Gain Disguised as Loss!

Peace Pilgrim born Mildred Lisette Norman

The peace pilgrim was a woman who walked more than 25,000 miles, carrying on her body her only possessions.  She crossed America for nearly three decades witnessing to the simplest message, “This is the way of peace: overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth and hatred with love.”  I’m told that she wandered through Jackson Mississippi at least once and I suspect that she came through Memphis as well

PEACE PILGRIM’S STORY

This story is in her own words.  “Let me tell you a story about an answer to prayer. I was picked up late one night by a young policeman as I was walking along a lonely highway.  I believe he was thinking in terms of protective custody.  He said to me, ‘Why, nobody in this town would walk out along this highway at this time of night.’ I said to him, “Well, you see, I walk completely without fear.  Therefore I’m not attracting things which are not good.  It says, “That which I feared came upon me. But I fear nothing and expect only good.”

He took me in anyhow, and I found myself in a cell.  The floor was littered with old newspapers and cigarette butts and every old thing.  The accommodations consisted of a single mattress on the floor and four ragged blankets.  There were two women attempting to sleep together on that single mattress. The told me there had been eight women in that cell the night before with those accommodations. There was a rather nice feeling among the prisoners in general.  They said to me, ‘You’ll need two blankets because you’ll be sleeping on the floor.’  So I took a newspaper and cleared a place on the floor, and put one blanket downs and the other blanket over me and slept comfortably enough.

It wasn’t the first time I had slept on a cement floor, nor the last.  If you’re relaxed you can sleep anywhere.  When I woke up in the morning I say this man staring through the bars.  I said to him, ‘What time does court convene?’ He said, ‘I don’t know.” I said ‘Well, aren’t you a policeman?’  “No,’ he said, “I just like to look at the girls.’ It was one of the town sports.  Anyone could come in right off the street and see what they had there today: ‘Let’s go look at the girls!’

One of the women was middle aged and was being held for being drunk and disorderly.  It was her seventh offense, she told me, so it wasn’t so hard on her.  But the other was an eighteen-year-old girl.  She felt her entire life was ruined because of this experience.  I said, ‘It’s my second time and I certainly don’t think my life is ruined!’  I got her all cheered up and we talked about what she’d do when she got out.  She was to get out that day or the next day.

Then they changed the guards.  I never saw a matron.  The new guard saw me and said, ‘What are you doing in there? I saw your picture in the newspaper.  I heard you over the air.’  Then they just let me go. But before I left I got a broom from the man who cleaned up around there and gave it to the girls so they could clean up their cell.  I also got them a comb; their hair was all matted.  They had been there about a week without a comb.

What I really wanted to tell you is that the eighteen-year-old girl was a deeply religious person.  She had been desperately praying for help.  I believe that I was picked up off the highway that night and set behind prison bars in answer to her prayers.”

PEACE PILGRIM – PAUL & SILAS

Paul and Silas in Prison – William Hatherell

This is the story of a woman at peace.  Peace is not the opposite of conflict it is richer than that. Peace is a growing oneness with God and that peace may produce a conflict that doesn’t look very peaceful.  I am struck by the similarity between her story and the story of Silas & Paul (Silas should first billing occasionally) in chapter 16:16-40 of the Acts of the Apostles.   Paul and Silas wandered around proclaiming the Good News of the Resurrection.  When they cast out a demon from a slave girl her owners were furious and they wound up in jail. An earthquake opened the jail in the middle of the night and the jailer was ready to kill himself because if any of the prisoners escaped he would have been executed anyway.  But none of the prisoners had gone anywhere.  The jailer discovered in Paul and Silas a power beyond anything he had ever seen before.  He and his household were baptized.  Both the jailer and the slave-owners had a religious experience.  For the jailer it was good news and to the owners of the slave girl, who lost their investment it was bad news.

GAIN DISGUISED AS LOSS

The experience of Paul, Silas and Peace Pilgrim could be described as GAIN disguised as LOSS.  Jesus dying on the cross and laid in the tomb was gain disguised as loss. How do we live into this “up-side-down” way of thinking which discerns gain disguised as loss?  In her writings Peace Pilgrim speaks of four preparations for a spiritual life which I think point toward gainful loss.

