Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Remember You Are Dust

Happy Ash Wednesday, everyone! 

We went here today to drink beer. You should be jealous.
I know that's an ironic greeting, but here in our house in New Orleans, after weeks of dealing with drunken revelry, we feel like hosts whose unruly guests have finally walked home. We are enjoying the peace and quiet on the street, the public transit, the general ability to travel to places without a map - the basics.

I think this Ash Wednesday is particularly poignant because of Benedict's announcement. In case you are living underground, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI will step down by the end of February, meaning that, by this time next month, there will be a new leader for the 1 billion Catholics and their/our much beleaguered institution.This is rather unprecedented.

There are many theological and personal reflections on this topic. One, Benedict has spent the seven years of his papacy shoring up the theological bones of the Church. In a way, stepping down reminds us that Pope is an office, not a personal cult (like that of John Paul II). Perhaps that will be the theme of the conclave that meets to elect his successor.

After seven years of centralizing authority in Rome, this would be too little too late.

But I'll take it, nonetheless. We are all dust, and to dust we will return. Is this what Joseph is thinking? The Vatican, too, is dust; so is St. Peter, who was buried there twenty centuries ago, and so is John Paul II. Being dust in our universe is a great honor, no matter the gold content of your robes (or the ruby sheen on your slippers). Does Joseph remember that, too?

I hope so. In the least, his resignation signals a turn away from nostalgia and pride, towards modernization and humility. I am down with that.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Prayer

I'm a week late, I know I know, but it's mardi gras and all, so I hope you'll forgive me.

This week's liturgy included the "Fishers of Men" gospel story, as well as the "Here I Am, Lord" story from Isaac. In both stories, God calls people out, to do good work, and in both stories they refuse. "But I have eaten unclean foods!" protests Isaac. God doesn't care. God gets him started.

That's what it's all about. We have a mission - to live a more compassionate life. None of us are there yet, but we cannot hide in our insufficiency. We have to get started.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday Prayer

The Book of Job speaks to the topic of ignorance in a beautiful song:

Job 38:1-18  Then from the heart of the tempest Yahweh gave Job his answer. He said:
2 Who is this, obscuring my intentions with his ignorant words?  3 Brace yourself like a fighter; I am going to ask the questions, and you are to inform me!  4 Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations? Tell me, since you are so well-informed!  5 Who decided its dimensions, do you know? Or who stretched the measuring line across it?  6 What supports its pillars at their bases? Who laid its cornerstone  7 to the joyful concert of the morning stars and unanimous acclaim of the sons of God?  8 Who pent up the sea behind closed doors when it leapt tumultuous from the womb,  9 when I wrapped it in a robe of mist and made black clouds its swaddling bands;  10 when I cut out the place I had decreed for it and imposed gates and a bolt?  11 'Come so far,' I said, 'and no further; here your proud waves must break!'  12 Have you ever in your life given orders to the morning or sent the dawn to its post,  13 to grasp the earth by its edges and shake the wicked out of it?  14 She turns it as red as a clay seal, she tints it as though it were a dress,  15 stealing the light from evil-doers and breaking the arm raised to strike.  16 Have you been right down to the sources of the sea and walked about at the bottom of the Abyss?  17 Have you been shown the gates of Death, have you seen the janitors of the Shadow dark as death?  18 Have you an inkling of the extent of the earth? Tell me all about it if you have! 

Job 42:1-6  This was the answer Job gave to Yahweh: 
2 I know that you are all-powerful: what you conceive, you can perform.  3 I was the man who misrepresented your intentions with my ignorant words. You have told me about great works that I cannot understand, about marvels which are beyond me, of which I know nothing.  4 (Listen, please, and let me speak: I am going to ask the questions, and you are to inform me.)  5 Before, I knew you only by hearsay but now, having seen you with my own eyes,  6 I retract what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The First Step to Spiritual Honesty

The past two posts address abortion. Abortion is a moral flashpoint for all of us who are looking for a way to be good, free, moral people outside of the confines of traditional religion because, for those of us coming from Christian and especially Catholic backgrounds, it was the moral issue. So, to say the least, I think we are familiar with the issue, and maybe a little conflicted about a solution.

The March for Life approach assumes that we are not conflicted about the issue, as if it were a cut, done, answered question, instead of a very live, slippery, and unsatisfactorily answered question. That's why I dislike it.

There's more.

Future spiritual communities must be able to ask big questions honestly.

We have talked at length about why religious communities have failed - hierarchy, judgment, and nostalgia. All three are founded on the notion that someone has knowledge that someone doesn't have - the knowledge of leadership, morals, or righteous history. Haves and have-nots. Rich and poor. Chosen and unclean.

Us and them.

But when you look inward, are there not many unanswered questions? Do you truly have the knowledge?

No. None of us has knowledge. We all face our universe as peasants. We don't even know what we don't know. To pretend as if we know, as if we have knowledge, as if we know what is right and wrong in the face of our expanse of Universe, or before the Presence of God, is pure vanity.  
Fact: we do not know. Goal: Wonder and Awe.
Acknowledging the truth of our ignorance is the first step to learning. We all exist in that damn uncomfortable place of the ignorant student. How would it be if I went into Greek class and pretended to know Greek already? I would not learn, and it would be my own fault. 

But then, everything can be our teacher. 

We must be ready to learn from each other, and that requires that we first admit our ignorance. You cannot do this at a rally, and I do not think it is possible in many churches. But it is the first step to spiritual honesty.