophet?  Yes, John the Baptist is a prophet, and more--and here Jesus comes to the point--For he is the one the scripture is talking about when it says "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." (He's quoting the prophet Malachi here, by the way)

Let's just stop and think about that statement for a moment.  What is he saying?  Essentially, he's telling them that yes, he is the One who is coming.  Implied in Jesus statement about John being God's messenger--his Forerunner--is that Jesus is the one whom John is Forerunning!  Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus speaking this way, couching in oblique ways his statement of just Who he is, letting those who hear him put the pieces together for themselves.  It's only very late in the game that he comes out and says that he is the Son of God, and only after others have come to the conclusion for themselves.  In this Jesus shows himself to be a cunning psychologist; it would probably have been a mistake to let that cat out of the bag too early, since it would have sounded like empty bragging or self-aggrandizement. 

And what happens to John?  Of course, we all know that Herod is tricked by his wife into executing him.  Herodias has it in for John because she doesn't want anyone criticizing her and Herod's marriage.  When her daughter by her previous husband, Salome, dances for Herod, he is so smitten that he promises her anything--up to half his kingdom--that she desires in return.  Coached by Herodias, Salome demands the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  Bear in mind that up to this point Herod has avoided doing anything final about John; he has a following, after all, and Herod seems to have, in his heart of hearts, some sense that John is a prophet and not to be crossed.  But he's sworn an oath, and there's nothing for it but to do as he's promised; so John is executed, his head brought on a platter, and Herodias is satisfied.

Nevertheless, John, that crazy man in the desert, has served his purpose as the great Forerunner of our Savior.  That gives him a special place in the Christian faith, and I would hope, in our hearts as well; and it should remind us that God often speaks and acts in ways that we might not wish to credit.  To be sure, God speaks through the clergy--sometimes!--, through our loved ones, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, and sometimes even through an apparent lunatic in the wilderness.  May today's Gospel serve as a reminder that we cannot simply turn people off because their appearance isn't what we expect, much less credit someone based solely upon their appearance and credentials; what matters is not the messenger, but the message.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.


My iPod is learning how to dj

The last three tracks played by my iPod, on shuffle :

Faust : "Baby"
Amon Düül I : "Blech & Aufbau"
Current 93 : "The Fire of the Mind"

The common thread, of course, is Krautrock--explicitly in the first two, and implicitly (in terms of influence and personnel : Steven Stapleton, who produced & mixed the C93 track, is a major Krautrock fiend, and the track itself is a long, lovely drone that could have come out of the Lord Krishna von Goloka sessions) in the last. Ah well, I was impressed anyway.

Also, I am now finished with this semester at seminary, except for Evensong tonight. Hooray!
  • Current Music
    Fires Were Shot : Solace

Just Wondering...

Have any of you ever known of an open/polyamorous/whatever relationship that actually worked? That is, one where both partners were equally into it, there was no difficulty with jealousy, and the couple stayed together for a long long time (even the rest of their lives)?

I haven't. I've known some people who had that sort of relationship and it always has seemed that one partner was into the idea & the other was just going along (because they valued the relationship & didn't want it to end), or that one or both partners were carrying around a serious grudge which they had to work really hard to sublimate, or that the tensions inherent in such an arrangement ended up tearing the people apart.

I've always thought there was something kind of phony about such relationships. Maybe that's just me imposing my idea of what a committed relationship is on the rest of the world, though. If I'm in a committed relationship with someone, it has to be exclusive. That's right, I am now my parents. Which doesn't really bother me at all; the fact that some of their values are screwy doesn't make them all screwy.
  • Current Music
    23 Skidoo : The Culling Is Coming

I have a fan!

One of A's exes (no, not the most recent one) has an lj, and I seem to have come in for a bit of stick.

if you are 40 years of age, or older, should you really have an lJ? i think not.
unless everyone you know is 20, or younger? and you have some kind of thing for younglings.


Charming young man, isn't he? Take a look at this one as well :

so

the church
or clergy

having a tendency to be sexually aroused by those far far younger than they are, is FUCKIING DISGUSTING.

it is really disgusting.
it makes me want to vomit.

whether they like young men

or in this case,

young women.


