Eternal Positioning System (EPS)

Jeremiah 31: 31-34; John 12: 20-33

One of the speakers at the conference I attended at Notre Dame was Nicholas Carr, who has written extensively on technology and the impact it is having on our lives.  Not only how we have become dependent upon it but even how it is changing the way our brains work, and not always for the better.  He had told a story about the use of the GPS which many of us, including myself, rely on daily to get us from one place to another and of course to get to that place as fast as possible with as little time wasted.  He mentioned how that system was introduced to Eskimos in the Arctic Circle who have remained on that land for centuries.  As the Arctic Circle changes with climate change and ice melts, it was thought that this would be a great benefit to them in navigating the changing terrain.

However, over the course of time it became apparent that it had become more of a hindrance.  Whereas for centuries they had trusted that internal voice and their instinct to get them from one place or another they began listening to another voice and over time people began to die!  They were literally falling into the icy waters because they began to listen to a false voice and depending on that voice rather than trusting from within and so they eliminated the use of the GPS in order to save themselves.

That is true of all of us, not just because of GPS but because of our culture and society in which we live.  We begin to trust every other voice, and often being deceived, other than the voice within.  That is the shift that Jeremiah calls forth for the House of Israel who we hear of in today’s first reading.  Jeremiah tries to make the point that this experience of exile in which they find themselves is not necessarily a bad thing.  It may feel that way and they may feel lost and abandoned, but it’s a time to learn to trust that voice within to lead you and navigate you through the difficult of times.  It’s no longer going to be as he says, a God “who took them by the hand” but rather will “place the law within them and write it upon their hearts”.  That’s the real change that is necessary for Israel, and quite frankly, for all of us as well.  The eternal that was first given to man in the beginning is once again being given to trust and the more they listen and trust that voice, the more they are led forward in life and out of this experience of exile.  From the beginning God has placed the eternal GPS within and yet we doubt, we question, we become deceived by the other voices that demand our attention and even convince us that that’s not of God.  Jeremiah reminds us, that’s precisely what leads you to the experience of exile and as crazy as it seems, what will lead you out.  The false promise is exposed for what it is and the real promise is revealed again.

The same is true for the disciples and all who now enter into these tumultuous times in John’s Gospel.  John is well aware of the lie and deceit that people are led to believe and the false promise that it entails.  It sets up this climactic chapter, following the raising of Lazarus, will now lead to the demise of it all.  From this point on everything begins to fall apart for the disciples and they are going to be left with the same choice as Israel, their forefathers, as to the voice in which they will trust and there will be many competing narratives the next two weeks and most of which will come from the place of fear and control.  They’ll hear from Pilate, the religious authorities who very authority is being threatened along with the political rank, gathering the crowds around fear of the truth in Jesus.  What began in the beginning in Genesis when Adam and Eve give credence to the wrong voice, the father of lies, will now come to a head with the eternal Christ.  They have convinced themselves that this cannot possibly be God, and yet, for John, in the mouth of Jesus, reminds us today that it all has to fall away into the depths of the earth in order for new life to come forth.  The events that will unfold, now that the hour has come for Jesus’ purpose, will not only reveal the truth of this God of love but will expose the lie from the beginning and not only the disciples but each of us will be left with that same choice as to which voice to believe and to trust.  The one that promises an absolute quick fix to our problems, the avoidance of suffering, the false promise of a better life or the one that leads to what we too desired from the beginning, the gift of the eternal life here and now and in the age to come.

These next two weeks will provide great opportunity for reflection in our lives and the tumultuous experiences that we often face as well in times of trial and darkness.  It is, though, in the darkened earth that the seed takes root and begins to bear much fruit.  Lies and deceit seem to become a way of life, exposing all of us to confusing and throwing our GPS out of service, leaving us wandering and like Israel, in exile.  Yet, the voices are hard to deny.  They seem so right.  Yet, they begin to drown out the truth and the eternal navigational tool within that tries to lead us through.  These weeks demand of us silence and listening hearts in order to tune back into the voice of the eternal within our hearts.  No one is there to take us by the hand and make the choice for us for we have been given what is necessary.  It’s a matter of once again being called to trust and believe not only that redemption is at hand, but that the one who is the way, the truth, and the life, continues to guarantee the eternal promise that unites the divine within to the eternal, leading us to everlasting life.


