Monday, December 31, 2012

End of year reflection

A few days ago, the snow was falling and I paused for a brief walk through an old cemetery. An interstate highway runs by it, but it was quiet and unnoticed. Some of the headstones were decorated with small American flags, and many had small bronze stars denoting the deceased as veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, fighting on the Union side during the American Civil War.

This year has seen a renewed focus on honoring our nation's military veterans, especially in providing some measure of services to help those who have been physically and emotionally wounded.

As this year ends, this nation has been at war for more than eleven years in Afghanistan. (By contrast, the U.S. waged the Civil War for four years, World War II for 3 2/3 years, and World War I less than two years.) Few anticipate the true the costs when the blood runs hot and war seems to be a national imperative. And as the soldiers die and are wounded, it becomes difficult to end a war whose justification now depends in part on "honoring their sacrifice," that the cause which killed and maimed must be pressed forward to victory.

Yet the justification for this war is long past. It is time. Time to honor the dead. Time to heal the wounded. And time to end the war.

May God bless and keep all those in military service, that they may be kept from harm and serve with humanity. May 2013 be a year when old wars and and new ones are not begun.

Photo: Paul Bellan-Boyer, December 26, 2012.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Prayer on the longest night

O Rising Sun,
splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.


Great God, in northern climes, this night is the longest of the year. Yet in every place we await the coming light, the sun of righteousness, the dawn of redemption. Come, Lord Jesus, come. We wait this night with those who lack shelter, who sleep outside not by choice, who ride the late night buses and trains and diners and waiting rooms, who are imprisoned, who are unnoticed and disregarded, who are near death, and together we await the coming of the light. In this light, we pray, all people will see that God has given enough to share, all people will see their neighbors through the eyes of love, and all people will know God's presence, with us, Emmanuel. Amen.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Responding to violence

I have been fortunate not to have much violence directly inflicted on me. But I live in a violent world.

I have studied violence academically, and worked with victims/survivors of violence. I have hit others and been hit. My immediate family has been affected by a domestic violence murder. I have been closely involved with a large mass murder. I live in a city where there are weekly shootings. I watch the news, which emphasizes violent crime and war. I grew up with violent stories, from westerns to WW2 dramas to cop shows to comic books. I played games with pretend and real violence. I live in a culture which in ideology if not always in practice valorizes those in violent professions (military and police). I live on land taken from others, I enjoy the privilege of labor taken from others in prior and current generations, and my tax dollars support killing and torture. My DNA - like everyone's - comes from history's victors as well as its victims.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that I - like everyone I know - is no stranger to the subject.

But when I am true to myself, when I encounter an outrage like today's, or like the drones that descend out of the sky to kill enemies and bystanders alike, or like the bullets which fly on MLK Drive and Ocean Avenue, I know that this defies understanding. How can you truly engage with the horror of innocents murdered, with the terror which the adults and children must have felt when a killer came to their school?

We certainly have a responsibility to try and understand the mechanisms of violence so that we might interrupt them, and heal them. Turning swords into plowshares is our vocation.

But however much you can describe the facts about violence, it is in a certain sense untouchable, like a black hole. There is a great rupture in the fabric of God's kingdom when murder is plotted and carried out. All explanations must pause before this reality, that evil is senseless, that it is the antithesis of the power of life, which animates and sustains us.

I think that the Jesus of the gospels - himself a torture and murder victim - realized we cannot do much to engage with evil on its terms. We can instead oppose it best by refusing to feed it: by loving our enemies, by returning good for evil, by praying for the deliverance of those in bondage, and by living a life steeped in forgiveness, God's and ours.

The most unusual mass shooting of recent years, to my mind, was the story which did not seize the national imagination quite as much as Columbine or Aurora or Newtown. It was a school shooting. On October 2, 2006, a gunman entered the West Nickel Mines School, a one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Lancaster, PA. There he shot ten girls (aged 6-13), killing five before taking his own life.

Of course the remarkable, radical, unimaginable and unbelievable thing is the way the community, including the victims and their family members immediately began to enact compassion and forgiveness for the murderer and his family. Their community, in the midst of pain and knowing how hard it would be, took Jesus' words as a commandment, and tried to live out the necessity of forgiveness.

This is foreign to our experience of the way things "should" work, and our perception of the difficulty (impossibility?) of healing from violence. There is no question that forgiveness is hard, very hard for us to do. We can see this in the way we can hold seemingly small grudges for years.

But those who forgive - even as they struggle to practice it fully - immediately shed many of the burdens and dangers of engaging with evil. They are instead free to engage with grief, with hope, and with the love which the killer was not able to know, nor to erase.

Grace and peace to you.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Prayer for a holy city


Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
      and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
      put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
      for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
      "Righteous Peace, Godly Glory."
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
      look toward the east,
And see your children gathered from west and east
      at the word of the Holy One,
      rejoicing that God has remembered them.
      Baruch 5:1–9

O God, restore the fortunes of your holy city. Realize the dream of exiles, returned to live together in peace. Replace the affliction of violence and fear with the Glory of promises realized, divisions bridged, swords into plowshares, armaments budgets into schools and bread. We rejoice that you remember your people, and bless your holy name, even as we cry out for your advent, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving

(16) Rejoice always, (17) pray without ceasing, (18) give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


These seem impossible. I won't speak to our ability to literally carry out the Apostle's advice in verses 16 and 17. But today we might consider verse 18. Note that Paul does not say "give thanks for everything" - thank God! It would be spiritually destructive to bless evil or rejoice in injury.

But he does suggest that in any circumstance - illness, prison cell, poverty, persecution, grief - we can be attentive to those things which are also true, also real, and worthy of praise. Even in the midst of grave distress, a thankful heart is God's will for us. It is at least a partial remedy for our suffering. And it points us to the hope of redemption, seen in the grace which is continually at work in our lives.