[also, why is pope benedict??
very unnerving]


I would suggest that what is really making him want to vomit are those sour grapes he's been chewing for the past 4 months.

And most recently, this gem, where he stops whapping on me to take a sideswipe at the friend he's supposedly so concerned for :

i am sorry, but for all those whom believe in a 'god' or other parental-like super being and it's dogmatic rule over the entire universe and everything in it- all the proof you need of it's (and possibly your own) absurdity, is to read the story of immaculate conception.

anyone can see this is rubbish and nothing more.

(unless you are an engineer.)


I'm oddly fascinated that someone I hardly know is expending so much energy on disapproving of my life. Isn't the Internet great?
  • Current Music
    A mix tape I made for a Mich House party in 1991

What a relief!

"In Japan, the register of officially recognised pictograms representing
personal names was expanded to allow babies to be called Prostitute or
Buttocks, but the ministry responsible decided under public pressure to
disallow characters meaning Rape, Excrement, and Cancer."
  • Current Music
    Shriekback : "Hand On My Heart"

Things!

Apparently yesterday will have been the earliest sunset of the year. I am relieved to know that the sun will be shining (gradually!) later & later through the next solstice. There are times when I feel like I'm on the border of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and every little extra bit of light helps.

******

I am currently listening to the Samples, and I have no idea why. They're really irritating; sort of like Sting fronting a band filled with Green "world-beat" enthusiasts, with really clumsy enviro-political lyrics. A [giggle] sample :

gentle thoughts meander through the sand
as the ship made currents reach the land
the omniscient sun paving through the sky
and when it's done all the seabirds fly

I'd like to stay but I couldn't stay with you
I have to go, but I have a lot I want to do
pleasures be waiting by the sea
with a smile for all the world to see

diamond waves through sunglass days go by
so beAUtiful to be here and alive
though I've built sometimes so hard did I survive?
CAN YOU feel us shaking?

beneath the sea another world exists
it's tugging me by the ankles and my wrists
the morning wind come and pull me away
out to where the dolphins play

diamond waves through sunglass days go by
so beuatiful to be here and alive
though I've built sometimes so hard did I survive?
CAN YOU feel us shaking?

pleasures be waiting by the sea
with a smile for all the world to see


Really makes you want to vomit, doesn't it? I took it off & put something else on, by the way.

******

A couple of my grad-student friends & I are talking about caroling on Monday evening. I'm really excited by this! If the idea appeals to you (and you can sight-read choral music without accompaniment), let me know...

******

Anxiety comes & goes. My life is changing; the way I look at the world is (slowly) changing. There was a time when I struggled very hard against the "fearsome effects of entropy," forces which seemed as though they might tear everything I loved and cared for--relationships, family, self--to shreds. I'm not as convinced of that these days. For now the strategy is simply to ride the anxiety out and to focus on trust, not as a passive state, but as an action of the will. So far, so good.
  • Current Music
    Robert Wittinger : Maldoror-Requiem

(no subject)

And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

The feeding of the multitude is a story which occurs in more than one place in the Gospels, and indeed in our lectionary; a similar story is told in the eighth chapter of St Mark, and is used as the Gospel for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity.  The supposed discrepancy between these two accounts is often used by skeptics to demonstrate the unreliability of Scripture; of course, however, there is no reason why Jesus could not have fed the multitudes more than once, and indeed his regular feeding of the multitudes will be my theme today.

There is something in the act of giving food to someone that touches the human heart very deeply.  This goes across all human cultures; although specific customs of hospitality vary from nation to nation, nevertheless sharing food with a guest, or a family member, or a friend, or a stranger is a significant act.  Many of Jesus' parables and actions concern food or feasting in some way : the stories of the prodigal son and of the wedding banquet, his first miracle at Cana, and of course, the Last Supper.  And it's impossible for me to read or hear this Gospel reading without thinking especially of the Last Supper, and our weekly (or  if you're a seminarian, daily) commemoration and reenactment of the same.

I say "commemoration and reenactment" advisedly, because it is both things.  The act in which we are to take part today, the reason why we are all here, is both a memorial--a calling-to-mind--of Jesus' supreme act of self-sacrifice, and a re-presentation of that sacrifice to God, uniting it with our own personal, little sacrifices of thanks and praise.  The idea that the service of Holy Communion is a mere memorial of Christ's death is actually an innovation of modern theology, and is not an idea that is supported by Scripture or by the earliest traditions of the Christian Church.  Flannery O'Connor, the great Southern author of the mid-20th century, relates the following story in one of her letters :

I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, "A Charmed Life.") She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.