Anxious Hearts

Deut 18: 15-20; I Cor 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

This is now the second or third week that Paul has addressed the community of Corinth on anxiety.  Of course, it’s something that remains prevalent in our own culture.  I’m sure there are many here that take medication for it to be able to cope.  Not that doesn’t help many, but it never allows us to get to the heart of the fear and anxiety that Paul speaks of because really the heart of anxiety is fear.  In our day, though, it’s only been magnified by the use of internet and social media and most definitely the 24/7 news cycle that just seems to bombard us at every waking moment about negativity and fear that only feeds into our own “unclean spirits” as Jesus speaks of rather than trusting the true voice of authority in Christ.

It must have been an issue that the community was aware of that they were willing to write it as a question for Paul in their correspondence.  Now it’s easy to get hung up on how Paul tackles this issues with married men, women, virgins, and the works, but we’d miss the point and once again avoid the deeper lying issue in the community and our own lives.  Getting hung up on the relational way or commitment way Paul handles it only become divisive and leads to greater anxiety.  First and foremost is this need to please.  He speaks of husbands trying to please their wives and wives trying to please their husbands and single people trying to please the Lord, but for Paul, it has nothing to with that.  It’s not about pleasing anyone else, our spouse, our boss, and institution or anything.  First and foremost, as he concludes today, it’s about conforming to Christ.  It’s learning to trust that deeper voice that leads to a greater sense of love and peace.  The challenge is, is that it tends to be the quieter of the voices, a hush from the Lord that tends to be overtaken by the noise around us, just as it was for the community of Corinth.

The irony is, they know the voice of the Christ but the more they are bombarded by the noise, fear, anger, and such, the more they begin to believe that’s the voice of authority only feeding in more to the unclean spirits within us.  We all have them and they love to be fed by anything that is going to feed them the lie that we’re something less than we are.  That’s not the prophetic voice that we hear of in today’s readings.  As a matter of fact, Paul will go onto say that that’s nothing but clashing cymbals and such, simply noise that comes from no greater depth.  I could only imagine what Paul would think today in the face of so much negative chatter, noise capturing our attentions, pulling us away from our truest selves, our deepest selves, the voice of authority in Christ that remains and yet often suffocated by the outside world.  It’s what this community of Corinth faced in trying to conform to the culture rather than to the Christ.

Even in today’s first reading, though, we hear of Moses speak of the prophetic voice that is to be raised up, which is more often than not how it happens, it has to rise up from deep within us.  It’s a lot of work, which makes medication and coping the easier answer.  For the community that Moses speaks to today it’s more about trusting fortunetellers and soothsayers that precedes this reading we hear.  They’re looking for guidance and direction from beyond themselves, and like Corinth, often succumb to the fear of believing.  The path to the prophetic voice takes a great deal of patience, and Moses will go onto say, a learning of how to discern these voices that work in our lives and recognize the voices that lead us to further fear and anxiety and learn to turn them off.  They are loud and unruly, often appealing to the worst of our instincts to react to everything that comes our way.  The prophetic voice requires that will rise up as Moses speaks requires silence and the space in order for that voice to grow.

We are only a week out from the disciples being called in Mark’s gospel and today they’re already thrown into the muck of it all.  As much as Mark’s focus is getting them to Jerusalem and the reality of the cross, Jerusalem has a way of finding them on the way.  Here they are, first stop, and it’s the Sabbath and they’re in the synagogue and Jesus is going to dispel the unclean spirits.  This whole process of following for these would-be disciples is about learning to trust the voice of the Christ in the midst of Jerusalem after Jerusalem.  Just like the people of Corinth they’ll slip into that fear and anxiety.  They’ll have to face the controversy of the religious and political authorities that feed on that fear and will try to appeal to their worst instincts, trying to pull them away from the Christ out of fearing rejection.  That need to please will leave them with, as Paul tells us, a divided heart which only leads to greater anxiety.  If it’s the prophetic voice, that voice of authority, it will continue to rise up until it is acknowledged and followed.  It’s what will see them through some of the most difficult times of their lives when Jerusalem is faced head on by the disciples and each of us.

We aren’t much different than these communities.  We’ve allowed the clashing cymbals to be the so-called prophetic voices in our lives, rooted in fear and insecurity.  We want things instantly and love to react to it all, especially the unclean spirits of our day and the amount of negativity that bombards us day in and day out that over time drowns out the voice of truth, love, peace.  It doesn’t mean that it’s easy or we’re naïve about the realities of the world, but the voice of authority, the voice of the Christ, the eternal, leads us to the deeper place, beyond the differences and divisiveness of our day.  Paul knows by experience, as does Moses.  It’s the journey we must be willing to take, to learn to discern the unclean spirits of our own lives that we’ve taken for granted and learned to trust.  They tend to have all the answers and try to convince us that we’re right and often unworthy.  The voice of God, though, is always breaking through, rising up, trying to remind us who we really are.  It’s that voice, and only that voice, that will take away our fear and anxiety and lead us to the fuller life we desire, a life of peace and a deeper awareness of God’s love.

