Saturday, May 29, 2010

On Earth

Thy will be done on earth

We need you, Highest Living God;
all of life needs you!
Can't you hear the lament of gray whales
as Korean warships pace overhead?
Haven't you noticed the shrimp fields
smothered by oil,
not to be renewed for generations?
How long will the razorbill choke on volcanic ash
or the earthworm gag in toxic soil
before you rescue the earth from her agony?

On earth as it is in heaven

If the moaning of creation doesn't cause a rise in your Spirit
(in our spirits),
what will?!
Must the seas also rise and envelop the shores?
Will you (we) wait until even the rocks cry out for salvation?
Are you waiting for the sparrow to fall
before you collect your indignation
and restore the nesting ground of leatherback turtles
or the forest sanctuary of the harpy eagle?
Come o come, and all living things will bless your name!

For thine is the kingdom and the power.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Before Pentecost

Ah, blessed and beautiful Spirit of God!

If you were a flowering azalea,
I would be a butterfly
resting on your petals and savoring your perfume.

If you were an expansive ocean,
I would be a kid on the beach
chasing the tides and dipping my toes in the surf.

If you were a thick novel,
I would be the avid reader
feasting on your words, delighting in your story.

If you were rich brown coffee beans,
I would reach for you daily
loving your strength, eagerly awaiting your rush of energy.

But for now, before Pentecost, you are the absent companion
and I am the meandering, lackluster disciple
needing enthusiasm, longing for your nearness.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Seeing Clearly

At first I want to rail against the fog
(as though it will make a difference)
and cry "My God! My God! Why can't I see my way clearly?!"
. . . until I stop long enough to realize
that I can see:
the blown-away seed of a dandelion at my feet,
the leaves on the lowest maple branch overhead,
the silhouetted street sign at the sidewalk's corner.
Then, more wonderfully!, I notice the details of the fog itself:
near-snowy white haze,
an internal luminescence,
evasive shadows at the edge of sight,
. . . and You!
You: not just present with me through the fog,
but the essence of the fog as well:
the mystery
the questions
the wandering
the aura of light.
And suddenly the fog is not a wall but my atmosphere for traveling,
not my enemy but my companion for the journey,
and You have shown me a new way
for seeing clearly.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Ascension Day

God of heights, lift us up:
We are crawling in the mire of everyday routine.

God of the heavens, lift us up:
We are overwhelmed with the attention required by the things of this earth.

God of the stars, lift us up:
We cannot see past the clouds of "truth" that some would have us believe.

God of the sun, lift us up:
We are dazzled by the false jewels of society.

God of the moon, lift us up:
We are taxed by others' demands for us to shine for them.

God of the universe, lift us up:
We want to stretch and breathe and see and be awe-struck.

God of heights, lift us up.

(How does one quote oneself? I'm not sure, but you can also find this prayer in Before The Amen: Creative Resources for Worship [The Pilgrim Press, 2007].)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Vanilla (or: A Parent's Prayer When A Pet Dies)

From one parent to another,
O Holy Mother-Father,
I reach out for the strength
to bear a brokenhearted child's tears
without solutions
without heart splints
without easy fixes
just tissues.
If ever I needed you to be near, it is now,
but not for me.
Bear near to one who is feeling death afresh.
God, I would skim past the passing
of a rodent that died in its sleep
-- but oh! how I fear that this death
has stirred the aching waters of other deaths!
Here is a child who knows death's sting
(no, "sting" is too poetic: death's stench)
and the very real suckishness of loss.
Be close,
please be close!
I cannot bear her up on my own
though I try.
Flow with fresh and healing waters
to flood this child's tears
with your blessing
and gentle comfort.
She has not lost hope --
I see it, even through her sadness --
while I am struggling simply for the faith
to tell her a resurrection story
about a hamster
named Vanilla.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Just Before Communion

Satisfy my soul, o Blessed Communion,
for I am hungry with restless longing
and my thirst has led me to drink the sand.

I am constantly grazing and nibbling without tasting;
teach me to wait patiently
for the true feast that ignites my spirit.

I could drown myself in the world and still feel parched
without the Living Water, the Sweetest Fruit;
open my eyes to see it -- You -- right in front of me.

Satisfy my soul, o Blessed Communion,
so that I might savor goodness and joy
and live with engaged and satiated purpose.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fencing the Family

In response to my recent blog/newspaper editorial, several questions have been raised about my inclusion of Dr. James Dobson in a list of self-professing Christians who simultaneously articulate hatred, including, most notoriously these days, the group that calls itself Westboro Baptist Church. I credit the questions about Dobson to be authentic more than incendiary, and I hope to flesh out my thoughts for those who have never heard a nay-saying word uttered against Dr. Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family.

Let me begin with a (long) sidebar of sorts:

In the mainline Protestant tradition, when Communion is served during worship, the pastor begins the sacrament of Communion with a certain, often traditional, liturgy called the Invitation. For example, I usually begin the Order for Communion by saying, "This table is the table of life. This feast is the joyful feast of the people of God. Men and women, young and old, come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and gather around Christ's table."

