Susquehanna Morning

Susquehanna Morning

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Binghamton Responds to the Orlando, FL Mass Killings

Image by Brett Jaspers, WSKG News
I don't need to recap it for you, the horrific events at the Pulse in Orlando, FL, in the early hours of June 12, 2016.

I want to share my remarks on the occasion of Binghamton's Candlelight Vigil, held on Tuesday evening June 14.

For me, the most moving part of the evening was the sight of perhaps thirty members of our  local mosque, the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier, filing onto the stage in a show of solidarity.

Or maybe it was the silence when the candles were lit, soon to be broken by "We Shall Overcome".

Or the sight of lanterns gently lifting off.

This was an event in which we refused to be divided from one another, vulnerable communities-- Muslims, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.

I was so very proud to be a part of it.


My name is Patricia Raube, and I’m the pastor of Union Presbyterian Church in Endicott, a congregation that loved me right out of the closet in 2009. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been intentionally ordaining LGBTQ people since 2011, and allowing its pastors and churches to celebrate the weddings of all people since 2014.

Because I’m up early on Sunday mornings, I read about the shooting at 6:30, when the news was “20 casualties.” By the time church was over, the whole country knew that there were 49 murdered, and 50-plus in the care of hospitals.

And we want to know why, and we, some of us, are quick to say why,
even before we really truly know.

But the one thing no one can challenge, the one thing we must agree upon, is that this was an attack whose targets were members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer community, as well as the Latino/ Latina community. Queer people and people of color bore the brunt of this act of hate, no matter what impulses or beliefs inspired it. It was an act of homophobia and perhaps racism. No matter what we learn about the motivations of the killer, we must not erase the identities of those whose lives he took.

This was an attack on the queer community and its allies.

But this was also an attack on our safe spaces, our sanctuaries. Many of us in the churches have not done nearly enough to make our congregations the safe spaces they should be, to make our sanctuaries, sanctuary to the LGBTQ community. So our queer community has found sanctuary elsewhere—in places like Binghamton’s own Herizon, and Merlin’s, and Squiggy’s, and Orlando’s Pulse. And now—for so many of us—these sanctuaries have been violated. These sanctuaries are haunted by this terrible act of hatred. These sanctuaries, for some of us, have ceased to be those holy spaces of safety and love.

So where do we go from here?

In one sense, we do what we always have done. We continue to find families of choice, and safe spaces, together. We hallow new grounds and rooms and clubs, and make them our sanctuaries and, perhaps, we re-dedicate and re-sanctify the old spaces with new fervor and intention.

At the same time, for you, for me, for each of us: I offer you what my faith tells me to be true: that Love, a love greater than any of us is capable of on our own, created us, each of us, and made us mysterious, and beautiful and perfect, just as we are. I offer you what I believe with all my heart: that our love and our bodies and our lovemaking are precious, good, and sacred. I offer you what each of us must cling to: that our goodness and our holiness cannot and will not be diminished or erased, no matter who tries to hunt us down, or keep us out of our preferred bathrooms, or in any way legislate us out of existence.

We exist. You, and I, and each person dancing their heart out in their sanctuary of choice. Those whose names we will say tonight, and those who are still dancing cannot and will not be diminished, or forgotten, or erased. Just as it has before: Love will win.

Image from WICZ News

Friday, June 3, 2016

Healing, By the Numbers

I returned to the pool this week, for the first time in a long time.

First time since having pneumonia.

First time since last summer, actually. I had to look at my calendar and check. It was true.

I am in the midst of a... what? A program, maybe? Of actions I am taking, very intentionally, to restore myself to health.

This is about more than having pneumonia.

I am walking, a little longer each morning. I am walking with my partner, S, and a dog we have sort of half-adopted, a beautiful blue-and-black Australian cattle dog who belongs to one of S's tenants. We walk a little longer each day. (A mile and a half, today.) And with that, I notice that this process seems to involve a lot of numbers.

There were lots of numbers involved, at the Y, when I went for my swim.