This day, which in the U.S. is nominally a national day of thanksgiving, may we remember all for which thanks is due. For the cessation of attacks in Israel and Gaza - even a temporary peace is cause for thanks. For the many who turn to serve others. For food which answers our hunger. For companionship. For the breath of life. For the gifts of faith and the hope of healing.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6

A blessed and happy Thanksgiving to you.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Woe to you, destroyer - prayer for peace

Woe to you, destroyer,
      you who have not been destroyed!
Woe to you, betrayer,
      you who have not been betrayed!
When you stop destroying,
      you will be destroyed;
when you stop betraying,
      you will be betrayed.
Lord, be gracious to us;
      we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
      our salvation in time of distress.
      Isaiah 33:1-2 (NIV)

The prophet cries out, warning at the disaster which is to come. War respects no one.

Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets;
      the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
The highways are deserted,
      no travelers are on the roads.
The treaty is broken,
      its witnesses are despised,
      no one is respected.
The land dries up and wastes away...
      Isaiah 33:1-2 (NIV)


Hamas rockets, Israeli bombs - no one is respected

We pray for the peace of Jerusalem, O God, and for that of Gaza, of Damascus and all of Syria, of Kabul and Afghanistan, of Washington D.C. and the United States of America, of this whole beloved earth, your creation. Restrain the hands of all who would do violence, and raise up peacemakers, that your people may live in wholeness and know the blessings of peace. We thank you for every kindness and every work of justice, and pray that your reign is near, in Jesus name. Amen.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy - Jersey City

cityofjerseycity.com contains current info. This is an aggregate of best information as of Monday 3pm.

PUBLIC SAFETY

You should be inside unless you are evacuating to safety or an emergency responder.

As winds pick up we will get downed power lines. Please call them in to the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management (OEM), 201-319-3871. PSE&G is staffing that office 24 x 7 and they will get it into the system. For trees on county roads or parks, report to Hudson County OEM.

Due to high winds, heavy rain and low visibility, residents are prohibited from operating motor vehicles on all Jersey City streets and highways beginning at 2:00pm on Monday 10/29 and continuing until further notice. All public transit is suspended including PATH, light rail, and buses.
Curfew from 6pm Monday 10/29, through 1pm, Tue 10/30 in the following areas:
1) Washington Blvd. east to Hudson River
2) Areas of State Highway 440 West to Hackensack River & Bayonne City Line
3) All pedestrian traffic prohibited in Port Liberte as well as Country Village.

Mandatory Evacuations Effective at 7am on Monday 10/29, in the following locations in Jersey City:
• Residents residing in ground floor/1st floor buildings for all streets EAST of Green Street from Essex Street North to Columbus Drive.
• Residents residing in ground floor/ 1st floor buildings for all streets EAST of Washington Boulevard from Columbus Drive North to 18th Street.
• Residents residing in ground floor/ 1st floor buildings in Port Liberte.
• Residents residing in ground floor/ 1st floor buildings in Society Hill and Country Village.
Follow evacuation orders. LEAVE NOW; do not wait.

SHELTERS
• All evacuees with existing medical problems should go to MS#4 on 107 Bright Street downtown due to its proximity to the Jersey City Medical Center.
• Other shelters are PS #7 on 222 Laidlaw Avenue, Dickinson High School on Palisades Avenue, PS #17 at 600 Bergen Avenue, and PS#41 at Wilkinson and Ocean Avenues.
• Those with pets must go to Pershing Field. All cats must be crated. All dogs must be crated or on a leash. Residents need to provide food for them.

EMERGENCY PARKING & TRANSPORTATION

Parking enforcement for all meters and street sweeping is suspended through Wednesday 10/31. Greenville residents who need to move their cars to higher ground should park in the lots at Public Schools 30 & 40 in Greenville. List of municipal parking lots available for parking below.

Transportation to city evacuation shelters will be provided by vehicles from the Department of Recreation & Dept. of Health & Human Services/Senior Affairs. Hourly Pick-ups will commence on 8am on Monday, October 29th, through the duration of the storm at the following locations:
• Society Hill
• OLM/Country Village
• Pavonia PATH Station
• Port Liberte/ Strip Mall on Chapel Ave
• CLOSED (Under water): Newport Center/McDonalds

MUNICIPAL PARKING LOTS:
404 2nd St
Boland Street off Bergen
277 Central Ave
340 Central Ave
352 Central Ave
388 Central Ave
477-79 Central Ave
Fairview Ave & Bergen Ave
Hoboken Ave [Reserved parking along street]
Mongomery St & Orchard St
174 Newark Ave
693 Newark Ave
Sherman Place
522 West Side Ave
754 West Side Ave

For emergencies, call 911. For information or for non-emergency aid, call Paul Bellan-Boyer 201.238.5987.

Please be safe and help your neighbors !!!


This is the storm surge probability map. Click on storm surge of 6 feet and look at your area. Right now we are looking at 6-11 feet).

God of heaven and earth, the eyes of all wait upon thee. We seek to be far from the tempest and storm. Yet turbulence and danger swirl around us. Our preparations can only carry us so far. Surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach the faithful, O Lord, our rock and refuge. See us to a place of shelter. Strengthen and sustain us, that even in the midst of the storm, we may stand secure in faith, surrounded by your love, in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Storm Line, by Joel Torres
Used by permission.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Prayer awaiting a storm

God of heaven and earth, the eyes of all wait upon thee. We seek to be far from the tempest and storm. Yet turbulence and danger swirl around us. Our preparations can only carry us so far. Surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach the faithful, O Lord, our rock and refuge. See us to a place of shelter. Strengthen and sustain us, that even in the midst of the storm, we may stand secure in faith, surrounded by your love, in Jesus Christ. Amen.


Hurricane Sandy generates waves on the coast of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, 10/25/12, Orlando Barria/EPA.
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Friday, October 19, 2012

Prayer for eager disciples

God, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. And you are gracious enough to ask us what we want. Grant that our desire may be for your kingdom, where your glory is seen in the service of others. May we drink without fear from your cup, overflowing with love and mercy, and sustain us through every trial, in the mighty name of Jesus our redeemer. Amen.

Prayer based on Mark 10:35-45.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Prayer for new possibilities

God beyond our imagination, the way to eternal life is not smooth or easy. In fact, so many things seem beyond us: conquering addictions, living with grief, opening our hearts and hands in generosity. We attempt less than we ought, or even give up hope, when the burden we carry is camel-sized, and the way through seems impossibly small. Yet you invite us to walk with you, that we may see for ourselves your healing power and the miraculous possibilities in your kingdom. Give us hope, and strengthen us in faith, in the name of Jesus, our companion. Amen.