Intimately Beyond

Isaiah 60: 1-6; Matthew 2: 1-12

We come to the final Sunday of the Christmas season and it gets bookended with Matthew’s version of the birth of Christ with the visit of the Magi and the star guiding their way.  Of course, even here we lump them all together to create our very own Charlie Brown Christmas but certainly not the intention of either Matthew or Luke, each having their own reasons as to why the story is told.  I’ve said before that Matthew is very much about change and an interior change that is necessary to be a follower and so there’s very little need to historical evidence of these events but very much when it comes to our spiritual life.

It is the rising of the stars appearance that sets these Magi on this journey to Bethlehem.  Many over the years have tried to give historical evidence even of the star, whether it’s a comet or something, but again, not Matthew’s point.  If we want evidence, facts, or certainty we’ve come to the wrong place.  It was common belief that everyone was given a star by these astrologers upon their birth into this world.  Yet something had to be different about this one that would set the astrologers on such an arduous journey themselves.  It’s rising must have set off an unrest within them that would send them seeking and now stand as the archetypal images of seeking of the more.  Not the more the world tries to offer but the seeking of the Christ that forces us to our knees in homage.  So they set out in search of the rising star.  A star that stands as a guiding principle, a seat of wisdom, of sorts that lies deep within them and yet still unknown.

There is another word we use often in our language that has star at its root.  The word we use is disaster, dis-star, meaning separated from one’s internal guide.  We even speak of our lives or such as a disaster when we feel out of sorts or feeling lost and confused.  Which leads us to the first stop of the Magi, Jerusalem, where they encounter disaster first hand in Herod.  Herod considers himself the center of the world and yet is filled with fear and paranoia when he hears of this rising star coming to the world stage.  Not only Herod, but all of Jerusalem with him, Matthew tells us.  Now certainly they knew what Herod was capable of and would see first hand his destruction and just how much of a disaster he was.  This rising star, not only a threat to Herod’s perceived power but very much to the status quo.  Even though this peace was rooted in fear it’s what they knew and what they could cling to.  They were certain of at least that.

The Magi quickly learn that Jerusalem in not the place of the Christ.  It’s going to be an opportunity for these journeymen to let go of their own perceived idea of the power they sought was not going to come from worldly position.  The most obvious place was the palace in Jerusalem and yet all they find there in the midst of wealth and status was fear, jealousy, secrets, and a guy who was most consumed by himself and the power he acquired through position than in seeking.  Herod himself stands as an archetype of the non-seeker, believing that authority comes from him and external authority.  He thinks it’s enough to send the Magi further to do the work for him.  Yet, as a writer who calls for interior change, Matthew understands that the work is done by ourselves.  We must make the journey ourselves while passing through the doors of death in Jerusalem, just as Jesus does as well.  Matthew mirrors Jesus’ own journey by passing through Jerusalem in order to experience the fullness of life that is promised. 

This all leads to the second journey, the journey into Bethlehem.  Notice that it appears in the writing of the gospel that the star seems to dissipate over Jerusalem and reappears as they begin the second journey.  Now having been stripped of their own expectations, the Magi open themselves and create the space within themselves to encounter the divine.  When they find their true home, not in some palace, but in the poverty of Bethlehem, everything begins to make sense.  They recognize that what they have sought they had all along and simply cast a shadow upon Herod and the status quo.  It was simply revealed to them who Herod really was and the emptiness of his supposed power, holding people hostage in fear and settling for the status quo. 

Mary and Joseph, in Matthew’s gospel are not exempt from making a similar journey.  They too will follow and be led by the rising star into Egypt.  They, and all of Israel, are invited to face their own history.  Egypt stood for everything Herod was, despite being a religious leader.  Egypt was the place of slavery, war, and fear for Israel.  Matthew calls them collectively to take this journey that the Magi do to shed light and to cast a shadow on where it is that they need to change and where they still cling to fear.  Like the infant passing through, the Magi passing through Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph passing through Egypt, and ultimately Jesus passing through Jerusalem, there’s no way around.  The journey to a fuller and free life is through our own Jerusalem.

