TODAY we cross a dateline for our planet. The Global Footprint Network calls it the Earth Overshoot Day. I encourage you to visit their website to learn more at: https://www.footprintnetwork.org/.
Earth Overshoot Day is the date each year when human beings begin to consume more of our natural resources than can be replenished in that year. July 29th, 209 days into the calendar year, is when we have burnt through the natural resources available to the world’s populations for the year. For the remaining 164 days of 2019, we will be overdrawing nature’s accounts. We are writing bogus checks on our world’s future replenishment abilities. We are using up our natural resources 1.75 times faster than they can be replenished!
I think of it as a tragic environmental Ponzi scheme, a plundering of nature — a using resources which should be set aside for our children and grand children. This over-exploitation increases each year. We in the United States lead in this extractive exploitation. If the entire world lived as we do it would take the resources of FIVE EARTHS to provide sufficiency.
Enter Wes Jackson — someone who has been thinking about this dilemma for four decades. Jackson is co-founder of the Land Institute in Salinas Kansas (Land Institute). Elaine and I stopped to visit on July 15th. I had read several articles and books he had authored or co-authored. I knew of his friendship and shared work with Wendell Berry; and, I confess to being more than a little star struck. After all Wes was one of the early recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship. I expected our visit to last an hour and then be on my way.
In fact we talked through the entire morning. We toured of the institute research facilities and farm research plots in Salinas. (Other research goes on around the world where institute scientists are working to discover new paths of regenerative agriculture.)
I found in Wes a friend… and mentor — someone with a deep concern, clarity about his vocation and a surprising light-heartedness. He confessed the dilemmas we all face. The human contradictions faced as we move from our extractive and fossil-fuel based systems. We laughed often; spoke of authors who had influenced us (Ivan Illich, Walter Brueggemann) and spoke of the need for a broader dialogue between science and religion. We talked about a possible conference where theologians and scientists might talk about the sustainability of our ecosphere. I loved it when Wes brought out his “computer” to take notes. It turned out to be his old Underwood typewriter!
I found in Wes Jackson a person who had done more theological thinking about our creatureliness and relationship with the ecosphere than most formal theologians I have known. It was not a surprise to learn that Wes and John Cobb were friends and correspondents. There were more than two dozen scientists and interns at The Land Institute at work that morning seeking to establish perennial polycultures. They are developing perennial grains, legumes and oilseed varieties that can be grown together replicating the patterns evident in native ecosystems.
We stopped on one hillside and Jackson pointed out the native prairie grasses and the cultivated fields below. “Modern agriculture” he argued has been moving in ever more destructive ways for the past 10,000 years. The Green Revolution, and the heavy use of nitrogen fertilizers, did produce more in the short term; however at the same time they were depleting the resources of our soil, water and fossil fuels ever more rapidly.
As we looked out across the fields, I thought of my own experiences in seeking to encourage our United Methodist Churches in Indiana to consider the gifts of creation and to work toward living more faithfully as those who are to care for the earth as God’s gift. I recalled with sadness the ways leaders in the Indiana Annual Conference blocked small pieces of legislation designed to encourage care for the creation. We were told that such efforts were “too political.”
I left the Institute with a commitment to find ways to bring theological educators into greater conversation and relationship with the folks in Salinas.
On this Earth Overshoot Day, I give thanks for the true “master theologians” of our time like Wes Jackson. I don’t think he would like the title. In fact he told me he had been “excommunicated” from his United Methodist Church in Kansas several years earlier by a pastor who considered him a heretic. I wish the church had more heretics like him. Maybe with time we will. Let’s work to make this happen sooner rather than later.
As a preacher I am blessed to hear a great sermon. I know the challenge of crafting words and theology designed to move believers to live more faithfully or welcome unbelievers into the faith. Fortunately, I hear such preaching often as I travel or attend worship at my home congregation St. Marks United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Indiana.
Recently I heard one such finely crafted and moving sermon delivered by one of my pastors, the Rev. Jimmy Moore. I invite you to read it, to consider the wisdom it contains and to be moved by his call to live with a more robust theology of Creation. Here it is:
Creation Groans, Creation Glories
[Prior to this sermon, Rev. Moore Interviewed Dr. Jeffrey White, Professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and Director of the Integrated Program on the Environment at Indiana University. This interview is available through St. Marks United Methodist in Bloomington.]
