Friday, November 25, 2016

Psalmistry, Week 2: Psalm 32

Psalm 32 (ICEL)

(1) Of David, A maskil.

(2) Happy the pardoned,
     whose sin is canceled,
     in whom God finds
     no evil, no deceit.

(3) While I hid my sin,
     my bones grew weak
     from endless groaning.

(4) Day and night,
     under the weight of your hand,
     my strength withered
     as in a summer drought.
Selah1

(5) Then I stopped hiding my sin
     and spoke out,
    "God, I confess my wrong."
     And you pardoned me.
Selah1

(6) No wonder the faithful
     pray to you in danger!
     Even a sudden flood
     will never touch them.

(7) You, my shelter,
     you save me from ruin.
     You encircle me
     with songs of freedom.
Selah1

               ***

(8) "I show you the path to walk.
      As your teacher,
      I watch out for you.

(9) "Do not be a stubborn mule,
      needing bridle and bit
      to be tamed."

(10) Evil brings grief;
      trusting in God brings love.

               ***

      Rejoice in the Lord.
      Be glad and sing,
      you faithful and just.

Day 1: Relationship
David and a forgiving God
David hides from God because of his sin and is miserable. Then he confesses and is reconciled to God, who is naturally frustrated but still loves David and protects him. This evokes a very parental relationship to me (see below, Situation/Context).

David and the audience
David is a prophet, a preacher in relationship with the audience. We listen raptly as he's telling his story, and at the end, he gives us a Word.

Day 2: Environment

This Psalm evokes a number of environments for me. The first stanza leads me to imagine a calm field on a sunny day. Next, I imagine a small, dark room, maybe a closet: a hiding place. I see a bursting out in the confession, into light that is blinding, because one's pupils have expanded in the dark, desperate for some shred of light. Then, in the field again, there is a tree. Open, expansive place, yet somewhere to shelter. Freedom and protection together, instead of the dark confinement of the earlier verses. The tree and the earth speak together in the voice of a slightly exasperated but eternally loving mother. "Didn't I give you good advice? Isn't it my job to keep you safe? I wish you would listen to me. I'm sorry you suffered, though. I love you." Then the narrator breaks the fourth wall, and suddenly the field and the tree are on a screen or a stage as David speaks to us, arms outstretched.

Day 3: Situation/Context
Did you ever read the book, No, David? David is a little child who is always causing trouble - scribbling on walls, tramping in dirt, breaking the cookie jar. And David's mom always catches him and says, "No, David!" Except for a few words to introduce and close out the story, this phrase is the only thing in the book, repeated over and over.

I'm sure David got tired of hearing, "No!" I bet there were times when David caused trouble and tried to hide it before his mom could see. In the psalm, David tries to hide his sin from God, but the guilt is overwhelming, and eventually, he decides whatever the consequence of confession, it will be less painful than the guilt and shame of hiding.

(Spoiler Alert) The end of the book, the last words of David's mom are, "Yes, David, I love you." In the psalm, David's God forgives his sin and he is overcome with joy. He praises God as his shelter, his savior. And God responds, reminding David that God is always showing the path, and David is free to walk it or not.

Then David turns to the reader, and shares his newfound understanding. He grieved in guilt and shame when he was trying to hide his shortcomings. He believed he would suffer if he was honest. It requires trust to open ourselves up and be vulnerable, and David here calls on his reader to trust in God and (in David's experience) in the joy that comes when the faithful confess and find forgiveness.

_______________________________

Selah is not listed in the ICEL translation, but since it's the name of my blog, it felt important to include it. :) 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Reclaimation

Today, I stood in my shower in utter despair. I ceased to believe in the possibility of change. Amidst the horrors of humanity implied by these election results, I couldn't imagine a world in which anyone's heart could be moved. My hope was gone, my call to ministry shattered. Why bother?

And then I remembered.

I remembered  a People who had faced this despair.

Who were brought out of bondage only to be left wandering in the wilderness.

Who were conquered again and again but held fast somehow to the knowledge of Who they Are. Who in exile clung all the tighter to the markers of their identity, lest they forget to whom they belong.

Who knew Justice had come to set them free again and who rallied and fought for a better world. They truly believed it was happening before their eyes and under their hands. And then they watched that hope be crucified. What was left for then that evening but despair?

And so, though I've been feeling my way back into the intentional following of Jesus' examples of life  and ministry for quite some time now, I think today is the day I reclaim for myself the title of Christian. Christianity gives shape and form to my Unitarian Universalism, like a skeleton shapes the body; my Unitarian Universalism gives life to my Christianity, like the flesh on a skeleton.

When the Pulse massacre happened, it suddenly became important for me to own my queer identity, though I'd been living inside it for some time. Today, I am determined not to let the identity "Christian" be defined by division, fear, and hate.