 A:     ASSUME RIGHT ATTITUDES TOWARD LIFE:

“Stop being an escapist or a surface-liver as these attitudes can only cause in-harmony in your life.  Face life squarely and get down below the froth on its surface to discover its truths and realities.”

Three young men hid themselves on a Sabbath in a barn in order to smoke.  The elder discovered them and threatened to flog them for their misbehavior.  One young man said, “I deserve no punishment for I forgot that today was the Sabbath.”  The second youth said, “And I forgot that smoking on the Sabbath was forbidden.”  The third young man said, “I, too, forgot.”  “What did you forget, he was asked?”  He replied, “I forgot to lock the door.”

Facing the truth about our motivations and what we are doing is essential to life in the Spirit.

B.  LIVE GOOD BELIEFS.

The word “good” comes from the same Indo-European root word as the words gather and together; it means being joined or united in a fitting way.”  Harmony and connectedness is a part of spirituality.  Peace Pilgrim said, “Begin by putting into practice all the good things you believe.”  Good beliefs are not just pious thoughts. To do the good is to see that all things, including you and me belong to a greater whole AND to begin to act like that is so.

C.  FIND YOUR PLACE IN THE PATTERN OF LIFE.

Peace Pilgrim said, “You have a part in the scheme of things.  What that part is you can know only from within yourself.  You can seek it in receptive silence.  You can begin to live in accordance with it by doing all the good things you are motivated toward and giving those things priority in your life over all the superficial things that customarily occupy human lives.”

When a man whose marriage was in trouble sought his advice, the Master said, “You must learn to listen to your wife.”  The man took his advice to heart and returned after a month to say that he had learned to listen to every word his wife was saying.  Then the Master said with a smile, “Now go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”

We must learn and find our place in the scheme of things. John quotes Jesus in chapter 21 of his Gospel where Jesus prayed for the disciples; “…that they would be one, as the Father and the Son are one.”   That is our place in the things of things.

D.  SIMPLIFY LIFE TO BRING INNER AND OUTER WELL- BEING INTO HARMONY.

The Peace Pilgrim writes, “Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens.  Many lives are cluttered not only with unnecessary possessions but also with meaningless activities.  Wants and needs can become the same in a human life and, when this is accomplished, there will be a sense of harmony between inner and outer well being.”

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Wendell Berry

That brought to mind the words of the Kentucky agrarian poet, Wendell Berry, “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”

GIVING IS NOT LOSS BUT GAIN

The story is told of the time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill.  Each night they divided the grain they had ground together during the day.  Now as it happened, one of the brothers lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family.  One day, the single brother thought to himself, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly.  I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.”  So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to insure that his brother was never without.

But the married brother said to himself one day, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one.  What will he do when he is old?”  So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary so that he would never lack for anything.

As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning.  Then one night the brothers met each other halfway between their houses, suddenly realized what had been going on, and embraced each other in love:

GAIN DISGUISED AS LOSS IS AT THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL

The longer I read the scriptures the more I am struck by the symmetry of the whole book.  We see this today in the reading from the Revelation to Saint John, which are the last words of the Christian Scriptures on matters of redemption and consummation.  The words at the end of the Revelation to Saint John are the antidote to the words in Genesis 3:24 which says, “God drove out the man; and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”   Ever since our ancestors, Eve and Adam, were evicted from paradise, humanity has been trying to get back in. But the Bible tells us that we can’t go back only forward.

  • The Old Testament is the record of the journey from Eden to the Promised Land.
  • The New Testament is the continuing saga of the people of God who are joined by God’s Son in our pilgrimage to God.
painting-faith

Painting Faith

Our Lord by his death and resurrection overcame sin and death.  In Christ Jesus God has reconciled the whole world to Himself.  Hear again the words that are the last words of God on the subject: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”  And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”  And let everyone who is thirsty come.  water-in-wellLet anyone who wishes to take the water of life as gift.  The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”  Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

When we think of our lives, the regrets, losses,  brokenness and those things that make no sense to us it is important to remember that these events are the middle not the end of     the      story. The story is not over yet!

