Monday, March 19, 2018

So What I Said Was: Jesus -- The April Fool

I did something foolish -- or at least unusual -- for Quakers yesterday. I preached from the lectionary at our local meeting. The reading was John 12:20-33. What follows comes from my study of that text -- thought it might not seem like it.

Easter falls on April 1 – April Fool’s Day. April 1st is a day for joking around.  Which is one reason Nancy and I got married the day after April 1st. This joking around is an old practice.  You see April Fool’s started almost five hundred years ago.  

In sixteenth-century France, the start of the new year was observed on April first.  New Year’s then was celebrated in much the same way as it is today with parties and dancing into the wee hours.  Then, in 1562, Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar for the Christian world.  In his calendar the new year fell on January first.  There were some people, however, who hadn't heard or didn't believe the change in the date, so they continued celebrating New Year's Day on April first.  Other people played tricks on them and called them "April fools." They sent them on "fool's errands" or tried to make them believe that something false was true.  In France today, April first is called "Poisson d'Avril."  French children fool their friends by taping a paper fish to their friends' backs. When the "young fool" discovers this trick, the prankster yells "Poisson d'Avril!" (April Fish!) – which doesn’t have quite the same ring as “April Fool.”

April 1st as a day of foolishness is celebrated around the world – with regional variations.  In Scotland, for example, April Fool's Day is actually celebrated for two days.  The second day is devoted to pranks involving the posterior.  So it is called “Taily Day.” 

All this foolishness comes to a head on April 1 – and I’m happy that it falls this year on Sunday.  Not because of the silliness (which we often call foolishness), but because of the real foolishness that God used that we remember at this time of year.  As 1 Corinthians 1:27 reminds us “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”

In no way is that more true then it is as we look toward Easter.  Easter centers around foolishness.  No, not human foolishness – though it may give us some comfort to think that way about Pilate, Herod, Judas, the “crucify him” crowd or even the thick headed disciples.  But the foolishness I’m thinking of is foolishness to the extreme – the folly of Jesus.  It may make us uncomfortable to think of him that way, but Jesus was the ultimate fool.  At least by the world’s standards. 

Think about it – what sane man would talk about being “one with the Father” and mean it?  What great teacher would joke about camels and eyes of needles or tell tales of foolish fathers who forgive even prodigal sons?  And what rational person would give himself up, not for his family or friends, but the very people who hated him and despised him?  As Paul writes to the Romans: “You see, …when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

What a fantastically foolish thing to do.  I doubt any of us can truly comprehend what doing this meant for Jesus.  David Citino, a poet, helped me to understand it a bit better when I read his poem “Situation No. 33:  The Feast”
You’re told the ingredients
have been assembled: for the sake of love,
wine and bread, fennel, honey and leeks;
laurel and bay to represent
your political importance and way with words;
a sampling of fabulous beasts and birds.
Fruits and meats to symbolize labor;
salt, the apple and lamb.

You’re told the entertainment
will consist of your slow dismemberment
to the pulse of bass drums,
the plodding cadence of Gregorian chant,
screams of your parents and children.

You’re told it will hurt
like nothing else, but after it’s over
your very best friends will take you
home with them and place you
on altars in the midst of music and yearning,
place you near fire, teach their children
to sing your name.

Do you accept?

The answer is intelligently clear – no, we do not accept.  What kind of fools do you take us for?  Fools like Christ?  Foolish, foolish Jesus.  His actions confound us to this day, if we really stop and think about them. 

Yes, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;” – if we think we are wise.  The cosmic Christ comes out of chaos and creates everliving love – calling us home to the Father.  “Ally, ally in Free” he calls, “the rules are suspended.  No one is out.  No one is “it.”  Run home.  Run home.”  He is the “April Fool” of whom Noel Stookey sings:
April Fool
You wear your heart on your sleeve
And though they laugh when they leave
You call it Love and I believe (you)

April Fool
Why must you always play the clown?
You have the edge you laid it down
You give it up without a sound...

Oh April Fool
How can the say "love is cruel"?
They catch the ring but drop the jewel.
Like a teardrop in a pool...

April Fool
As the heart shows through the eyes
Before you were born you were recognized
And unto the losers comes their Prize.

Oh April Fool
Even as the hands were washed, you knew
We'd free the thief instead of you

April Fool
You said the Father was in You
You said we know not what we do
Forgive us...April Fool.

Who, indeed, is the true April Fool – the Christ who comes turning mourning into dancing, dying for his enemies, baking fish by the seaside for his friends, or us, so wise by the world’s standards, who guard what we have, repay slights with interest, and pray loud, but not so well?
Let us, when we arrive at this April Fool’s Day, remember the greatest Fool of all – the everliving Christ who comes dancing from the grave, who defeats death that we might live, who forgives all prodigals, who gives himself for others.  May we become, as Paul urges us, “Fool’s for Christ’s sake,” giving our lives for each other and Him.

And that is no joke.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why You Won't Hear Me Posting About Donald J. Trump Any Longer

I am completely disturbed by many of the words and actions of President Donald J. Trump. And I am not going to tweet, post on Facebook, or blog about him anymore.

