Seeing Fully

I was a late-bloomer. Although it seemed at first that I was going to be a fast-starter since I was born two months too soon, it took me a while to catch up. I started kindergarten a month before I turned five (when you were supposed to already be five) but needed some help from a speech pathologist. I had trouble sitting still, and my first grade teacher’s report card comments reflected that. I didn’t go right from high school to college (but worked for two years in between); and I changed my major twice (first speech pathology, then elementary education, and finally comparative religion). I came from Judaism to Christianity at thirty-seven. But I didn’t come out until I was forty-five (after being married for seventeen years). And I didn’t begin seminary until I was fifty-three (thirty years after earning my bachelor’s degree). In many things, I was an introverted observer. And while I stood on some sidelines, learned something about seeing patterns.

And one of the things I think I’ve learned, is that we humans can tend to project our own experiences onto others. That we can not only conclude that the experiences we have growing up (while we are being formed) are “normal,” but we can make them normative (determinative) for others. For example, let’s say a child is raised by parents who never read them bedtime stories; they may, when they become parents, be caught off-guard that other parents they know would even do this. And in my own childhood experience, ketchup on hamburgers, and mustard on hot dogs was not only normal, but right (determinative) for others too.

There are also patterns which periodically repeat, even though their content may express some variation. Take the winter and summer solstices for example. On December 21 it may snow 6″ one year, and the next year the ground may be clear. And on June 21 it may be 71° one year and 91° the next. Reliable patterns with variable content.

This month marks the end of my eleventh full-year serving Holy Cross and Ascension; and the end of my first full-year serving Holy Trinity. Eleven years ago I served two congregations in two locations. Then in 2014, I served two congregations in one location. And now I’m serving three congregations in two locations. And within this configuration, there are patterns which periodically repeat even though their content may express some variation. At both 9:00 and 11:00, we Gather, hear God’s Word, are fed at Table, and are Sent to do God’s work. We confess our sins and are absolved.

But the music at Two Churches and at Holy Trinity is different. After several years, we omitted the filioque from the Nicene Creed at Two Churches based on a General Convention commitment to do so; while it’s contained in [ brackets ] at Holy Trinity as we move closer to that practice there. Organ or piano at Two Churches, and piano and / or guitar at Holy Trinity. Bulletin cover images at both locations, but different images. Reliable patterns with variable content.

Many of us “read, learn, and inwardly digest” the world through the lenses of our own experiences. But in 1 Corinthians 13:9-12, Paul wrote: For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully.

Most people with color blindness, grow up with a vague intellectual understanding that they don’t see colors the way most other people see them. And with some guidance from those with full color vision, they can come to understand that what they see as pale yellow is really red, and that what they see as blue is really purple.

When my daughter was about six years old, she was looking at some photos of her mom when her mom was about ten. Her mother was standing inside an empty built-in swimming pool, peering up over the edge, wearing sunglasses, and looking at the camera, all in glorious black and white. And Rachel paused for a moment –– you could tell she was thinking deeply –– and she turned toward her mom and said “Mommy, when you were little, before there was color…”

Before there was color. When we were in the Kansas part of The Wizard of Oz, and not yet in the rich technicolor golden yellows and kelly greens of Oz itself. But Rachel was only thinking about what she knew; only questioning what was in her experience. Her world was one of color. She had seen color photos; and photos that she knew were older were in black and white. So obviously, at some point there was only black and white, and then something happened and there was color, right?

But can you imagine how it must be for some people to not see color? How not seeing all colors must diminish one’s experience without even knowing that their experience has been diminished? Those with color deficiency may have an intellectual understanding about their lived lack; but until they put on a pair of EnChroma glasses (which correct this deficiency), they have no point of reference from which to experience it.

This “face to face seeing” to which Paul refers would be like giving EnChroma glasses to an adult who’s lived their lives with color deficiency. Except for us, it will be to see clearly and know God’s radical grace, unmerited forgiveness, and boundless love. And to live our lives out of that reality. For now though, we’ll have to believe the enlightened ones who assure us that it is so; and know that in God’s time, we will all bloom and see fully.

+Mike

Scope Creep: Blurring the Line

Demonstrators pray outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The House and Senate will meet in a joint session today to count the Electoral College votes to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, but not before a sizable group of Republican lawmakers object to the counting of several states’ electors. Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

Scope creep in project management refers to changes –– or continuous or uncontrolled growth –– in a project’s scope, and which occurs at any point after the project begins. This can occur when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled. It is generally considered harmful.

I had some first-had experience with scope creep last weekend, when I helped John S. (who taught me this phrase) change out some electrical outlets and cover plates in two Two Churches’ offices. What began as a simple wiring task, expanded into a cascading series of chores –– the latter ones being dependent on the completion of the former ones, and occasionally requiring one of us to flip circuit breakers and ensure that those outlets carried no power.

