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Showing posts from August, 2016

What Can Anyone Do to Me?

This morning’s epistle reading contains an intriguing question, “What can anyone do to me?” The context makes it obvious that the author refers only to bad things. My immediate reaction to the phrase was a single word, “Plenty!” Although criminals have never violated my person, I have had my house robbed and my car totaled when someone rear-ended mine after I had stopped at a red light. Everyone at least occasionally suffers unfair criticism by others. Illustratively, I once had a parishioner, upset with my insistence on complying with Navy and Marine Corps regulations governing Chapel funds, inform me that I was doing the devil's work when I refused to permit the continued expenditure of funds in good, but explicitly prohibited ways. Reports of financial scams and identity theft are a media staple. One of the enduring harms with which many people now  live as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is an exaggerated sense of vulnerability. Is this morning’s epistle lesson wrong i…

Will you choose health or disability?

The Ugly American, a 1958 novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, tells the story of an American engineer, Homer Atkins – a man with an ugly face – whom the military sent to Vietnam to build dams and roads. Homer's wife, Emma, accompanied him to Vietnam. She became curious that every woman over sixty in the village where the Atkins lived had a bent back. Then she noticed that after the monsoon season, older people using a broom with a short handle inevitably swept the debris from the streets. Since wood for longer handles cost too must, Emma found a long-stalked reed and planted shoots from this reed by her door. She tended these reeds carefully. One day when neighbors were in her house she cut a tall reed, bound coconut fronds to it and began to sweep with her back straight. When her guests questioned her about the reed, she told them where it grew. Four years later, after Emma and Homer had returned home to Pittsburgh, they received a letter from the village headman thankin…

Digging for bedrock

Morton Kelsey was an Episcopal priest, Jungian therapist, prolific author, and professor at the University of Notre Dame. In perhaps his best-known book, The Other Side of Silence, he summarized his experiences working with Notre Dame students When [students] first came in to talk, it would be about some book or idea. If I passed muster in that situation, then in another hour of listening and talking I might hear about problems with parents or a brother, or in the dormitory; their sense of loneliness and isolation and problems of identity. And after that test I might then be admitted to a room full of sexual fears and tales of sexual peccadillos, some not so minor. But there was still another level of sharing which I found only when they were quite convinced that I would not doubt or ridicule or pressure. It was then I was admitted to their religious experience, their sense of the presence of God, their feeling of closeness and desire to serve and know Him better. (p. 16)
As Kelsey e…

Discerning God's activity in the midst of conflict

In today's gospel reading,[1] Jesus, the Prince of Peace, surprisingly declares that he did not come to bring peace on earth but division and, by inference, conflict. He then challenged his hearers to interpret the signs of the times. Palestinian peasants predicted the weather by reading the sky. Clouds rising in the west over the Mediterranean meant rain. A southerly wind indicated scorching heat would arrive from the Arabian Desert. Jesus spoke plainly: “You hypocrites! You claim to put God at the center of your lives. Yet your emphasis is on the things of this world and not the Kingdom of God. You do not know how to read the signs of the times to understand what God is doing in your midst.” His words haunt us twenty centuries later. We claim to be religious, spiritual people. Yet, do we see God acting in our midst? Can we identify what God is doing in the world today? This morning, I want us to discern the signs of the times in both national events and the life of Holy Nativit…

Changed from nomads into pilgrims

Karen Armstrong has authored several bestsellers on comparative religion. Raised a Roman Catholic, in 1960 she became a nun at eighteen and remained in a convent seven years. She left her order and the Roman Catholic Church convinced she was an agnostic if not an atheist. Over the next several decades, she felt lost, unsure of what to do with her life. She tried broadcasting and teaching, but neither was a good fit. Then she decided to write a book about God and religion. The decision seemed ill timed and ill advised. Secularism was elbowing faith of all flavors aside. And who was she, an ex-nun and unbeliever, to write about God? Yet the decision felt right, so she persevered. Her first bestseller, A History of God, led to more bestsellers. With each book, Armstrong moved toward a deeper and more mystical understanding of God. Her autobiography, The Spiral Staircase, is appropriately subtitled, My Climb Out of Darkness.[1] Her struggles taught her three great spiritual principles th…

Losing the need for greed

The Occupy Wall Street movement began in 2011 to protest growing economic inequality, spread around the world, and remains active today, although with a lower public profile. In the United States, for example the wealthiest 1% own 40% of the wealth, which equals the wealth owned by the poorest 90% of the US population.[1] Incomes, like wealth, are also increasingly unequal. Illustratively, the Economic Policy Institute calculates that the Chief Executive Officers of major US corporations in 1957 received 20 times the average compensation of employees at the CEO's corporation; by 2014, that ratio had skyrocketed to CEOs receiving 303 times as much in compensation as did their typical employee.[2] News stories about luxury lifestyles, such as the President of France spending $10,000 per month on haircuts,[3] memorably indict a grossly unequal world in which more than 2.8 billion people struggle to survive on less than a $2 per day.[4] In today's gospel reading,[5] Jesus declare…