The journey Matthew calls us to and the encounter with the Christ is a difficult one and arduous at best.  It’s long and it takes us to places we’d often rather not go.  No one wants to admit that we at times clamor for power, fear and are anxious, content with the status quo, want proof and certainty, and yet, everything about this feast and season tells us just the opposite of who we have been created to be.  Like Herod, no one else can do it for us.  Heck, we’re even content with living a disastrous life and settling for it in our Church, city, nation, and world.  It’s what we know and can be sure of, but lacks meaning and purpose and certainly shows how separated we’ve become from our own center.  Our faith and what we celebrate in this season points to freedom and liberation, more often than not, from ourselves.  Letting go of our own expectations, being led to the belly of the beast, and yet pushed even further to encounter what is real.  And in a moment, in a simple encounter, everything makes sense.  The Magi could not go home by the same route just as we cannot when we have this encounter with the Christ.  In that encounter the Magi see, for the first time, the real presence, and finally understand that the Christ has been with them all along this journey, when the divine of within encounters the divine beyond.

As we enter into the fullness of this season and begin to tell the story of how this gift is manifested, we pray for the grace to make the journey.  No one can do it for you and no one can tell you how to get there.  Everyone knows their Jerusalem and their Egypt that they need to encounter.  Slowly, the eternal Christ within begins to reveal what is real and the deeper truth of our own lives.  It takes courage and great grace.  But like the Magi, in our own unsettledness, we’re pushed forward and through so that we to can live the fullness of life.  Matthew desired something more from and for his community after witnessing the horrors of the world.  Our desire is the same.  The Magi point the way into our own Bethlehem, into the vulnerability of a heart that throbs and overflows with union.  When we allow ourselves the opportunity to make the journey we become transformed, liberated from a past that holds us back and clouds our vision in order to be led to a deeper understanding of this mystery that lead us to simply do as the Magi, to fall on our knees in homage recognizing that it was never about us but the Christ that calls us forth to new life.


Silent Presence

Genesis 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3; Hebrews 11: 8-19; Luke 2: 22-40

On this Feast of the Holy Family you’d think we’d hear something from one of them and yet nothing.  Maybe a commercial as to what it’s like to raise this child.  Or maybe some advice when it comes to the woes of being a parent in their day.  There is plenty that they could tell us about what it means to be holy in one way or another and yet nothing.  It seems as if everyone does the talking for them.  But maybe that’s the point and that’s their simple message not only to parents but also to all of us gathered here this day is to simply be silent.  All they could do as they listen and see all that is going on around them, like any new parent, it be present to the moment and try to take it all in as mystery unfolds around and within them.  Their lesson is simply to find that silence and be present to the moment, to presence, to the mystery that has consumed their lives. 

They encounter in this moment today, in the midst of their silence, these great wisdom figures who only appear at this one time and yet have waited patiently for this one singular moment.  Simeon and Anna are not there to tell them what this child is going to do or tell them how the plan is going to unfold and all the expectations that Mary and Joseph should consider.  They’re not their to give advice at all.  What they do, though, is point Mary and Joseph to what is being revealed.  It’s not going to be Mary and Joseph that define who the Christ is going to be.  Rather, the Christ is going to define who they are as parents, just as the eternal Christ has done for Simeon and Anna, illuminating before their eyes a vision of the heartache of letting go of their own self-absorption and their own plan while experiencing the joy of learning to trust and grow in this sense of freedom that comes with faith.  They, Mary and Joseph, now stand on the shoulders of their ancestors, such as Abraham and Sarah, and all they can do is stand in wonder, in silence, and be present by the overwhelming mystery before their very eyes and yet snuggled deep in their hearts.  Their lives are forever changed by this mystery and yet they can present this child knowing full well that they don’t gather alone, but rather in faith with their ancestors who have pointed the way to and for them.

