Homecoming or Going-Away Party? Questioning the Rapture through the lens of homelessness

This is the sermon I gave at Patchwork Central’s Sunday evening worship on July 26, 2009. Of course, these texts are not the only ones pertinent to discussion of the so-called “end times,” but 1 Thessalonians in particular is of major importance since it is the text most-often used to discuss “what the Rapture will be like.” Judging by the number of bumper stickers and t-shirts with stupid slogans like “in case of Rapture, this car will be UNMANNED,” it is a matter that is sorely in need of an injection of good, contextually-informed Biblical theology in the popular arena.

As this is the full text of a sermon (approximately 30 minutes in length), it’s considerably longer than my usual entries.

First reading: Isaiah 40:9-11
Second reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

[I started the sermon by recalling a story from my time at Harlaxton, when I spent the better part of an afternoon in Cambridge having dinner with a homeless man named Ian. Rather than try and recall exactly how I told the story on Sunday, here is my description of the event upon returning to Harlaxton that evening.]

Of course, as we all know, homelessness is not just something that happens in England. I remember growing up in Petersburg, a town of considerably smaller size than Evansville, and every few months I would hear advertisements on the radio for programs to benefit Street Relief and other efforts to serve the homeless in Evansville in some way. Now, being from a small town and having never seen a real, live homeless person before it was all a bit of an abstraction for me. It was hard enough for me to just get my head around the notion that there were people out there who didn’t have a stable place to go every night to sleep. Homelessness was something that, for me, only existed on the radio or television, or maybe I would have a teacher mention something about it in class. By the time high school rolled around I had a little better grip on things, having taken a few trips to cities such as Washington D.C. and seen first-hand people whom I knew would be sleeping under the stars that night – and not because they were on a camping trip with friends.

When I moved to Evansville for college I began to get a fuller picture of things, though being a dyed-in-the-wool Reaganite conservative I assumed homeless people, or at least most of them anyway, were there because they wanted to be, or because they were just too lazy to get a real job. Needless to say, since then my thoughts on the matter have changed a bit. I have had a few rather significant interactions with homeless people, like Brian whom I mentioned earlier, a guy named John who used to hang out with us around what is now the art colony, back when it was still Synchronicity, who fancied himself a bit of a traveling preacher for one. He and I used to sit on a bench either on Haynie’s Corner or on Main Street and talk about all kinds of stuff, and boy did he have some good stories to tell. I’ve been a part of the crowd at the Rescue Mission, both during times when I volunteered or coordinated groups that wanted to volunteer, and during times when in fact that was the only place I could afford to eat. I’ve never actually been homeless myself, but there have been at least 3 occasions when I’ve been anywhere from a few weeks to a few days away from not having a place to call home. Perhaps some of you have been in the same boat, eh?

There’s been a lot in the news lately about foreclosures and people not being afford to stay in their homes and all that kind of stuff. Not just people on the lower end of the economic ladder, but increasing numbers from the middle and upper-middle classes as well. No doubt the number of certifiable homeless has increased in the past year, though I have found reliable statistics predictably hard to come by. But even before there was talk of a mortgage crisis, a housing sector crash, Wall Street shenanigans, and the “R-” word (not to mention the “D-” word, which you’ll never hear out of any politician’s mouth unless he’s talking about how we’re not going to have one), the fact of the matter is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 1% of the US population, depending on what studies you cite and which methodologies you accept, went from day to day not knowing if they were going to be able to have a shelter to sleep in that night. That’s around 3 million people, if you’re counting. Continue reading

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Lent this year

It has now been six days since my Lent/Ash Wednesday reflection post, in which I promised I would post what I am doing for this Lenten season in a day or two. It should surprise no one at this point to hear that, on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, I am a P (this is a constant source of annoyance to my fiancée, who is a J), given the number of things I have intended to post “in a day or two” or “in the near future” that as-yet remain in blog limbo. And so, without further ado, here are my Lenten practices for this season and the reasons why I am doing them.

1. Going vegetarian – I am giving up meat (though not milk, eggs, and other animal products) for the season. It is particularly well-documented that modern industrial agriculture is one of the worst contributors to global warming and also to air, soil, and water pollution in the world, and animal agriculture is particularly bad. I also feel there is a strong injustice in spending so much caloric energy on feeding captive animals (who often live and die in horrendous conditions) when over a billion people around the world are malnourished. The average American consumes over 3600 calories per day, and meat forms a much larger fraction of that number than is in any way healthy. Reflection on the relationship between my life and justice issues (both regarding humans and the rest of creation) is a major theme for me this year.

