Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Thoreau said “time is but a stream I go a fishin’ in …”
Heidegger said “the meaning of being is time.”
Dr. Who said it’s “all timey-wimey.”

Time is the holy mystery that cradles our holy and mysterious lives.
I’ve been pondering time a lot of late. Perhaps that’s a hazard of middle age. Maybe it’s just the annual reflection on the past year. It could be the number of times I’ve heard people recently remark about how fast time has flown by since last year or since a graduation or since a child was born.

As we mark the birth of a child whose birth has marked time itself for 2,000 years, perhaps it’s just what we do: ponder time’s passage with a deep longing that the hopes and fears of all those years and the ones to come will somehow be met with a little bit of grace.

Time does not feel quite so fast to me just now. Thinking back over 2013, I’m struck by just how full it was for us: full of transitions, of loss, of joy, of hope, and with lots of love and laughter. Events seem to have filled the time such that it does not seem like just yesterday that Martin and I traveled to Scotland. It seems like about a year ago, which is just about right. Oh, and that reminds me: Scotland is a lovely place, but January might not be the very best time to visit! We did, however, get to see some crazy Scots playing golf in the snow on the road to Loch Ness. I reminded Martin that we’re Scotch-Irish, so we come for a hardy band! ‘Tis good to be made of stern stuff when the winds of change are blowing.

All three of our young’uns felt that wind as they lived through significant transitions this year: Hannah finished middle school and began high school; Martin began his freshman year at the University of Mary Washington; Bud graduated from UMW and began doctoral studies in computer science at the University of California Santa Cruz. As I said – big transitions!


For her part, Hannah has moved into her high school years without skipping a beat. She’s still the high-achieving, focused, strong and smart child she’s always been. As she grows into a young woman her world is growing, too. She spent her summer forlornly rooting for the hometown baseball boys and being an adventure camper at Hanover. She spent this fall trying on her running shoes on the Wakefield cross-country team, and experiencing literal growing pains with some chronic knee issues. Fortunately, the pool does not pound so much as the trail, and now that swim season is upon us she’s finding a bit more joy in her athletic pursuits. Meanwhile, she remains a remarkably good student – enough so that we can dream of her moving on to college in a few years on somebody else’s dime. Hey, parents can dream!


Martin spent the first half of the year making a movie, and thanks to everyone who supported that effort though Kickstarter. The end of that long journey is almost coming into focus, and we have realistic hopes that we’ll have a final cut of Crooked before he heads back to Fredericksburg in a few weeks for his second semester at UMW. The experiences introduced Martin to a parade of lovely, talented and interesting folks who bring to life the Appalachian music culture of Southwest Virginia, and nurtured his love for making music. (For those of you waiting more or less patiently for Kickstarter premiums: think of them as New Years presents! We trust you’ll agree that the final film was worth the wait.) Besides making a film, Martin spent the summer life-guarding at Camp Hanover before having a good first semester in college.


Bud enjoyed his final semester at UMW, graduating with a great group of friends back in May. He spent the summer interning at the same small tech firm in DC that he worked for after his junior year, but decided early on to turn down their job offer to accept a full-ride at UCSC to study games and playable media. Mom and dad do not pretend to understand exactly what that means, but it seems pretty clear that he’s both excited by and invested in a field that is growing both in the academic world and on the industry side. (In other words, he’ll have a job someday!) Living on the far side of the continent from his family, friends and long-time girlfriend has been a big adjustment, but school has been good and the chance to play ultimate Frisbee on a high level with the UCSC Banana Slugs has been a treat, as well.

Cheryl and I are living through the transitions of children growing up and beginning, in earnest, their own lives. Our own work continues to be rich and rewarding, and – shhh, don’t tell the kids – we’re enjoying the freedom of not having quite so many schedules to accommodate and transportation to arrange or provide. Oh, and no more beginning band concerts! Ever! Cheryl’s work at the big library continues to engage and challenge her, as does mine at the wee kirk.

We walked together through the sad transitions that came with the death of my father back in September. I reckon dad is busily engaged in improving the church triumphant now that his days of trying to fix the church militant are finished! He never forgot that he was part of a tradition whose motto is ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda – the church reformed and always reforming – and he was pretty sure it was his job to do the reforming! (Insert comment here about nuts and trees ….)

