Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Reality Comes To Town

A Poem/Reflection for Trinity Sunday St. Andrew's By-the-Sea Church, Nags Head, N.C. 
June 7, 2020                          Thomas W. Wilson, Supply Clergy
Genesis 1:1-2:4a 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 Matthew 28:16-20 Benedictus es, Domine (BCP p.49)
Reality Coming To Town
I am in my ninth month with you as an Extended Supply Clergy. Both the vestry and I thought it would be, at the most, a three to four-month stint. However, in these next three weeks, my Labor with you will be over, and your new Rector will continue the Spiritual Walk with you. He will lead you, and you him, into how you, he and this community of the Outer Banks, can live a life of faith, hope and love; doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. The days that we have shared together have been filled with days of events, opportunities and threats of the pandemics we faced together; pandemics of viruses and germs, and pandemics of racism and distrust. Twentieth Century Literary Critic Edmund Wilson reflected, “If I could only remember that the days were, not bricks to be laid row on row, to be built into a solid house, where one might dwell in safety and peace, but only food for the fires of the heart.”

Today is Trinity Sunday, and a good Preacher might spend a lot of time educating you on the Nicene Creed and the development of the Trinitarian formula with the historical struggle between the followers of Arius and Athanasius. That is going to have to wait until next year. Let me recycle a paragraph from a reflection I gave in December:
One of my Professors in Social Work, Alan Keith Lucas, 

kept telling us that any helping relationship has three 

qualities: Reality, Empathy, and Support. He called it a 

Trinity as well. 

Reality means giving up fantasies and pretense, replacing 

them with rigorous honesty. For Keith this was the first 

person of the Trinity, where God does not play “let’s

 pretend” with us, but rather says, “This is the way it is!” 

Empathy means an act of imagination of understanding 

 what the other person is going through. You never will

 know exactly, because each person is different, but you 

care enough to try. Keith said that it was like the 2nd person

 of the Trinity who emptied himself out and entered fully 

into human life but did not sin. 

Support meant that you would be an outward and visible

 sign of the presence of the 3rd person of the Trinity, being

 with them to help them find hope, peace and joy in their

 life. You can become real, rather than play roles; have

 empathy with each other, rather than sympathy or pity; and

 support, meaning it is their work to do, but you are there to


This is the first of a Trinity of reflections for the coming of the new rector and having days of feeding the fires of the heart. This one is on Reality. 

36 years ago, I was newly ordained and had my first meeting with Pat, the woman who, more than five years later, would become my wife. I was a new boy at a Diocesan gathering. This woman came up to me out of a group of similarly dressed women, all with large scarves, all with scowls on their faces suggesting they agreed that “all men are scum,” and all smoking little black cigarettes. Holding the lit cigarette in her hand like a road-show Bette Davis, she complained about my predecessor and how her college-age son had left the Episcopal Church. I, silently congratulating myself on giving up smoking and also longing for a smoke, smiled politely and promised I would look him up on campus. I projected a false confidence; but behind the smile, I was thinking to myself; “Lady, I am willing to bet your son's decision has less to do with the Episcopal Church than with you.”

Since she worked for the Diocese, this was the tenor of our interactions for the next four and a half years; avoiding reality by being outwardly polite, inwardly dismissive and judging each other on the basis of our projections on each other. Projections, think of a picture projected on the screen, tell more about the person projecting than the object upon whom the projections fall. Projections also change, like having a different movie with the same actors. The change in projections came when we faced the inner pain in both of us; but we loused up that moment of reality by projecting the role of savior on each other: “He/she can fix me and make me whole so I don't have to work on it by myself.” It is called “Falling In Love.” But it has nothing to do with the reality of love, only the fiction of projections. The healing came with the daily honesty, straight communication, and openness to what was really going on with us. We became honest with each other and ourselves, and out of that, love grew as we got to know each other and we fed the daily fires of the heart.

A Spiritual Relationship with the first person of the Trinity is possible when we face the projections we place on God. The Creeds can be a helpful start, but we must go beyond the limits of language. Spend time with God. After the ritual prayers and formulae are left behind, talk with God, sharing your heart. Listen to God by quieting all the projections. Enter into the darkness of not having easy answers, of not having a big fix-it in the sky. Hear God calling you to faith, not only in the words you recite, but in the life you are called to lead: doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly. Love is about how we live, not just the words we speak. In my prayers, as I listen, I hear words, even words that I do not really want to hear because it might cause a change in my life. However, God does not call for paralysis, but resurrection; a life of resurrection is only possible when we die to the dead past we no longer need to carry around.

A spiritual relationship with the world in which we live needs to be based on reality. We need to acknowledge that the hopes we have had for a community of justice and equality has not yet come to be. This last week we had to come to grips with the reality that for four hundred years of American history beginning in 1619, when the first black slaves were brought into the Jamestown Colony, we have built a society whose hallmark has been the control of, and discrimination against, people of color. We fought a civil war about it; we passed laws against it; but the racism that is in our soul is still alive and well. It will continue as long as we continue our practice of not having any curiosity about who our neighbors are. We need to listen and interact with our neighbors and not just send armed troops to shut them up enforcing our racist society. Reality begins with us spending time and hope and actions and prayers with ALL of our neighbors; kindling the warm fires of love instead of living in fear of the fires of rage. We need to let go of our projections of those who are our neighbors and not be drawn into maintaining divisive walls of distrust. We need to build a new society not based on the past, but on a resurrection of a new community doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.

A meaningful relationship with the new Rector is going to have to be based on reality. Let go of your projections, both positive and negative. He, like every one of us, will have plenty of strengths and faults; encourage his strengths and forgive his faults, as you have done for me. Share honestly what is going on with you and your faith. Don't worry about if he will approve or not; what he and the tradition of the faith tell us is that God's love is not based on approval but acceptance, with forgiveness to all. You don't have to waste time pretending; all pretending does is to dump asbestos on the fires of the heart. Listen to him and his family; it is always rough getting to know a bunch of new people in a new community. Pray for them in your daily conversations with the Trinity and accept the prayers they give for you. He may have words that you may not welcome hearing; listen to them in the love you have, and ponder them in your heart before you respond reflexively and defensively. Ask yourself first, are these honest and painfully loving words that feed the fires of your heart?

Next week: the 2nd person of the Trinity, Empathy.
Reality Coming To Town
He looked over to the coven of anger, 
brewing in the corner, wondering when
it would spill and spew on him and then,
he'd end up having no peace or languor.
One woman came over, cigarette in hand,
to complain about a predecessor's neglect,
with implied judgment of a life wrecked,
that he'd be called to fix it, get it in hand!
He smiled and promised, but he worried,
for was something more he feared to see,
how could his life end up changed be?
But it was; years later they'd be married.
Still there'd be no languor, but discerning
all was feeding their hearts’ fires burning.

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