Prayer evoking Mark 10:17-31.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tunnel to Towers 2012

One of the many heroes of 9/11, Stephen Siller was a NYC firefighter. He had finished the late shift at his Brooklyn firehouse and was on his way to play golf when he heard about the WTC attack. Returning to his firehouse and finding his company already dispatched, he grabbed his gear. When stopped at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, he donned his gear and ran through the tunnel to join his colleagues, and was killed in the collapse of the South Tower.

His family honors his memory through programs for first responders, military personnel, and children who have lost one or both parents, a special interest of Steven’s whose parents died early in his life. In the annual Tunnel to Towers run, people retrace his steps and remember the sacrifice Steven and so many others made. Many firefighters and military make the journey wearing full gear, like these firefighters from Jericho, Long Island. The Lieutenant is securing the emergency locator on one of his companions.

This year, I made that journey in honor of Joseph Lovero, a fire dispatcher with the Jersey City Fire Department who was assisting the NYFD when he was fatally injured in the collapse of the north tower. I did much more walking than running, but God willing and with a little work on my part, next year I will run.

Of course it is awesome to see 30,000 runners and walkers, plus volunteers and fans. But three moments stand out for me.

Even if you're inclined to run, traffic jams make it nearly impossible to run all the way. But the most impressive traffic jams were in the tunnel. Twice I passed volunteers who were waving traffic over to the left. As people approached the "road block," you could hear a rolling wave of continuous clapping. The first was a soldier moving even slower than I was, his wheelchair trailing behind, on two artificial legs, and taking occasional helps from an oxygen tank. The second was a Marine wearing a "Semper Fi" t-shirt, running on grit and his two new legs, with extra support from a pole strapped to his prosthetic right arm. Each had also obviously suffered other injuries seen scarring from burns and head wounds. Yet they ran, one slow step at a time.

Coming out of the tunnel, the runners were greeted by a corridor of uniforms. On the left, a long row of American flags held by members of the service academies. On the right, New York City firefighters in their dress blues, each wearing a cloth banner with the picture and name of one of their fallen 9/11 colleagues. It takes a long time to run past 343 firefighters. A very long time.

Finally, it was amazing to be greeted at the finish line by friends, all the more the unexpected one. A Big Shout Out to Johnny Mott, and to the fabulous Tom Murphy.

So many people have led the way in faithfulness, to our nation, to our city, to their companions and to their neighbors. May this be a perpetual tradition.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11 years after

On this 11th anniversary, let us remember in prayer all those who died, those who were injured, those who mourn, those who stepped forward to extend a helping hand, those who suffer 9/11-related illness. May God bring healing to all touched by these attacks, and to each of us. On this day, let us care for one another, help us take care of ourselves, and seek to live in peace. Amen.  facebook.com/groups/911prayer

Forget for a moment the issues with the Memorial, with the Port Authority and the Mayor and the Zadroga bill and Homeland Security. Remember the people of 9/11, the victims, the survivors, the responders.

Behind every name there is a face, and many, many stories. Here are a few. (This page will be updated throughout the day of September 11, 2012.) I invite you to consider your own remembrance at Remember Me: The Virtual Facebook September 11, 2001 Memorial.

Remembering JOSEPH LOVERO, of Jersey City, NJ. Joe was chasing firetrucks before he could add. Growing up, he lived near a fire station that became his second home. When he was old enough, Lovero took the fire test, but was ineligible because of a heart condition. Instead of fighting fires, he helped out as a volunteer and later a fire dispatcher. On Sept. 11, 2011, Lovero completed his shift as a civilian fire dispatcher in Jersey City and rushed to the World Trade Center. His family and friends are not sure why Lovero went to the scene, but say that he may have been asked to set up a communication center. “If something was going on, he would always be there to help,” said his daughter Maxine McCormack. Joe was assisting a FDNY Battalion Chief when the 2nd tower came down. They ran for cover, the Battalion Chief survived, Joe was seriously injured, and the Battalion Chief found him in the rubble when the smoke cleared and had him transported to St. Vincent's hospital where he died. [Principal source: NYTimes.]

Remembering ABRAHAM ZELMANOWITZ, blessed be his name. Abe Zelmanowitz was an Orthodox Jew who worked as a computer programmer for Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield on the 27th floor of One World Trade Center. One of his best friends was co-worker and fellow computer programmer Ed Beyea, who was a quadriplegic. With the elevators not working after the 9/11 attack, Beyea had no way of getting out. Rather than go down the stairs and try to save himself, Zelmanowitz chose to stay with his friend, presumably comforting him until they died together in the building's collapse. Many believe they prayed together during those final moments as well; Beyea was a devout Roman Catholic.

Remembering CRAIG W. STAUB.
I met Craig through his family, who love and miss him very much, and remember his vitality, humor, and outgoing nature. On 9/11/01, Craig was looking forward to a new chapter in his life. He married Stacey in June of 2000, they had built a house in NJ, and were expecting the birth of their first child. Craig worked at KBW on the 89th floor of 2WTC, and appeared on a financial news show from his office shortly before the WTC was attacked. While his family hoped for his safe return, Craig was not able to join them for his daughter Juliette's birth on 9/22, which would have been Craig's 31st birthday. Craig, his wife Stacey, and daughter Juliette are pictured. [Principal source: personal knowledge.]

 
Remembering ROSA JULIA GONZALEZ. Rosa Gonzalez was a single mother, 32 years old on 9/11/01. She lived with her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer, and close to many of her seven sisters and a brother, who had moved to Jersey City from Puerto Rico. After the attack, when Rosa telephoned her sister Migdalia from the offices of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on the 66th floor of 1 World Trade Center, these were her last words: "I love you," she said. And then: "Promise to me that you are going to take care of my daughter." Rosa died while making her way downstairs, when the north tower collapsed. She was with friends and colleagues, most of whom perished with her. [Various sources.]