And even before I knew what to call it, I’ve had –– as I’m confined all of us have –– this same experience. For example, when going down to the basement ONLY to get a roll of paper towels, I notice that clothes in the washer need to be put in the dryer. So I do that. But before I start the dryer, I need to clean out the lint trap. And while I’m there, I figure I might as well put another load in the washer. But then I notice that the container of soap is just about empty, so I go to the storage closet to get the back-up jug of soap, and see that we’re out of light bulbs. And since we’ve planned a trip to the store later that day, I go up to my desk to add “light bulbs” to the grocery list (so I don’t forget). And as I’m writing that down, my laptop dings, indicating that there’s a new email. So I sit down to quickly scan it, and it’s from a committee chair asking for feedback on some decision. So I do a computer search for the document that will help me frame my feedback. And before I know it, I remember that I need to go back downstairs to get those paper towels and start that load of laundry. Scope creep. Although the definition I found (above) has a negative slant, in my case, everything I did was at least productive. But there is another kind of scope creep which is not only negative, but insidious; because it blurs the line between religion and politics in a not-so-good way. And so I cite and heavily quote a CNN article by Baltimore native John Blake who writes about race, religion, and politics.

The January 6 insurrection marked the first time many Americans realized the US is facing a burgeoning White Christian nationalist movement. This movement uses Christian language to cloak sexism and hostility to Black people and non-White immigrants in its quest to create a White Christian America. A report from a team of clergy and scholars — sponsored by two groups that advocate for the separation of church and state — concluded that this ideology was used to “bolster, justify, and intensify” the attack on the US Capitol.

White Christian nationalist beliefs have infiltrated the religious mainstream so thoroughly that virtually any conservative Christian pastor who tries to challenge its ideology risks their career, says Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of the New York Times bestseller, “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.” “These ideas are so widespread that any individual pastor or Christian leader who tries to turn the tide and say, ‘Let’s look again at Jesus and scripture,’ are going to be tossed aside,” she says. The ideas are also insidious because many sound like expressions of Christian piety or harmless references to US history. But White Christian nationalists interpret these ideas in ways that are potentially violent and heretical. Their movement is not only anti-democratic, it contradicts the life and teachings of Jesus; some clergy, scholars, and historians say. And there are three key beliefs often tied to White Christian nationalism.

(1) One of the most popular beliefs among White Christian nationalists is that the US was founded as a Christian nation; that the Founding Fathers were all orthodox, evangelical Christians; and that God has chosen the US for a special role in history. These beliefs are growing among Christians, according to a survey last year by the Barna Group. The group found that an “increasing number of American Christians believe strongly” that the US is a Christian nation, has not oppressed minorities, and has been chosen by God to lead the world. But the notion that the US was founded as a Christian nation is bad history and bad theology, says Philip Gorski, a sociologist at Yale University. “It’s a half truth, a mythological version of American history.” Some Founding Fathers did view the founding of the nation through a Biblical lens, Gorski says; but many did not. And virtually none of them could be classified as evangelical Christians. They were a collection of atheists, Unitarians, Deists, and liberal Protestants and other denominations. And the Constitution says nothing about God, the Bible or the Ten Commandments.

(2) A belief in a ‘Warrior Christ.’ The incongruity of people carrying “Jesus Saves” signs while joining a mob whose members are pummeling police officers leads to an obvious question: How can White Christian nationalists who claim to follow Jesus, the “Prince of Peace,” who renounced violence in the Gospels, support a violent insurrection? That’s because they follow a different Jesus than the one depicted in the Gospels, says Du Mez, who is also a professor of history and gender studies at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They follow the Jesus depicted in the Book of Revelation, the warrior with eyes like “flames of fire” and “a robe dipped in blood” who led the armies of heaven. White Christian nationalists have refashioned Jesus into a kick-butt savior who is willing to smite enemies to restore America to a Christian nation by force, if necessary, Du Mez and others say.

(3) A belief there’s such a person as a ‘real American.’ In 2008, the vice presidential candidate introduced a new term to the political discourse. She talked about “the real America.” Since then, many conservative political candidates have used the term “real Americans” to draw contrasts between their supporters and their opposition. And such language has been co-opted into a worldview held by many White Christian nationalists: The nation is divided between “real Americans” and other citizens who don’t deserve the same rights. Gorski’s research revealed a strong correlation between White Christian nationalism and support for gerrymandering; and the idea that “we are the people, and our vote should count, and you’re not the people, and… you don’t really deserve to have a voice.” All of this comes as a growing number of Americans are rejecting organized religion; and the country’s racial and religious diversity is growing. People who identify as white-alone declined for the first time since the census began in 1790, and the majority of Americans under 18 are now people of color.The economic, environmental, and social justice challenges we face in this country are daunting; as are the political and social divides. But for decades, the United States has decried theocracies and autocracies (wherever they are) which squelch the voice of and democratic will of the people. So has our theological scope creep gone too far (as some believe)? Or has it not gone far enough (as others do)? What do you think Jesus would say?