* Re-memorize lock combination. (Same lock I've had for over 20 years. Always have to re-memorize.)

* Note time when I began my swim. How long are the laps taking me? (Answer: a little longer than usual, by a full 15 seconds.) And wonder: can I successfully keep my start time and the combination in my head for the full duration of the swim? (Yes.)

* Note time/ distance during which I felt great. (It was about 20 yards.)

* Note time/ distance before I tired. Which is to say, before my lungs began to burn. Under normal circumstances, I can return to the pool, even after nearly a year, and swim a half mile with little or no trouble.

(In fact, I do believed I moaned with pleasure at the feeling of the cool water washing over me, on a hot late spring day, at the end of what was my longest day in the office since my return.)

After that... well, it's the lungs, you see. They are still not where they were. I struggled through one lap (two lengths), and flipped onto my back to do the second lap. Backstroke is much easier, breathing-wise. It gives me time to return my breathing to near-normal, before attempting another lap with the crawl.

* Keep count of the laps. (Turns out, when you are alternating crawl/ backstroke, it's relatively easy to do this.)

* Assess level of success: I did not make my half mile; I could only swim half that, a quarter mile. And that felt like a victory, all things considered. ("All things" including: the memory of the first week of being sick, when I sounded like a death scene in a Dickens novel. When, for the first time in my life I could not take breathing for granted, but was experiencing it as an underwater-type of phenomenon, noisy, ragged. When, if I am completely honest with myself, I was frightened.)

And then, there was the exit from the pool...

* Wonder at the length of time I need to lean on the wall, after exiting the pool, before legs stop feeling wobbly. (It was only a minute. Less, probably.)

So... next up in healing by the numbers:

Length of time it will take me to understand that this is a slow process, and I can neither dictate it by force of will, nor game it by racking up the "right" statistics. All I can do is take it step by step, stroke by stroke, breath by breath.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


I awoke to the sound and rattle of wind, moaning in the eves of my house and bending the branches of the trees outside my windows. When I went downstairs I could hear the chimes on my porch dancing crazily in their minor key.

As I awakened on Pentecost Sunday to the sound and rattle of wind, the people of my congregation were soon to gather, to hear the story:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. ~Acts 2:1-4

There is something about this description that thrills and unnerves me. To experience wind, unmediated by the reasonably strong walls of a building around you, is to know a primal sense of vulnerability. This invisible thing is moving you, pushing you, howling at you. It is the stuff of nightmares, or horror flicks. At the same time, when assured of our safety, it is exciting, it is heady. Growing up at the shore we would flock to the ocean as hurricanes were coming in, and gather outside our cars in our rain gear (except umbrellas; don't bother with them, they're useless in the wind) to watch the effect the wind had on the ocean, to feel it push us around. 

Things change when you see the destruction wind can leave in its path. Now my hometown knows what it is to be the place where the second most expensive hurricane in US history makes landfall. People there know what happens when you can't afford to recover from the damage, or to prepare for the next time. People there know what wind can do to your little life.

Wind is dangerous. So, scripture and mystics and poets agree, is God. A post to the Facebook RevGalBlogPals page reminded me of this quote of Annie Dillard's:

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. 
~ from Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper and Rowe 1982

I think Dillard's onto something. Pentecost is, at the very least, our annual notice that the waking God wants to draw us out to someplace new, someplace likely to be frightening, thrilling and unnerving, all at once. The waking God of Jesus wants us to walk where he has walked and further-- to walk where we haven't yet dared to walk, but where the wind and fire and healing power of the Spirit are sorely needed. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

All At Once

About ten days ago, a friend and I were talking about my ongoing struggle with self-care. This includes, but is not limited to, issues around sleep, eating, exercise, and, of course, actually taking real, true, time off. What we in the religion game like to call "Sabbath" time, time not in any way dictated by productivity or "getting things done" or work obligations.

My friend said to me, "I wonder what your life would be like if you could walk every morning, and swim every afternoon."