Remembering NEILIE ANNE CASEY. There is no logic to any of it; that much is obvious. But the truth is that they did meet as freshmen, in logic class. That was at Holy Cross, and Michael Casey still remembers the sight of Neilie Anne Heffernan's long auburn hair. They were married on Cape Cod in 1996 "because it was meant to be," he said; their "incredible bond" only intensified when their daughter, Riley Eileen, was born nine months before 9/11. The Caseys were both runners. On Sunday, Sept. 9, they took their daughter on her first three-mile road race. On the night before the attack, the Caseys played a travel video of Bermuda, planning the trip for their fifth wedding anniversary, Sept. 21. On Sept. 11, Mr. Casey kissed his wife goodbye and watched from the bedroom window upstairs as she left their house in Wellesley, Mass., at 5:45 a.m. "I flipped the light on so she could see me, and she turned and waved back as she left." Thus this last memory before Mrs. Casey, 32, boarded Flight 11 on a business trip to California. [Principal source: NYTimes.]

Remembering GAVKHAROY KAMARDINOVA. For a variety of reasons, very little is published about some victims of these very public attacks. 26 years old, Ms. Kamardinova had only come to the U.S. the summer of 2011. A Muslim and citizen of Uzbekistan, Gavkharoy found a job working at a snack canteen run by an independent vendor and serving employees of the AON corporation high in the south tower. After she did not return home on September 11, her employer was not forthcoming about her employment or presence at work, presumably due to legal reasons related to her immigration status and their liability. Ms. Kamardinova's family journeyed to the U.S. to seek their daughter, and spoke of her youthful hope, her hard work, and her happiness to be seeking opportunity in New York City. [Principal source: personal knowledge.]

Remembering WELLES REMY CROWTHER. At 24 years old, Welles was an equities trader working on the 104th floor of the south tower. After the north tower was struck, he evacuated the building, helping others along the way. Welles was known by his family for always carrying a red bandana, and at least 12 survivors credit "the man in the red bandana" with bringing them to safety. Crowther, with a red bandana covering his mouth and nose to protect him from dust, reentered the building at least three times to rescue people. With members of the NYFD, he was re-entering the south tower when it collapsed, and his body was found 6 months later in the destroyed building’s lobby. [Various sources.]

Remembering ASIA COTTOM: Asia, 11, had just started sixth grade at a new school, eager to learn and pleased to be at the campus where her father worked. The North Michigan Park girl was selected to take a trip to California with a teacher to participate in a National Geographic Society ecology conference. The girl and teacher Sarah Clark were on American Airlines Flight 77 at the start of their four-day trip, and were killed when it crashed into the Pentagon. Some staff members said they knew her because her father works there as an aide, helping to coach basketball, patrolling the halls and serving as a book clerk. Her father is popular with students, Backus employees said, because he is patient and walks around with a big smile -- the same way his daughter was described by several people. They said Asia was a kindhearted girl who was helpful to other students who had difficulty learning and was herself persistent, continually trying until she grasped a lesson. On Wednesday, the day after the hijacking, one of her teachers, Lizzie Jones, addressed the sixth-grade language arts class. "We are missing someone today. Do you know who that is?" she asked. "Yes," some of the children said. "Asia." The students talked about how much they would miss her. [Principal source: Washington Post.]

There are many more people whose stories I'd like to share - many more still whose stories I do not know. 9/11 interrupted so many hopes, and ended the lives of so many people whose lives were full of potential, of love. Each is worthy of remembrance.

But for me, 9/11 has always been about the living. We honor and hallow the dead for the lives they lived with us. Please also remember those who survived the attacks, but have lived with suffering. Those who escaped; those who were injured; those who mourn the murder of dear ones; those who have taken their lives to escape their pain; those who deal with on-going illness and traumatic stress; those who responded to aid those in need. May God bless all who have been touched by tragedy, and blessed be the peacemakers who seek an end to violence.

God bless America; God bless the world.
 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Temple Talk

13th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10–11] 22–30, 41–43
Sermon preached at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church,
Jersey City, NJ, August 26, 2012.

Have you ever been to a holy place? Not necessarily the places called “holy,” but a place where you could sense the spiritual power, the uniqueness, the extra-ordinary nature of the place?

Throughout time, people have found it crucially important to know these points in the natural landscape, and later in the architected human landscape, where the powers of the universe are most powerfully present. Maybe you want to access them – maybe you want to stay away from 'em! But as people, we have wanted to understand where they are.

I don't know if this is more of a statement about God or about people, but there are places which are special, where God seems more obviously and powerfully to dwell. The book of Genesis tells how people found these places in the landscape, mountains and springs and river fords. In the journey out of slavery, the people established a moveable temple, the tent of meeting or Tabernacle.

Some places stand out for me. Niagara Falls. Forget the tourist attractions and the floodlights – the awesome power of the water proclaims the presence of something far beyond one's self. The great redwood forests of the Northwest Coast speak in a very different tone, but the very air is heavy with the rich forest smell of ferns and centuries of growth, decay, and new life. Sometimes – not always or even usually – you can sense it in our houses of worship, places hallowed by use, by generations of care to build and maintain, sanctified in prayer and praise. In some churches or places of prayer, it sinks into the woodwork like incense, or is held by the stones, and the modern visitor can inhale the faith of generations. The temple location itself is a place hallowed for generations before Solomon. Mt. Moriah / Mt. Zion was the traditional location where Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac, and where the Lord intervened to substitute a ram for the sacrifice.

Diane Kaese will tell you: “Place matters.” While God may dwell anywhere, the places where we experience that presence, that connection to the best, the holy, the source of power – well, we had best honor and care for that experience. The temple – whether in Jerusalem or on Wayne Street – is a reflection of the power and presence of God.

When you see Andy polishing the woodwork, the worship assistants “doing the dishes” washing and drying the communion vessels, when you see any one of us cleaning up, or hopefully all of us engaged over the next few years in revitalizing this building... you can take that as a sign that we are giving honor to God and the way God has claimed this place as an outpost of the heavenly kingdom. We hallow those places where we have touched the sacred.