Meanwhile, this side of the end of our time we continue to seek the light that shines in the darkness, trusting that the darkness shall not overcome it. As the new year dawns, we hold you in that light with faith, hope and love.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why I Unfriended Moses

A friend just published her third book today.
I can't even get a rejection letter.
Another friend's child just graduated from Swarthmore.
My firstborn dropped out of high school.
Yet another friend just released her eighth album.
I've never told a soul about my songs.
How many friends are celebrating how many years of sobriety?
I can't break a single habit.
Imagine if Moses had Facebook instead of stone tablets.
Status update: "Mooned by G_d. lols."
Today I cleaned the bathroom.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sometimes

Sometimes disappointments pile up like fallen leaves.
The air smells like death and decay.
I used to love that smell. Sometimes I still do.
But now it’s just too cold,
and the clouds gather in a November sky,
and there’s a leak
that’s not a metaphor,
just a mess on the floor.
As the first snow flies

I dream of Easter.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Two Sermons ... sort of

I rarely post sermons to the blog, but I thought I'd share what I said at the memorial service for my father last Friday, and the poem that passed for a sermon yesterday at the wee kirk, along with a Donald Hall poem that I also read during worship yesterday.
Do Justice: A Sermon Honoring the Life and Faith of James Evans Ensign
My sister observed this week that our father was a man who spoke his truth. Apparently it runs in the family. Pete dug out our grandfather’s law school year book that described dad’s father as “the sort of fellow who is never satisfied to take the other fellow’s word for anything, but wants to find out what is correct.”
Dad did, indeed, speak his truth. But I also think some words from St. Francis are accurate about dad: “preach the gospel,” St. Francis said. “If necessary, use words.”
Dad’s life was, in many respects, his living testimony to the truth as he was given it to understand. He spoke his truth, to be sure, and he also lived it. Both in his speaking it and through his living it, the truth that dad understood came constantly as a challenge not only to “the other fellow’s word for anything,” but also to any status quo that did not measure up.
Sometimes that meant that the car in the driveway was not as clean as it should be after a teenager washed it. Other times it meant that the grass was not as neatly – or timely – mowed. But, honestly, dad’s truth was considerably larger than the domestic sphere, and his passions reflected and responded to the deep and broad challenge of Christian life and faith as he understood it.
I’ve done a lot of funerals over the years, and with most families, choosing scripture to share at the service is an exercise in picking the comforting words. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we’ve certainly included some comforting passages today along with music that dad loved and that reflect his convictions. But when I think about my father, I think less about the comfort and more about the challenge of scripture.
My earliest lessons in interpreting scripture came from my dad. I think he sat each of his kids down at one point or another along the way to explicate John 17:21. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John’s rather mystic take on the relationship between Creator, Christ and Creature was the foundational theology of the YMCA, and it was among dad’s favorite passages.
I’m pretty sure dad taught me that just about the time I discovered the Beatles, and I can’t read it without hearing “I am you and you are me and we are altogether.” I have always thought of that particular passage as John’s goo, goo, ga joob Christology, but for my father it underscored the deep challenge of seeing something of God in every human being.
If we are invited into the holy relationship, it can only be because there is some spark of the divine in us. At his best, my father tried to see that in everyone. Resurrection faith, to which we witness in worship today, promises us that that spark is not extinguished in death.
A light so strong that no darkness – not even the darkness of death – can overcome it deserves and demands our attention. A light that strong can light your way in darkness – through the valley of the shadow of death and through the various valleys that each of us walks on the journeys of our lives.
Dad certainly walked plenty of those places – some of his own, to be sure, but often he chose to accompany others through their own valleys. I believe he chose that path in response to the challenge of his faith. When I think of my dad in those terms, I hear the words of the prophet Micah.
 “Do justice. Love with passionate kindness. Walk humbly with your God.” Micah doesn’t say, “be a fan of justice; like it; it’s a nice idea.” Micah says, “do it.”
My father did justice. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann insists that justice in the Bible amounts to sorting out what belongs to whom and returning it. My father believed that jobs belonged to unemployed young people who wanted to work, so he found them jobs. My father believed that learning to swim belonged not just to kids whose families had the means to belong to swim clubs, so he organized and gave swim lessons to countless children from marginal neighborhoods in Chattanooga. My father believed that shelter belonged to everyone, so he worked to find housing for this city’s homeless.
My dad also believed that stories belong to children, so he fell asleep many a night in the midst of Old Roney or Pappy’s Tater Patch or Wicked John and the Devil. Dad believed that games belong to kids, too, so he played countless driveway hoops games – apparently reaching retirement age only when I cracked one of his ribs. Dad believed that later truth – about games – so deeply that he created, organized and ran a community basketball league for teenagers in North Chattanooga so that his kids and several hundred others would have a league of their own.
In each of those efforts, whether in the broader community or on the domestic level, and in so many others, dad aspired to treat the least of these as brothers and sisters who are created in the image of God and therefor deserve respect and concern. Maybe it really does take one to know one. Perhaps in order to treat the least of these in the same way you would treat the king of kings it helps to have been, yourself, among the least in at least some aspects of your life.
Jim Ensign grew up pretty much dirt poor no more than a mile from here. While life took him far beyond the small circle of those Depression Era days, he never forgot where he came from, nor the challenges that face poor kids, in particular.
Other than my mother, I do not think I have ever encountered anyone whose life more embodied the words of Matthew 25 than did my dad’s. He simply lived it: whatever he did with and for the least of these he did as if he were doing it for a holy one of God.
And while this may or may not fit the narrative arc of this sermon, I would be remiss if I did not also say that dad taught his children a great deal about what it means to be married, to love, honor and cherish the one to whom you make sacred vows.
He was a child of the church and, in particular, a child of this church. He was baptized here; he was ordained first as a deacon and later as a ruling elder here; he raised his children here; and now, as the Book of Common Worship puts it, his baptism is complete and it is good and right that we mark that here. 
I imagine that it was here that he first heard the truths that shaped his life, and that, resurrection faith tells me, he heard again this week:
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’”
Come, inherit the kingdom. Well done, good and faithful servant. Amen.

