Saturday, December 12, 2015

The God I Know

I am deeply troubled by what I have been hearing from those who call themselves Christians. 

I am a cradle Christian, a follower of Jesus, and an Episcopal priest.

When I worked in professional theatre, I encountered a number of people whom I call "refugees from religion."  Many had once been religious and most were spiritual.  But they had been hurt in the name of Christ, taught about an angry God who would condemn them for any of a number of sins, including, for some of them, being who they were.  The Gospel was not good news for them but had been used to scold, to criticize, and to shame.  In some cases - to destroy fragile spirits.  How deeply sad I was to learn that my beloved religion had treated such good and dear people in ways that drove them out rather than inviting them in.

I will never forget one friend telling me how much he had loved the church as a boy. He then turned to me with anguish in his eyes and asked me how he could continue to be part of something that told him that he would go to hell because of who he loved.  It didn't make sense to him.  It doesn't make sense to me. 

The God I know is very different from the ones my friends had been taught to know.  I did my best to show them the God I knew, not by preaching to them or trying to convert them but by demonstrating that not all Christians worship the Angry Hall Monitor in the Sky.  I talked about going to church and what I had heard in the sermon that week, not for their benefit but because I was excited about it.  Sometimes my friends and I engaged in conversations late at night about what we thought and believed about God.  A few asked if they could come to church with me.  One said he felt connected to church because on Sundays I always came to rehearsal dressed in my church clothes and it reminded him of his childhood.

Some of my friends were quite angry.  They would talk about how hateful Christianity is.  I would always defend my religion.  One friend and I got into a mild argument one day when he said something derogatory and I responded that not all Christians were like that.  He mentioned a Christian leader in our area, and I said, "He doesn't speak for me."  My friend demanded to know why the Christians who did not agree with Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or other Christian leaders of their ilk were not more visible.  He told me that we needed to speak up.  I have never forgotten that conversation. 

When I went to Israel in 2000, the trip that led me to pursue ordination to the priesthood, our tour visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.  I had a powerful experience at the children's museum there.  At one point we entered a room so dark that we had to hold onto a handrail to keep from stumbling.  Overhead a voice read out the names of children, their countries, and their ages - children who had been lost in the Holocaust.  Inside the dark room were candles reflected in mirrors.  When you looked at them straight on, you could see columns of individual candles stacked from floor to ceiling, about a foot from each other on all sides.  If you shifted your gaze a little to the side, however, the candles reflected into infinity, merging with the reflections of the candles in the next column, giving the illusion of millions of tiny flickering lights.  All those voices silenced.  All that potential lost forever.

I later wrote about that experience, "I could not take a picture of the tiny flames surrounded by all that darkness, but instead I had to memorize it, to etch it into the backs of my eyelids and into my heart so that I might never forget.  So that if I ever live in a time like that of the Holocaust, I will see those tiny flames, and I will stand up and say NO.  I will raise my voice against those who would snuff out the flames."

I don't own a TV station, and I am not the President of a university.  I do not have the power and influence of some of the more visible Christian leaders in this country.  But I do have a voice, and I can say that they do not speak for me.  Any Christian who is preaching violence against other children of God does not speak for me.  And let me be clear that all human beings are children of God.  

The God I know is the God of love.  
The Jesus I know came "to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." 
The Jesus I know said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" and told Peter to put down his sword.
The God I know gave up power to dwell among us and to die as one of us, loving us and forgiving us.
The Jesus I know endured death by crucifixion rather than lift a hand in violence.

The men who are proclaiming violence in the name of God do not speak for me, and they do not speak of the God that I know.  I pray that they will come to know the God I know.  I pray that Christians everywhere will be known for how well they love, not how well they defend themselves.  
I pray for peace for all of God's children.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Rainbows and Labyrinths - Advent Hope

God is so good.  I find this time of year hard, when the days are so short.  I thrive in the warm sun.  Ever since Advent last year I have also been struggling with some anxiety/depression that is made worse every time I turn on the news and every time I scroll through Facebook.  I despair of there being any wisdom or love in the world when I see over and over how badly we human beings treat each other.  And I find that even my to-do list can be overwhelming some days.  It has been recommended to me that when I feel one of these anxious "episodes" coming on that I get outside and walk.  When I complained to my therapist one day last January that I couldn't take a walk because it might rain, he said, "The worst thing that will happen is that you get wet."  I didn't appreciate the comment at the time, but I've come to see his point.

Today was one of those days when I was too whiny to walk.  It was chilly and so overcast that it felt like twilight inside my house all day.  I had run errands and done some house chores and was starting to move around the house aimlessly while craving sugar.  I kept telling myself that I needed to go out and walk.  When I went out for the mail, it had started to rain, and I just couldn't bring myself to be out in it.  At about 4:20 I looked outside and saw a glimmer of sunlight.  Just go, I told myself.

