Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Great Christ the King Sunday article

Royal treatment - Living by the Word - Column, Mary Anderson
ANOTHER CHURCH YEAR ends on November 23 with the festival of Christ the King. Although a few folks get jazzed over this festival, most of us need to be reminded that the church year is different from the calendar year, the academic year and the budget year.
On most minor and major church festivals, I remind my congregation how ancient these festivals are. I like to wow them with the vast number of centuries the church has been observing some of them. The festival of Christ the King spoils that plan. It was first introduced in 1925, and not until 1969 was it designated the festival for the last Sunday of the church year. Since I cannot wow them with a millennium's worth of tradition, I emphasize how the church continues to create traditions and make liturgical history.
It is odd to think that the 20th-century church developed a festival centering on Christ's image as king. In America we are as distanced from the image of "king" as we are from the image of "shepherd." Popular theology is more intrigued with the image of Jesus as CEO--a leadership role, to be sure, but hardly comparable to that of a king with a kingdom.
Our American brush with royalty comes mostly from Britain. We might not be able to name any kings, but we are familiar with Queen Elizabeth and with the tabloids and tragedies surrounding her family. We would easily recognize the queen, yet many of us are unaware of what she really does from day to day and what her powers really are. Royalty is respected, it's part of the tradition, hut does it really do anything? Do we need it?
I wonder and worry that people perceive Christ's rule to be similar to the queen of England's rule. Do we view Christ as one surrounded with the art and beauty of a tradition that is more antique than active? Do we see this figure of salvation as hopelessly outdated and practically mute in these postmodern times?
If we stretch ourselves to think in royal terms, we remember that although "king" may be an unfamiliar symbol, it is a political term. Kings rule a particular piece of geography. They may rule over a particular ethnic group. They have subjects--they have "a people." What we declare on this last Sunday of the church year is: Christ has made of us a people.
Growing up in the South, I often heard the home folks ask of a sows girlfriend, "Who are her people?" They were fishing for two things: a family name and a location. "She's one of the Wingards from over Lexington way." Tiffs information could make one be embraced or shunned. I never heard "people" used outside of Family until I moved out of the overwhelmingly Christian South and lived in Chicago. Here "my people" was used for distinct ethnic groups and religious groups. And it was an unspoken truth that if any significant rubber ever hit any significant road, it was your people that mattered. A "people" was not a biological unit. They didn't necessarily share DNA but perhaps things more bonding: a common story, the foods and meals they are together, the experiences they endured and the hopes that endure through generations. I envied their sense of solidarity and identity. It's good to have a people.
Those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. Christ has made of us a people with his kingship. And that kingship is unique, unlike any earthly kingship that is bound by geographic borders. This kingdom is boundless. Christ's rule is not limited to a particular racial or national group. All are welcome, especially the chronically unwelcome ones. Christ reigns from the cross, we say. Christ rules, as many earthly rulers do, because he has waged battle and has been victorious. But Christ's enemies are sin, death and the devil, all defeated by Christ's death. In a kingdom of a lowly stable and an empty tomb, death birthed life.
To speak of kings and kingdoms, of subjects and peoples, requires a fair amount of translation for modern ears. Some, finding the translation too cumbersome, will opt for calling Jesus their CEO or therapist. But what will then be truly lost is not the title used, but the relationship implied.
To say Christ is king implies that we are subjects. The heart of this relationship is our dependence on a ruler who holds our lives in his hands. We do not choose a ruler as we elect a president, hire a CEO or contract with a therapist. We are Christ's people--we share the same eucharistic foods, we share the same story of faith, we stake our lives on the same hopes.
Here at the end of the church year, after living through another cycle of hearing the story of Jesus' life, of being taught by him in miracle and parable, we come to the coda of this hymn of praise. After another year of living our lives, burying our dead, baptizing our babies, marrying and divorcing, struggling and thriving, we bring all of the year's experiences to the climax of this day. We lay it all back at the feet of the one enthroned on the cross, giving thanks. It's great to be a people ruled in love and mercy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

and whilst on the topic of food, morality, etc.

Check out this National council of churches newsletter in time for Thanksgiving.

A tear for the seal pup

Tonight Wesley and I were watching a nice little program on animal planet about seal pups. At the end of the show, there was footage of something I've always heard about but have never seen (and have always been interested)--killer whales making sport of seal pups that they've recently captured. The narrator speculated that because the orcas keep the seal pups alive while they throw them around with their jaws, and because young orcas are present, they must be teaching the young to hunt. But then comes the indescribable--after the seal dies, the orcas fling the seals 50 or 60 feet in the air just seemingly for fun. The whole scene was amazing and disturbing.