It's always interesting to see what your real reactions are to things, as opposed to the reactions you expect from yourself. My real reaction to this was a deep sigh of pleasure. "Oh, that wonderful."

I would not have expected that reaction. I would have expected to feel exasperated, pressured, overwhelmed with the impossibility of it. Instead, I grabbed onto it, like a little kid being swept downstream who had been thrown a tiny, hard, and yet improbably buoyant life-preserver.

The very next day I found myself at the walk-in because I was wheezing-- loudly, alarmingly. I've never had asthma, I'm not a smoker. My blood pressure was up. They gave me an inhaler.

Three days later, instead of being in the pulpit, I was back at the walk-in being diagnosed with pneumonia. They gave me antibiotics and medications to reduce the inflammation in my lungs, and orders to rest, drink fluids, and do pretty much nothing.

The first part of this week consisted of me trying to get back into the swing of church this Sunday (and today, for the wedding of a beloved member of my congregation). It consisted of me creating bulletins, gathering thoughts for sermons and meditation, writing reports and replying to close to 150 emails.

I know that's not rest. I know that's not nothing.

But it also consisted of me reading. Two books, one novel and one book of church history/ theology. A dense one, one I haven't been able to make mental space for, but which I'm now devouring.

It also consisted of me praying. More, more intentionally. Returning to prayer patterns that have nurtured me in the past, but which have gotten swept downstream, like that little kid.

On Thursday I returned to the doctor again, not feeling a lot of improvement. (The truly disconcerting symptom in all of this has been how weak I've felt. Feel.) An x-ray, more meds. And finally, finally admitting that the idea that I could return to work this weekend was misguided at best.

With tears of frustration and real sorrow I handed off the last of my obligations. One friend had been covering pastoral emergencies. Another covered a graveside service. And one-- God bless him-- took both the wedding and Sunday.

Pentecost Sunday.

And then, all at once, the emails all but stopped, slowing down to a trickle.

And now, I am in a great stillness. My house is quiet (though I am still wheezing). My mind is awake (except when I fall into a deep sleep, which happens a lot).

I read an article this morning from the Well in the New York Times, their section for health and well-being. It says that, in making changes for our well-being, it may actually help us to do several things at once, rather than focusing on one thing at a time. Don't simply change your sleep schedule; do the meditation you've been wanting to do as well. Make your diet healthier at the same time you are adding weight training to your regimen. Take up both walking and swimming.

At least one study seems to show that, not only do we thrive when we make a bunch of positive changes at once, but the effect stay with us, even after we're not adhering to the new regimen perfectly. The new practices reinforce one another. Win, win, win.

I'm wondering how my pneumonia/ enforced Sabbath regimen might be continued after I am back at work. The time I've taken for prayer. The time spent reading. The healthier eating choices I've made (embracing the fact that applesauce appeals more than fries just now). And maybe the addition of a walk in the morning and a swim in the afternoon.

I had been pondering how to make a change, a big change, that would help me in my quest to care for myself better.

The first thing I had to do, evidently, was get sick enough that everything I was doing would be interrupted, all at once. Enforced stillness. A full stop.

Now. Waiting for what's next. But truly waiting.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Kind of Telephone Line Through Time

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  ~ 1 Cor. 15:1-8

A long time ago, when I was a young mother, I received a birthday gift of the album “Rites of Passage” by the Indigo Girls. One of the songs on that album was called, of all things, “Virginia Woolf.” Here are some of its lyrics.

They published your diary
And that's how I got to know you
The key to the room of your own and a mind without end
And here's a young girl
On a kind of a telephone line through time
And the voice at the other end comes like a long lost friend
So I know I'm all right
Life will come and life will go
Still I feel it's all right
Cause I just got a letter to my soul
And when my whole life is on the tip of my tongue
Empty pages for the no longer young
The apathy of time laughs in my face
You say, "each life has its place" …

Emily Saliers, who is one of the Girls, wrote that song. Emily is a PK—Preacher’s Kid. Her dad is Don Saliers, a United Methodist pastor and theologian. They wrote a book together on singing as a spiritual practice—A Song to Sing, a Life to Live. I mention all this because when I listen to this song, I hear echoes from this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.