To digress for just a moment, I'd like to take notice of Solomon, the king whose speech is in this lesson, who spearheaded the building of the Temple, who in fact, calls it “his temple.” At most, we probably remember a few highlights from his life. The son of David and Bathsheba, he became king as a boy, when his mother and the prophet Nathan won the power struggle for succession. Most likely you could name just a few things about him.

1. He was renowned for his wisdom – and people cite the story where he judges whose woman a baby belongs to.

2. He had 700 wives, 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3), and a famous relationship with the queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10).

3. And finally, he built the Temple, the official dwelling place of God for the nation of Israel. We only read a bit of that story in today's lesson, but the previous three chapters detail Solomon's building projects, down to the architectural and decorative elements of the building.

But all these proved to be fleeting. Wealth and wives lasted only as long as his life, and his kingdom barely longer than that. Solomon's vaunted wisdom was unable to recognize or prevent the civil was among his sons which split the kingdom in two. The Temple itself lasted three centuries, before being stripped and torn down in 586 BCE by the Babylonians. Its destruction led to a spiritual crisis in Israel. If God dwelled in the Temple, did its destruction mean that God had abandoned them?

Stones from Jerusalem Temple's destruction, 70CE.

Rebuilding the Temple did not, and could not fully answer this concern. Nor is the question unique to ancient Israelites. Is God faithful? Are we right with God? Will God be there in our times of need?

This congregation has had a rough few... decades. When the people who founded this congregation and built this building began to abandon this city to its new immigrants, to a more persistent poverty, choosing suburban greens over their neighbors. I know there have been times when it seemed that God had abandoned this place.

We should remember, though, that in Christ we we have been given a new kind of Temple. The old Temple was a place of God's presence, yes, but it was also a place of atonement. In the Torah, the Lord established a system of animal sacrifice to wash away sins. And the Temple became a place where people got right with God, becoming again at-one.

It was quite an enterprise. At Passover alone, the Temple “processed” thousands of lambs, and was visited by tens of thousands of people. When Jesus and his disciples visited the Temple, the disciples were impressed by its grandeur, its strength, the power expressed in its huge stones.

But Jesus spoke of a different kind of temple, the temple of his body. Jesus knew a God who came to dwell in human flesh. The Apostle Paul spoke of the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Still more, he – following in Jesus’ footsteps if not his words – reimagined the assembly of believers as a body. Just like our human bodies, this social body has different parts, with different gifts and functions. Like our human bodies, our churchly body is broken, is in need of healing, and has been redeemed.

This new temple, here at St. Matthew's and throughout the world, is not a place of atonement. Jesus finished that work. We are forgiven, and God has said that we are beloved – always! In Jesus, the temple is no longer a place of atonement, but of reconciliation. Jesus, in his human body, restored people to health, forgave sins, and led people into eternal life, reconciled with God. And with one another. Jesus built a new temple, the temple we call “church,” where the body of human community is healed and redeemed, where his disciples live together in love.

Place matters. The places where God dwells become holy places. God came among us, revealed in Jesus’ human body, in the community he gathered, in the wounds inflicted upon him, and in the tomb which could not hold him.

It is a mystery that so often the building of this new temple comes precisely at the places – those points in our lives, in our bodies, and in our physical space – which are hurt, broken, and suffering. We do not seek out illness or adversity – yet these can bring forth and reveal kindnesses and strengths. A neighborhood in trouble is not a blessing – but in that neighborhood are opportunities for God’s goodness to shine through. We pray for deliverance when things afflict us, and very often we find the healing we need in the midst of the storm.

We might desire the conventional types of strength, success, and victory. But, God knows, that is not where we live all our lives, and that is not where we most need help. God’s kingdom – as Jesus knew and as Jesus lived – is built not with the biggest, strongest, most enduring stones, but with the living stones of God’s people, who are connected by something more fragile and yet stronger than mortar.

We build this new temple, and we “polish” the brass of the kingdom with forgiveness, by showing mercy, by helping one another, by living in love, sharing our bread, and seeking God's shalom – peace and wholeness.

By the grace of God, that's who we are.
 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Divine love

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle...

Song of Songs 2:8-9a

O God, you love us in every way. Like a human lover, you court us, you desire our love, and you seek our "Yes" in a partnership that is loving, lifelong, and faithful, that will fulfill us and bless the world. Grant that we may recognize your approach, that we also may seek your face and return your love, and that we may be transformed in your grace. Amen.


Image: Cylinder seal from ancient Israel, probably inspired by the Song of Songs.
 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Prayer for holy places

How dear to me is your dwelling,
     O Lord of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing
     for the courts of the Lord...
  Psalm 84:1-2a

Great God, you have established among us sacred places: in the natural world, in tabernacle and temple, in the meeting places of your people. So too you came to dwell among us, and have hallowed the temple of our human bodies. Help us to care for your good creation, in stewardship of earth, sea, and sky, and in the care for human well-being: body, mind, and spirit. Rest your healing hand upon the wounded and suffering places of this world, and upon our bodies: individual and social. Renew in us a right spirit, and restore us to health, through thy great mercy. Amen.


Image:
Lost World – Temple of Nature. Matte painting by Romanian artist Tiberius Viris.
 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Prayer for another shooting

We know that every day violence afflicts our land, and that only some incidents make "the news," or find their ways to our attention. On Thursday, four police officers were shot and two killed in Louisiana (see "Four deputies shot in two St. John the Baptist Parish incidents"). A friend who serves a church in the area is connected to one of the surviving officers' family and asked for prayer.

There are many ways to work for a more peaceful and just world. But I know of no better start than by asking God to be involved in our efforts. Let us pray...

Look with mercy upon our fallen world, O God. We know not what to do with the violence which afflicts us, nor with the weapons of destruction which we cling to in misplaced faith.

Minister to all victims of violence, especially Michael Boyington and Jason Triche, that wounds of body and spirit be fully healed. Receive into your blessed kingdom all who die while serving their communities, especially Brandon Nielsen and Jeremy Triche, and sustain those who suffer from their loss.

And please, O God, come to those who have committed or contemplate acts of violence, individually and collectively. Restrain their hands from evil, transform their minds, and give to them a new heart which seeks your realm of forgiveness and peace.