2. In addition to allowing me to reflect on my environmental footprint and the relationship between food and justice, going vegetarian inherently forces me to change my grocery shopping habits. Since they will be changing anyway, instead of driving my car across town to a large supermarket grocery store I have committed to only shopping at places that are within biking distance. I am not necessarily always biking to these places, due to a number of factors, but I prefer to bike if possible. The place where I am shopping most is the local cooperative grocery which prefers to stock organic and local items as much as possible. So I’m trying to reduce my use of oil-based transportation both for myself and for my food. When I go back to eating meat at the end of the season, I hope to drastically reduce my consumption and to purchase meat at the coop, which gets mainly local, ethically-raised (free-range, grass fed, etc.) animal products. This is part of a larger, longer-time strategy to begin taking more responsibility for the food I consume, which will include more emphasis on gardening (I am a member of a local gardening cooperative as well) and other more direct ways of providing food for myself.

3. I have committed myself to not using my debit card for purchases during Lent, except to buy gas (I get some small rewards when I use my card for gas, and it’s the one thing I’m going to have to buy whether I use my card or cash) and instead going to the ATM to actually, physically get cash. It doesn’t work this way for everyone, but I’ve found that when I have to get cash myself I spend less money than I do when I can just swipe the card. So nearly every purchase that I make will have to be premeditated, and I will only get enough cash to cover what I’m going to get up to the next denomination my ATM will let me get (which is generally in $10 increments). This allows me to be much more intentional and reflective about my consuming habits in general, while still (when I have the leftover change) allowing me to stop in at the coffee shop for an occasional cup, and maybe a bagel. This may actually be something I want to keep doing after Lent, I’ve already noticed a difference.

4. As a Benedictine Oblate, I am committed to praying the Psalms each day (which I do by using the daily offices from the Book of Common Prayer), reading daily from the Rule of Saint Benedict, and practicing lectio divina regularly. To this I have added the daily practice of the Ignatian discipline of examen, a meditative practice focused on examining the inner self, one’s actions and the motivations for those actions, and asking God to bring one’s actions and motivations in line with God’s will. I’ve been reading Robert Muholland’s Invitation to a Journey, and one of the things he emphasizes is that the journey of spiritual formation will differ from person to person based on what he calls “creation gifts”, and one way he discusses creation gifts is in terms of one’s Myers-Briggs personality type indicator. It’s not the ONLY factor that should shape one’s spiritual practice, but much of what he says makes good sense to me. I am an ENFP, and so I will naturally gravitate towards practices that reflect those personality preferences. In order to have a more holistic spirituality, I need to consciously nurture the “shadow side”, my opposite type: my inner ISTJ. Practicing examen will help me to nurture my introspective side and give me space to process my day, opening up my self in new ways to be transformed by the work of the Spirit in me. I also plan to continue this practice after Lent is over, but Ash Wednesday seemed a particularly appropriate time to begin it.

This Lent I am particularly taking time to examine my consumptive practices, particularly with regards to food and the way I move money from my account to the merchant’s register, and situating it all with an attempt to foster a greater awareness of my inner motivations. I hope to take many things from this season with me even as I prepare to release more of my self to be nailed to the cross with Christ on Good Friday.

Shalom!

Thanksgiving

It’s hard to believe, given the association of Thanksgiving with feasting and making merry with family and friends, but Thanksgiving actually grew out of a European tradition of taking days to fast and pray and humble one’s self before God that was carried on by English immigrants to the new colonies (particularly by the Puritans, who observed the practice multiple times a year). There is actually no evidence that the traditional Pilgrim-Indian turkey feast we grew up re-enacting in primary school pageants ever took place, though we do know that in the beginning the Plymouth Rock colony did maintain friendly relation (and the Natives probably saved their bacon more than once – a fine payback we gave to them).

It’s especially hard to believe given the association of Thanksgiving with the day after and the orgy of consumer indulgence that takes place on Black Friday.

I’ve been working on a very traditional Thanksgiving food for the potluck our cooperative houses are having this evening – red beans and rice. It’s-a-spicy!

The Qaddish and the Lord’s Prayer

The Qaddish, named from the Hebrew qadosh, “holy”, is one of the central prayers in Jewish worship. It is very old, going back to pre-Christian times. The Qaddish, in one of its shorter versions (from an ancient Jewish inscription) says:

Magnified and sanctified be his great name in the world He created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom during your life and during your days, and during the life of all the house of Israel, speedily and in the near future. And say Amen.

There are also other variations, including one for Rabbis to pray in their training, ones for funeral and burial rites, and others (the above is actually a half-Qaddish).

As you can see, this is quite similar to the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, and indeed many scholars have called the Lord’s Prayer Jesus’ version of the Qaddish. A more literal translation of the opening to the Lord’s prayer than our liturgical forms tend to utilize is instructive here (actually mine is probably more like the Amplified Bible than anything else):

Our father, the one who is in the heavens,
May your name be sanctified (or made/known as holy);
May your kingdom come (or appear, or come into being),
Your purpose (or will) come into being (or be accomplished, or be done)
Just as in heaven, so also upon the earth.