They published your diary… they told your story… that’s how I got to know you.

The key to a room of your own and a mind without end… the key to the life of Jesus Christ, and life without end.

And here’s a young girl, on a kind of telephone line through time… and he appeared to his followers, and last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

This scripture passage is about the Good News coming to Paul on a kind of telephone line through time. Paul got a letter to his soul: the message he received, and that he also passed on to the church in Corinth. Despite time and distance. Despite, in Paul’s case, an inclination to disbelieve, or even revile. Despite all these things… the message arrived. The message on which he stood, and through which he was saved.

The message from Virignia Woolf... well, I don't know if it saved Emily Saliers’ life. Her mom was a librarian (Emily tells the story in her intro the song on "1200 Curfews," a fantastic live double album). Her mom found the book for her and sent it to her. Did Mrs. Saliers sense that Emily was having a rough time, for some reason? Did she have any reason to believe her daughter might be struggling with, perhaps, her sexual identity? I don't know. It's all conjecture. But Emily sings in this song that, after immersing herself in that life, after meeting Virginia Woolf as one “untimely born,” Emily knew she was alright.

“Rites of Passage” came out in 1992. Both Indigo Girls—who have never been a couple—came out as lesbians in 1994.

Did Virginia Woolf save Emily's life? I don't know. I know she wrote a song about her, and about the experience of recognition of herself in some deep and affirming way. I also know that the Indigo Girls served, in a way, as my Virginia Woolf. Their music spoke to me, at first, on a level I didn't quite fully understand. Why did I listen to this next song, for instance, over and over, at a time when I was, in theory, happily married to a kind and generous man?

dark and dangerous like a secret 
that gets whispered in a hush (don't tell a soul) 
when i wake the things i dreamt about you last night make me blush (don't tell a soul) 
when you kiss me like a lover then you sting me like a viper 
i go follow to the river play your memory like the piper 
and i feel it like a sickness how this love is killing me 
but i'd walk into the fingers of your fire willingly 
and dance the edge of sanity i've never been this close 
in love with your ghost...

I think the answer is that I recognized something of myself in these words and melodies that I only half dared to contemplate. Of course, my unwillingness to contemplate the truth-- the fact that I was a lesbian married to a man-- did not alter the truth in any way. The Indigo Girls spoke to me on a kind of telephone line, if not through time, then, through circumstance. They said, "This is our truth." (They said it pretty clearly even before they said it  officially.) Years later, after a season of pain, I was finally able to embrace that truth for myself. (I fell in love.)

This is my good news, on which I stand. I too am one of those untimely born, to whom Jesus has "appeared" (though in my case it involved an Amy Grant song heard in my Volvo on Route 128 outside of Boston, rather than a flash of light and temporary blindness on the road to Damascus). I am also one who knows herself to be "alright"-- a proud and grateful member of that little LGBTQI alphabet cluster,  who knows that by grace she is loved by the God who ensured that she was born this way.

Seven years ago this week I shared the fullness of my identity with the wonderful congregation I serve, just as, this week, 111 United Methodist pastors and candidates for ordained ministry have shared their truth. It is not an action anyone undertakes lightly while they serve a denomination that could discipline them or, worse, remove or block their ministerial credentials altogether. But these brave souls-- one of whom I am so very proud to call my friend--know that #ItsTime. (We all have a way of knowing that.) The good news on which we stand is this: the love of God is big enough to include and affirm all of us. Blessings, prayers, and love go with my UMC brothers and sisters this week.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday in Holy Week: Good Friday

The Annunciation by Gloria Ssali

Why on earth do Christians call a day on which Jesus was brutally tortured and executed by the Roman Empire "good"?

It's complicated.

At 9:00 in the morning on the day before the Sabbath, so the gospel of Mark tells us, Jesus was nailed to a cross- probably a crossbeam, actually, which was then attached to/ suspended from a more permanent pole.