Occasionally I can be romantic and idealistic about the natural world and its power to convey to humans the majesty and beauty of God. I don't think I could ever see this practice as beautiful though. Even carnivores hunting prey has a certain degree of beauty and necessity to it--this seems like it simply a cruel game. So--to put my own general outlook on the natural world to the test--how does this practice display God? If there is a moral underpinning to the universe, why would these animals, presumably not endowed with the faculties of morality, display cruelty? Perhaps, since they have no sense of morality, they simply do it because it entertains them? But if there is a universal undercurrent of love and compassion guiding the universe, wouldn't the default mode for creatures not able to choose the good simply be the good? So far, you see, I just have questions and no answers. I've known that orcas do this for some time, and have thought about it as a foil to some of my idealistic perspective toward the natural world, panentheism, process theology, etc.--but seeing it caused some fresh interrogation.

One thought is that Orcas playing with the dead body of a seal is no more cruel than humans throwing around a football that we have the intelligence to craft from the dead body of a cow (--of course, most footballs are synthetic leather, but you get my point--was it ever really pig-skin?). While we do have the perhaps unique ability of not choosing the good (according to classical theology), humans are also to blame for causing the earth to fall along with humankind. (Genesis 3:17)--of course, if I remember correctly, that curse was revoked after the flood as well. According to my understanding of Process theology, I would say that each creature has the capacity for "choosing" the divine aim, and while the divine aim might not be for orcas to torture seal pups, the orcas are free like anything and everything else to deviate from that Divine Aim. Of course, that seems to convey a lack of morality on the part of the orcas for engaging in "natural" behavior, and I'm not sure I can make that leap. Hmmmmm...... I need to get my Earth Bible commentary out and take a look at it. I also need the wisdom of my friend and sage Max, expert in all things Process theology. Max, are you out there? Care to comment?

Well, if that muddied the waters for you--help me get them clear again. Or, let's have a mud-fight!

Friday, November 10, 2006


As of late, I have not had much time to read or write anything but sermons. We've had all sorts of calamities that have been sapping our time. Wesley was sick, had to take him to the pediatrician. Lara got in a wreck, had to help her get x-rays, look for a new car, mess with insurance, etc. etc. Our new car is lovely, by the way. Here's a picture below our beautiful maple tree.

So--that explains the minimal effort to blog over the past couple/few weeks.
But, a couple things happened in the last couple days that jarred me out of my rut. Firstly, I was sitting on the front porch smoking my pipe in late afternoon and the light just changed. It became gold. I looked up and the setting sun was illuminating the aforementioned maple. our house faces east, so I was unaware of the setting sun until the tree started glowing. I grabbed the camera and took a photogram--

Another thing happened today. We took master Wesley to the ENT specialist and he diagnosed ANOTHER ear infection. He recommended tubes, and Wesley will be getting those next week. I didn't realize our poor boy will need to be put under to perform the surgery. I suddenly feel like a papa goose with one of his goslings being threatened. I know it will be best, but I'm nervous for him. I'm glad he's not old enough to worry. All this pales in comparison (doesn't it always) to a parishoner whose 2 day old granddaughter will be undergoing heart surgery in the next day or two to try and reroute her heart! She'll have another open heart surgery at 6 months and another after 2 years. I can't imagine being in that hospital room in Westwood holding my new baby boy and looking at the prospect of 3 open heart surgeries in the next two years. How do parents do it?????? Wesley's been strapping and healthy--I can't imagine the stress and angst and heartache that some parents feel for their newborns. What a cruel ordeal!
Through all this, I've been trying to come up with something to say about the widow's mite. I read something or other that said that the widow was able to give her all because she didn't have much in the first place. 2 copper coins wasn't going to do anything for her anyway. The rich gave a portion of their plenitude. Jesus pointed to her and said, "there's the Kingdom of God." Perhaps we are sometimes stripped bare before we are able to give our all to God. The four noble truths seem to echo in my mind associated with this story-- suffering is with us from birth: (dukkha--isn't that a great word for suffering?) The root of suffering is craving. The cessation of craving is the cessation of suffering. The path of this cessation of craving and suffering is the eightfold path. (right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration). the widow was actually rich because she expressed an absence of craving. The rich who gave more money gave out of their wealth--they weren't as impressive because they still clung to their wealth.

Well--that jumpstarted a few thoughts (not finished with sermon yet--I look forward to being able to weave in some Buddhism into the sermon) check on the church website for the finished product!
Pray for little Shelby! While you're at it, throw one in for Wes too--and his poor, worried pop!