We still save our best compliments and flowers for the funeral

Here are words from Ronald Roheiser in The Holy Longing:

The church is also the place we go to help anoint each others for our impending deaths. What is meant by that?

The essence of what church is can be understood by highlighting an incident that occurred in Jesus’ life in the weeks just  before his death. Although all four gospels report this event, a sure sign that it is important, we rearely reflect or homilize about it or are too timid in accepting the raw truth of its revelation. The incident being referred to is the anointing of Jesus’ feet in Bethany by a woman named Mary.

To understand what is revealed in this incident it is helpful to highlight the lavishness of the images used to describe it. Thus, if one were to take all four gospels’ accounts of it and run them through a blender is this: One evening Jesus was at dinner. This dinner, it seems, was a rather lavish one. At one poingt, a woman with a bad reputation in the town enters carrying an alabaster jar of spikenard ointment. Both the jar and the ointment are very expensive. Alabaster ws the Waterford crystal of the itme and spikenard was a very expensive perfume. She breaks the jar–a wasteful act, but one signifying how deeply she loves Jesus and how much she wants this giving to be a singular thing. Then she pours the perfume on him and its aroma permeates the room. Finally, she cries and her tears wash Jesus’ feet and she dries his feet with her hair.

It is hard to paint a scene that is as crass in its depiction of raw affection. That rawness was not lost on the original audience. The evangelists say that people in the room began to grow uncomfortable, as well they mi8ght–and as we would in a similar situation. Some began to voice objections to what was happening. A few objected to the fact that Jesus, who was supposed to be a holy man, was letting a woman with a bad reputation touch him. That, however, was not the main objection, nor was it discomfort. What was making those present uncomfortable was something that also make us uneasy–raw gift; lavish, gratuitous affection. Those present voice their discomfort by pointing to waste and excess: “What wastefulness! That jar and ointment could have been sold and the money could have been given to the poor.”

Jesus, however, anwered the objection by completely affirming what the woman had done and telling his uneasy, objecting hosts: “Leave her alone! She has done a good thing. The poor your will always have iwth you, but you won’t always have me. She has anointed me for my impending death.” That is the key line. Jesus told his hosts that this woman had just helped ready him for death. What did he mean by that?

There are levels of meaning here. On of those, however, is brilliantly captured by John Powell in a short book he wrote some years ago. Entitled Unconditional Love, it contains within it the story of a young man, Tommy, one of Powell’s students, who is twenty-four years of age and dying of cancer. At one stage, before his death, Tommy comes to Powell and shares with him that he feels there are worse tragedies in life than dying young. I quote part of the conversation:

“What’s it like to be only 24 and dying?”

“Well, it could be worse.”

“Like what?”

Well, like being 50 and having no values or ideals, like being 50 and
thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are the real
biggies in life…

“The essential sadness is to go through life without loving. But it would
be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without
ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.”

From the mouth of a dying young man we hear a great truth: There are only two potential tragedies in life and dying young is not one of them. What is tragic is to go through life without loving and without expressing love and affection toward those whom we do love. With that truth in hand, let us return to Jesus’ comment that someone had just anointed him for his impending death:

What Jesus is saying, in effect, might be paraphrased this way: “When I come to die, I will be more ready for death because tonight, of all night in my life, I’m experiencing the reason this universe was made, the giving and receiving of love and affection, pure gift. This is a moment to die for!”

There is a great irony here. If this woman had gone to Jesus’ grave with this outpouring of affection and perfume, it would have been accepted, even admired. You were allowed to anoint a dead body, but it was not acceptable to express similar love and affection to a live one. Nothing has changed in two thousand years. We still save our best compliments and flowers for the funeral. Jesus’ challenge here is for us to anoint each others while we are still alive: Shower those you love with affection and flowers while they are alive, not at their funerals.

…We go to church to tell people we love them and, hopefully, to hear them tell us the same thing. In the end, we go to church to help ready each other for death.

Jonathan Turley does a good job reviewing the pros and cons of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayo

While I desire someone more conservative than Sotomayor on the Court, my judgment is that her history does not show her to be a raving moonbat. Obama could have chosen one of those. He did not. I do not think the Republicans should fight over this one. They should applaud and move on. Generally the Republicans have been more gracious in court battles than the Democrats who have demonstrated a deep mean streak and willingness not only to defeat the nominee but destroy him or her as well. Sotomayor is a shoo-in on this and the issues are not big enough to raise a ruckus., which you might do with other shoo-ins where the issues are big enough. Republicans should express their differences, congratulate Obama on a reasonable appointment, and express thankfulness that the court looks more like the American people for whose sake they sit on the court. This is not giving up or giving in. All Americans want qualified people on the court. And Americans have a right to be suspicious of a court where those who make judgments seem to come from only one segment of the population.

Read below the thoughts of Jonathan Turley, who reviews the pros and cons in an objective way Continue reading

The West Point Prayer

Perhaps this prayer is more deist than rooted in the personal religion of the New Testament experienced through Christ, but there is a nobility of request here that differs so with the typical prayers of church life, which have more to do with relief of suffering than worthiness of aspiration.

“O God, our Father, Thou Searcher of human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.

“Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretence ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer. Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Co! untry. All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of all. – Amen”

Six Views on the Creation/Evolution Debate

For those of us who have learned that the Creation/Evolution debate is a swamp of options and details without clear channels, a post from Parchment and Pen gives the six basic options in the controversy and what is at stake.  This post might really be helpful to the person who has stayed away from the debate, intimidated by the sheer amount of material and the shrill voices that grind away at our sensibilities.

Let’s go to church, 150 AD style

St Justin in 155 wrote to the pagan emperor Aontonius Pius, describing Sunday worship as it was celebrated in Rome.

On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.

The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.

When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.

The we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves…and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.

When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.

Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.

He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.

When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: “Amen.”

When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the “eucharisted” bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.

Church as attractional event? Not so sure. Church as teaching, prayer, eucharist? I am thinking so.

Being uptight with people sure can be a grind

Here are some comments below from the Naked Pastor. I am not sure about some of this, but at times it appears attractive. Let everything go, and let people be themselves without trying to herd them. Serve, love, be with, etc. Quit trying to control. I get it. I don’t always know what this means for leadership. My life is often going between the extremes of “I just want to be a good Christian” and the “Look, I have a responsibility here and things need to be the way I see it and everybody will be better off.” Luckily for me in this phase of my life (59), I don’t have a whole lot of trying to control people left in me. Not a bad place to be. If I could there would be many things I would now do differently, but I have no wish for a do-over. I’ve been done over and learned to let some things go.

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This last weekend I was at a conference. One day one of the speakers spoke on love. I was moved to desire to love more deeply. Here’s some of the commitments I made:

1. I relinquish all control of others, and commit to the liberation all people.
2. I choose to be kind, even to the meanest.
3. I celebrate the success of others, even my enemies.
4. I refuse to protect, secure or improve my reputation.
5. I renounce pride, and consider others as better than I.
6. I decline making demands, even when it would be expected and accepted.
7. I forsake irritation, even with the most irritating.
8. I quit resentment, and keep no record of any wrongs done against me.
9. I work for and celebrate justice for others.
10. I propagate the truth of unconditional love, confident that it will win the day.
11. I will not give up on, lose faith in, or cease hoping for anyone.
12. I choose a love that endures through all circumstances.

That should keep me occupied. At least for today.