Sermon: I want to tell you about a friend of mine. She is great. She is one of the most reliable friends I have ever had. When my dad died when I was fourteen, she was there for me. She just didn’t place any restrictions on what I needed. When I reached my late-thirties and had a time of depression she was there for me. She just said, “you come and be where I am, and you don’t need to say anything. Just be here and it is fine.” She is intriguing. She is graceful, and she is full of mystery and wonder. And her name is Nature. I have found that she has a really big job to do. This is a big world with a lot of people in it. She helps feed and clothe this world.
I think that part of what I needed to know this week is that she is still present for me. You see, this is not how I expected this sermon to begin. This has been one of the more challenging weeks in my pastoral ministry. Some of that I won’t be talking about and some of that I will. I am doing a funeral tomorrow night for a family Mary Beth and I know. This is public story, so I am not speaking out of turn, but a twenty-three-year-old man took his life. Then on Thursday, one of you called me to let me know there was a seven-month-old baby in Riley Hospital who was nearing the end of her life. The family wanted a baptism. I went over there, was with this family and baptized this baby who is still on life support, only so that her organs can be harvested for other children in the hospital.
Often during the week I wonder how what is happening the week is going to run into what is going to happen on Sunday morning. I didn’t see this one coming… but my heart has been super heavy and full. My mind knows it is not smart enough for what I’m having to deal with. I needed my friend. So, ironically, I was doing a wedding in Greenwood and because I am not of good cheer when I drive up Indiana highway #37 (with all the construction), I drove through Nashville and up Highway 135. And the woods were there. And, she brought some of her healing… and I will need more. And so, will some of these people.
What I will tell you is that I know most of you here. I know you and I know if you had a friend and someone was treating your friend badly, you would intercede. My friend needs help. My friend needs you. So, I actually do believe that the Doctrine of Creation is as potent for us as the Doctrine of Redemption. It tells us how we are here and how God’s life breathed into the life of the world, and breathes still.
Dr. White, in our interview, used the word, “sanctuary.” I told the Sunday School class this morning if someone vandalized this room with ugly graffiti, you would be livid. I would be. Yet, the world is our sanctuary. The cosmos is our sanctuary. I do not believe it is the will of Jesus for us to ignore the fact that this world is in need. I think one of the things that happened in the Christian tradition is that in earlier translations of Genesis, the word “dominion” was used to describe what humans were to be given in terms of our responsibilities in creation – we had “authority.” I think that came subtly, and not so subtly, to mean we could do whatever blessed thing we wanted to do with the world and it would be alright. More recently those who study scripture are liking and valuing the word “stewardship” more than “dominion.” Stewardship says we have this care, this gift that has been given to us.
I know that you have people in your lives that have been given to you – your children, your friends, your parents, your partners and your congregation members. I am deeply convinced, deeply convinced, that the responsibility we have is the responsibility of love. We are called to treat creation like we would our children, our partners and our friends. To love it that much. To love it exactly that much. And so, the Psalmist says, in Psalm 19 “The heavens are declaring the glory of God.” Now, I have already told you that I don’t believe that science and religion are at odds. I do believe that when I step into this world I am stepping into a holy place filled with glory — FILLED with the possibility of being healed and blessed, filled with the fact that I am in a world that is here for us and in a world for whom we are to be present and caring and responsible.
I will also reject the notion that somehow it is a violation of Christian calling to care for the environment. I have heard people say, “if it is going to be burned up anyway, why should we care?” Please don’t take that view toward my home! It makes no sense. This is the world you are given… right now, this is it. This is the world where unless something unbelievable happens, your children will be living, and their children will be living, and their children will be living. It is part of Christian calling to invest in that.
So as the Romans passage tells us, all Creation is groaning. This groaning is swept up into reconciliation, into the longing of God to bring all things together. Not only by creation but also by redemption, God is bringing us together to care for this world. There are some bad things happening in this world. There are some bad things happening in this State. In Indiana, we are one of the most polluted states in the country. That is not an opinion, that’s a fact. So, we could talk about arctic temperatures warming. We could talk about draughts in Australia or Africa. We could talk about what climate change is doing in the world. But, I am asking you to do something different today. I want you to know that our call today is to recognize what is given to us.
