Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Support Coming To Town

A Reflection and Poem for 3rd Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 7)                            June 21, 2020   St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Nags Head, N.C.                    Thomas E. Wilson, Supply Clergy

Romans 6:1b-11                      Matthew 10:24-39  Hymn: 503

Support Coming to Town!

This is the 3rd part of a Trinity of reflections and poems about helping relationships, which according to one of my Social Work Professors, Alan Keith Lucas, is a Trinity of Reality-  an aspect of the Creator God, Empathy- an aspect of the Christ who enters into daily life and Support- an aspect of the Holy Spirit who gives us strength to work together.  Using that outline I also use the insight of  Pittman McGehee, an Episcopal Priest, Jungian Therapist and Poet who in a conversation described the “mystic expectation of seeing the  Transcendent in everyday life; a Trinity of  experiencing the extraordinary in the ordinary, the miraculous in the mundane and the sacred camouflaged in the profane.” 

The work of the mystic is to be curious; a curiosity about oneself, about one's neighbor, about one's enemy, and about God working in this world; all with an expectation of finding wonder. The mystic calls upon the Holy Spirit and waits for, and expects an answer to her Prayer. My favorite Prayer is the 9th century hymn, Come Holy Ghost Our Souls Inspire, a fourteen line Sonnet, found in the 1982 Hymnal - Hymn 503, which I have had sung at  my 2 ordinations, my 3 installations as Rector of a church and at every Confirmation for those which I presented and prepared.

1 Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
and lighten with celestial fire.
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

2 Thy blessed unction from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Enable with perpetual light
the dullness of our blinded sight.

3 Teach us to know the Father, Son,
and thee, of both, to be but One,
that through the ages all along,
this may be our endless song:

4 Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.                    Amen.

For my own confirmation in 1959, I memorized the sevenfold gifts: “wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.” I memorized them, but it would take decades before I tried to put asking the Holy Spirit for these gifts into practice.

Next week you are having the new Rector show up here to do services. He and his family are already in town, but you began the spiritual journey together months ago.  This journey together began as you started to pray together. You asked the questions to find the answers of who you were, and are, and hope to be, as a congregation and how can you be explained to others? Nathan and his family did the same thing of asking themselves who they were, and hope to be, as a partner with you in the support of mutual ministry. It begins with curiosity of looking deeper than the usual surface for answers about yourselves, your church, your community and the creation of God in which you live and move and have your being.

Years, decades ago, when I was in training as a Psychiatric Social Worker, I remember when I was in the initial session with the mother of a child I was working with, and I asked her to tell me about herself. Her reply was “I am a catatonic schizophrenic.” I replied that the label doesn't tell me anything. Her response was to stand up, ramrod straight, and stare at me . . . and stare . . . and stare. After a few minutes, I thanked her and she sat down again. She thought the label was everything I needed to know. It was what the insurance company needed to know for billing purposes. However, if my task was to help her deal with her son, and he with her, I needed to support them and support begins with curiosity. Who are they beyond the labels, the roles, the behavior, the beliefs, the prejudices and the habits.

In the past several weeks we have been confronted with massive demonstrations and violence which are an outward and visible manifestations of our persistent inability to be curious across racial and ethnic lines. Let me read you a poem, Praise, by a  Black Poet Angelo Geter, published online on June 15th last week, as a way of his finding praise in the middle of chaos

Today I will praise.
I will praise the sun
For showering its light
On this darkened vessel.
I will praise its shine.
Praise the way it wraps
My skin in ultraviolet ultimatums
Demanding to be seen.
I will lift my hands in adoration
Of how something so bright
Could be so heavy.
I will praise the ground
That did not make feast of these bones.
Praise the casket
That did not become a shelter for flesh.
Praise the bullets
That called in sick to work.
Praise the trigger
That went on vacation.
Praise the chalk
That did not outline a body today.
Praise the body
For still being a body
And not a headstone.
Praise the body,
For being a body and not a police report
Praise the body
For being a body and not a memory
No one wants to forget.
Praise the memories.
Praise the laughs and smiles
You thought had been evicted from your jawline
Praise the eyes
For seeing and still believing.
For being blinded from faith
But never losing their vision
Praise the visions.
Praise the prophets
Who don’t profit off of those visions.
Praise the heart
For housing this living room of emotions
Praise the trophy that is my name
Praise the gift that is my name.
Praise the name that is my name
Which no one can plagiarize or gentrify
Praise the praise.
How the throat sounds like a choir.
The harmony in your tongue lifts
Into a song of adoration.
Praise yourself
For being able to praise.
For waking up,
When you had every reason not to.