In Christ Jesus GAIN is disguised as LOSS. Let us never forget that in the end all will be well.

ADVOCATUS/PARACLETE

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Icon of the Paraclete

 Paraclete: Advocate belongs to the language of the law courts, and means a defending counsel, or attorney, as opposed to the diabolos (devil).  Paraclete is applied directly to Jesus himself in I John 2.1, and, indirectly, in John 14.16, where “another” implies a similarity between the Paraclete and Jesus himself; the Paraclete will be to the disciples what Jesus himself has been, and the coming of the Paraclete will be equivalent to a coming of Jesus himself (John 14:18, unless this is an allusion to the return of Jesus to the disciples after the Resurrection).

  • The teaching of the Paraclete will be centered on Jesus and his teaching.
  • The Paraclete will extend the range of Jesus’ teaching to the world.
  • The Paraclete will advance the disciples understanding of “the truth,” which is identical with Jesus         
  • The presence of the Paraclete with the disciples will be permanent, in contrast to that of Jesus, who had to be withdrawn.
  • The presence of the Paraclete will be invisible and inward.

Studies in Classic American Literature

“Men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away. Men are free when they are obeying some deep inward voice of religious belief. Obeying from within. Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilling, perhaps unrealized purpose. Not when they are escaping to some wild west. The most unfree souls go west, and shout of freedom. Men are freest when they are most unconscious of freedom. The shout is rattling of chains, always was.” [Pg. 6]

– D H Lawrence

PENTECOST XI

A Navajo, A Hopi and an Apache were bragging about how powerful their prayers were.The Navajo said, “We pray for healing, and the patients get well about half the time.”

The Hopi said, “Well, we Hopis pray for rain and it rains about 70% of the time.”

Finally the Apache spoke, “Yes, but we Apaches have the sunrise prayer and it works every time.”

We are all looking for prayers that work every time!

The Gospels record that Jesus was a praying man. Everywhere we encounter Jesus, he is praying or has been praying or is on his way to pray. Praying was the rhythm of life of his life. So his disciples watching this asked him to teach them to pray and. he taught them what is called the Lord’s Prayer.

I. THE LORD TEACHES HOW TO PRAY — OUR FATHER …

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Robert Farrar Capon

Robert Farrar Capon, “Parables of Grace” – “It begins, simply, “Father” a term of relationship which is natural rather than earned. Then Jesus tells the disciples and us to pray for the food they need for each day. Notice that nothing in the way of human achievement is requested. The heart of the prayer is, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us.” We receive forgiveness because Jesus died for our sins.

And lead us not into trial (peirasmon). Life is a web of trails and temptations, but only one of them can ever be fatal, and that is the temptation to think that by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life. But that will never work. If the world could have lived its way to salvation, it would have, long ago. The fact is that it can only die its way there, lose its way there. The precise temptation, therefore, into which we pray we will not be led, is the temptation to reject our saving death and try to proceed on our own living. Like the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that is the one thing that cannot be forgiven, precisely because it is the refusal of the only box which forgiveness is ever delivered.”

Importunate Neighbour – William Holman Hunt

II. THE SHAMELESS NEIGHBOR

To make his point about praying clearer, Jesus then tells a story: ”It’s like,” he said, “you are sound asleep in bed when the doorbell rings. You look at the clock and see that it is nearly One AM. Peeping through the curtain you see your college buddy, whom you have not seen in years standing at the door. He needs to spend the night and has not had a thing to eat all day. You’re glad to see him, but you have not gone to the grocer all week and all that is in the fridge is a head of dead lettuce and a bottle of good champagne. What to do? “Well,” you think, “I could go next door to the neighbor.” So in your robe and bare feet you paddle over next-door and ring the bell. Your neighbor first doesn’t answer the door, no doubt hoping that you will go away.

So you lean into the doorbell and your neighbor’s sleepy and irritated voice comes on the intercom by the door. “What on earth do you want at this hour?” You explain your unexpected company. He says that this is not his problem, and furthermore his baby with the colic has just gone off to sleep in his bed and he doesn’t want to get up and wake the kid. Off goes the intercom. You STAND on the doorbell! If your neighbor will not get up because you and he are golfing buddies, he will get up and get you what you need because of, as the scripture puts it, your PERSISTENCE.