Crucifixion was the preferred form of capital punishment for those the Roman Empire deemed especially dangerous criminals. Though some of our translations speak of those crucified alongside Jesus as "bandits," the truth is, they wouldn't have been crucified for simple theft. They must have been, like Jesus, considered insurrectionists, or worse. They must have done something the state was convinced was a crime against its security.

One of the advantages to crucifixion, for Rome, was the fact that it was so horrifying. Jesus was one of the lucky ones, dying within a matter of hours. Many lingered for days. It was the custom to leave the body on the cross after death, so that birds could eat away the flesh. No burial for those crucified-- not normally, anyway. Jesus seems to have been an exception. The advantage was, the punishment was a deterrent to those who looked upon the executed. The roads into Rome were lined with crosses. The message was clear: Threaten the empire, and this will be your fate. Make no mistake: the crucifixion was a political act.

So far I'm not making much of a case for calling the day "good."

This year Good Friday falls on the day many scholars believe was the actual date of Jesus' crucifixion.  It also happens to be the date much of the church marks the Feast of the Annunciation, the occasion when the angel announced to Mary that she was to be a mother (and, if the gospel of Luke tells it true, gained Mary's consent).

According to some scholars, this is not a coincidence.

It is commonly thought that we do not know the date of Jesus' actual birth, but that December 25 was chosen to coincide with the Roman feast of Sol Invictus (the Unvanquished Sun), a celebration whose name  dovetails neatly with certain theological language often used about Jesus. However, the earliest writings addressing the date of Jesus' birth connect it, not to the Roman holiday, but to the date of the crucifixion. The logic goes, the date of the crucifixion is the date of salvation of humankind by God's gracious self-emptying, in Jesus. But salvation can also be dated to the conception of Jesus in his mother's womb. It stood to reason, to the early church, that the date of salvation was the same in any case-- Jesus' crucifixion must have taken place on the same date as his conception. This is how December 25 was arrived at, as the date of Jesus' birth.

We call this day "good," because it is the date on which God's love for humanity was demonstrated by Jesus' death on the cross. God so loved the world that God came in Jesus, to live as we live, and to suffer the worst of what human sin had to offer. God did not and does not leave us alone and unloved, but goes through it with us, and for us.

It just so happens that this year Good Friday falls on March 25, and we have double the reason to call it "good."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thursday in Holy Week: Last Supper Thursday/ Maundy Thursday/ Judas Kiss Thursday/ Arrest Thursday/ Cock-Crow Thursday

Scripture can be found here...

Many, many things happen on the Thursday my church calls "Maundy" (from the Latin "mandate," meaning "commandment." From John 13:34.)

For me and my house, due to the nature of my work, I will confine myself to commenting on the supper, and that meditation can be found here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday in Holy Week: Prophetic Anointing Day (Formerly Known as Spy Wednesday)

"Alabaster Cup," by P. Raube, 2014
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.” 

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” 

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. 

~ Mark 14:1-11

The traditional (though, apparently, not really well-known) name for the Wednesday in Holy Week is Spy Wednesday. I know this because when I was in college one of my professors published a book of poetry called "Spy Wednesday's Kind." The title poem is cryptic in the extreme... I probably understand it less well today than I did when I was 18. But the professor, a lovely odd-duck of a Jesuit, explained it to me. Wednesday was the day when the religious leadership sought a way to arrest Jesus, and also when, later on, Judas presented himself as the solution to that problem.

In Mark's and Matthew's gospels, those two passages form the outer scenes of an "inclusio", i.e., a sandwich-shaped story. In this case, the parts about needing a betrayer/ finding a betrayer are the bread.

The 'filling' of the sandwich is the story of a woman anointing Jesus.