A Balm in Gilead
The week has been full of sadness.
That would seem rather obvious, though too soon on a Monday afternoon.
There is a balm in Gilead, but we don’t live there yet.
Through the terminal windows
Behind the hipster in the Batman t-shirt
While I await a flight home
To join my family
For my father’s final journey
I can see the Navy Yard.
Some seemingly ceaseless clearly meaningless alarm
Ringing, ringing, ringing
Draws fellow waiters into conversation –
A momentary community of the annoyed. Meanwhile,
Across the broad, quiet river sparkling beneath
Helicopters circling in a lovely autumn sky
That makes postcards of Washington’s monuments
Another spasm of American violence
Interrupts both private grief and public annoyance
With the urgent drone of news
Of gunman or men and a dozen lives endings.
Another window opens on public mourning
In America this is everyday
Life and death.
Thank God. Someone has finally shut the door.
The alarm ceases and scattered applause ripples through the crowd.
There is a balm in Gilead, but we don’t live there yet.
Hours later, hundreds of miles further on, I receive the news of dad’s death,
And recall our last conversation a couple of weeks ago.
If I’d known it was the last time we’d be speaking
I’d have taken notes so I’d remember
I’d have tried to talk of big things and important
Instead of just the weather in September.
The news from home would make me angry
But I am yet too tired for that,
So the news just rings, rings, rings like that stupid alarm
That no one will shut off. Is there no community? No consolation?
No one to turn the damn things off?
There is a balm in Gilead, but we don’t live there yet.
Levinas – whom they called the most Jewish Protestant  –
said, “ethics is prayer” and
“paternity is a relationship to a future not my own.”
Oddly, I understood those old lines anew
Friday, when after memorializing my dad,
My baby brother took all the grandchildren a half mile from the church
To the front porch of 238 Jernigan – the house where my father was born,
About a half mile from where he was baptized,
About a half mile from where his baptism was complete in death.
Pete took a photo of the kids on the porch swing.
We owe them a community that values their future.
My father taught me that.
Our Father, who art in heaven, calls me still to work for it.
On earth, as it is in heaven – a balm in Gilead.

A Grace
God, I know nothing, my sense is all nonsense,
And fear of You begins intelligence:
Does it end there? For sexual love, for food,
For books and birch trees I claim gratitude,
But when I grieve over the unripe dead
My grief festers, corrupted into dread,
And I know nothing. Give us our daily bread.