III. SHAMELESSNESS AS A VIRTUE.

The word persistence is not really the best translation. The better translation would be shamelessness or lack of shame. Capon says, “What is this shamelessness but death to self? People who lead reasonable, respectable lives, who are preoccupied first and foremost with the endless struggle to think well of themselves – do not intrude upon their friend’s privacy at midnight. And why don’t they, because that would make them look bad. But if someone were dead to all that – if he could come to his friend’s house with nothing more than the confession that he was a total loss as a host (or anything else) – then precisely because of his shamelessness, his total lack of a self-regarding life, he would be raised out of that death by his rising friend.”

ABRAHAM: A MODEL OF SHAMELESSNESS

Abraham – Friend of God

In the reading from Genesis for today God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. This is a problem for Abraham because his nephew, Lot, lived there. “I’m going to nuke’em,” says God. Abraham said, “Suppose there were 50 righteous men in the twin cities? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be it from you! Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” [Jews talk to their God with an intimacy that few Christians ever muster]. God said, “If I find at Sodom 50 righteous, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham knew the twin cities so he thought to himself, “I’m not sure there are 50 righteous men in the city limits.” So he begins a shameless negotiation: “What if there are only 45 righteous?” God agrees; 40 – God agrees; 30 – God agrees; 20 – God agrees. “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more,” said Abraham peeping through his fingers, “If there are only 10 righteous men, will you not destroy it?” God agreed and went his way. (I wonder if God got out there before he gave away the farm?)

Just like the man caught at midnight without a thing to serve his buddy, Abraham is shameless. Why did Abraham risk such shameless behavior? Because he knew his God. As the Prayer Book puts it in the Rite One Eucharistic prayer, “You whose property is always to have mercy.” This merciful God is our Abba/Father.

V. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US — A CALL TO SHAMELESSNESS?

Thomas Hora tells the story of a little boy who was asked as he went to bed, “Are you going to say your prayers before you go to sleep?” “No,” was his reply. “Why not,” he was asked. “Because I don’t need nothing.” Most of us believe that prayer is asking for something, and that is a mistake.

We can define prayer as an endeavor to behold what is real.

What is real then to those who accept the good news of God in Christ? What is real is that Abraham and the man with the empty larder and, yes, we also are invited into a shameless and bold relationship with the Holy One of Israel.

Paul, writing the Christians at Colossae, spells out the invitation, “When you were buried with him in baptism, your were also raised with him though faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”

We cannot make it on our own; therefore we are invited into a life of shameless reliance on God. God desires that we pray not to pester him into doing what he would not do unless we whine long enough. Our shameless – boldness rises from our being dead in ourselves and alive in the power of Jesus and his resurrection. It is a case of, as the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous puts it, surrendering to win. It is a matter of life and death that we learn that God really loves us. He promised that He would never abandon us or leave us.

Let’s live like it.

Amen.

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“Church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.

Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.

 

In the end he is its sole object

Sir Ralph Spencer , Last Supper

Sir Ralph Spencer , Last Supper

 After Pentecost the followers of Jesus began working to make sense of what had happened to them, the only holy text was what we call the Old Testament. They then began to read the Hebrew text looking for Jesus. They found him on almost every page. Some followers of Jesus have ignored, discounted or almost abandoned the Old Testament seeing it redundant. This of course is not the case at all. As Cardinal de Lubac (post before this one) puts it, “Everything in it (Scripture) is related to him (Jesus). In the end he is its sole object.”

This thinking has exploded my notion of how Holy Writ. It is all organically connected as living things always are if they are truly living. We will encounter the Holy One of God in all sorts of places if we look, thus the deliverance of the Children through the waters of the Red Sea from slavery in Egypt points toward and is fulfilled (filled full) those who believe saved from bondage of sin through the waters of baptism. This is called type and antitype.

 I begin vacation next week for the month of August. In September 1st I begin a three month sabbatical. During this time I will continue to post as I think out loud about faith and practice. I will also chronicle my trip to the north of England from September 3rd until October 18th. If you have questions send them my way.

JWS