It is Good Friday in my heart. Justice has been crucified and laid in a tomb guarded closely that I may not remove it or bring it back to my people. Holy Saturday will be long--four years, at least, I'd guess. And until I remembered this story, which despite everything is rooted in my soul and my soul in it, I despaired. Remembering is the glimmer of a beginning of a new foundation for hope.

Hope of resurrection. Hope of the spirit of Justice, Compassion, and Love rising up out of the tomb and dispersing through all the people. I haven't learned much yet in seminary about the early church, but they had a boundless (possibly groundless) hope that got them through. A hope so big that it might just get me through, too.

This is  not hope in an anthropomorphic sky god, or in a man more divine than any other. This hope in the resurrection of the SPIRIT, in the priesthood of all believers...hope that in the midst of despair, when all hope feels truly lost, we can and will, together, become Justice.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Psalmistry, Week 1: Psalm 129

Psalm 129 (ICEL)

(1)    A song of ascents.
      Let Israel say it:
     "They often oppressed me,
(2)   oppressed me from my youth,
      but they never crushed me."

(3)   They plowed into my back,
      cutting deep furrows,
(4)   but God has proved just
      and broke their wicked chains.

(5)   Let those who hate Zion
      be ashamed and retreat!
(6)   Let the east wind dry them up
      like weeds on a rooftop.

(7)   Reapers cannot cut a handful,
      nor harvesters gather enough to hold.
(8)   No passer-by will say,
     "The Lord's blessing upon you.
      We bless you in God's name!"


Day 1: Relationship

Israel:Enemy (those who hate Zion)
The psalmist encourages Israel not to keep silent, but to speak about their experience. Israel sings joyously of their not only having gained freedom from their oppressors, but in remaining unbroken during the period of their subjugation. Now, they curse the enemy. They want to see the enemy retreat in shame, with nothing to show for their work.

Israel:God
Israel praises God for their freedom, which they call justice. Israel has been freed from oppression and sing joyously of their unbroken spirit, giving the credit to God. They seem only obscurely to be addressing God in their curse of their enemy. It is more abstract than concrete that way.

Day 2: Environment

Clearly the visionary in this psalm is familiar with agrarian society. The poem evokes images of farming in quite a disturbing way. I can see the "deep furrows" in the back of this dreamer, raw and red and so painful, juxtaposed with a field of grain ripe for harvest.

Day 3: Situation/Context

Israel's enemy is depicted as a farmer, plowing into the back of the people Israel to plant their crop there. But the God of the oppressed has freed Israel from this subjugation, and Israel cheers. Their spirits have not been broken, and the enemy cannot harvest Israel's will. As far as Israel is concerned, the enemy should be ashamed of themselves!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Broken Wholeness

What's broken is
never going to be
whole again.
It cannot be mended--
entire pieces
are missing,
and I can't even say
where they've gone,
how big they were,
or what shape.

And even if,
by some
unlikely coincidence,
some strange miracle,
you were handed back
the pieces
that broke away,
they wouldn't fit
together again.
Too much time
has passed--
so much
rough scrubbing
and cold washing--
and the edges
that were once sharp
and clearly defined
have softened,
smoothed.

The broken place
hasn't gone away,
hasn't been
filled with gold.

But it won't
cut your fingers
now; if you
touch that edge,
you won't bleed
anymore.
The edge is
full of character,
interesting to look at,
pleasant to touch.

And what's broken is
OBVIOUSLY broken,
but it is also, now,
after all of this time,
whole.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Religious Education for a Changing World

In January, I attended a weeklong intensive at Leadville Lombard Theological School, for a class called, “RE for a Changing World.” What does that even mean? Well, RE is an easy one: religious education. But what does it mean to learn about religious education for a changing world? Changing how? And what do we even mean when we say “religious education?”
During the course of the week, we actually used the phrases “faith formation” and “faith development” in place of “religious education,” and that is pretty indicative of the entire point of the class. The world is changing, growing, shifting, and so are its needs and the needs of people secular and religious alike. Classroom-style “religious education” is maybe no longer the best way to meet the needs of our youth and young people, nor our adults who are, in the best of worlds, still learning! Religious Education isn’t a thing kids do for one hour in a classroom on Sunday morning while their parents are in worship. Or at least, Religious Education which will serve a changing world isn’t.
In this shifting and changing world, religious education is faith formation is LIFE formation. It means helping babies and children and youth and adults young and old learn that they are held in a deeply interconnected web of love. It means learning together where we come from, who we are, and where we are going, as a People. It’s cocreation of our stories, our lives, our becoming. It means not leaving the ministry to the professionals, and making sure at the end of the day, that our faith leaves the building right along with us. It means opening our eyes to the wide diversity of humanity and life itself, embracing that difference, and working together to figure out how we can allow it to help us learn and move and grow. It means doing religion together.
In a changing world, we are all ministers. But I am also learning to be a professional minister. My class helped me see that faith formation (/religious education) is truly synonymous with religious practice. That could mean that my job just got a lot bigger, or maybe just that it got a lot more integrated. In my mind, that’s a beautiful thing.