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Riding In the Rain

Motorcycle riding in the rain
is less fun than it could be.
First there's the fear
of laying down all that hot metal
on slick pavement.
Then there's the pain of the rain
at 60 m.p.h. I know what Dylan
meant. A hard rain's a gonna fall.
Still, riding in the rain always
carries me back to the ride home
from New York
the morning after we kissed the dawn
after a night of sharing Scotch
and songs.
The rain caught me outside of Philly
as I was racing down the turnpike
with hope at the top of my lungs.
Riding in the rain carries me home.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

What It Means to Pack Up Books

I don't have a Kindle, so packing up shelves of books does not mean that I am joining the e-reader generation and bidding adieu to print. I'm not changing jobs nor even relocating offices. We're not moving, so that's certainly not it.
But I am packing up books. Boxes of books, in fact, sit around the basement floor awaiting their next move. Some will be donated to the local library. Those are mostly kids books, so packing up books means growing older, moving on and saying goodbye to the young children who are now young adults.
Other books will wind up being recycled. Those are mostly obscure text books, so packing them means saying goodbye to old academic concerns that no longer seem remotely important to the middle aged adults who look back on younger selves who once studied these texts with eyes on a future that didn't unfold quite they way they must have anticipated.
Still others are going back to my study at church. Packing them up means saying goodbye to the hotshot young preacher who thought he was going to write a book on the church-in-postmodernity but, instead, simply tried to live -- or is it lean -- into that whole complicated reality just a bit. Putting Brueggemann and Derrida in the same book turns out to have been a lot more work than putting them into the same box. Now they'll form the basis for an interesting church library that I will leave behind when, somewhere down the road, I leave the wee kirk and congregational ministry.
Packing up books means saying goodbye.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sweating on the Side of Love

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon on the admonition in 1 Peter to “be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within you.” I didn’t particularly want to bother with that on the Metro ride to Capitol Hill this morning. So I carried my tie-dyed stole with its People of Faith for Equality Virginia pin carefully folded in my camera bag and I left my shirt collar open.
It’s a typical hot and humid late June day in DC, and the heat was excuse enough to leave off the clerical paraphernalia until the last moment. Walking across 1st Street toward the Supreme Court I slipped in the tab collar, donned the stole and made my way into a group of colleagues singing, “we shall not be moved.”
As a board member of People of Faith, I’d been asked to join in leading prayers in front of the court while the crowd waited for word to come down on the two major marriage-related cases. Last night on Facebook, a friend saw that I would be at the court today, and asked that I remember in prayer those in the great cloud of witnesses who did not live long enough to see this day. When my time leading the prayers circled round, I asked the crowd to shout names of such witnesses. As the chorus of names rose over the steps I recalled the story of David Sindt, who stood on the floor of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1972 with a sign that read simply, “is anybody else out there gay?” With that gesture, he launched the GLBT justice movement in the Presbyterian Church. David died of AIDS in the mid 1980s.
Wearing clerical garb and leading prayers on the steps of the court will out you as a person of faith. Reporters from Huffington Post, The Nation and a couple of others asked me, in effect, to give an account of the hope that is in me. As I tried to answer their questions, I kept thinking of that great cloud of witnesses, and the long, long struggle for justice that they launched and led for many years.
So many of them kept the faith and kept faith with the faith. They truly are the mothers and fathers of a movement that, despite what some suggest, is deeply rooted and grounded in faith. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the huge crowd gathered this morning was the clear and overwhelming presence of people of faith. Catholics, Baptists, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Jews, Anglicans and others, as well, held signs proclaiming that the God we worshipped in song, prayer and presence this morning is a God of love and justice.
Personally, it was profoundly moving to stand with sisters and brothers with whom I’ve been privileged to struggle over the years. When People of Faith for Equality Virginia was launched we were fighting a losing battle against the Marshall-Newman amendment to the Virginia Constitution to bar same-sex marriage. When the amendment passed in November, 2006, with 57 percent of the vote, the sanctuary of the church I serve in Arlington was filled with anger and lament. Few of us believed that we would see the Defense of Marriage Act struck down in less than a decade.
In striking down DOMA and dismissing the Proposition 8 case, the court did not create a national landscape of justice, but the majority certainly widened the circle of who is included when we declare that “all are created equal.” As Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of saying, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Today, we bent the arc a little further toward that day when all means all.
The mission statement of the wee kirk I serve includes the phrase “We welcome all* to gather at table at Clarendon Presbyterian.” The asterisk is defined as follows: “All means all: all races, ages, genders, gender-identities, orientations, classes, convictions and questions.
We close our Sunday worship joining in a simple refrain written by our music directors, Dan Chadburn and Tom Nichols. Tom and Dan were married in DC on Valentine’s Day this year. Their personal stories were on my mind this morning, too. Incredibly gifted musicians with hearts for ministry, each of them longed for years to be able to be in music ministry fully as themselves, fully able to share with the church their remarkable gifts.
video
Earlier this month, a member of the church posted this little bit of sweet awesomeness: their three-year-old daughter singing Tom and Dan’s refrain. Sydney’s parents, Grant and Gillian, joined the congregation when Gillian was pregnant with Sydney. Each of them had grown up in the church, and they came to Clarendon looking explicitly for a congregation in which they could raise their children to worship the God who loves all* of God’s children, including those who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. (*All means all: all races, ages, genders, gender-identities, orientations, classes, convictions and questions.)
We are creating the church that David Sindt and so many others dreamed of for Sydney and so many others who will continue to bend the arc in the years to come. We are creating a nation in which, step by step over the yearning years, all looks increasingly like all. Standing on the steps of the court today as we moved a step closer reminded me that we are a people of hope.
So, despite the heat and humidity and the mass of sweaty bodies, I kept the collar in and the stole on for the Metro ride that carried me back to old Virginia, where the work of love continues until the arc of justice bends the whole world round.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