So, In the span of eight days I will do a funeral, a memorial service, I will have baptized an infant and will have done a wedding. What all of these have in common is the word “cherish.” In funerals and memorial services, we are invited to cherish the memory of the ones we love and cherish the faith that calls them to God. In our marriages we are called, not only to endure marriage, but to cherish each other. You can laugh at that. Everyone who is married knows what I’m talking about. If you feel you are doing more enduring than cherishing, there is a problem. Right? When we baptize babies, even when babies only have a few hours to live, we are cherishing the breath that is in them and the hope that is in them and the love that surrounds them. And, we are called to cherish this world.
Let me close mentioning two theologians. One is named Matthew Sleeth who was an emergency room doctor until he was on a vacation with his wife. Sitting on a beach, she asked, “What is the biggest problem in the world?” He said, “It is the fact that we are poisoning ourselves and it makes my job as a doctor more difficult.” She responded, “Well what are you going to do about it?” He quit as a doctor and became a pastor and works in creation care.
He tells the story that around this time he took his son fishing. It was a small town on a river and they took a guy named John with them. He said my boy caught a fish and John said “Well, that’s a trout.” The boy said “Dad, can we keep it?” and Matthew said, “No it needs to grow some more.” He released the fish and John looked at him in a strange way. Then his boy caught another fish, not quite as big as the first and asked, “Dad can we keep it?” Sleeth said, “No son, it’s smaller than the other one, right John?” John said, “Well, frankly, I’ve lived here all my life and the trout you are holding up there is the second largest trout I have seen in my life. The one you threw back was the largest.” Sleeth said to his son, “Okay, we’ll take it home.” As they were walking back to their car, John grabbed Sleeth’s arm and said, “I need to tell you something. Do you see that sign right there? It says that ‘This river is full of dioxins’. Your boy, if he takes a bite of that fish, take it away from him and don’t let him eat anymore. Children in this area aren’t supposed to eat more than one fish a year.”
You, you good people of God aren’t supposed to eat fish more than twice a week. This is a problem, in the making of paper and other products we have released these toxins and all over the community this is happening. As Walter Brueggemann would say “This is an issue of neighborliness.” What we do, does impact the other.
One more theologian is A. J. Swoboda, who is a Pentecostal Christian. He calls himself a Pentecostal Environmentalist. He says we should know that there are three things about Pentecostals. He says: 1) “We believe the Spirit is moving and so God is involved in what is happening right now.” 2) “We believe in caring for the marginalized. This issue is marginalizing people everywhere because of what it is doing to their environment. It effects the poor more than those who can get away from it. 3) Finally, he said, “We cry. If you go into a Pentecostal church, you will find Kleenex all over the place that means we can be moved.”
Then he says this, “We believe in two conversions. The first conversion is to God. The second is a conversion (which sounded outright Wesleyan to me) is a conversion to be back to the world. This is the conversion I am preaching today – that the God who loves you says, “love my world.” Don’t pretend that what is true is not true. Christians don’t do that.
Wendell Berry said “We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us was good for the world. We were wrong. Rather we should adopt the assumption that what is good for the world is good for us.” To go back to my earlier point, Wendell Berry, like Jeff, like me, like you, finds grace in the world.
This is Berry’s poem The Peace of Wild Things that many of you know:
“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go lay down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Good people of God, this world, this grace-filled world, this groaning world is given to us. The call in the invitation of today, the request of today, is to take care of what we do with it. It is full of glory and full of longing and we are called to be in it. That’s the Gospel too. Amen.
“Thy kingdom come on earth” is a core element of our foundational prayer… the Our Father. How then shall we live? How can we sing the great hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth” in these days? What if we had the eyes to see God’s realm in our every day living?
Few movie scenes are more memorable than “Luke” Jackson singing Plastic Jesus while sitting as a convict in a Florida prison. Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman, was a 1967 classic, a favorite, a parable about corruption and the abuse of power. It was the story of a poor man convicted of a minor crime and sentenced to two years in a prison work camp.
Luke is shown singing the song Plastic Jesus after finding out about the death of his mother. It is a forlorn, haunting portrayal. You can see this scene here. Perhaps you already know the song, or the first lines at least:
I don’t care if it rains or freezes; Long as I’ve got my plastic Jesus; Sitting on the dashboard of my car; Comes in colors pink and pleasant; Glows in the dark cause it’s iridescent; Take it with you … when you travel far.