-Fr. Mike+

How Long, O Lord? How Long?

How Long, O Lord? How Long?

I’m not a constitutional scholar, but I know there’s an awful lot of energy around the Second Amendment. It was adopted on December 15, 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights and simply says “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

And this amendment is used to justify everything from home-grown anti-government militias to those who think every gun ought to be melted down. People on both sides at both extremes. And it’s easier to live in the polar extremes of anything, like gun control, abortion, LGBTQ marriage equality, interracial marriage, racism, equal pay for equal work, a women’s right to vote, and gerrymandering (the manipulation of an electoral constituency’s boundaries so as to favor one party or class). Take an extreme position on almost anything, dig in your heels, discount others’ positions almost before they even speak, and tell yourself until the cows come home, that you’re absolutely right.

It’s easier to live in the extremes because it maintains the status quo. It’s easier, because we can hold on to a one-size-fits-all approach instead of having to deal with nuance. So we can avoid the messiness of any particular topic. It’s easier to live on the extremes because it becomes easier to keep religion and politics far apart; and as justification for this, many will point to the 1954 Johnson Amendment which prohibits churches and religious orga­nizations from explicitly endorsing a political candidate, with the penalty of forfeiting their tax-exempt status.

An excerpt from a July 5, 2016 Christian Century magazine article affirms that churches and religious organizations are perfectly free under the tax-exemption laws to express their views on immigration, guns, military intervention, abortion, same-sex marriage, health care, and other issues. They are free to express their views about character and religious values. They are free, for example, to say that a candidate who relies on innuendo and hearsay is destroying the basis for genuine debate. They are free to say that a candidate who threatens opponents with violence is undermining the basis of community. They are free to say that a candidate who targets people of one religion for discriminatory treatment is attacking the basis of everyone’s religious freedom. They are free to say that campaigning by name-calling and personal insult is an affront to reason. And they are free to say that a candidate who sneers at the disabled, ridicules people because of their appearance, and promises to engage in torture fails to understand that all humans are made in the image of God. In short, there’s no law against religious leaders and religious organizations speaking and living out the truths that are rooted in their faith.

One of the bedrocks of Protestant theology is Richard Hooker’s so-called “three-legged stool.” It provides a dynamic guide when reflecting on our common life. When looking at an issue arising out of polity, liturgy, or doctrine, we could look at Scripture, experience, and tradition in the light of reason; when looking at Scripture, historical experience must be allowed to inform conclusions; and as it relates to reason, Scripture must be allowed to judge tradition.

For example, Exodus 21:7 allows us to sell our daughters into slavery. Exodus 35:2 says that anyone who works on the Sabbath shall be put to death. Lev. 25:44 states that we may possess both male and female slaves, provided they come from neighboring nations. Lev. 21:20 states that we may not approach the altar of God if we have a defect in our sight. Lev. 19:27 forbids trimming the hair around a man’s temples. Lev. 11:6-8 states that touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Lev. 19:19 prohibits wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (like a cotton/polyester blend).

But the conditions and circumstances under which our mothers and fathers in the faith wrote these statutes, no longer exist, and I know no one who abides by any of them. And so Hooker’s stool helps us see that the process by which we assess the staying power of any dictate is a dynamic process and may change over time.

The Second Amendment was written in a place and time, and in response to circumstances and situations which this country’s founders faced. Those circumstances and situations no longer exist. And according to last month’s May 24 article in the Washington Post –– since Sandy Hook (when twenty children and six adults were murdered and two injured) –– our nation has experienced more than 3,500 mass shootings (shootings in which four or more people are killed or injured). And in just one week’s two mass shootings, thirty-one children and adults were murdered and three were injured. Can anyone say that this is how Jesus wants us to live? Why can’t we, then, apply the same interpretive principles with which we understand millennia-old scripture, to the ways we understand the genesis of our infant country?

In a 2017 U.S. poll, there were 120.5 guns for every 100 people. Bp. Singh recently wrote that we don’t have a Second Amendment problem. What we have is a gun problem. But if as a nation we did only those things which could be done –– things like stringent universal background checks, red-flag laws, safe storage of guns, bans on large capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons, and by making mental health care more accessible –– more and more innocent people could be saved. And while doing these things wouldn’t eliminate 100% of gun deaths, our families and neighbors are worth the effort. Aren’t they?

 Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr. Mike+

STATEMENT FROM BISHOP SINGH CONCERNING THE SHOOTING IN TEXAS

Dear saints, 

Robb Elementary was home to the 27th school shooting this year and the 119th school shooting since 2018 in our country. Houston, Uvalde, and Oxford; we have a problem!

My brother bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas writes, “What we have to offer is ourselves. We have received power to love and to resist hatred.”

We can respond to his call with integrity. As I see it, we don’t have a second amendment problem but a gun problem — too many guns and assault weapons that are too quickly accessible to people who shouldn’t have that sort of responsibility. Stringent universal background checks, red-flag laws, safe storage of guns, and a ban on assault weapons can safeguard our children, schools, and communities. 

We are not the only country in this world with angry people or mental health issues. We are the only country with easy access to guns, including high-powered assault weapons so often used for mass shootings. In our state, firearms are now the #1 cause of death for children and youth. Suicides by firearm have reached record levels.

No one is safe when our children are regularly killed in schools by assault weapons. We have as many as four hundred million firearms in the United States of America. With that kind of access, the only reasonable protection in a civil society is stringent background checks. Most Americans —  90%, to be specific — are in favor of universal background checks before someone can buy a gun. It is that simple.

What we have here is a national health crisis! Our doctors, nurses, parents, and caregivers are overwhelmed by this human-made crisis. It is also a national security crisis when parents are terrified to send our precious children to school! Anyone running for public office who cannot protect the life of our children by subscribing to universal background checks is not qualified to serve.

Thoughts and prayers are as important as our actions. Prayers help us not become the very thing we’re trying to overcome. We cannot turn to anger, bitterness, and hate. We can keep our lawmakers accountable. On Holy Week this year, all three Michigan Episcopal bishops, ELCA Bishops, and over one hundred and forty followers of a loving God, lobbied in Lansing for some of these sensible gun laws to be established in our state.

We passed the second anniversary of George Floyd’s killing on May 25th. The pandemic of racism and the epidemic of gun violence must be addressed and are addressable regardless of one’s political party. I invite us to address them as followers of Jesus with compassion to protect our children from this chronic sickness in the soul of our country.

Here are a few steps you can take. Start with being kind to yourself and your neighbor. Breathe! Join End Gun Violence Michigan‘s Silence the Violence March on Saturday, June 4th in Detroit or local marches closer to you

We have to keep the pressure, my beloved!

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh

Bishop Provisional
The Episcopal Dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan

What Lies Ahead

As I write this reflection, the war in Ukraine has been going on for more than two months. Thousands of civilians, including children, have been injured or killed. As of April 21, almost 5.4 million refugees have fled Ukraine, and an estimated 7.7 million people have been displaced within the country itself.

Some of these people –– people just like you and me –– have had to bury loved ones in their backyard gardens. Some of them have had to leave their homes with little to no warning, and with little more than the clothes on their backs. And too many of those homes –– and the cities in which they were located –– are now rubble.

There is a madman in Russia who has unleashed the biggest war in Europe since World War II, with the justification that modern, Western-leaning Ukraine was a constant threat and Russia could not feel “safe, develop, and exist.” Putin has spoken of Russia’s invasion as a “noble” cause. On February 24, he told the Russian people his goal was to “demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine,” and to protect people subjected to what he called eight years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine’s government. He said he ordered the attacks “to protect people, including Russian citizens,” who have been subjected to what he called “genocide” in Ukraine. He has claimed that his goal is to strip Ukraine’s military power, not to take over the country. But he has severed most media ties with the west so his own people can’t see what their military has done and is doing. And many in his Russian army have acted with a brutality that has not specifically been ordered, but which is indicated by the rape and murder of those they’re accusing of being Nazis.

And it is beyond incomprehensible –– at least to me –– that a man who considers himself a Christian is responsible for atrocities so egregious that Jesus must be weeping.  While his father was a typical Soviet atheist of his era, his mother was Russian Orthodox; and by all accounts, she had her son secretly baptized and secretly instructed in the faith –– at least to some degree. But it is not incomprehensible that his offensives have been so horrific that Putin and others are being accused of war crimes; while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has rejected these allegations, saying that images coming from outside Kyiv were staged in order to make Russia look bad.

It’s true that there are more than a dozen other, less publicized and less severe wars going on around the world. But this one catches our attention and grieves our hearts more I think, because eastern Europeans are “more like us” than some other peoples are; though I may be feeling some kind of genetic resonance with what’s going on since I’m 100% Eastern European (that’s 100% Ashkenazi Jew, according to Ancestry DNA).