Abraham and Sarah are two who have pointed the way for Mary and Joseph and we hear their own vision in today’s first reading from Genesis and coupled with the Letter to the Hebrews.  I think one of the most important things to take away from this first reading is to know that there are six chapters missing in between the first part of the reading with the vision given to Abram and then the fulfillment of the promise at the end with Sarah giving birth to Isaac.  Life happens in between.  Abraham and Sarah doubt, they question, Abraham tries to fulfill his own idea of the promise, their skeptical, they laugh at God, all this taking place for that child is born.  They too feel they are doing it alone.  They got to figure it out on their own.  Yet, it’s not until they begin to stand on the shoulders of their ancestors can they begin to learn to let go and surrender, to be liberated from their own self-absorption and to be open to seeing God and God’s plan through a different lens.  They too needed to learn to silence their own idea before they can be open to giving birth to a new way of life.  It takes them their entire lives before they can move to such a place.  Those six chapters are crucial to finding their way to the promise and to be able to finally stand in awe and wonder and the mystery unfolding and being birthed in their own lives.  Abraham and Sarah become the wisdom figures with Simeon and Anna that we now stand upon to point us to the way of faith.  In an age where doubt, fear, skepticism are what we put our faith in, these giants point us in a different direction and ask us where our faith lies, even if it means an encounter with the sword that pierces.  The Christ not only illumines who we really are but also points to where we are not and where we still, like Abraham and Sarah, need to learn how to trust, surrender, and grow in faith.

Hebrews spells it out so beautifully in this second reading today.  It would be worth your while to go back and read it in its entirety.  It’s not just Abraham and Sarah, the writer goes through salvation history and how this mystery has unfolded in all of God’s creation. Our ancestors aren’t there to tell us how to live and to give us advice.  No, they’re there to point the way and nothing more or less.  They point the way to mystery, to beyond our doubts and fears, and to stand with us when we go astray, in order to point again back to mystery, back to the Christ child born in us this day.  The reading from Hebrews shows not perfect people; none of us are.  Mary and Joseph doubted themselves as well.  However, they show us in faith what can happen in and with our lives when we learn to trust, step back, and simply stand in awe and wonder of the mystery unfolding in our lives.  It seems as if everyone else knows what Mary and Joseph already believe in their hearts.  The shepherds knew it.  The animals knew it.  All of creation has known it.  And now revealed in the flesh.

Mary and Joseph and the Feast of the Holy Family isn’t here to tell us how to raise our kids.  They’re not here to give advice.  They’re not here to tell us how great our kids are and all that they should do.  That only feeds into our own self-absorption and thinking that our kids are really ours in the first place.  No, like the ancestors that have gone before, we stand on their shoulders as they point the way to a still more perfect way of faith and trust.  Thing will never go the way we plan and will never unfold the way we want it.  That’s simply our own way.  Our ancestors in faith remind us to live life, doubt at times, but always surrender to someone and something bigger than ourselves, the Christ.  The more we can learn to stand in wonder and awe before this mystery that is so enormous and yet intimate at the same time, the more we learn to surrender and to be liberated from our own idea of who this God is, thinking we know, and simply chuckle like Abraham and Sarah that once again God has proved me wrong and in that moment, do as Mary and Joseph, simply be silent and be present to the presence being illuminated before and within.  Maybe on this Feast of the Holy Family it’s the best advice they can ever give.


A Liberated Critic

Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; 2Peter 3: 8-14; Mark 1: 1-8

The Advent Season raises up this rather peculiar character this week and next, John the Baptist.  He really is one of the more complex characters we encounter.  There is this rather hipster vibe that he portrays by what he wears and eats and just wandering out in the wild, the desert.  Yet, at the same time, he comes off as this rather fire and brimstone kind of guy, together just making him complex and very much a paradox to himself.  He is one of the great prophets, along with Isaiah, whom we hear from this season, pointing us, often, right into the desert.

The one thing about the Baptist, though, is that there is a sense of freedom and liberation about him.  In these very brief encounters, despite his strong words, it comes from a place within.  He even mentions today that one mightier than I is to come and he shows that in his words and actions.  He remains grounded as a prophet in the eternal Christ, giving him the freedom and integrity to be who he is, despite the hesitation of the leaders towards him at that time.  In John’s Gospel he’ll go onto say that I must decrease and he must increase, in reference to the Christ. 

We all have that prophetic voice within but all too often it becomes separated from the Christ leading more to a rather self-critical voice instead.  We all know what that’s like and have seen it in ourselves and others when it’s more about criticizing but not coming from a deeper place.  It is part of Israel’s storied history as it is ours.  If they are consistent with anything it’s separating themselves from the Eternal and they end up becoming their own worst enemy.  Here they are, again, moving out of Exile, a second exodus for Israel, and they quickly begin to return to their old ways.  They resort to their own critical voice and despite being led from exile remain far from free nor liberated from what it had done to them.  They become the source of discrimination, war, and oppression, clinging to an institutionalized god who no longer serves.  As a matter of fact, when we cling to the critical thoughts that aren’t grounded in the Christ, they begin to strangle the divine and squelch the voice of the Spirit working within.  Israel remains symbolic of our own story as individuals and nation.