The song was a parody, written a few years before the movie. It is a spoof, an over-the-top critique, of a “Christian” radio station in Del Rio, Texas in those years that sold prayer handkerchiefs and other phony spiritual artifacts. One could purchase “actual splinters from the cross of Jesus.” Yes, there were dashboard figures for sale — ones that glowed in the dark — representations of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. This “border busting” high wattage radio station, when not selling religious wares, featured a disc jockey known as Wolf Man Jack. To learn more about the song Plastic Jesus and its evolution, click here.
Without doubt, the most memorable and repeated line from the movie Cool Hand Luke is “What we got here is a failure to communicate.” It is spoken by the warden and one other in the film. For those who haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil this by offering more information now.
The idea of a “failure to communicate” and “Plastic Jesus” came to mind this month when I read that on June 7th, several United Methodist conference representative are planning to pass out plastic water bottles in downtown Indianapolis — as a Christian witness. Help! Talk about a failure to communicate. Save us from our plastic, Jesus!
These plastic bottles are to be “relabeled with a message of hope.” Hope? It seems what was intended was a symbolic action referring to the giving of a cup of cold water mentioned in Matthew 10 or Mark 9. Unfortunately, for many, this is more an act of pollution. Please check out this brief You Tube on Plastic pollution.
Should the church encourage such blight on creation? I know, I know, it may only be a small number of bottles — 500 or 1,000 and this is only a tiny part of the more than 35 billion water bottles used and discarded in the U.S. every hear. What witness are we to give to such a danger to us, our children, and all our relatives?
Most bottles are used once for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes and then tossed away. (There are health dangers from repeated reuse.) Most plastic bottles don’t fully degrade for 700 to 1,000 years. Ten percent of plastic bottles end up in our oceans and waterways killing millions of animals annually and over 2/3rd of our fish now test positively for plastics in their blood streams! We eat the fish… and so on.
I write this as a small plea, a tiny protest to those who think it is a witness to pass out plastic water bottles in the name of Jesus. Is it too late to reconsider? To repent? To offer a more positive witness? Think of the greater witness that could be made if there was an act of repentance, a public turning around. A call to the local newspapers could generate quite a story of faithfulness, of Christians who care enough to change.
This would be a real sharing of Gospel news, that actual cups of cold water are given and not polluting plastic bottles that will despoil our environment and diminish the health of our planet and our children’s children.
Sometimes what is meant for good instead communicates an opposite message. These folks who plan to give out plastic bottles are good people and their message is well-intended. Sadly it is at the same time a misguided effort. One can’t blame these good folks entirely. The Indiana Annual Conference has avoided taking a clear stand on the importance of caring for God’s creation. In fact for years there has been an effort to avoid working together on critical justice issues.
Last year, in June 2017, a simple legislative proposal that each congregation study a document calling for “Environmental Holiness,” for the care of creation was put on hold. Some thought it was “too political.” Others, among them some Conference leaders, thought it would take too much extra work. So it was decided that consideration should be delayed.
This year, June 2018, we have plastic bottles offered as our witness. I know that good folks haven’t thought very clearly about how we care for God’s good creation. What we have here is a failure to communicate… Unless we repent and believe. So we pray — Save us from our plastic, Jesus.
From the United Methodist Bishop’s pastoral letter entitled God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action, 2009.
The Council of Bishops made the following pledges: “With God’s help and with you as our witnesses—
We as your bishops pledge to answer God’s call to deepen our spiritual consciousness as just stewards of creation.
We pledge to make God’s vision of renewal our goal.
We pledge to practice dialogue with those whose life experience differs dramatically from our own, and we pledge to practice prayerful self-examination.
We pledge ourselves to make common cause with religious leaders and people of goodwill worldwide who share these concerns.
We pledge to advocate for justice and peace in the halls of power in our respective nations and international organizations.
We pledge to measure the “carbon footprint”of our episcopal and denominational offices, determine how to reduce it, and implement those changes. We will urge our congregations, schools, and settings of ministry to do the same.
We pledge to provide, to the best of our ability, the resources needed by our conferences to reduce dramatically our collective exploitation of the planet, peoples, and communities, including technical assistance with buildings and programs, education and training, and young people’s and online networking resources.
We pledge to practice hope as we engage and continue supporting the many transforming ministries of our denomination.
We pledge more effective use of the church and community Web pages to inspire and to share what we learn.
From God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action, 2009.