I am not going quiet on social media because of my lack of resolve to stand against policies, words, and actions I find contrary to my understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am committed to working against these things which I feel are harming the country I live in and am grateful to live in. Rather, I'm going to quit using social media to speak against Trump for a number of reasons.

But first let me say that I do not think Donald J. Trump is unintelligent. He may be impulsive, but I think he knows the power of words and uses them very calculatingly. He knows his base will excuse his vulgarities -- especially when those opposed to him clamor against his vulgarities and nasty talk. He knows that I and others like me will be offended. And I believe he hopes we will speak out so that when we do his supporters will speak out against us and defend him. He can thereby drive a deeper wedge between the peoples of the United States.  I do not believe that he is interested in advancing a culture of care and respect and unification of the people of this country. I do believe he is interested only in his own agenda and views.

No politician is perfect. Presidents Obama, the Bushes, Clinton, Kennedy, Lincoln, Washington et al had their faults. Yet I believe they all acted in what they thought were the best interests of our country as a whole. I do not feel that way about the current occupant of the White House.  I think he is cold and calculating and knows exactly what he is doing -- consequences be damned.

It is precisely because I feel this way that I have to remove any discourse about this from my social media postings.  Here's why.

I am trying, and often failing, to be a Christian. As such, I am trying to hold two scripture passages in my mind and heart as I endeavor to grow more Christlike. One is from Galatians 5 -- "... the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." The other is Micah 6:8 -- "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." I am finding that I cannot exhibit "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" or "walk humbly with God" when I tweet, Facebook, or blog about Trump. My words betray those biblical principles.

I am trying , and often failing, to live up to my Quaker faith which urges me to seek that of God in all people and to live at peace with all. When I post on social media, I find that I too easily get caught up in the rhetoric and fall into bombast myself. Likewise, one of the reasons that I am a Quaker is because much of what it calls me to is against my nature. I am not a peaceful person. I love a good argument. I enjoy dismantling by my (imagined) intellectual powers those who oppose my values. Which includes Donald J. Trump. Such actions on my part are not consistent with my trying to live my faith. And so I must stop. It's harming my soul.

Others, and I am glad for this, can use social media to oppose without becoming mean and low. They can retain the high moral ground in their words and intentions. So I shall leave them to this worthy work.  I, on the other hand, will try to post things -- in addition to my usual silliness which I need to refresh my spirits -- that are aimed toward "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." I shall try to post what I am for -- not what I am against.

So, as a start, let me say some of the things that I am for:
  • a country and government that respects all people regardless of ethnicity, gender-identification, sexual orientation, religion (or choosing to have no religion), and so forth.
  • an administration and government that exists to serve all under their care and which recognize that diversity of color, lifestyle, opinion, religion, and more enrich our country.
  • a nation that guarantees and equally protects the rights of all its residents -- again regardless of ethnicity, gender-identification, sexual orientation, religion (or choosing to have no religion), and so forth.
  • a country that emphasizes peace in its actions and spending.
  • a nation that works to ensure that all its residents have the best healthcare, education, housing, worthy work, and food possible. I don't just mean "access to" -- I mean, have these things -- regardless of ethnicity, gender-identification, sexual orientation, religion (or choosing to have no religion), and so forth.
  • a government that encourages civil discourse and acts and speaks with care and respect.
  • civil discourse among peoples of differing views so we can learn from each other.
  • a country that is known for its mercy and justice toward all peoples everywhere.
I am for these things as a person of faith.

Do not think that while I will not be posting against Donald J. Trump's vulgarity in word or deed, that I am accepting them. I will be happy to have personal conversations about these things -- so long as we can talk civilly. And I will be stepping up my direct contact via email and postal mail with the office of the presidency and my elected officials. I will be endeavoring to speak, even in those communications, about what I am for more than what I am against. I need to do that for my own spirit's sake and to ensure that I remain humble and exhibit (as best I am able) love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

These feel like times that are fraught with peril. They are also times that are filled with possibility. For those of you who are able to use social media wisely and well in facing the dangers around us -- blessings on you. May God bless us -- every one.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Twenty-Two -- "laid the Holy Child here inside my heart."

"The Miracle"
by Georg Johannes Gick

When all the winds were mild,
Mary came to me apart
and laid the Holy Child
here inside my heart.

My heart was made the manger,
and my body was the stall.
And now no man is stranger:
my life goes out to all,

To bring to each of them
this Child of heaven’s light,
to let them enter in, like flames
of candles to the holy night.

Source: The Shepherd’s Pipe

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings/thoughts during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Twenty-One -- "The Great Joy"

Thomas Merton

The gospel of the nativity is, therefore, not merely the gentle comforting story of a mother and a sweet baby lying in a manger, a story which appeals to our hearts and brings us back once a year to the simplicity of our own lost childhood. It is a solemn proclamation of an event which is the turning point of all history – the coming of the Messiah, the anointed king and son of God, the Word-made-flesh, pitching his tent among us, not merely to seek and to save that which is lost, but to establish his kingdom.

The birth of the son of God is, then, our own birth to a new status, an elevation, an opening out of entirely new possibilities for humanity in Christ.

The nativity message is not only of joy but of the joy; the great joy which all the people of the world have always expected without realizing what it was. The nativity gospel is, then, the announcement of life.

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings/thoughts during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).