This senseless aggression began just before our Lenten journeys did. But just as Lent was ending, there was enough COVID behind us and enough Easter light ahead of us, that we were able to restore the Chalice –– the Common Cup which connects and unites us. And as my Easter letter indicated, “while it may seem at times that we live stuck in the dark of Good Friday, we are still and always are an Easter people!” This war may mislead us into thinking that we really are stuck in the dark of Good Friday; but a wise man, a sage, once said that when evil realizes its end is imminent, it flails around all the more wildly trying to get a foothold. What we’re seeing is the imminent death of evil; but because God’s time is not our time, we don’t know how imminent it is. But of it, we are assured.

World-wide events like this have a slow-motion domino effect; which means that different kinds of consequences take varying amounts of time to wash ashore. And so none of us really know exactly what lies ahead. What will wash ashore. But what we know, and the immovable foothold which secures us, is that there is nothing that God cannot redeem. God in Christ has already done it. We are now witnesses to its unfolding. But pray for Ukraine, pray for America, pray for each other; and pray for our enemies.

~ Fr. Mike

Rector’s Corner:

Sermon: There and Back Again

the Rev. Mike Wernick                                                                                                                                               May 22, 2022

Year C

Acts 16:9-15

Psalm 67

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

John 14:23-29-+

May the words of my mouth O God…  speak your truth…

When a baby is born…  they experience themselves as indistinguishable from their mother…  they have no awareness that they’re a separate human being…  especially when they’re looking into their mother’s eyes…  often while being fed…  and it’s in this mirroring…  that they begin to form a sense of self-worth and identity…  and as infants develop…  they begin to differentiate…  to gradually become aware of their separateness…  that’s why I label the so-called Terrible Twos…  the Terrific Twos…  because these toddlers are becoming their own people…  learning to learn how to set their own boundaries…

When I was a child…  my father would sometimes set a boundary for me…  set a limit…  tell me what to do…  or what not to do…  and sometimes I asked “Why… ” and sometimes he’d explain in ways I could understand…  and sometimes he just said…  Because I said so…  and you’ll be a happier little boy when you do as I say…  and this guidance sometimes felt like nothing less than interference… 

And many of us continue…  into our teenage years…  resisting this authority…  we don’t want our sense of agency to be challenged…  but then we sometimes also want to hold authority accountable for our actions…  for example…  those in the military can say they were “just following orders”…  others can say…  well…  so and so told me to do it…  and we might remember that famous line from Genesis…  She did give to me and I did eat

And now…  not only individually but collectively…  we continue to be in a time of transition…  we continue to struggle in many different ways…  and on many different levels…  figuring out who we ought to listen to…  and what is authoritative in our lives…  who and what to believe…  what’s true…  and what’s a lie…  figuring out what serves only a few…  and what serves the many…  figuring out how to be neighbors to each other…  and our reading from Revelation tells us that no one who practices falsehood will be able to be a part of the beloved community…

But sometimes…  some of us…  diminish…  or attack…  or kill our neighbors…  as happened in the recent mass shooting at the Tops Grocery store in Buffalo, New York…  because they’ve collectively come to believe the lies of white supremacy…  you see…  we came to this country looking for liberty…  but brought slavery…  and there are those who want to continue to believe that they are better than people of color…  and they have chanted…   You Will Not Replace Us…   or Jews Will Not Replace Us…  as demonstrators did several summers ago at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia…  and let me be clear…  these are not Gospel values…  and for any of our elected leaders to remain silent in their aftermath…  or to minimize their egregious nature…  is to be complicit in their actions…

Our Gospel reading today began with v. 23…  but in v. 22…  Judas…  asks Jesus…  Lord…  how is it that you will reveal yourself to us…  and not to the world…  and in response…  Jesus makes a monumental distinction…  he says…  my own Peace I give to you…  it’s not the peace that the world gives…  the peace that the world gives is temporary…  inconsistent…  it’s variable…  it’s dependent on changing conditions…  it’s as easily broken as cease-fires are…  it comes and goes as dictators rise and fall…  as individuals or groups vie for power and control…  or try to make a name for themselves…  that’s why one of the Beatitudes says…  Blessed are those who support God’s Peace…  for they shall be called God’s Children…  and the Peace that God gives…  is a peace which passes understanding…  it transcends human-made words and phrases…  it comes not from understanding intellectually…  but from experiencing that in spite of any external events or lack of them…  that whatever chaos is swirling around us…  we are grounded in the silence of God’s presence…  that our identity is rooted in the Ground of Being…  that we remain unshakable…  because God’s promise is not place…  but presence…  and God’s face looks like hospitality…