William Glasser in his Choice Theory says that we have choices in our habits between what can bring us closer together or drive us apart. We can choose to encourage deadly habits or caring habits. We can choose to support the relationship or destroy it:

Seven Deadly Habits                          Seven Caring Habits

Criticizing                                       Supporting

Blaming                                          Encouraging

Complaining                                       Listening

Nagging                                          Accepting

Threatening                                         Trusting

Punishing                                        Respecting

Rewarding to control                      Negotiating Differences

It is my understanding that this is how God the Holy Spirit deals with us as part of our relationship with the Triune God; the seven deadly habits point fingers and the seven caring habits are gifts given in grace.

In Paul's letter to the Romans passage in today's reading, Paul would have referred to those seven deadly habits as sin, in his greek αμαρτία, (h'amartia). It is a technical term in archery which means that the arrow you are shooting is missing the target. It is not about being good or bad; it is just missing the point, a waste of the precious gift of life. Also in the Greek words, Μη γένοιτο, a negative “may” of a genitive term of being, “genoito” that the translator has written “By no means” is too nice. In the context of what Paul is saying in this chapter, Paul would not be nice here and the best translation that I could use in mixed company would  be a Wilsonian translation of Paul's Letter to the Romans 6:1b-2: “Should we continue in this garbage of condemning others, beating them up in the hope they will turn into better people by our abuse? Hell NO- are you out of your ever-loving mind? That's a fact, Jack.” 

Paul is at the end of his rope in this letter to the Romans and the language he uses is an example of how we tend to be drawn into being rough with each other in church situations. The way out of that kind of relationship is to be curious of the other person; listen and go deeper with the person with whom you disagree. It doesn't matter if your viewpoint is “right.” Being “right” is an ego thing; being right and a buck fifty will buy you a busted relationship and a cup of coffee.

We love pointing out other people's sins, but we need to leave that love. To remember the old Paul Simon song, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover:

“You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free”

The relationship you will have with Nathan and his family is a model of your relationship together with this church and this community. Can you be graciously curious with one another, sharing your shared ignorances and asking for, and giving of, forgiveness for not knowing all the ready answers? Can you respect and negotiate the real differences in each other? Can you spend time listening together to God, and each other, and to the space between, and behind, the words we say and hear? Can you learn how to laugh graciously with each other at blessings, and to shed tears together when you mourn? Can you work together to encourage the breaking down of the barriers of race and class and work for justice and peace which passes all understanding? Can you find ways to redeem the past, accepting the responsibility for comfortably condoning past violences, greeds and fears, but making changes in order to live into a new future? Can each day you, together, work to continue to care for God's creation in this, the “Goodliest land under the cope of Heaven?” Can you work to build a greater trust that Jesus is giving the daily bread we need for each day? Can you together ask for, and expect, the wonder of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis?

I will leave you with a poem as a suggestion for your conversation with your new Rector.

Support Coming to Town!

Hi! My name tag tells you my name,

but I am more than that, and my dream

for these next years is; we'll be a team,

of mutual healing, setting love aflame.

For this community, world and church,

I don't corner the answers or solutions,

but I ask for help, seeking absolutions

for shared sins as we're ending search.

Help claim shared home in God's love,

in the Holy Space in, and between, us,

expanding beyond, singing in a chorus,

of praise beyond walls, to heavens above.

Share how we might be a support to you,

as we share our support for what is true.

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