We ask this in the name of the one who lived and died and rose for us, Jesus Christ, our redeemer and Lord. Amen.



Sheriff's deputies Brandon Nielsen and Jeremey Triche.
Rest in peace.

 

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's not about the statue

It's not about the statue. It's about how Joe Paterno as a person, how Penn State and the NCAA as institutions, and how we as a society deal with power and its abuse.

Look... it's a crappy statue. Joe Paterno was more than this cartoon expressed in bronze. At his best, he stood for excellence on the football field and for the role sports and academics can play in shaping character.

But we know that Joe Paterno was less than his best. Choosing his program, his salary, and a coverup at the expense of children raped by his buddy is a character flaw which pretty well overwhelms anything else he did in his job.

Behind his statue was the legend "Educator, Coach, Humanitarian." Humanitarian is off the table. It was certainly within his power to protect the vulnerable kids who suffered sexual abuse by his colleague Jerry Sandusky. As an educator, at this point Mr. Paterno serves principally as a lesson for how moral failures have a way of catching up with you. As a coach... I feel sorry for the people that he did well by, who now know that some part of their experience with him was compromised by his pursuit of success at the expense of others.

It has been noted how Coach Paterno, a practicing and prominent Catholic, may have been affected by the Church's failure to do the right thing. His diocese, like Mr. Paterno, chose cover-up, protecting the insiders who perpetrated abuse rather than protecting the children in its care. They chose a short-sighted (and ultimately wrong) strategy of trying to protect the institution rather than standing with the victims. It's an old story, choosing to avoid confrontation and scandal. But scandal is to be welcomed if it comes in pursuit of justice. "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness..."(Matthew 5:10).

Joe Paterno will be remembered at Penn State. But the time for celebrating him is long past.

But it's not about the statue. Those in positions of responsibility will be happy if people think that taking down the statue or "harsh" sanctions to Penn State football is the end of the story.

It is reported that the NCAA will punish the school for its complicity in the abuse perpetrated by Mr. Sandusky and covered up by Mr. Paterno and high-level university officials. But when mega-money and prestige are at stake there will always be the temptation to overlook "collateral damage."

This is going to be true tomorrow, whatever the NCAA does to Penn State today. Big money college football relies upon the exploitation of young people, who expose themselves to injury, who are often physically damaged by the sport, and who reap little financial reward. The institutions profit from their labor and from their pain, giving the student athletes occasional glory, but keeping the money. Unfortunately, what Mr. Paterno and Penn State did was completely in character with the kind of system they were running. That is what needs to change.

UPDATE:
That the NCAA's response is about damage control and protecting its franchise and brand is seen in several respects. 1) Immediate "extraordinary" action without following its normal procedures. 2) Stepping far afield from its role in policing college athletics to "cultural change". 3) The gratuitous step of attempting to re-write history by stripping college and coach of wins after the sexual abuse came to official attention. The NCAA wrongly identifies the "cultural problem" as located in the outsized role of the coach, rather than the outsized role of football and football money in what are otherwise educational institutions. A modest suggestion for further changing the culture of big money college football: how about the NCAA supplement the $60 million victims' fund with its share of revenues from Penn State televised games, bowl games, and merchandise licensing for 1998-2011?

See "N.C.A.A. Gives Penn State $60 Million Fine and Bowl Ban," Pete Thamel, NY Times, 7/23/12; also "Penn State penalties," Rana L. Cash, Sporting News, 7/23/12.
 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blessed in Christ - Ephesians 1

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ... Ephesians 1:1-3

Probably the most prevalent image of God in scripture is of God as Father, a parent who conceives and provides for, who watches and worries over his children. In the New Testament, this fatherhood is creatively reimagined as an adoptive relationship. New members are continually being added to the family, not by birth but by rebirth through faith and in the waters of baptism.

In our church, we saw this happen last week with a young woman named Iris, and will see it a few weeks hence with newborn Diego. All because God’s parental vision for us is founded in love. You have seen the way new parents look at their children, beloved and perfect. How much more is this the case with a parent whose love is beyond measure.

All God’s children share in that love as we share in God’s welcome table. It’s a big family, a big table, and all are welcome.

P.S. After writing this short post and finding the illustration, I located the original source of the photo. Art ain't got nothing on life. God...is...good. Read the article.

Photo:
NFL linebacker Demarcus Ware holds his daughter Marley, named after Demarcus’ favorite reggae artist. In 2008 Mr. Ware and his wife Taniqua adopted Marley after three failed pregnancies. Photo by Images of Grace Photography, published with Greg Bishop's "Cowboys’ Ware Fulfills a Challenge for Fatherhood," in the New York Times, June 15, 2008.
 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

9/11 prayer group

I am posting this announcement about a prayer group for people with ongoing concerns related to 9/11. Some friends and I were talking recently... and now it exists. It's an interesting return for me. I founded an online prayer group (WTC-Prayer@yahoogroups.com) immediately after 9/11, which ran its course and ended in 2002. A decade later, people still live with 9/11 and continue to feel the need for prayer.

ANNOUNCEMENT: New 9/11 Prayer group
Please share and repost

facebook.com/groups/911prayer
911prayer.org

Like so many others, we have been affected by 9/11, our experiences of that day and its aftermath, and the many wonderful people we have met. People move on, and people still struggle with the effects of 9/11.

As our community moves through life, we can remember each other in prayer. Prayer connects us to a higher power, and prayer also connects us to one another.

This 9/11 Prayer group is for people involved in the events of 9/11 to share prayer and requests for prayer. The group is founded and maintained by 9/11 responders.

Post your prayer requests and prayers. If you have a name or prayer concern you would like prayer for but would not like to share publicly, please use the Facebook ABOUT tab or the website's “About us” page to email the group administrator(s). We hope that many participants will commit to including these prayer concerns in their regular prayers.

This is an interfaith group. People of different beliefs participate. Please feel free to speak in your own voice and with your faith tradition, and please respect others.

Anyone can join the Facebook group. Anyone can see the group and who's in it. Only members see posts.
 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Prayer for the day

When we are low, O God, send your spirit to set us on our feet,
open our lips and our hearts, and make us able to do your work.