To Kiss the Ground

What gestures are fundamentally human? Is it to reach out and help someone? Is it to lash out in anger? Is it to sing? Or fall silent?
Perhaps the answer is the question itself. We are the species that wants to -- that must -- figure out "why?"
In the aftermath of something seemingly inexplicable like yesterday's bombing at the Boston Marathon we do want to know why, but why is not enough. We need something more than the answers to "why" in response to the horrors of violence that we will probably never fully comprehend even when we learn the identity of the perpetrator(s) and their twisted motivation.
Why is not enough. Why will not put back together what has been rent asunder in the lives of scores of individuals and families. Why won't even put back together what's been pulled apart in the minds of thousands of runners.
Having completed a half marathon just Sunday morning, the images from the finish line at Boston yesterday caused incredible cognitive dissonance for me. I cannot reconcile the pictures of mayhem from Boston with the joyous celebration that marks the finish of distance races. Those parties are not the only thing that runners run for, but they are the culmination of hours of mostly solitary running and they bring a simple, tired, joyous sense of completion to all that work. I think most of us who run are probably feeling a similar sense of dislocation as we contemplate the horror, suffering and loss from Boston and place those empty feelings alongside what the finish line should feel like.
I've seen lots of pictures over the years of marathon finishers kneeling down to kiss the ground just beyond the finish line. That's what the finish should feel like: kissing the ground in exhausted gratitude.
Rumi wrote, "let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
The poet pushes me beyond "why did this happen" to "how to respond." We may not ever be able to answer the first question satisfactorily, but there are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Last evening we hosted an impromptu gathering on our front porch. A friend from our Cleveland days a decade ago is in town for her work and is staying with us for a couple of days. She invited a friend of hers who recently immigrated to Arlington from Nicaragua to join us. The friend is trying to learn English and really needs some local bilingual American friends, so we invited another Arlington friend, fluent in Spanish, to come on over.
The wine flowed. Our laughter rolled out across the neighborhood. We shared incredible stories and simple ones, too. We kissed the ground.
Barbara Brown Taylor says "in the eyes of the true God the porch is imperative."
I don't know why Boston ... or Newtown ... or Va. Tech ... or any of the other scenes of mass violence in America happen, but I do know what I will do in response. I'll keep gathering friends and loved ones on the porch. It's how we kneel and kiss the ground. It's what makes us truly human, and we'll do it over and over and over again in the face of all that would try to separate us from the common ground of our shared humanity.
How will you kneel and kiss the ground today?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The parade is over now


