Monday, August 15, 2016

Peace > Tranquillity: Wisdom
from Forward Day by Day

The tri-monthly publication Forward Day by Day provides readers with responses to quotations from the Episcopal Church's daily schedule of assigned readings from Scripture.  These are helpful for me every morning, but some I mark for future reference. Here are some of those from the issue that started with a reading for November 1, 2015.

[Photo: from]

The reflections for November are by Kathleen Clark, who has worked in missions and ministries as far away as Hong Kong.  She is a graduate of the Education for Ministry program (EfM), as am I, and her work there shows in the ways she gets "into the world" of the scriptures.

Mt 13:40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  Clark is reminded of her time weeding a community garden and burning the refuse. Where others see this passage as a frightful image of punishment, she sees God weeding out the causes of sin, as we can do ourselves, "weeding" our spiritual lives.

Mt 13:44 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Clark asks the EfM question, who am I in this story?  "Am I like the previous owner of the field, oblivious to what I already own, ignorant of my neglect?"

Mt. 16:15. [Jesus] said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Clark imagines someone asking us to explain Jesus, "Who do YOU say Jesus is?"  This called to mind a time when that did happen to me, at a T.G.I.F. with a grown Hindu man, formerly a middle school student in my class.  My own answer centered on "the Word," the best  or fullest expression yet of a God who also expresses Himself daily in our lives, and historically in other religious traditions and wisdom.

Mt. 16:25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  Clark refers to Samuel Coleridge's poem "The Good, Great Man," a dialogue in which one friend observes that "good, great men" seldom get the reward heaped on less honorable ones.  But the second friend responds, in Clark's words, "that goodness and greatness are not means, but ends."  The good, great man does have three treasures: love, light, and calm thoughts.  Clark asks, "That sounds like something Jesus might agree with, don't you think?"

The reflections for the month of December were written by Lelanda Lee, a speaker and community organizer on behalf of human rights.

Mt. 21:22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.  Lee reminds us that prayer is a conversation, that "God expects us to listen, too."  So it's not a magical incantation.  "When we pray with faith, we are asking that God's will be done, not ours."  I guess she would agree that we don't pray to get what we want from God; we pray for God to get what He wants from us.

Mt. 25:36 I was in prison and you visited me.  This struck me because I visited Parchman Prison in Mississippi with 8th graders back in the 1980s and came away feeling that both the inmates and the staff were imprisoned there.  I thought then that I might one day be able to bring something else to the table, there.  Lee urges us to do just that, but points out that "prison" doesn't necessarily refer to a "correctional facility."  It's a metaphor as well for "physical limitations, despair, depression, or mental illness."

Jeremy Sierra, author of January's reflections, edits publications for Trinity Church, Wall Street, famous for its role as a haven for first responders in the weeks after 9/11/2001.

Ephesians 6:15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  Sierra conjures the "quiet, still lake" that comes to his mind when he thinks of "peace," before he recalls that nature is not always tranquil, and neither is peace. We mustn't confuse peace with stillness.  "Peace does indeed encompass (and actually requires) movement and change."  Segregation in our communities by race, income, or party may be "stillness" but not "peace," which requires breaking barriers and movement.  "We better put some shoes on our feet because we have a gospel of peace to proclaim."

Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  After observing how un-glamorous sheepdom is, Sierra has to acknowledge that, even at his most active moments when he appears to be a leader, he can't take credit. "Other people -- my parents, friends, or the men and women throughout history who have learned, studied, served, and loved -- make my life possible."  So even when he's a tiger, he's "one sheep in the flock of humanity," defined by connections to others.

Mt 10:19 Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say....  Sierra takes this passage as a reminder of what he has learned from experience:  "when we speak out of love, saying something is better than remaining silent."   Just this morning, as I got red-faced thinking what I might say, not out of love, but out of exasperation, I reminded myself that it's better to stay silent.  But Sierra's observation applies when we "speak to power" or when others need comfort.  There may not be right or effective words to say, "but the fact that we have the courage to speak (and that we do so out of love) is often enough to make a difference."

John 5:17  My Father is still working, and I also am working.  Sierra admits that he used to be disturbed by the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels, confirmed by the Jesus in John.  Now, it's the other way around.  His point is that faith is a work in progress, and understanding will change.  When I was a college-aged fundamentalist, Professor John DiCorcia shook me up by saying just that, in secular terms:  "If you still believe in five years what you believe now, your brain is dead."  I could see the truth in that; but I'd been taught that deviation or error in any part of my belief system meant a fall from grace.  What a perversion of the Gospel that is!

While I'm at it, this is also a good verse to remember when a church tries to just hold on to what it's always done.  Pope Benedict has just announced a panel to look into accepting women as deacons, but, as for ordination to priesthood, he says, "That door is closed."  Well, as the Pope once said of gays, "Who am I to judge?"

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