If Jesus did adopt the Qaddish for his prayer, from where does the rest come, all the stuff about forgiving and daily bread and the like? Scot McKnight, a leading emerging church theologian, proposes a solution in The Jesus Creed.

McKnight refers to Mark 12:28-32 as the “Jesus Creed”, his opening of the Shema to include Leviticus 19:18’s command of loving your neighbor. The Shema (Deut. 6:4-5) was the fundamental text of Jewish monotheism, and devout Jews would recite it twice a day (the Qaddish was also recited multiple times daily along with other prayers). McKnight speculates that Jesus may have had his disciples recite the Shema with Lev. 19:18 added when they prayed. Jesus expanded the fundamental command of Judaism to include not only allegiance to and love of God, but also love of neighbor – the basic duty of life extending both vertically AND horizontally. The inclusion of both love of God and neighbor in the Jesus Creed mirrors the two sections of the Lord’s Prayer, and McKnight argues that Jesus is essentially doing the same thing with the Qaddish that he did with the Shema – expanding it to include dimensions of God’s glory and of his kingdom and also of life together based on love of neighbor in a community dedicated to living God’s kingdom as reality. In other words, as he says, if you love God you pray the first part of the prayer, and if you love your neighbor you pray the second.

Each of the petitions of the Lord’s prayer is subversive and perhaps even revolutionary: God is not distant but he his our Father; it is his name that should be exalted on the earth and not the name of any other ruler or power; for his reign to be fully manifest in this world, displacing the reign of other would-be lords. These fairly jump out at us from the page, but the petitions in the “love your neighbor” section are equally explosive.

To pray for our daily bread echoes the experience of Israel in the wilderness as God provided manna – just enough for each day, with no hoarding possible, no way for anyone to gain greater influence or power through God’s gracious gift. This undermines the nature of an affluent culture by declaring trust in God, not accumulation, as basic to our way of having needs met. To pray to be released from our debts as we release those in debt to us is an outworking of the principle of Jubilee that subverts a society based on debt and unequal economic power relations. To pray to be not lead into temptation but delivered from evil (or the Evil One) stands as a bulwark both against the tendencies of an oppressive society to call those who could to join the oppressors as well as the tendency of the oppressed to undertake violent revolution.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, forever and ever. Amen.

excellent article

Thanks to one of my Livejournal friends for showing me this.

Welcome to Middle-Class Lockdown 

Excerpt:

But I never in my life imagined it would be so hard to escape the various American forms of institutionalized extortion and blackmail. Becoming debt free was the least of it. And having everyone you know and love believe your have slipped your moorings is just the beginning. Meanwhile, you become a Kafkaesque character wondering if you’ve gone nuts, as you simmer in the ambient wrongness pervading American society and watch the futility of our vast life-consuming program of intense management and control of everything, the money, the bombs, the roads, the retirement fund, the communications, the propaganda, the entire buzzing tower of bullshit so massive as to make Babel look like a chicken coop. And you ask every passing stranger in the shopping mall “Is all this fucking necessary?” Only to discover that you are in an isolation chamber, a vacuum, a void in which no one can hear your voice at all. They are sleepwalking. They are shopping. Shhhh …

Read this if you care about what you eat

I don’t usually get into campaigns trying to leverage the government but sometimes even anarchists have to work within the system, and then brush our teeth later to get the bad taste out of our mouths.

Got this from the Urban Sisterhood:

The FDA wants to allow food from cloned animals into the food supply without labeling.

Please take action (quick!) here: http://ga3.org/campaign/Cloning_Label

FDA’s comment period ends May 3.

Support the Cloned Food Labeling Act in the House and Senate
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last month that the agency will likely approve the sale of cloned foods this year. FDA’s action flies in the face of widespread scientific concern about the risks of food from clones, and ignores the animal cruelty and troubling ethical concerns that the cloning process brings. What’s worse, FDA indicates that it will not require labeling on cloned food, so consumers will have no way to avoid these experimental foods.

In response to FDA’s pending approval, US Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has introduced Senate Bill S.414, the Cloned Food Labeling Act, and U.S. House Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced an identical bill, H.R. 992, in the House just a few weeks later.

What I really want to know is when they’re going to pass a bill requiring labeling for genetically-modified foods. There currently is no such requirement.

FYI: I’m tagging this under “resistance” because in this case even contacting a congress-person or senator can be legitimately construed as resistance – resistance to the corporate-government complex that would force these products upon us without a choice. It’s not often that we actually have an opportunity to fight against that.

But really… where’s the requirement for labeling GM food?

Food article and September 11

Absolution Revolution has moved! You can find this article at http://absolutionrevolution.com/blog/2006/09/11/food-article/