In fact…  Jesus says…  those who keep my word will be loved by the Father…  and we will make our home with them…  and the Greek word that’s translated as home…  is meno…  but meno also means to abide…  and this verse echoes Ch. 1:14 of John’s Gospel which says…  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…   or lived among us…  depending on which translation you use…  but the Greek word from which dwelt and lived comes…  also means to abide…  it also means tabernacled…  it also means to pitch a tent…  And the Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us… and it makes some sense…  that when a nomadic people pitched a tent…  it meant they were going to be there for a while…  and what Jesus tells them is a continuation of what Jesus said to Nicodemus earlier in John’s Gospel about needing to be born of the Spirit…  Jesus says…  the Father and I will abide forever with those who keep not my Word…  but the Word of him who sent me…  but the way we’re going to do it…  is that I’m going to go away…  and send an Advocate…  the Holy Spirit…  whom the Father will send in my name…  and the Spirit will teach you everything…  and remind you about everything that I have said…  it sounds to me like God’s Law written on our hearts…  when intuition and revelation become as common as common sense… 

Fr. John Meulendyk wrote…  perhaps we really don’t understand Spirit…  or more importantly…  how deeply frightened we are of how the Spirit might move in our lives if we allow her…  in actuality…  the Spirit exposes our deepest fears…  and longings…   and desires…  and at the same time…   opens up a way for us to heal from what frightens us…  and what frightens us the most on a spiritual level is the fear that we are alone…  so we become preoccupied with ourselves…  preoccupied with our ideas about ourselves…  our opinions about ourselves…  and preoccupied by what we think other people think about us…  we cut off our relationship with God because we think that God couldn’t really accept us just as we are…  so we try to find affirmation in another place…  person…   job…   or even in addiction…  but the Holy Spirit breaks apart that falsehood…  it’s like a butter churn where the paddle goes back and forth…  instead of up and down…  and sometimes our lives are like this…  we may take five steps forward and then slide back three…  and it can be discouraging until we realize that we’re not moving forward toward perfection…  but are making butter…  and that there’s a qualitative wisdom in this honest…  humble…  and vulnerable way of walking through our own life…  when we notice that we’re doing it in a community of people who are doing the very same thing…

When a baby is born…  they experience themselves as indistinguishable from their mother…  and as they develop…  they begin to differentiate…  but that’s only the first half of the story…  the second half of the story is about our journey towards re-unification… not as Nicodemus wondered about entering the womb again…  but so that we can experience the same unity with our heavenly parent that Jesus experienced…  and then we’ll wonder why we didn’t let go of the grip we had on our puffed-up sense of autonomy…  in favor of the Spirit’s loving guidance…  that much sooner…  since as my Dad might have said…  we’d have been happier children…  if we had just listened to the Spirit that much sooner…

Imbolc, Candlemass, and Groundhog Day

The start of February is filled with significance. For many pagans it marks the holiday of Imbolc, seen by some as the start of Spring (and by many others as the height of winter). Millions more celebrate it as Candlemass (or the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple). In the United States February 2 is most commonly thought of as Groundhog Day, which is a seasonal ritual to determine how much longer winter will last.
February 2 is a busy time of year on the calendar because it’s a celestially auspicious occasion. It’s known as a “cross quarter holiday,” which means it’s a date in-between a solstice and an equinox. Various cultures would have known this thousands of years ago as well, which is why so many holidays are celebrated on that day. Like most holidays the origins of Imbolc, Candlemas, and Groundhog Day are shrouded in mystery, but there are a few things we can say with some certainty.


We don’t know that much about Imbolc. We don’t know very much about the actual ancient holiday celebrated on that date. The first written reference to Imbolc dates only to the 10th or 11th centuries and was first written down by Irish (Christian) monks.
The word Imbolc only shows up in Ireland; though there’s no way of knowing if the holiday was celebrated across the Celtic world. It was most certainly an ancient pagan holiday, but beyond that it’s hard to say anything with certainty. The word Imbolc most likely has something to do with milking, and perhaps purification; both associated with the holiday today. In addition, this was the time of year when lambs were born; and by the time they were weaned, there was enough green grass for them to eat. It’s safe to say that Imbolc would have been seen as the start of spring by the Celts of Ireland
While most Americans celebrate Imbolc on February 2, the holiday itself was originally celebrated at sundown on the first, and following the Jewish pattern, lasted until the next sunset; and at least in some places, it was sacred to the Pagan Goddess / Christian Saint Brigid.


On the Catholic calendar St. Brigid’s Day is still celebrated on the first of February. Brigid was an Irish-Celtic goddess who later became a Christian Saint; though there are Christians who deny this. Some think of Brigid as a nearly universal Celtic deity; while others think that worship of her might have been limited to what is now Kildare Ireland. As for the Irish Saint, there are no contemporary records attesting to her existence. She appears in stories at the birth of Jesus, but was said to have died in 524 CE. And the first recorded instance of Brigit’s Cross dates from the 17th century.