We thank you for the grace you give us each day:
   for breeze and cool water in the heat,
   for companions to care for and to care for us,
   for teachers and preachers and prophets to make your word known.

Grant that we may be faithful stewards of your gifts, and
profligate scatterers of your grace, through Jesus Christ
our savior and Lord. Amen.


Photo: Sugar Hollow Reservoir, 1949. Part of the Dunn-Bing collection.
 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Prayer for social justice

Lord over all, protector of widows and orphans, guardian of the weak, vindicator of the wronged and oppressed: nurture in your people a hunger for justice, raise up defenders and doers of righteous deeds, and make a way to peace. Watch over all who sit in judgment, especially in our courts, that they may rule with equity. And may your name be forever blessed for your saving grace, in Jesus Christ our redeemer. Amen.


Artwork:
K├Ąthe Kollwitz, Widows and Orphans, (1919)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Prayer for the Second Sunday of Pentecost

Afraid to stand naked before you, we cover up with fig leaves of pretence and deceit. Yet you, O God, stand ready to clothe us with righteousness, with wedding garments knit from truth, lovingkindness, faithfulness. Grant that we may be unashamed to be clothed by Christ, freed, justified, renewed, and ready for that great feast of justice which is your will for the children of Adam and Eve, in Jesus' name. Amen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Walter Wink

I just received news that Walter Wink, one of our greatest theologians and scholars, died peacefully last Thursday at his beloved home in the Berkshire Mountains. My thoughts and prayers go out to June, his wife and partner.

Walter Wink had an immense influence on me personally, and on those who study and/or follow Jesus in this age. We justly laud him as a scholar. His declaration of the bankruptcy of historical criticism was timely and correct - especially in his formulation which did not reject the method, but the way it had become disconnected from the living life of faith. He helped pioneer the formal use of psychological criticism as a legitimate way of reading Biblical texts. And his work on the
Powers not only helped make Biblical language and worldviews more available to the modern reader, but sounded a clarion call for the Bible's role in confronting and redeeming the systemic powers which dominate and oppress.

If his books were all he gave us, it would be a rich feast. But Walter's own journey of liberation involved the engagement with the untameable world of the Spirit. His willingness not just to test, but to FORM his scholarship in engagement with the unconscious, in communion with living breathing people, and in the work of justice is his great legacy.

I am very grateful for his influence on my studies and my practice of faith, and for the many gifts of grace that I knew through his ministry and our encounters. While I first approached him as a very junior student, Walter had a rare gift for working collegially, and encouraged me and so many others as valued partners in the common work of discovering and sharing the gospel. With Walter you often saw something which illumined the scriptures, and his kindness recalls to me that gift of Jesus to his disciples: "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (John 15:15).

So it was with Walter. He gave freely of his many gifts.

Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him. May he rest in peace. And may we continue to walk in the never-failing light which he reflected so lovingly.

Walter Wink, Presente!, obituary and reflections from the Feollowship of Reconciliation.

walterwink.com

Monday, April 30, 2012

Going wild

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.... My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. John 15:1-2,8

Much of the comment and preaching on this passage focuses on its role as one of the great "I am" passages that John relates. "I am the vine," says Jesus, "and you are the branches." And we rightly think about Jesus as the connective tissue between his disciples, and as the source of nourishment, bringing life-giving water and nutrients to the branches.

Vines are amazing plants. They are prolific, productive. They do not stay put, but grow in every direction if given the opportunity, and something to support them (the ground, a tree, a fence or building). Some of our favorite food plants are vines (tomatoes, grapes, squash, cucumbers, kiwi fruit, melons, beans, and peas).

However vines are also pests, with ivy, kudzu, and jungle vines overgrowing anything they can (English country homes, abandoned structures, lost cities).

While Jesus lifts up the vine's connectivity, and may also seek to recall its mustard-like persistence, if there is a central image in this passage it is the vine's fruitfulness.And critical to a vine's fruitfulness is its trainability. A vine will grow in any direction it is able. But Jesus' heavenly Father tends the vine, directs the vine, prunes the vine so that it may grow in ways which produce fruit. Jesus, as Son of his Father, has been trained, in prayer, by God's spirit, and in his ministry with others.

So it is with Jesus' disciples. If we "go wild," we will grow willy-nilly, and are unlikely to put much of our energy into producing the fruits of his kingdom. But following Jesus means being trained, directed, led to grow in righteousness. We pray that the energy which might be wasted in quarreling, in anxiety, might be used instead to grow charity, kindness, forgiveness, justice, peace.

As we look to the kind of ministry Jesus call us to, how much of our lives are spent "going wild"? And how much are we letting ourselves be trained, guided, by the master gardener, God?

 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Prayer for a baptism

Spirit of love,
Sign of promise,
Word of life,
Lucas, water, Jesus
Now and forever. Amen.


Poem/prayer for the baptism of Lucas Avery Van Aken,
Sunday, April 22, 2012 at St. John's Lutheran Church,
Jersey City, NJ.
 

Friday, April 20, 2012

What love - prayer for Easter 3B

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called 
children of God; and that is what we are. 1 John 3:1

Loving God, with tender mercy you nurture us, with care you correct us, with compassion you give yourself to the world that we might see and touch and know your goodness. Thank you for this family into which you have called us, this strange assembly called church, and this holy family of life in your Spirit. Lead us in righteousness, encourage us in truth, and develop in us a forgiving spirit, filled with the love that is your gift, in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Into your hands I commend my spirit

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46

Sermon for Good Friday

[Preached in a service as a reflection upon the final of seven last words of Christ from the cross.]


In putting these seven words together, the church gives us a text different from that of the gospel writers.

It’s always a question about how we tell the story. Do we put the four gospel accounts together and try to harmonize them? Do we focus on the story as each evangelist told it? Do we let the particular gospel voices speak to one another in our hearts and minds?

It matters. In today’s readings, we could easily think that “into your hands I commend my spirit” is simply the coda to “It is finished.” Now that he is at his end, he tells us where he is going.