Out I went, bundled up, Ipod in pocket, hood up, scarf wrapped warmly around my neck.  As I walked out of my neighborhood, I could hear the sound of raindrops hitting my hood.  The air smelled of wet leaves and smoke from a wood fire.  As I turned the corner out of my neighborhood, I looked over the trees to the east and saw a rainbow.  I started laughing with delight.  "Thanks God!" I said out loud.  I took out my phone to take a few pictures.  The further I went, the brighter the rainbow got.  It lasted all the way until I got to the labyrinth.  I kept turning to look at it.  For awhile there was a double rainbow.  The bow went from horizon to horizon, arcing across the sky as the sun sank down. 

When I got to the labyrinth, I could see the sun setting in the west and the rainbow in the east.  Raindrops continued to fall on my head.  I've never walked the labyrinth when there was a rainbow before.  I walked on behalf of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who is in the hospital with a subdural hematoma today.  I also walked for a young friend who is having a challenging experience today and for Randy, my old theatre colleague, who lost someone dear to him.  I walked for those killed in San Bernadino and for those struggling in Chicago.  I prayed for all who are in the darkness.  In the center, I offered a blessing to Eastern State Hospital as I often do.  Peace.  Healing.  Wholeness.  Compassion and patience for the caregivers.  Bless this place as a place of healing.

I know I'm an idealist and probably naive.  But the good news of the Gospel tells me that God's going to win in the end.  The rainbow is the symbol of God's promise to us.  Whenever I see one I'm filled with hope.  I don't believe I've seen one in Advent before.  It was such a wonderful reminder to me not to give in to despair.  It may suck right now in many ways.  But that is not the end.  There is always hope.  Thanks, God.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

How Do You See God?

On my way to Newport News this morning I saw a sign saying there were wind restrictions on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  Not a problem for me since I wasn't going that far, but it was an indication of weather conditions in the area.  50 degrees with 15-20 mile an hour winds makes for very chilly outdoor sitting.  Brrr...  When I first arrived at CNU I considered sitting inside, but I ran into one of the staff who booed me when I said I thought it was too cold to be outside.  So I decided to give it a try.  I was bundled up in a base layer, clergy shirt and CNU sweatshirt with my down coat, scarf, gloves, and a prayer shawl for a lap blanket.  The blanket made all the difference in keeping my legs warm. 

Breathe in peace.  Breathe out love.  I started the new breathing exercise that my therapist has taught me.  Breathe in peace.  Breathe out love.  As I began praying for the campus, a young woman walked up to me with two beverages in her hand.  "Would you like a hot chocolate?" she said and held out one of the cups.  "Yes, I would," I told her.  "Thank you."  Gratefully I wrapped my gloved hands around the warm drink.  "I heard you say you were cold," she said as she headed off to class.  Wow.  These students are so thoughtful and generous.  I wonder if they are on all campuses, or if there's something special here at CNU.  I certainly wasn't that thoughtful when I was in college.

One of the Canterbury students brought her lunch out to eat with me, and we had a good conversation.  Tonight the group is having dinner together at Scott Baker's house.  When he's not busy priesting, he loves to cook.  I've heard rumors of tortellini soup and lasagna, and I made pumpkin and pecan pies.  It should be a fun evening, and 8 students are coming with me!  We're fortifying them for their exams next week.

One of the students from another campus ministry came over and brought me some more hot chocolate.  The CRU (Campus Crusade) students had a hot chocolate station in the Plaza today, while they were doing an evangelism experience.  My young friend invited me to go over so he could introduce me to the CRU team.  As people sipped hot chocolate, they were invited into conversation about some images that had been attached to a posterboard.  I understand that the images came from  The CRU students asked a series of questions about the images including:
Which three images would you choose to describe your life right now?
Which three images describe what you wish were in your life right now?
Which image would you choose to describe God?
and a few more. 
We had a fun time picking our images and saying why we had chosen them.  It was a great way to get conversation going, and I may use it with the Canterbury students or at SpiritWorks.  I talked for awhile with the student who asked me the questions and ended up saying a prayer with him, too.  He and his girlfriend want to be medical missionaries one day.  When I was in college I just wanted to get through exams!

Later on another student I know came up, clearly feeling the stress of the end of the semester.  He didn't have time to linger, so I offered him a hug.  Someone who I think is a professor rode by on a bicycle and asked for prayers for a person suffering with cancer.  For awhile I watched some men in a cherry-picker lift thingy putting up the big Christmas tree in the middle of the Great Lawn and fixing a giant star on the top - it will be lit Sunday night.  I had to keep shifting the station to stay in the sun but the shade rapidly overtook me, and finally I gave up and retreated to the campus coffee shop.  I had made it my full time, though, with a brief break inside for a pit stop and my usual visit to the OSA office.  The student aid there will be studying abroad in London next semester, so I was glad to get a chance to say good-bye to her and offer blessings for her next adventure. 

It may have been chilly and windy at the prayer station today, but the warmth of the students more than made up for it.  Whatever else it may be, Advent is the Season of Hope.  Spending time with the CNU students fills me with hope.