Candlemas (adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in the seventh century) is not a Christianized version of Imbolc because the earliest celebrations of Candlemas date back to fourth century Greece, and Imbolc wasn’t celebrated in Greece or Rome. And the Latin word februa signified purification and there was a holiday of that name celebrated in the middle of the month of Februarius. Christian celebrations of Candlemas often included a ritual of purification. Later, Christians would add a candle blessing of their own celebration to the holiday.


The American celebration of Groundhog Day was begun by the Pennsylvania Dutch (a group of German descent), which is one of the reasons why Punxsutawney Phil is the most famous weather prognosticator in North America. Early European versions of Groundhog Day featured badgers and bears instead of groundhogs, and it’s uncertain just where this part of the tradition comes from, though it may have something to do with animals waking up from hibernation.


February 2 is a busy day on the calendar not because everyone was stealing from Irish-Celts, but because it’s a day that speaks to many of us in our humanity. After a month and a half of official winter, the days are finally getting noticeably longer. And no matter how you’ve arrived there, the return of light and warmth is certainly worth celebrating.

~Fr. Mike

Brighter than a Supernova

It feels a bit odd to write an Epiphany article on the heels of Christmas because we’re still in the midst of Christmastide. But even in the days after Christmas, it may be helpful to explain why “Jesus born in Bethlehem” (Matthew 2:1) is something we experience in Holy Communion. Bethlehem literally means “house of bread,” and it is to our houses of bread, our own church communities that we are called; and in which we will be spiritually nourished. A place where our hungers will cease. And there are several layers of meaning to Jesus being born in the town of the “house of bread.” Jesus will later say: “I am the bread of life; the bread of God that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”The Epiphany mystery is the unfathomable experience of the boundless contained within the bound, of infinity contained within the finite, of the Morning Star which knows no setting continuously illuminating our paths. And the Wise Men (the Magi) who come (and who are purported to be astrologers), who follow this Morning Star, are like those who have found the key to the treasure map, or like those who have found a pearl of great value in the most unlikely of places –– buried in a field –– or found in a manger –– and they are overwhelmed with joy, kneel down, and offer gifts. The joy the Wise Men felt must have been like the joy Mary felt when Gabriel told her that she would bear a son who would be Emmanuel (God with us). And in their gratitude, in the presence of this light, the awareness of Herod fades –– as do the systems of the world when they truly encounter the incarnate God.But it is after the Wise Men have “been warned in a dream not to return to Herod” (Matthew 2:12) but to leave by another road, that Herod’s evil intentions become even more vengeful. Herod is aligned with world powers that do not give life to the world and do not feed it –– and he doesn’t want to be shown up short by the bread that always feeds. And so the missing verse in the January 2 Gospel (v. 16) tells us that “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the Wise Men, he was infuriated, and he sent [ his soldiers ] and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the Wise Men.” Those so murdered are referred to as The Holy Innocents.In the year 1054, Chinese astronomers also looked heavenward, and took notice of a “guest star” that was, for nearly a month, visible in the daytime sky. The “guest star” they observed was actually a supernova explosion, which gave rise to the Crab Nebula, a six-light-year-wide remnant of the violent event. Located 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus, the Crab Nebula can best be spotted with a small telescope this month. The nebula was discovered by English astronomer John Bevis in 1731, and later observed by Charles Messier, who first mistook it for Halley’s Comet, but whose observation of the nebula inspired him to create a catalog of celestial objects that might be mistaken for comets. The Crab Nebula is catalogued as M1.Everyone comes to Bethlehem. Wise men, shepherds, reassuring angels, even us. And so how will we get to Bethlehem to see and experience this miracle? The trip isn’t always easy. What will we have to risk? What comfort, or familiarity, or security, or indulgence, or diversion, or perhaps addiction will we have to give up in order to travel to Bethlehem to see and experience the light that’s even brighter than a supernova in the daytime, but is completely contained within innocence? Let us pray that in this new year, the Divine Mystery invites us onto paths to and from Bethlehem so that we may also experience the incarnation, be changed and formed by it at our deepest level, and avoid all the Herods of our world as we continue on The Way.

Mike+

 

Leave the Cookies for Santa. God Wants All of You.