But Luke, who gave us these words, does not report that it’s over. In Luke’s version, Jesus first prays to his Father for forgiveness of those who are killing him. He announces forgiveness to the thief (or rebel) next to him. And then, just before he dies, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

“Father” is one of those words that carries a lot of weight. There are some here who are mourning a father’s recent death, some who lost their father years ago, and some among us whose father is sitting here in church with them.

My father died just a few weeks ago, and that provided the occasion for much remembering and rediscovering of his life and our relationship. His tenderness, and his wrath. The times he was there for me, a rock to stand upon or cling to; and those frightening times when he foundered, or was absent. I remember the times I let him down and the times I knew his love and pride.

Fathers loom large in our lives, and that’s true whether they were good fathers or bad fathers, whether they were present or absent, living or dead. Just think of your own experience of “Father.”

That was certainly true of Jesus. You will remember of course that Jesus had two daddies. We don’t know the exact mechanics of his conception, but we do know that he had a conventional father, Joseph, who raised him just as other fathers raise their children. And the gospels tell us that, sometime early in his life, Jesus came to know a heavenly Father, that he turned to again and again to guide his life. As we’ve heard in this Passion story, this Father also guided his death.

After Jesus’ death, the evangelists see in his story echoes of prophecy suggesting that Jesus was fulfilling a divine plan. Some have taken this into the bizarre notion that Jesus’ Father required his death as satisfaction for sin.

But I would like to suggest that this theological speculation, however Biblically-based it might be, is far removed from Jesus’ relationship with his father.

Jesus’ own experience with God, with his heavenly Father, with the Spirit which descended upon him in power, was of a calling forth not into death, but into a life filled with wisdom, with healing, with forgiveness and compassion.

Jesus often went off to pray, so that his Father, his heavenly Father, might reveal to him things not seen in other ways, and might lead him in a life of grace. On the night before his death, with the authorities out to get him, he apparently received guidance not to run for his life, but to give his life that others might experience God’s love. It was not his Father which drove him to death – the gospels detail the collaboration of human powers which sought and carried out his murder. On Sunday, we’ll hear the will of his heavenly Father, which is for life.

Today, though, there is silence. There is the silence of death, as Jesus draws his last breath and gives up his spirit. There is the silence of his friends, who are bereft at what has happened to their courage, to their friend, their hope.

And his last words were, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

I can’t help but turn back to those other words, the words of Matthew, of Mark, and of the whole people of Israel: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This is not the way the story should end, broken, dying, abandoned. This is God’s beloved? It surely seemed to all – even Jesus – that he was abandoned by his Father God. We know this feeling in ways small and large, when the success we’ve hoped for disappears, when the care we need is lacking. There are, it seems, times when God is missing in action.

Commending himself into his heavenly Father’s hands at this point might seem an act of pathetic desperation, or just plain foolishness.

Yet Jesus knows his Father even in his absence. Luke, who is so big on forgiveness, reports Jesus speaking forgiveness in his earlier two sayings from the cross. I wonder if Luke means to show us that, in this, Jesus is forgiving his Father. Forgiving him for the hardships of his life. Forgiving him for putting him in this impossible place. Forgiving him for his absence.

Regardless, though...

Commending his spirit into his Father’s hands at this point is an act of radical trust, radical hope, radical love. It is a declaration that it is not finished.

While it may seem hopeless, giving oneself to God is not the end. It is the beginning. The seed is now planted in the heart of the earth, in the womb of God. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Artwork:
L'Ascension, Albert Tucker, 1962.
 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Looking to Lent

It will soon be Lent. And again the Church will try to understand what it means to turn towards the cross. And people, touched by Christ, will try to walk the Jesus Way.

You might not get this immediately, given the way Lent focuses on our legacy of sin, and in accurately knowing where we are now.

But the season of Lent is inherently forward-looking.

“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”
Anne Lamott

In Lent we look back not out of nostalgia, nor out of obsessive fixation. And we focus on where we really are not out of excess narcissism, nor to wallow in shame. We simply need to get our bearings. And we look ahead to the cross, because of the way it reveals not just the old ills, but the new life God is always bringing forth.

Picture: Release, by Random Cathy .
 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Does Mitt Romney have another tax problem?

Overlooked in the news over the large size of Governor Romney's income and small size of his tax bill is the issue of his faith, expressed in donations to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church).

Mr. Romney has served as a Mormon bishop (head of a local congregation) and as a stake president (head of a regional group of congregations, equivalent to a diocese). His faithful church membership has been part of his public resume.

Yet the tax returns reveal an interesting anomaly. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints practices a tithe as a requirement of its members. A Biblical tithe is usually thought of as 10% of income. While there is some debate within the LDS church as to what constitutes a tithe,* official church policy sets the tithe at 10% of gross income. "...[T]he simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income" (March 19, 1970 letter from the First Presidency to presidents of stakes and missions, bishops of wards, and presidents of branches in answer to the question, "What is a proper tithe?").

Looking at Mr. Romney's 2010 returns (as summarized by the Washington Post's "Tale of the 1040s"), Mr. Romney seems to have underpaid his tithe to his church. With a 2010 gross income of $21,661,344, Mr. Romney gave charitable donations of $2,983,974 (13.8%), including $1,525,000 to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (7%). Donations to other charitable institutions, while commendable, do not help to fulfill one's religious obligation to tithe to the church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in addition to defining the tithe, also recognizes that it is a gift, and offering, and a spiritual matter. Thus, the letter which defines the tithe as 10% of income also goes on to say "We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly." This is an honest recognition that tithing is hard. Choosing to give a large portion of your income is a sacrifice, and cannot be compelled of someone else. It requires generosity, but also commitment, and work.

I am not a student of Mormon faith and practice, so I am open to correction on this point, but it appears that Mr. Romney's tax returns reveal that his giving to his church comes up 30% short of what the church expects.

I wonder if any Mormons - whether in the one percent or the ninety-nine - who pay the full tithe have noticed this.

* Some argue that the 10% tithe only applies to "surplus" income, or income in excess of basic needs. Others debate whether the tithe is applied to gross or after tax income. Official church policy is 10% of gross income.

Photo credits:
Mitt Romney official portrait, public domain
Salt Lake Temple, Utah - Sept 2004, taken by Diluff.