There is a story in each gospel about a woman anointing Jesus, but they are not all the same story. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is in the home of a Pharisee, and the woman who anoints him is said to be a "sinner." She anoints and kisses his feet. The gospel of John gives us a name for the woman: Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus; the anointing takes place in their home. Mary also anoints Jesus' feet, in gratitude, it would seem, for his raising her brother from the dead. (Fun Fact: It is from the misguided conflation of these stories we get the idle tale that Mary Magdalene-- a different Mary altogether-- is a sinner.)

Matthew and Mark tell the story in much the same way. In both the anointing takes place at the home of  Simon the leper. In both, the story is surrounded by the material about the search for and finding of a means to arrest Jesus.

In both the woman is unnamed.

In both the woman anoints Jesus' head.

I love all these stories.

I love how the women interrupt an all-male gathering to perform a startling action honoring Jesus.

I love how the nature of the action prohibits anyone from not noticing--spikenard ointment is highly aromatic/ fragrant, and the scent would have permeated the room.

I love how in each instance the woman is scolded for her wastefulness-- the ointment is too costly, couldn't we have helped the poor instead?

I love how Jesus responds by paraphrasing a well-known verse of scripture (well-known to the people in that room):  'Since there will never cease to [there will always] be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”'  I love that he doesn't in any way disparage or downplay the needs of the poor (as some would interpret it), but extends a both-and possibility: He can be anointed and the poor can be cared for. These are not mutually exclusive occurrences.

I love how Jesus names her action as prophetic: "She has anointed me beforehand for my burial."

I love how Jesus commends her to the memory of the community: "Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

We have failed at that last one. I don't much love that. It is reported that Elizabeth Shussler Fiorenza, when beginning her theological studies, came upon Mark's version of this story and was stunned that, in fact, this story has not been told in memory of this woman, and titled her seminal work of feminist theology accordingly: In Memory of Her.

In fact, I would suggest that the prophetic nature of this action by a woman made the early church so uncomfortable, other reasons for her action were substituted in Luke's and John's versions. She must have been a sinner. She must have been really grateful about her brother. Apparently, it was very difficult to live with this anonymous woman simply seeing Jesus clearly, and responding with a bold and intrepid gesture.

The unnamed woman saw Jesus clearly, on Wednesday, in the middle of Holy Week.

The unnamed woman performed a prophetic action, a bold and intrepid gesture: she poured incredibly expensive and fragrant oil on his head (like you might for a king or a prophet or a dead man). 

Submitted for your approval: Changing the name of Wednesday in Holy Week to Prophetic Anointing Day.

It's not like the whole world will miss Spy Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday of Holy Week: Challenges, Parables, and Staying Woke Day

Christ Pantocrator ("Almighty"), Hagia Sophia Monastery, Istanbul
Scripture can be found here...

At three full chapters and 121 verses, Tuesday is the longest day in Holy Week... or perhaps, the most thoroughly described/ busy.

It begins with Jesus' walking again past the (poor) fig tree he cursed on Monday, and, when his disciples say, "YIKES! It withered!", replying with what feels like a non-sequitur. He speaks about faith and prayer. Mark's gospel never offers us a version of the Lord's Prayer (that can only be found, in two different forms, in Luke and Matthew). But he does end his words on prayer with an echo of the Lord's Prayer as we know it:

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (11:25).

Jesus connects God's forgiveness of us to our ability to forgive others.

Forgiveness flows in both directions. In all directions.You might say, forgiveness is the heart and soul of Jesus' mission among us. You might say that.

Jesus returns to the Temple, where he is promptly questioned by the religious authorities as to where, exactly, he gets his authority. He demurs, but then tells a scathing parable that seems designed to portray those authorities as wicked tenants of the Father's vineyard, and ends with the promise of retaliation and destruction.

Which is very interesting, given his just-moments-earlier words on forgiveness. 

It continues like this, all day Tuesday, with question after question being lobbed at Jesus.