Then there is the Baptist.  As I said, a rather peculiar fellow that we encounter and yet often feared by the religious and political leaders because of this liberating element to him.  More often than not they don’t like what he has to say.  They become his greatest critics, and as we know, eventually leads to his beheading.  Even that becomes symbolic of cutting off that place where so many of the self-critical thoughts come from.  That wasn’t the case with the Baptist though.  It’s what they never understood about him.  His prophetic voice wasn’t coming simply from some heady place.  It was coming from deep within his very foundation.  What appeared to them as fearful thoughts was actually the eternal working through the Baptist from deep within his heart and soul.  That’s the freedom and liberation that this complex character exemplified.  For John, this message of repentance, of totally turning around and looking at life differently, being grounded in the eternal is what it’s all about.  John never forgot his own place and it wasn’t the Christ.  One mightier than I is to come.  I must decrease and he must increase.  It’s the mantra of the season.

And so we have these two great prophets pointing the way to freedom and a deeper way of life, an about-face to be liberated for the eternal.  The avenue to that freedom, though, is through the desert.  Isaiah tells us “In the desert prepare the way”.  Other than when he’s jailed all we know of the Baptist is through this desert experience.  Many throughout our history have physically gone to the desert to experience the wildness of their own hearts and souls, to see what they were already feeling within.  Maybe that’s why so many are drawn to the Baptist at that time.  It becomes symbolic of the soul’s journey for so many in Scripture, the vast, wide, emptiness that we often fear becomes the place of transformation, freedom, awareness of our own critical voice and liberation from within.  Our lives and the about face is from being led from the external world to the interior world which holds the eternal.  This is what makes Isaiah and the Baptist who they are.  It’s what separates them, so often, from activists even of our own day.  It comes from the depths of their souls and they know it as truth, as the eternal.

Peter reminds us in the second reading today, thankfully, that God remains patient with us through this process of transformation.  The more the eternal is freed up from the strangle of the critical and we become aware that the critical is not God, the more we begin to experience not the institutionalized god we have come to know but rather the God of mystery and freedom, and true freedom at that.  Like Israel we can say we’re free all we want but if we’re still holding on from within we haven’t experienced the divine in that way.  Peter reminds us that what is not of God will all be dissolved anyway so why not open ourselves up to mystery and to the unknown God.  Be eager for peace.

As we continue this Advent journey and encounter these redeemed prophetic voices of Isaiah and the Baptist, we pray for the awareness in our own lives of that critical voice that is still in need of being liberated.  God desires so much more for each of us and yet we tend to settle for much less.  When we move from being led by that critical voice to being led by and with love, our lives are changed forever.  We, like the Baptist, are complex creatures often in need of love and redemption more than anything.  This season we’re invited into the desert of our own souls, with a very patient God, where a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day, to experience our lives and how we see ourselves and the world in a very different way.  No longer grounded in criticism, control, and fear, the institutionalized gods we create in our lives, but rather the God of love, freedom, and liberation, pointed to us by the Baptist himself.