The parade is over now.
Bright flags furled. Songs faded. Signs tossed aside.
We marched right up to the seat of power
Up to the pillars. Domes gleaming in the morning sun.
Pressing forward with demands for justice
against an ancient insistence.
Thrilling with our own power in what feels like triumph.
Now the marchers have gone home
Back to families, back to business.
The route still strewn with debris
to be picked up by the guys in orange jumpsuits
less passionate about their work than we were
leaving behind wind-blown palms and paper cups
drying now back to dust.
Only a few stragglers remain
Undecided as the hours pass
Until a biological imperative insists on a choice: eat!
Accepting an invitation the stragglers gather,
Grain from the earth, fruit of the vine; bread broken and shared.
And it still feels like triumph up to that very moment when
the powers that be – defending privilege in the name of tradition –
fight back, swords drawn.
And we, who are called to respond to such force
with hearts and hopes. What of us?
The moment demands a decision:
Defy them; deny him. Follow him. Crucify him.
But it has been a long, long journey
and it’s time to get some rest.
No more miles before we sleep.
Let tomorrow bring what it will.
Still, we will remember this night
and what it demands of us. Still.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hope Runs Through My Veins

Here's another of the Lenten poems.
Sleep-filled eyes open slowly to dull light
seeping through the east window.
Ears open, too, now to the whistle of a
north wind beneath the corner eaves.
Lips manage morning oats without enthusiasm.
Quiet heart quickens one brief beat
to the beauty of a poem
that names the loveliness of a
predawn run through the cold air of late winter.
Uninspired legs trudge out to put in their own miles and minutes.
Feet pound to an easy rhythm, but
still my mind anticipate more perspiration than inspiration
as lungs pull cold air into blood that pulses
through veins open to the warm hope of spring.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

State of the Union

Here's a silly little bit I wrote a couple of weeks ago when the prez gave his annual report:
The paper had a quiz today
to rat the passion in your life.
A friend reports, on Facebook of course,
that his love for his partner of 25 years
rated "not bad for a middle-aged guy."
I didn't take the quiz.
Too busy today because my love is ill,
and so is our daughter,
and our son had his wisdom teeth removed.
I cooked bland eggs, washed dishes,
delivered ice bags and drugs,
cleaned the toilet and every other germy surface
for the ones I love.
Passion? I don't know.
But the state of the union is strong.
So good night. And, really, God bless America.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Politics of Sequester