That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.


It's often said that a heresy is the result of over-emphasis on one truth to the neglect of others, and so it is with the idea that the Eucharist is a mere memorial.  It arose during the Protestant Reformation as a reaction to the medieval  Roman Catholic over-emphasis on the Mass as a sacrifice, even to the point where Roman theologians were arguing that Christ was sacrificed anew with each Mass.  

Which of course, is not the idea at all.  When we enter this church to pray and to receive our Lord, we are experiencing events in God's time.  God is eternal; for him, there is no passing of the hours and days and years.  Everything is always happening; eternity is a never-ending Now.  In God's time, the sacrifice of Jesus is always happening, a timeless event; and in the Mass, we enter into that timeless event for a brief moment, breaking through the veil of our own time and space to glimpse eternity.

And what might this have to do with the feeding of the multitudes?  Well, I don't think it's too far off the mark to say that the feeding of the multitudes was a type, a pre-figuration, of the Eucharist (which, by the way, comes from the Greek word eucharistia, which--and this is timely--means "thanksgiving").  It is, of course, many other things; a demonstration of God's abundant provision for his people, a sign of Jesus' divine power, and a miraculous solution to a real-life problem : but what jumps out at me most in this passage is the parallel with the narrative of the institution of Holy Communion.  In both narratives, Jesus gives thanks and distributes the food to those who are with him, and they receive much more than they ever thought they would get.  

And Jesus is still doing this, even now, even here.  In the elements of bread and wine, we receive the body and blood of our Lord.  They are here uniquely and locally present.  This is not an empty ritual or vain observance, but a holy sacrament necessary to our spiritual growth and flourishing.  We cannot (and I would say should not) attempt to define exactly how the elements become, or are, the body and blood of Jesus : doing so misses the point.  We are not to attempt to capture the mystery in inadequate words, to cage it in a merely human mindset.  It is here for us to experience.  The Psalmist says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" ; counsel which is strikingly appropriate in this context.  

In a very short while we will all have the opportunity to taste the Lord's goodness for ourselves.  It might be profitable to keep this phrase in our minds as we approach God's Table to share in this holy meal.  For in it Jesus gives to us his most precious gift, which is himself; and by it we are spiritually nourished, and if only for the briefest moment, catch a glimpse of his eternal banquet, and for that moment are one with him, with each other, and with all of his saints in heaven and here on earth.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Trinity XXIII

Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


Today, we see again, as we do in diverse places in the Gospels, how the enemies and rivals of Jesus attempt to trip him up in his own words; and yet again, he cleverly foils their attempts to trap him. You might remember that the Sadducees construct an absurd hypothetical situation concerning a woman who has been married multiple times (legally!) in order to get him to deny the resurrection; here, certain Pharisees try to get him to speak sedition so that they can have an excuse to denounce him to the authorities for advising the Jews not to pay taxes to their overlords, the Romans. Jesus points out, quite rightly, that the image on the coin is that of Caesar, and that they are obliged by law to pay him tribute, whether they like it or not. He then reminds them of their duty to pay Caesar his due, even as they pay God his.


This is an important lesson for us to remember in our time as well; not just that we should pay our taxes (though of course, as citizens of a land which affords us certain benefits, it would be dishonest to enjoy those benefits and not contribute our fair share toward their provision), but that we live in not one, but two worlds, and that they are, in many ways, different places.


We live on the planet Earth; a world which is broken, imperfect, and fallen. We see the evidence around us every day; murder, rape, famine, and every other inhumanity that the human brain can conceive. Our newspapers are filled with the misdeeds of our fellow men (and women). The world we live in today is not the one we knew as children, and as we age it seems to get worse. This is the world we find ourselves in at our birth, the world we go to school and work in, the world we inhabit until we die.