Foolish Wisdom

Wisdom 6: 12-16; I Thess 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13

I don’t need to convince anyone here that we live in rather hostile times. How else do you describe what we witnessed this past week in the church shooting in Texas when someone feels they can just walk in and obliterate people. Or even here in Baltimore. We’re not even at the end of the year and the death toll due to violence has exceeded 300. It’s hard to comprehend. There also seems to be an increase in stories of accusations of assault against people. That’s just the actions of people. It doesn’t take into account the hostility we experience with the vile that often comes out of mouths and plastered on social media and other outlets. How can any of us deny this surge in hostility. It seems and feels as if there is this great upheaval taking place in politics, Church, and other facets of our lives that it seems to feed into that hostility. As much as we want to seek this sense of permanence and cling to it, there just isn’t other than what we seem to fear the most, death.
Matthew’s community which we’ve heard from all year was not much different. The reasons for such hostility may or may not have been different but he consistently worried about the community and whether it would survive. There were strong divisions between Jews, the Messianic Jews, who would go on to become Christians, as well as pagan and more secular people, all of which felt that they held the mantle of truth and found ways to hold it over the others. Matthew consistently tries to move the community to this deeper reality of who they are and despite differences in beliefs, way of life, knowledge, or anything else, there is something that binds them all. But when they and we get caught up in our tribes, our way of thinking, thinking we hold this mantle of truth and complete knowledge, hostility arises and there is less and less space for others, and quite frankly, the Other.
In these final three weeks of the liturgical year Matthew will once again make this push to this deeper reality by the telling of parables. We hear the parable of the virgins this week, followed by the talents, and climaxing with the sheep and goats on the final Sunday. Today, though, is this parable that appears to be filled with contradictions. There are these so-called wise virgins who appear on the surface to be given some kind of reward for their presence. However, their actions don’t speak great volumes in terms of wisdom. No sooner it is announced that the bridegroom is arriving, the foolish virgins seek help from the wise virgins, and yet, they want nothing to do with them. They shut them off and only worry about themselves rather than help the one in need. Go buy your own stuff and worry about yourself they are told. They go about their business only to lock the door behind them as they enter the party only to shut themselves off as some form of protection from the outside elements. It doesn’t sound like great wisdom.
But remember, this is how they envisioned God and now Jesus plays on words and uses stories to point out what they miss. The only other image that sounds so stark in Scripture is the closing of the tomb, death, cutting off from everyone else. Yet, there they were. Like today, it’s about insiders outsiders, the better than and less than, who holds the mantle and who doesn’t, who’s wise and who’s a fool. Yet, in the process, the parable reveals something about them and their own understanding of God and themselves. In the seeking of wisdom, one must first learn to embrace death and a reality and a part of who we are. It is in letting go that we begin to realize that maybe the best any of us can do is accept the fact that I may have some wisdom but I could be a damn fool all at the same time, ready and yet not ready. Like the parable, we tend to be filled with such contradictions. But for the Pharisees and their understanding of God, it was all about how it appeared and if we don’t move to that deeper reality we never really see that I am both wise and foolish, living and dying with each passing breath.
We hear in that first reading today from Wisdom that our lives are about seeking that gift of wisdom and the eternal. As a matter of fact, seeking wisdom leads us to the eternal. When we feel we carry this mantle of truth and certainty, there’s not much room for wisdom and for that matter, the other. Wisdom, and our ability to let go, leads us from a life of hostility to a life of hospitality, where we have space for the other, and quite frankly, we’re free to be ourselves. There is great wisdom in accepting that I am not all-knowing and I don’t carry the mantle of truth because it frees me to be myself and unlike the Pharisees, don’t feel the need to try to be someone other than I really am, both wise and foolish all at the same time.
Quite frankly, there is some wisdom found even in the foolish virgins if we’re willing to look a little deeper. They come empty, with nothing holding them back. They ask for help when needed, even in despair. Yet, they find themselves rejected, but not rejected by God but by who they thought God was, the Pharisee who felt it was their duty to guard the door and judge who comes and who doesn’t. So they’re not rejected by God but rather by us. We will hear this now these next weeks in our own seeking of wisdom and learning to let go of these images of God that no longer work in our lives and hinder us from going deeper in our lives. The hostility that arises with Jesus isn’t because of lack of knowledge or wisdom. He certainly proves himself in that way. The hostility comes when he shows hospitality to the excluded, the outsiders, the foolish ones as they were known. Jesus shows us a God who has space for both the wise and the fool.
As we make this journey together, as Paul reminds us today, we seek that wisdom, the eternal, that frees us to be who we are, often contradictory in our own lives and yet still loved by God. When we can begin to accept that about ourselves we become less hostile towards others, learn to respond with love, and honestly, become even more dangerous in such a hostile world because we are set free to love as God loves, the wise and the fool. Quite frankly, it’s all we can really ask for in this life. We pray for the grace to accept and to be aware of this deeper reality in our own lives, that we are both wise and fool, ready and not ready, open and closed, all at the same time. And yet, infinitely still loved by God in our fullness.



Illusionary Violence

Shortly after the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I received an email asking if we, as a parish, are prepared if something like this were ever to happen.  Now first, I’m not sure anything can prepare you for something like this, other than possibly a sniper attack in a war zone or consistent trauma in your life; but secondly, I’m not convinced I want to be prepared for something like that.  I can certainly understand, from a logical and rational point of view, but it also feels, as someone who is supposed to trust deeply in this higher being we call God, that it’s giving into fear, which is antithetical to the consistent message of Jesus in the gospel proclaimed every Sunday not to fear.