Light the candles, sing the songs, cut the cake, burst the piñata — it’s a birthday. Laugh, dance, tease, shout out “Many Happy Returns!!” WAIT A MINUTE… Which Birthday is it? PENTECOST? Where? What if the gifts of Pentecost go missing this year? Shouldn’t we send out a missing feast day alert?
Pentecost is said to be the birthday of the church. Why celebrate the Spirit first unleashed two millenia ago? Should I wear red on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018 as in other years? Perhaps not. Scanning the international, national and ecclesial horizon, there is little evidence such celebration is in order or that Pentecost will have much of a season in our world today. Pentecost has gone missing.
The Pentecost Season in the church is to last several months. It is when we read some of the greatest chapters in Christian scripture — Acts 2, Ezekiel 37, Romans 8, Psalm 104, Galatians 3. And, the most reiterated word (and theme) in these passages? It is “ALL,” as in “EVERYONE,” “EACH TOGETHER.”
Here is the core identity of church, the basic DNA of God’s people. In these texts it is made clear — God includes all persons. Further, we are to love and protect ALL of creation. Francis of Assisi had it right — we indeed are relatives to brother sun and sister moon. Pentecost is about including, renewing, accepting, out-reaching. It is about creating community and not simply talking about community. In Pentecost we learn the meaning of neighboring with God and with one another.
Romans 8 speaks of all creation groaning in new birth. The work of the Spirit is about new life, addition to our social fabric and our communities of friends. It is not an excluding or dividing. Rather, Pentecost passages include, extend, restore. Like the dry bones in Ezekiel, this is a focus on that which has been separated or torn asunder being made whole. God’s heart in any Pentecost celebration is about inclusion.
If the word “All” were to be left out of these passages, they turn to gibberish. Or, if words like “everyone,” “each,” or “every nation,” “every tongue” or “all flesh” were to be omitted, Pentecost vanishes. No need for celebration, no call for many happy returns — Pentecost would drift away, vaporize, disappear.
At a national level, in the U.S. today, Pentecost may have gone missing. The preachers who affirm the mean and divisive ways of this president, have missed the story and meaning of Pentecost for our world. Instead of a Pentecost vision we are offered border walls, white nationalist rhetoric, the separating of children from undocumented parents, thinly veiled racism that smoothly falls from the lips of national leaders. Pentecost seems hidden by ugly bigotries. On so many fronts the vision of Pentecost seems erased.
Racism and Patriarchy continue to plague our nation and blind us to the story of Pentecost. We are still discovering the enormity of these curses on our national psyche and our people. Racism and sexism is baked into all we do and who we are as a nation — it masks any signs of Pentecost among us.
Take for example the tragedy of the maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States. These percentages are growing and are almost exclusively due to the increased percentage of deaths among African-American mothers and their children. “We are the only developed country the [mortality] rate is going up.” (https://www.nytimes.com/podcasts/the-daily. The Daily, New York Times podcast, May 11,2018).
Our “infant mortality rate is high… It is 32nd out of the 35 most developed countries… A black woman is 2 to 3 times more likely to die in child-birth than a white woman and a black baby 2.2 times more likely to die than a white baby… This racial disparity is larger now than it was in 1850!” (Listen to “A Life-or-Death Crises for Black Mothers” on The Daily podcast, May 11, 2018 at https://www.nytimes.com/podcasts/the-daily).
Today there is now overwhelming research that demonstrates this disparity in mortality is grounded in the racism of our institutions and cultural life in the United States. Such disparity does not exist to this extent in other countries. One of the most astonishing discoveries has been named the “weathering” of African-American women. (Again, Listen to “A Life-or-Death Crises for Black Mothers” on The Daily podcast, May 11, 2018.) Weathering is language that speaks of the results of chronic toxic stress on African-American women. This is the impact of racism on the body of women facing day-in and day-out challenges and diminishment in this society due to their racial identity. Put simply, our racism damages the bodies of our sisters.
Or take, for example, the patriarchy that still distorts the church from genuine expressions of the gospel — from the meaning of Pentecost. Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson has finally apologized from insensitive and dangerous remarks about women needing to stay in homes where they are being physically abused so that “they might be a witness” to abusive husbands. Patterson only recently also acknowledged that some sermon illustrations about young women were “hurtful.” It is tragic. Still this denomination and many others exclude women in leadership in multiple ways.