Next, if you're listening closely, the pastor indicates who may receive Communion, depending on the traditions of that particular congregation or denomination. You might hear the pastor say, for example: "This table is for all Christians who wish to know the presence of Christ and to share in the community of God's people," which would indicate that all Christians are welcome to take Communion -- but not non-Christians or persons who are still discerning their religious home -- and it implies that Christians do not have to belong to that pastor's congregation in order to receive Communion. Another (partial) example of words that a pastor may use to identify those who are welcome at the Communion table: "We cordially invite to partake of this Sacrament all who are truly grieved and penitent for their sins, who look to the Lord Jesus Christ for righteousness and salvation..." which suggests to the unrepentant worshiper that (s)he should refrain from taking Communion that day and hints that the non-Trinitarian should go back to the drawing board to reexamine her/his theology.

In professional, liturgical, churchy language, this phrase within the Invitation that identifies who can receive Communion -- and who cannot -- is called "fencing the table." (I kid you not.) The pastor defines the perimeter of those who may receive communion. Strict fencing is called "closed communion" (1 Corinthians 11:27-30); broadly inclusive fencing -- or an entire lack of fencing -- is known as "open communion." An easy example: the fencing of the Communion table in Catholic churches to the exclusion of Protestants (and many others, including Catholics who are not in "good standing") demonstrates closed communion.

(Bear with me, I'm getting to Dobson.)

Fencing the Communion table ruffles my feathers and disquiets my soul. You don't have to be baptized to know hunger. You don't have to confess your sins to feel thirst. You don't need to be an adult or a faithful church member to appreciate the gift of wheat and grapes. Take and eat. Take and drink. Just imagine how ridiculous it would look if your pastor built an actual fence around the Communion table, and an attending Usher/Elder checked names at the fence gate! (Hold on, haven't I seen that in an ad??!) What can the Body of Christ (the Church) possibly gain from turning some people away from the Body of Christ (Communion)?

Turns out, there's a prevailing suspicion among Christians that throwing the gate wide open and welcoming all people to the table will "taint" the purity, the quality of community, and the sense of superiority (dare I call it self-righteousness?) of those who already believe that they are inside of the fenced area. This theological xenophobia usually reflects our social xenophobia, and vice versa.

Most recently -- just this past Sunday morning, in fact -- I "fenced the table" before Communion with these words: "This table is where Christ meets us as we are, nourishes us, and makes us new. There are no restrictions, no requirements. Only Jesus, saying, 'Come.'" As best as I can, every time I serve Communion, I strive to fence the table by declaring that there are no fences (Ephesians 2:14)!

Just as it is deeply problematic and theologically contradictory, to me at least, that the Church regularly fences the Communion table, it is also troublesome that the Church (not quite all factions, but a whole lot!) actively participates in "fencing the family" -- in other words, outlining the perimeters of who can be family, who can love another person, who can walk together through sickness and health, through good times and bad, through life and to death. It's not just the Church's "fencing of the family" that raises my ire, but the quality of the gate-keeping (so to speak) and the hatefulness at the gate.

Which brings me to Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family (from which he resigned as chairman in the spring of 2009).

I grew up with Focus on the Family (FOTF) materials -- kid and teen magazines, radio programs with beloved characters, parenting books sitting on bookshelves around the house. I can appreciate why some people have responded
with bewilderment and even indignation to my critique of the kindly doctor, who has a PhD in child development. Among the questions that I've received about my opinion of Dobson and FOTF, it's not clear to me if Dobson fans are unaware of his demeaning speech and use of political clout to foster prejudice...or if they are aware and supportive of his positions and FOTF's activities in this regard. For the sake of conversation, I'll assume the former.

One person, responding to my newspaper editorial, asked if my critique of Dobson was simply a difference of opinion (reflecting my comment that "disagreements are to be expected within the Church"), which is a fair question. It seems, then, that I need to answer by outlining some specifics to distinguish Dr. Dobson (and, by extension, his organizations) as a man/entity who is actively directing hatred toward a group or groups of people...not just some church guy with whom I disagree on politics and religion.

As succinctly as possible, here is my rationale for naming Dobson in a list of hate-speaking Christians:

In addition to starting Focus on the Family in 1977, Dr. Dobson established the Family Research Council in 1981 (which became a branch of FOTF briefly in the late 1980s, before separating again several years later for tax reasons). ***5/5/10 addition: Dobson's co-founder of the Family Research Council is Dr. George Rekers, who is newly making headlines for traveling abroad with a "Rentboy.com" companion.*** Although FOTF and FRC are officially independent organizations, the connections between the two remain -- including the shared name of Dobson, and similar financial resources.

Both FOTF and the FRC have the political sway, monetary revenue, and the ear of conservative/moderate Christians around the country to wield devastating power against the basic rights of a minority group (including: not being discriminated against, not being legally prevented from starting a family, and other "liberal" ideas). The tremendous degree of financial/political/personnel power, in itself, sways me from merely disagreeing with Dobson to identifying him as one who has the clout to negatively impact others (i.e. to turn hateful words into hateful actions).

Both FOTF and the FRC make the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Top Twelve" list of anti-gay groups. The American Psychological Association called out Focus on the Family in 2005 for creating an anti-gay environment "in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish."
FOTF supports reparative therapies, which completely undermine a person's sense of self and self-worth. The Family Research Council has dubious associations with violent hate groups. It has repeated inaccurate and unscientific information about human sexuality from the Family Research Institute, and perpetuates the lie associating homosexuality and pedophilia. (And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg!)

The concluding argument of my blog/editorial stated that violent & hateful language directly fuels and inspires violent & hateful behavior. Dobson might not personally be carrying the protest sign or the gun, but his language and his use of power (through media, money and religion) -- through both the FRC and FOTF -- lead me to distrust his Christianity and to dispute his fencing of the family.