Safety and Security may be the two greatest illusions we hold onto and quickly buy into when we react to horrific acts like this.  Our immediate response is more guns or at times, build walls, anything that’s going to give us the false sense of security that we desire to make us feel safe.  We pad ourselves in whatever way possible, building a fortress in order to appeal to what our eyes can see, “I’m safe now”, but deep down, in the unseen, the heart of the matter continues to exist.  It never quite strikes at the deepest fear we cling to, which is death, but in those moments our automatic response is to consume more of what we know rather than sit with the unknown reality that all who are hurting are left with in their lives.  The consistent underlying message when giving into fear is that I will do everything possible to avoid what really could have been me.  It very well could have been me or anyone else sitting in that church on Sunday or a movie theater or a classroom or at a concert or whatever the next setting will be, knowing full well that there, unfortunately, will be another, and each time it is me.

More often than I’d like, including less than a month ago, I have written on this blog the continuous struggle with violence that we witness and perpetrate in our lives.  Violence goes beyond the horrific acts of gun violence as well as other means that we have all too often witnessed in this country, a consistent reminder that there’s a problem.  More often than not, though, we’ve bought into the culture of violence, through our words and actions.  These men, and yes, it is consistently men as well, are a mere microcosm of the deeper issue that continues to spread throughout the country.  We consume it daily through news outlets and social media and many times spread it ourselves.  We consume it in our conversations, in our gossip, in our lack of respect for human life and all creation.  The simple reaction to our problems is to blame and invoke violence against the other, feeding into the death of the soul of a nation, bankrupted of any moral standing, putting guns, walls, drugs, things, before the very dignity of the very person that is most impacted.

Now I’m not one to necessarily always buy into the understanding that we are all divided.  Unfortunately, division sells and sells big.  Fear is such a deeply rooted reality in our hearts and souls that we appear attracted to it and drawn into it consistently, quickly buying into any fix as to take away the eternal pain of separation while building up a false narrative of the kingdom.  Our problem, as consumers, is that over time we’re lulled into believing it all, even if we know deep down that things aren’t right.  In our own infatuation of the illusion of safety and security we will find a way to cling to anything that is known and certain, often to avoid the fear that only continues to grow exponentially, leaving us in a frenzy.  It happens in us as individuals but collectively as a country as well, mindful that that illusion was shattered in this country after the events of 9/11.  Since then, violence has spiraled, divisions have been set in place, even if they are illusions, extremes have positioned themselves, all feeding into this fear while the rest of the world watches and waits, looking from a place a part from us, understanding our hurt and pain in a way we know not and seem to refuse to look at and consistently find ways to avoid.  We have grown a part from ourselves and each other, now leaving us with more violence than our hearts are often able to bear.

I honestly cannot imagine what it was like in that church on Sunday and maybe I don’t want to either.  My guess is it started like any other Sunday, people catching up with one another, asking about family and friends who may be sick, the small chit-chat that happens on a typical Sunday morning.  There were no thoughts of feeling unsafe, no thoughts of what separates and divides people.  They were a community that gathered under a common purpose and with God at the forefront.  In an instant, lives were changed forever and many eternally.  It wasn’t long after that the predicted responses would begin and hurting lives would once again be turned into politics and more violence, separating and dividing.  We hear about guns don’t kill people, good people need guns, if the government makes any changes they’ll take away all our guns, as we know best, it’s all or nothing, benefiting corporations, feeding a consumer culture rooted in fear, safety and security.  We react and lives are left shattered in the process.

I have no answer even though it seems like I write about this so regularly anymore.  I’m not sure there really are answers when we don’t even know the right questions to ask.  Conversations are directed from backstage, inciting fear, and without even thinking, we give into it so quickly, again, believing what we are told and so often afraid to go to the depths of our own being to evaluate what’s most important to us.  We will never have the safety and security that we think or believe we should have.  It’s a mere illusion and an illusion that is fed by a consumer culture.  More than anything, we need to learn to have a patient trust in the slow workings of God in our lives. 

There is so much healing that needs to happen in our lives, not just the hundreds whose lives have been shattered by traumatic violence that goes beyond the city, but each of us who find blaming the other individual or group for our problems, throwing tantrums in trying to get our way.  Not only do we need healing but we need to grow up and accept responsibility for ourselves and each other.  We do this not by continuously buying into these illusions that feed our own fears, but in learning to embrace the paradox and mystery of life and death.  Our lives are not comprised of only half the mystery, the half we like while living in fear of the other.  Rather, with each passing breath in every given moment a gift is being given to live, but at the same time to let go and trust in the unseen power of God.  For all who have faced such trauma and are reeling in the grief of loss while they still cling to life, it’s all they have, and quite frankly, it’s all any of us really have.