“By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”(11:28)

"Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" (12:14)

"In the resurrection whose wife will she be?" (referring to a woman who had married seven brothers in turn, in accordance with the law).(12:23)

“Which commandment is the first of all?”(12:28)

But Jesus asks some questions, too. And in the end, when all the questions have been exhausted (and after some scathing words about religious professionals), Jesus enters prophetic mode and begins to speak about the future of Jerusalem and the Temple.  He sees destruction everywhere. At the same time, he calls it "the beginning of the birth pangs." which leads me to believe he is describing, not a death, but a birth-- a messy, difficult, painful, even frightening birth, but a birth nonetheless.

It cannot be a coincidence that Jesus speaks of the end of all things when he himself is facing his own death. I have wondered for a while whether Jesus' tone in all these disputes-- the anger that breaks through-- is connected to his very human dread of what will truly be the longest day, beginning after supper on Thursday. 

I find it consoling to know that Jesus was anguished. But in the end, his message isn't "hide." It's "Stay woke."

Stay woke, Jesus says. Through the mess. Through the difficulty. Through the pain, and through the fear. Be on the lookout for what God is doing because, trust me (says Jesus), God is doing a new thing-- a splendid thing. A beautiful thing. And God will be with us through the mess and pain and fear. 

God is doing a new thing.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday of Holy Week: Flipping Over the Tables Day

Many thanks to Peg Corwin for her suggestion that I send out an email telling about what happened each day of Holy Week. This short series begins today, with Monday.

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

    ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
    But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.              ~ Mark 11:12-19

The day after Jesus entered Jerusalem to the sounds of people singing Psalm 118 and receiving him as king, he traveled back to that city from Bethany, where he was staying (maybe at the home of his friends, Mary and Martha?). On his way, he was very displeased with a fig tree, and let it be known.

But the thing we remember most vividly about this day is Jesus’ response to what he saw as economic abuse at the Temple, the holiest place for Jews to worship.In "The Last Week" by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, the authors emphasize the tremendous love the Jewish people of the first century had for their Temple: they showed a willingness to both support it financially and to defend its integrity with their lives. When Herod installed an enormous gold eagle in the Temple (to show allegiance to Rome, of which the eagle was the symbol),  two Jewish teachers instructed their students to remove it. They did, and they paid with their lives (about 40 were executed). Borg and Crossan stress that the people could love the Temple and revere it, while at the same time disagreeing with particular practices. Jesus sees in the buying and selling of animals for sacrifice an emphasis on commerce (and an exclusion of the poor) that is obscuring the Temple's true function: the worship of God.

The incident brings to mind another passage of scripture:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. ~Amos 5:21-24

On the second day of Holy Week, Jesus both demonstrated and taught that worship is meaningless unless those who worship are committed to justice. The purpose of worship is to prepare us,  strengthen us, and equip us to do God’s work in the world. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."    ~Mark 9:33-35

I feel that I must post this video (which is really only an album cover and music) to Facebook at least once a month. It speaks to how much I love this song, how much both its music and lyrics pierce me to the core, and how much I feel absolutely exposed by its message. I think the old-time-religion word for that is, "convicted."

This is a perfect song for Ash Wednesday. What do the burn remnants of palm we smudge on our foreheads mean? That we are frail-- more frail than we know? That, in the end, we are dust, and perhaps that fact ought to inform our living?

I invite all who consider themselves followers of Jesus to observe a holy Lent, by means of prayer (connection with God in a deliberate, regular fashion), fasting (from whatever it is that forms the barrier between ourselves and God), and almsgiving (giving of ourselves, whether time, talent, or treasure, to those whom the world casts aside, vilifies, and whom Jesus would consider, "the least of these").


"Frail"written and performed by Jars of Clay

Convinced of my deception
I've always been a fool
I fear this love reaction
Just like you said I would

A rose could never lie
About the love it brings
And I could never promise
To be any of those things


If I was not so weak
If I was not so cold
If I was not so scared of being broken
Growing old
I would be...
I would be...
I would be...

Blessed are the shallow
Depth they'll never find
Seemed to be some comfort
In rooms I try to hide

Exposed beyond the shadows
You take the cup from me
Your dirt removes my blindness
Your pain becomes my peace