THE REV. MIKE WERNICK

When I was in seminary, we learned how to become detectives as it related to scripture. We were taught to ask questions about the author’s intended message, and to gain insights into how his own readers would have heard and understood it. And generally speaking, we explored the texts according to five categories, or “criticisms.” The major types of biblical criticism are: (1) textual criticism, which is concerned with establishing the original or most authoritative text from the various readings of ancient manuscripts (including the Q source-documents which many scholars believe informed the basis for Matthew and Luke’s Gospels); (2) philological criticism, which is the study of the biblical languages in order to gain an accurate knowledge of the vocabulary, grammar, and style of the period; (3) literary criticism, which focuses on the various literary genres embedded in the text in order to uncover any evidence concerning the date and place of composition, authorship, and original function of the various types of writing that constitute the Bible; (4) tradition criticism, which attempts to trace the development of the oral traditions that preceded written texts; and (5) form criticism, which classifies the written material according to the pre-literary forms, such as “parable” or “hymn.” This supports exegesis (carefully extracting the text’s original meaning) and minimizes eisegesis (injecting our own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into the text).

Approaching scripture like this is, in some ways, comparable to Spiritual Direction; because Spiritual Direction seeks to peel away all that impinges on God’s truth in our lives, the way these “criticisms” seek to find God’s truth in scripture. And one way to understand the former process is to name what we think and/or feel about a circumstance, issue, or decision, what our family and friends think and/or feel, what church believes (perhaps informed by Richard Hooker’s three-legged stool: scripture, tradition, and reason), and what society and culture thinks and/or feels about it. And while we don’t dismiss these perspectives “out of hand,” we do mentally “set them aside.” And what we’re left with, what we hope to be left with, is God’s will –– what God’s authoritative voice says about that same circumstance or decision. God’s truth. And sometimes, what we discern God to “say” is in line with these other “voices.” And sometimes it is not.

But regarding exegesis, two of my favorite stories from seminary are that (1) while many of us are familiar with the Sunday school song about how “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down” (Joshua 6:20), my Old Testament professor shared that according to the archaeological evidence, Jericho had already been rubble for about 800 years before Joshua was even born. And (2), while many of us associate monotheism with Judaism (it was given expression in the Shema: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE); there were, in the first Temple, stone pillars erected to the Canaanite goddess Asherah (who was considered to be YHWH’s consort). And these pillars remained in place for about 400 years, until King Hezekiah had them torn down. And in both of these stories, things were not quite what we were told they were. Careful reading and some exegesis, exposed some inaccuracies. Which brings us to Christmas.

Mark’s Gospel opens up with John the Baptist who baptizes Jesus, who then (immediately) begins his Galilean ministry. Jesus is already an adult. There’s no infant narrative here. Luke’s Gospel begins with the baptist’s birth foretold, and that meeting between Elizabeth and Mary, and Augustus’ decree that all be registered, and the Inn with not enough room, and Jesus being laid in a manger wrapped in bands of cloth, and the shepherds and an angel and a multitude of the heavenly host praising God. Only Matthew’s Gospel contains the story about the Wise Men coming to Jesus to pay him homage and bring him gifts; and by the time they arrive, Jesus is about two years old.

Yet much of Christendom does with these Gospel stories, what happened with my two seminary stories. We either conflate them (as with Joshua and Jericho) or we minimize them (as with Asherah’s stone pillars); and in our nativity sets (or perhaps in our telling of the story), we bring the Wise Men right alongside the infant Jesus. And when we do that, we conduct a bit of eisegesis.

But the broader vision of our seven-week Advent is intended to help us maintain the most accurate perspectives by refining our discernment. It helps us lift our gaze up from the manger and towards the cosmos; from decorating our trees with ornaments to decorating ourselves with the qualities God holds in highest esteem; from consumerism to selflessness; and from giving gifts to each other to giving the gift of ourselves to God.

It’s hard work. I fail at it regularly. But while we don’t discard our family’s traditions or practices “out of hand,” we lovingly and respectfully peel away all of the cultural “voices” which clamor for attention, so what we are left with is the clarity of what God says to us, and are –– as the Angels say –– unafraid to live into it; and so when you’re making up your Christmas list, make sure there’s something for God on it too.

Warden’s Corner


As you are probably aware, Covid infection rates have risen to very high levels in recent weeks, particularly in the southeastern US.  Driven by this new (and more dangerous) Delta variant, higher infection rates have been migrating north, and have now reached Michigan.  Earlier this week, the 7-day infection rate for Kent County flipped from Orange to Red… and continues to rise.

We’ve not been ordered by the Michigan dioceses to resume wearing masks; they are now letting these decisions be made at the local level.  I can tell you that Two Churches – Kentwood reinstated their mask requirement a couple of weeks ago, and our supply priest Fr. David has asked me about it.

The Vestry discussed the matter this week and voted to temporarily reinstate the requirement that all persons must wear masks within our building, and ask all to practice social distancing.  We will continue to have masks available for those who need one.  The vote was not unanimous, and I can assure you that none of us is looking forward to wearing a mask again.  My personal opinion is that wearing a mask is a small inconvenience if it helps to protect someone else who may be at risk.  So this is about love.  

Thank you all for your patience, perseverance, and love for one another.

Kevin