(Cross posted on the blog of the Journal of Political Theology.)
In the interest of full disclosure I’ll note at the outset that I am married to a federal government employee. The idiotic faux crisis of the sequester, like its recent precedents, is personal in our household. I read the end of the gospel passage for this week and think, “hell, they’ve put plenty of manure around this fig tree of Washington politics and it hasn’t produced fruit for years. Let’s cut the damned thing down.”
The problem with Washington politics is that nobody on the inside gets touched by the decisions made here no matter which way they go. The only thing felt by the decision makers is the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat in the great sport of power politics.
No. That’s the wrong metaphor, for what happens here is less like a game and more like an auction or, perhaps a casino. There are still winners and losers, but victory goes not to the winners of a game (which still implies a degree of merit) but rather to the one who can pay the highest price. The folks in this town – lawmakers, pundits, the entire insider class of powerbrokers – are perfectly content to eat the finest foods and drink the finest wines their money and power can procure, and they cannot conceive of the food and drink of which Isaiah speaks, much less receive the invitation he articulates. Never mind the invitation that Jesus always issues: “follow me.”
This is a nonpartisan, or, better, a bipartisan rant (thinly disguised as a lectionary blog post). While the Republicans bear an outsized share of the blame for the current political paralysis, both sides continuously show a perfectly balanced willingness to play politics with other peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Are today’s Republicans worse sinners than the Democrats? Maybe yes, maybe no. But unless all of us repent we will perish together.
Us? All of us? Well, yes. Along with a million other households, we sit here anticipating the seemingly inevitable furlough. While waiting to be victimized by the politics of the day it is incredibly tempting and overwhelmingly easy to blame it all on the politicians. I can recite that rant with the best of them!
That may be the biggest temptation of them all: to place blame. The politicians do it all the time. Blame for the deficit? It’s either the fault of the “takers” who receive various government entitlements or the “makers” who do not pay their fair share of taxes. I buy into that framing for one sentence for the sake of an easy rhyme, but the blame game is far from poetic. Blame the previous administration. Blame the banks. Blame the bureaucrats. Blame the military-industrial complex. Blame corporations. Blame the Supreme Court. Blame the pundits. Blame the president. Blame the one percent. Blame the 47 percent.
Nevertheless, the blame for a politics that produces no fruit, that spends our money for that which is not bread, and our labor for that which does not satisfy, falls on each of us. Blame the one-hundred percent.
The blame falls on each of us because politics is not reducible to the decision-making games of our dysfunctional national political institutions. Politics properly understood, is always larger than the squabbles between two parties beholden to moneyed interests. This must be true, all the more so, if we imagine that politics has something to do, however indirectly, with Jesus.
To practice the politics of Jesus means setting aside narrow political concerns – the creation of fake crises to win or lose – for a much broader understanding of politics. Politics, where Jesus is involved, is about the ways that power is exercised in the city for the purposes of justice and shalom. Such politics compels us to embody grace always, because power gets exercised in the city not just during Congressional contests, but in every single moment of every single day.
Take your daily bread, for an example pertinent to our texts from Isaiah, the psalms and 1 Corinthians: without getting into the nitty gritty of food production, processing and so on, it is enough to say that the entire food system and agricultural economy is what it is – for better and for worse – because of the ways that power gets exercised in the city.
The politics of Jesus invites us to live each and every aspect of our lives with eyes wide open to the realities of the exercise of power, and to pay particular attention to those who are powerless or who are victims of power exercised without regard to justice and shalom – for power exercised without regard to God’s steadfast love (Psalm 63:3). The politics of Jesus is the embodiment of grace in the city – and city means where ever human beings live and move and have their being.
The church is to be the provisional embodiment of that grace lived out in community, and, therefore, the place where we teach, learn, experiment with a politics that aspires to reflect the head of the church. We embody grace in response to the grace that has been freely given us (as Paul reminds again). In receiving grace, we are called to respond in gratitude by living lives worthy of the calling we have received with that grace.
And, of course, all along the way we fall short, we are broken, we sin and we suffer.
The passage from Luke this week insists on two crucial and interrelated truths: first, no matter our politics or our faith, some things just happen to people. The fundamental truth we are reminded of in Lent – we are dust and to dust we shall return – is dependent neither on our political persuasion nor our moral turpitude. An accident at a construction site (Siloam, perhaps) can bring the tower down on the sinners and the saints. Hurricanes will wash away the good, the bad and the vast majority of us who inhabit places along the continuum. God makes the rain to fall of the just and the unjust. There is nothing of which to repent in the exigencies of life.
Jesus refuses (in Luke, but see also John 9:2) to make the easy connection between moral choice and suffering. He eschews the blame game. Yet he insists on repentance.
Our failure to repent still matters whenever, wherever and for whatever repentance is needed. It remains, in fact, a matter of life and death, according to Jesus (Luke 13-3).
Without repentance we cannot get beyond the gridlock of the present moment. We cannot get our minds beyond (metanohte, or repent, in Luke 13:3) the present time. We will continue to search merely for what can be purchased in the marketplace and not seek that which, Isaiah suggests, can only be had in the economy of the kingdom, beyond price, beyond sequester.
Interestingly, this word of the moment in Washington has its roots in the Latin sequi , to follow. The Latin sequester likely meant follower. Perhaps Jesus really would understand the politics of the present moment. I’m not saying that the disciples had anything to do with the first sequester, but I would  suggest that if our current politics involved a little more discipleship then those politics would involve a lot less blame shifting and a lot more repentance.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Google Resolutions:

Did you see the Google doodle for New Year’s Day? After a short video of highlights from 2012 the screen resolved into a map of the world and resolutions for the new year popped up from various places on the globe where people entered commitments for 2013.
I was struck by the similarity of resolutions across the world – both in what was there and in what was not. There were precious few promises related to work life and finances, and a whole host of promises about things such as these:
Loose weight; spend more time with friends; better work/life balance; travel more; make music; run; get engaged; learn Italian; cook something from other cultures; shop less, save more; invest in humanitarian projects; join a theater group; volunteer monthly; cook every day; spend more time with family; play guitar at least a little every day; do a wine tasting; learn computer science; take life easier; yoga; get a puppy; make my wife dinner once a week; take care of my body; smile.
People everywhere around the world really do want the same kinds of things, and we all want lives that are richer in joy.
What do you want in life at this point? Are you resolving to do anything about it? What gets in the way?
Happy New Year!