Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saint Patrick

There is probably no way to tease apart the Patrick of history and that of legend. What is certain is that he, with Saint Bridget, was one of the key leaders of the church which established Christianity in Ireland.

One of the more compelling parts of his story is that he was a slave who escaped Ireland, and later returned to spread the gospel of Christ. Patrick's Confessio tells that his time in captivity was critical to his spiritual development and embrace of Christianity. He also tells that while a captive, he worked as a shepherd, prefiguring his later work as bishop. The legend is challenged, and he and his family may have been slave-owners and slaver-traders, something which was prevalent in Ireland at the time, and permitted and regulated by the Church. ("Was St. Patrick really a slave trader and tax collector?" by James O'Shea.) Whatever the truth, the tradition lifts up the hope of freedom.

What is not in dispute, is Patrick's emphasis on the Trinitarian faith of the Church: God in three undivided persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And the tradition has passed on prayers and hymns attributed to Patrick which boldly maintain the power of this interlocking Trinity.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

But the Patrick tradition goes even further, seeing the life of God as all-encompassing, transcendent and imminent. He calls upon every atribute of God, every power, wrapped in the centrality of Christ, to protect and strengthen the believer in a turbulent world.

May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
    – Against the snares of the evil one.
May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!
May Thy Grace, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore. Amen.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Jesus was a refugee

There is so much tradition and nostalgia around Christmas, the customs and traditions cast big shadows. They are often seen as the principal signs of the holiday, instead of as garland. But tonight, let us remember...

Christmas is real.

Now I love Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s Wonderful Life, and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I like Christmas trees and houses decked with lights and reindeer. I love carols and candles, giving and receiving gifts, and holiday food and parties as the nights have been growing longer.

But forget the cartoons. Forget the little drummer boy and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, and Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Forget Ebenezer Scrooge, and the jolly old fat man in the red suit. Forget even the nativity scenes. There’s nothing wrong with these, some are perfectly lovely, some are true expressions of faith.

Every now and then we need to go back and remember that the actual baby Jesus was not a character in a story. Like every other newborn child, he was born of a woman, set into a place and time and culture. Like every other newborn child, he was born into an uncertain future.

We may read the story through these filters, and forget to notice what the text tells us. According to Luke, Jesus was born to poor parents in a land which barely offered them shelter. According to Matthew, soon after his birth, his parents fled for their lives to a foreign land. Jesus was a refugee.

The special grace given to Mary by the angel surely did not keep her from worry about their immediate circumstances. Like the refugees of today, there were daily, weekly, perpetual threats to their safety. Comfort was not part of their equation.

Like here, in this modern refugee camp in Edomeni, Greece. The birth of new life into the world will not wait for human society to provide a warm house or hospital. The birth of real life is not sentimental, but comes with pain, blood, and risk.

We read the Biblical stories and take note of the signs and portents,the angels singing in the sky, the prophecies, the star, the magi with their royal gifts. But we misread the story if we only see the extraordinary. We must at the same time see that Jesus is also extraordinarily ordinary..

2000 years later, the world has wealth and wonders that neither Herod nor Caesar could dream of. More than at any time in history, we have the ability to feed every child, to educate every child, to have shelter for everyone, and to live together in peace. It grieves me to know and to say it is a disgrace to the human race that there is still nothing extraordinary about a child born into poverty, about a family fleeing violence, about a ruler threatened by righteousness. There is a spiritual song that speaks to this reality...

        Sweet little Jesus boy, they made you be born in a manger
        Sweet little Jesus boy, they didn't know who you were...

I think the same thing is true of that little baby born in the refugee tent in Greece. The same is true of every child born into a world unprepared to help that child be the loving gift to us that is God's will.

If we but knew. If we but knew that every child is a light to the world. That every child has worth. That every child has a vocation for good. That every child can grow to be a blessing to their community and the world. It's one thing to proclaim "You don't have to live like a refugee." And it is quite another to say "We don't have to force people to flee."

This poor little baby, born to Mary and to a troubled world, brought light. He came into the world and was not conquered by cruelty, greed, indifference, or even death. Jesus is a credible refuge for the faithful, precisely because he is a refugee from evil. This Christmas, may we follow the way he has made plain.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Unanimous Declaration

That's not true, really. The states were not unanimous on July 4, 1776 (the New York delegation abstained).* But the 13 states were far from united, and certainly not unanimous. While there was a lot of sentiment for a new independent nation, it is doubtful that a majority supported rebellion against the Crown to achieve it.

Yet the Declaration was vindicated by history as true enough. The citizens who supported the cause and the troops who avoided disaster and outlasted the British won the day and eventually the hearts (of most) of their countrymen.

Nothing of any great importance will be acheived without risk and without opposition.

As much as we hope for unity of purpose and unanimity about the course to take, it cannot stop our resolve to act when justice and human integrity are at stake.

When a person, or group, or a government stands against human rights and dignity, it is necessary to change it.

It was the radical, revolutionary idea that government ultimately serves the people that led these American patriots to challenge the world's most powerful empire.

They were patriots, not perfect. Their vision would lead successive generations of patriots to exercise their rights to secure still more blessings of liberty.

If I hear one more TV commentator claim to speak truth to power, I may gag. But it is time to speak truth to one another. Our nation is in crisis, and our liberty is under threat. May we have the courage to declare our resolve.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it…

* On July 15, the New York delegation received word that the New York Convention had adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 9th, and NY delegates signed the document with most others on August 2.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Where we stand

It seems that Vladimir Putin has won.

Of course he succeeded beyond any expectation in getting a destructive, impulsive fool into the Oval Office. He has diminished trust in American institutions and the integrity of democratic elections.

He has helped legitimize his own corrupt, brutal, kleptocracy by raising up a pale orange image of himself in a place which should stand for something better. He has elevated racism and fear to national values rather than cancers to defeat.

He profits from our descent into governmental chaos (although not as much as China, out of the garish spotlight). And no doubt he has gloated at his perverse genius in crippling a rival, while at the same time feeding his own narcissistic apppetite.

This Putin-assisted, self-inflicted national disgrace will continue week after excruciating, shameful week. Because we are obsessed and addicted to this All Trump All The Time train wreck of a too-real surreality show.

God help us to turn away from this, and towards the values which made America great.

Our better angels had a vision of respect for one another, of opportunity and fair treatment, of a society built by the people and for the people. It is time for us to make America great again.

Renounce evil. Turn to what is good. And that means turning to our neighbors, whether we agree or not. None of us can build that more perfect union. We once knew it took unity. Not unanimity, but a willingness to seek the shared good. We the people...