But alongside this world is another one. We also live in the Church. Not the physical structure of a church building (although of course, some people do), nor yet the administrative ecclesiastical hierarchy of the institution, but the invisible church which the prayer book calls "the blessed company of all faithful people" : the Church to which we are called as witnesses for the world and for each other of God's great work of redemption. And though our citizenship on this planet is temporary, we are promised that our status as subjects of God's Kingdom is eternal.


It's very tempting because of this fact to conclude that since we are God's subjects we need not worry about any responsibilities to the temporal authorities we happen to find ourselves living under; but this would be a terrible mistake. For God expects us to obey the authorities that are placed over us, insofar of course as our responsibilities to them do not conflict with our responsibilities to God. Look at the early Christians for an example : there was no point at which the Christians rebelled against Imperial authority. In fact, it could be said of them that they were model Roman subjects (or, some of them, citizens) : they paid their tributes, didn't cause trouble, did great works of charity, and conducted themselves in every respect as law-abiding residents of the Empire. Only when the demands of the state directly contravened the commands of God did they refuse to comply, even to the point of martyrdom. The example is quite clear : we are not to use our status as Christians to get out of our reasonable responsibilities to our rulers. Our status as Christians does not absolve us from our duties as citizens.


Of course, there is another side to this coin. If the world is truly fallen and broken, and human beings commit such grievous enormities, then surely they are in need of authority to regulate their behavior. Why don't we just take hold of the government ourselves, as Christians, and simply pass laws that will make everyone behave the way they ought to?


This is the line of reasoning held by a group of Christians who espouse a political philosophy known as Dominionism, or Christian Reconstructionism. Inflamed by the example of John Calvin's Geneva, they seek to establish a theocracy which will enforce Biblical morality (complete with Old Testament punishments), ushering in a new golden age in which Christian morality will set the tone for society, and in which public drunkenness, adultery, and filial disobedience alike would be punishable by death. What's wrong with this picture? Plenty.


First of all, I am at a loss to know of any law that has ever made human beings good. Laws do not impart righteousness; following laws doesn't impart righteousness. We cannot be righteous by *doing* things. We are made righteous through grace. A law is powerless to make anybody good; the function of the law is to inform people of the behavior that is expected of them, and to provide a mechanism whereby transgressors may be punished. And certainly, the fact that there are laws against certain things does deter people from doing those things, generally speaking, but it is also true that those who are determined (for whatever reason) to be criminals are not deterred by the illegality of their chosen profession.


Secondly, and related to the first point, people cannot be converted to Christianity en masse, much less by force. Conversion is an individual process, and not one that can be imposed upon a group of people by fiat. I'm sure we've all heard of the mass baptisms of the barbarian Germanic tribes in the early Middle Ages : as awe-inspiring as the thought of all those armored, bearded, fierce-looking Franks tromping down to the river and being dunked may be, I can't help but have misgivings about the depth and sincerity of their conversions. They were simply doing as their kings and commanders told them, and it is doubtful that many of them experienced any real change in their daily lives. Conversion to Christianity doesn't work that way; we are converted one by one, and each generation provides that many more subjects for conversion. Even if we managed to successfully convert every person in the United States to a sincere and deep Christian faith, hundreds more would be born tomorrow who would require it. It's not transmitted hereditarily!


And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we have no warrant in the Gospels or the rest of the New Testament for imposing our beliefs and ethics upon the rest of the world. If Jesus had wished us to take over the government and force everyone to behave by our rules, he would certainly have said so, and he was certainly capable of it himself. But he did not do so, nor command us to do so. We are not meant to rule over our fellow human beings, but to be a light unto them; not to judge and punish them, but to model Christianity to them; not to coerce, but to convince. This is not easy. It requires us to be really serious about our faith, and about how we appear as examples of our faith to other human beings. By contrast, passing laws and telling other people what to do and how *they* should behave is a lot easier--but of course it isn't as effective.


In effect, we are dual citizens : of the world and the Church, the polis and the ekklesia. Our membership in one does not excuse us from duty to the other, and although our Christian values should always guide us in our actions, we are given no warrant for imposing those values upon others. It is easy to fall prey to excess in one direction or the other; but, as is so often the case, the straight and narrow way is the correct one. Let us, therefore, always bear in our minds the necessity of rendering unto both the state and the Church that which is rightfully theirs, and let us pray for the ability to discern the difference between one sphere and the other.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.