In my own denomination, United Methodism, we live under our own distortions of Pentecost. Jeremy Smith has argued that “the Gay Panic” has also harmed women and equality throughout the denomination. In his most recent posting Smith outlines the ways the United Methodist Church is damaged by an inability to welcome all people. (Gay Panic Harms Women and Equality, Jeremy Smith, May 11, 2018.)
In a stunning, dispiriting outcome this past week, United Methodists learned that a constitutional amendment stating that woman and girls were to be equals in the church, narrowly failed to receive the two-thirds vote from the world-wide denomination necessary for its approval. A re-vote is scheduled due to some mistakes in the original stated language of the amendment. Still, no matter. Damage done. Patriarchy clearly asserted, riding the coattails of Gay Panic in the church. Where is Pentecost in this?
Still I confess to being a prisoner of hope. Just when I believe Pentecost has been lost or gone into permanent hiding, there are experiences that renew and restore.
As in so many other places in my life, I have discovered that I was looking for Pentecost in all the wrong places. Our nation and our churches seem to be drifting away from the SPIRIT BEING A GIFT TO EVERYONE. Still there are Pentecost tracks and genuine sightings all around. Last Sunday I saw evidences of Pentecost at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Chicago. And, I know that such signs are bubbling up in churches like Broadway United Methodist in Indianapolis and St. Marks United Methodist in Bloomington Indiana (where I worship). I see it there — almost weekly. There it is — the Spirit given to ALL.
Then today, I caught what will be an enduring glimpse of Pentecost for me. It was the dedication of two Habitat for Humanity Houses in my town. Two homes — one for Colleen and her daughter Juliana; another for Rachel. Two houses — built by women and for women. There were women crew chiefs and three-hundred-and-forty (340) local women working on these builds! These women raised the money, hammered the nails, put on the roof, painted the walls and finished these homes. They completed two homes in two weeks (take that Paige Patterson)!
I watched as the crew leaders passed the keys along a line of celebration — each one a contributor — and then to the new owners. I watched Colleen and Juliana accepted the keys to their home. They have worked hard to get to this point — their own homes, their own mortgages — after years of living it difficult, counter productive situations.
Then keys were passed to Rachel. When I heard Rachel say “I have worked hard but you women have taught me more than building, you have taught that we need each other. Hey, this is MY House but your love is in every board,” I caught a glimpse of Pentecost. It has been in hiding for me, but I might see it more clearly yet. I may even wear red on May 20, Pentecost Sunday!
I write this post on Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, the day known for Madi Gras or Carnival in many parts of the world. It is a time for play, for “letting go,” for silliness… and preparation.
Years ago, when teaching in the Republic of Panama, I discovered that in that culture at least, Carnaval lasted for days – make that weeks – with music and dancing till dawn every night and tricksters roaming the streets by day ready to smear the unsuspecting passerby with makeup or face paint. This frolicking was a counterpoint to what followed, the Lenten season. These forty days of Lent (excluding Sundays) were the days prior to Easter and were to be a season of fasting, mediation and self-denial.
As an adult, I have come to value the remarkable gift of the alternating seasons of the liturgical year, and alternating opportunities to live more fully, more deeply, into the dimensions of human experience. Over the course of every liturgical year there are seasons of celebration and times of preparation, reflection and penitence. This rotation captures the human reality — no fake news here — we humans live with the complications of joy and sorrow, sickness and health, solitude and community. At best, at our most whole and holy center, appropriate belief and value systems will reflect this alternating dynamic.
Shrove Tuesday, for our family at least, usually means pancakes and perhaps a silly mask or costume… not much more. No dancing all night or smearing with face paint. We typically eat pancakes with lots or syrup, fruit and maybe even whipped cream on top. We do this knowing that the next season will include some times of sacrifice, discipline and prayer. Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, begins a time of meditation and, perhaps, fasting and self-denial.
Some traditions speak of “giving something up for Lent.” Perhaps it is sweets that are “given up,” or not going to the movies, or giving up attending a sports event (well, not basketball in Indiana!) Perhaps some change in diet or giving up some other pleasure is practiced.
In recent years I have appreciated those who suggest that perhaps we should think about what we might ADD to our daily life patterns during Lent. Perhaps we should add some acts of kindness, charity or justice. I like it. Our pastor, Jimmy Moore, suggests this idea of adding something at Lent. Then, jokingly, he says that when growing up, he had already given up all the pleasures and excesses of life, because at the time he was a Southern Baptist and had already given up all such temptations. I laughed, and understand, because growing up in a strict conservative Methodist home, we had already given up dancing, movies, rock and roll music and, of course, smoking, alcohol and playing cards!
As Lent 2018 begins, two realities collide.
There is scripture that speaks of God’s desire for humanity and there is the proposed national budget presented today in Washington, D.C. From scriptures, think especially of Isaiah 58:1-11, where the prophet asks what sort of fast does God require of the faithful? Hear these words written hundreds of years before Jesus of Nazareth, and referenced by him in his ministry. They still carry a force for shaping the lives of believers today.
Isaiah 58:6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
Then the righteousness of the Lord will go before you;
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. [New International Version]
Ironically, tragically, these words of guidance and reminder to the faithful, read during this 2018 Lenten season, COLLIDE HEAD ON with the national budget from the White House presented TODAY! There are deep budget cuts proposed to efforts that provide food, housing and health care for the poorest among our people in the U.S. [Less than a month ago, deep tax cuts were made that benefited the richest among us.] Instead of building up our foundations, instead of seeking to strengthen our COMMONwealth here is a focus on walls, on further depleting our environment and the exclusion of those who differ.
So, what fast is required of us? We shall pray and reflect; however, this is not a season for quietism or passivity. We will need to find alternating patterns of action and prayer during Lent this year. Richard Rohr appropriately calls his ministry a “Center for Action and Contemplation.” These two emphases seem right this Lent. Perhaps this is one of the sacrifices required this Lent — to do both — act and pray. Some time normally given to meditation, may be time that will go to writing a congress person. Maybe the money saved from having no desert should go more directly to offer food to the hungry.
This Lenten season I invite you to add some act of kindness and justice to your normal routine. I invite you to daily prayer and meditation. If this is not a part of your routine — this is your opportunity.
There are many fine resources. You might subscribe to the insightful reflections of Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation CAC Daily Meditation; or, look to the Upper Room Upper Room for the daily devotionals there.
Perhaps you would wish to join some in New Harmony, Indiana on March 23 and 24 for a “Finding New Harmony” retreat (check out: www.mycalmcard.com ).
How will you observe this Lenten Season? What might you give up? What might you add?
Hoosier United Methodists Finding Our Voice: A Call and Confession of United Methodists in Indiana
Revs. Maureen Knudsen Langdoc and Bryan Langdoc recognized as new ordinands, Clergy Covenant Day, 10/25/17.
I awoke this morning with an all too familiar thought about the church in the United States. It is this: The United Methodist Church (and other denominations like it) still act as if we are the Mainline church when, in fact, we have been moved to the sidelines. Must we remain silent in the false hope that we might regain our power position in society? NO!
With a sense of lost status, we employ business models and church growth strategies as if we still haven’t learned that our best hope is to once again be the church based on the leading of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of believers in each local setting. In the process, seeking not to rock the boat, we have remained silent to the realities all around. We have become cowardly in acting to address the national fevers of fear and division that threaten our future and undermine our best selves.
Where is there hope? In many places — mostly not recognized by the “church development experts.” I see hope in our young clergy, folks like Maureen and Bryan Langdoc. I see hope in the faithful folks sitting in the pews of our local churches that are so easily overlooked because they are in the “wrong neighborhood” or are “congregations too small to make a difference.” I see hope in the older clergy, many now retired, but who continue to offer their gifts. You GO — Maureen and Bryan; You GO — younger clergy across our nation; You Go — faithful lay persons in local churches; You GO — older clergy often ready to serve but overlooked; YOU GO — HOLY SPIRIT.
If we are true to our faith and not simply believing in some set of misguided techniques and strategies, we would be saying something about the challenges to our civil society. We would let God be God and stop trying to be soft-pedalling mediators. Admitting that the Gospel calls us to give witness against fear and division, whether we are mainline or sideline, we would seek to speak Gospel truth to the meanness and irrationality perpetrated on our people. So, I asked friends to join in putting together a petition. See: Hoosier United Methodists Speak Out.
There was a memorial service for one of those good retired pastors, Rev. Frank Sablan at Broadway UMC, one of the places Frank served. At this memorial service were several of the lay and clergy persons who had joined in ministry at Broadway. We gathered for a photo and I realized the treasure that is all around but often overlooked. Good people, still sharing their gifts. Mainline or sideline it doesn’t matter.
We call on Hoosier Untied Methodists to speak out. Our church needs this witness, even more than our nation. If you are not in Indiana, we encourage you to join with others in giving voice to our true hope.
A Call and Confession of United Methodists in Indiana.
We the undersigned United Methodists speak a word of concern for our nation; and we confess that we have been silent for too long.
In our nation’s body-politic we are witnessing behaviors that are fundamentally at odds with our most basic faith expressions and creeds. A culture of fear, personal attacks, disregard for the truth and denial of scientific research now undermines our most cherished covenants as a nation and people of faith. Daily there is an assault on our deepest values of respect and human equality through administrative language, policies and practices. This language and these practices undermine our commitments to honest dialogue, equal justice, decent speech, fairness toward our neighbor and care for our earth. In the process, our nation is losing its critical role as the most important actor in favor of basic human rights around the world.
The bullying, bigotry and exclusion which seek to overwhelm our better angels, run counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our children and grandchildren are watching, and sadly, learning. How will we give Christian witness? We cannot remain silent any longer. We join Senator Jeff Flake and other men and women of courage and good will in saying “ENOUGH” of this course and destructive behavior.
We call on all of our congressional leaders, especially those in Indiana, to move toward greater civility, respect and desire for practices of justice for all upon which our nation’s greatness rests.
Almost autumn; rouge-tinged leaves hint that a soon-to-arrive-change is near. Rotund tomatoes have captured a summer filled with both promise and tragedy. It is time… to remember, to move on.
Saturday morning and a visit to our hometown Farmers’ Market. A much-needed respite, today’s early gifts.
Our overripe national drama could cause one to despair, to wonder if a return to normal can be gained, or regained.
From near and far are images of tragedy… a nursing home in Hollywood Hills, Florida, opioid overdoses down the street, a denuded Virgin Island paradise, mud, posturing politicians, mold, South Texas languishing, St. Louis marching in step with decades of accumulated grievance. Politicians preen, speak sly words and pose for photo-op-displays-of-compassion. These televised images vie for attention alongside heartless racist-tinged rhetoric.
Will our national identity be reduced to cheap reality television episodes? Are we prisoners to shallow, disjointed actions and pathetic promises? “Everyone will be happy”!? Is this reality? Fake becomes real, while the real, the true, is declared fake. Don’t lose your balance fellow pilgrims-of-hope.
Even here, especially here, there is truth… there is music, poetry and beauty. So much fine produce at the market, stacked high, even okra (mostly for my spouse) and summers-end sweet corn (mostly for me). The community band plays sweet summers-end music. Abide With Me as it tunes up for the morning. Tune to the “A.” Some things do remind one of stability. Abide…
Sweet corn, ripe tomatoes, sweet music and poetry abide. Justice will prevail. Our belief in respect and decency will survive this cruel passage. It is clear in the acts of human compassion evidenced in the places of unimaginable destruction. From St. Johns, a family shares space under their tarpaulin. One visits a nearby hospital — just a brief word, a smile and a prayer. We applaud as early response teams arrive in Texas and Florida, and ahead of them are thousands-upon-thousands of cleaning kits, (flood buckets), arriving along with a piece of our hearts.
How will we know the way? What direction and pace shall we travel? Poetry directs us beyond the limits of here and now. Friend Walter Wangerin, Jr. calls our name:
I am the World-Rim-Walker.
I tread the sheer crags
Where night and daylight
Contour one other.
So we journey ahead as Rim Walkers toward the Eternal. Between the tragedy and treat offered in the daily news cycles and our truest hope found in the dignity of human beings at their best. Here and there… we move forward.
These are our compass points. Smiles and greetings. New friends met and old friends greeted. Fresh eggs, ripe tomatoes, kale and spinach now join honey, music and poetry to point to our pathway ahead. We journey together fellow Rim Walkers.
May your late summer be filled with laughter, joy and the reminders of taken-for-granted beauty all around. Together let us continue to walk in ways that rebut and rebuke the vapid efforts to divert us from the ways of our truest hope.
*Poem The Wanderer is from “The Absolute, Relatively Inaccessible” by Walter Wangerin, Jr., Eugene, Oregon, Cascade Books, 2017.