Jul 20, 2016

The Trump Bible

In 1820, Thomas Jefferson created his own version of the Bible. Sure this sounds presumptuous but it was actually published as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth and is known today as the Jefferson Bible.

Jefferson spent his twilight years literally cutting out passages he either didn't agree with or felt were "supernatural." The Resurrection? Didn't make the cut. Passages referring to Jesus as divine? Into the ash can. Anything smacking of the Trinity? Nope.

While Jefferson took this to the extreme, it was consistent with his overall religious outlook. He was a Deist; Deism being generally defined as belief in the existence of God based on reason and nature alone.

As I've read about Donald Trump's dance with Christianity and listened to words that feel counter to the Christianity I've experienced, I'm convinced he should go and do likewise. Trump should just adapt the Bible to his own purposes. With the Jefferson Bible, there's precedent! Plus any charges of plagiarism can easily be blamed on a speechwriter.

So, while I've already written a Trump-inspired Eucharistic prayer or Trumpcharist, the Trump Bible seems the logical next step.

With a little tweaking, some of the best known passages of Scripture can simply be repurposed to better support the Republican nominee for president. And anyway, what's a bit of a Messiah-Complex among friends?
"The first shall be first and the first shall be first. Being last is for losers." 
"The only thing the meek will inherit is being pathetic." 
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in my awesomeness.” 
"Trump is impatient; Trump is unkind; Trump is envious and boastful and arrogant and rude. Trump insists on his own way; he is irritable and resentful. And now these three abide: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is...Trump." 
"Seek first the election of Trump and all these walls will be built around you." 
"Therefore put on the full armor of Trump, so that you may be able to withstand the Democrats on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truthiness around your waist, and put on the breastplate of self-righteousness. With all of these, take the shield of defensiveness, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil Hillary." 
"This is the day Trump was nominated. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Unless you're from Mexico or a Muslim-American."
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Trump."
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Donald, so that everyone who votes for him may not perish but may have eternal greatness."
"O taste and see that Trump Wine is the greatest." 
Of course I could go on and on. But I have a GOP Convention to live-tweet (@FatherTim). But fear not! Others have gone where I haven't had the time to go. There's even a website called donaldtrumpbiblestories.com not to mention an entire #TrumpBible hashtag on Twitter.

Unassuming Prophet

I rarely put sermons on Clergy Confidential. I do have a sermon blog titled @FatherTIm Sermon Vault where I warehouse them, but I generally only share those links with the parish I'm serving since a) preaching is all about context and b) no one needs more sermons clogging the internet. 

But I did want to share what I said at yesterday's funeral for the Rev. Ed Allen because his was an inspiring life, one that deserves to be shared. Ed was a parishioner at St. John's and a retired Episcopal priest and it was an honor to preach at his service -- I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever preached at the funeral of a fellow priest.

I hope you'll take a moment to read it and recognize that we need Ed's voice now more than ever. 

Funeral for the Rev. Edward P.  Allen
July 19, 2016

What a privilege to stand before you this afternoon and reflect upon the life of a fellow priest. A man I admired and was inspired by, a man known and loved by each one of you. But before I begin, I thought I’d share something Ed wrote 24 years ago; a note Alice gave me one day several years ago that she’d found in a file of his old sermons. 

It was titled, One of the Terrors of Preaching. “More often than not, after a week of meditating on the themes expressed in collect, Old Testament, psalm, epistle, Gospel and the life of the parish and the world — after mulling them over, twisting them this way and that, trying to find some connection between them and what was going on inside myself — and after finally putting something together  that I could pass off as a sermon, I would find myself in church on Sunday morning listening to readings that I would swear I had never heard before. I would ask the ceremonialist, ‘Is she reading the wrong lesson?’ or I would hastily check the lectionary, only to discover that what I was hearing was what I had been reading over and over all week, except that now it was coming to me from an entirely new angle. Then, with my confidence in my insight totally shaken, I would have to get up and preach. Sometimes it was disconcerting; at other times is was, ‘What the hell! Go for it.’ Anyway, it was never dull.”

There was a fullness to the life of Ed Allen that can’t be captured in just a few minutes. But, what the hell, go for it! 

Ed was a husband and father, of course, an Episcopal priest who served parishes in California and as college chaplain at the Interfaith Center at UC Irvine. A man of faith and compassion and humor; a storyteller and a gentle soul. But also a man of passionate conviction who stood up for right in the face of wrong; for love in the face of hate; for justice in the face of discrimination

If Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves, Ed Allen took that commandment and lived it, both in his personal and vocational lives. His words and deeds reminded us all that Jesus’ invitation to love one another was not optional. We can’t love our neighbors as ourselves on our terms or at our convenience. It just doesn’t work that way.

As Alice and her children were gathering stories in the days after Ed died, Norton forwarded me an article that his brother Ted had posted on Facebook. And I was amazed by a 1963 California newspaper clipping. The headline was “Corona del Mar Pastor Jailed in Sit-In” and there was a picture of a 35-year-old Ed Allen in his clerical collar — wearing a very stylish plaid blazer I might add. Ed had been arrested for protesting a new housing development that was discriminating against people of color. As the article reported, Ed was “carried bodily to a police car and spent six hours with 23 other pickets in a cell built for 12 persons before he was bailed out.” Presumably by Alice.

But what really stood out to me were some of Ed’s quotes. After his arrest, Ed was quoted as saying, “Segregation is a black mark against America. However, the challenge of integration is a frightening thing. There are those who are afraid of the changes that equal rights will bring. Through their fear, they either do nothing to ‘rock the boat’ or else they will campaign actively to keep things as they are. Those who want to see American freedom truly practiced are equally afraid. It takes guts to stick your neck out — especially for somebody else.” 

Yes. Yes, it does. And I’m particularly moved by Ed’s witness for two reasons. First, his
passionate stance for standing on the right side of racial justice during a seminal time in our nation’s history and second because, sadly, we still desperately need that voice today, 53 years later. 

It is precisely the fear about which Ed spoke that still confounds our efforts to seek reconciliation. It is our fear of change, our fear of those who differ from us, and our fear of giving up control. The gospel of Jesus, as Ed well knew, is all about driving out fear and breaking down barriers between and among people. Not everyone is willing to live that out in such a tangible way and for that we can all be inspired and encouraged to make a difference in our own day, in our own way.

I also love this part of the article: the reporter asked Ed how he felt about the prospect of arrest and “Father Allen admitted he was ‘scared’ to take part in a sit-in demonstration” and his wife, Alice was “‘pretty nervous at first’” (at the time, she did have two young children at home). But “‘She’s proud of me now,’ he added with a grin.’” And I think we can all spot that grin from a mile away. 

On the last day I saw Ed — near the end, I’d gone up to Linden Ponds to pray with him and with Alice — I made a point to wear two of Ed’s stoles Alice had recently given to the church. I wore a red one to do the monthly service at Allerton House, a nearby nursing home, and I wore a white one to do a committal service in the Memorial Garden — the same one I’m wearing right now.

And I intentionally wore them because I’m aware that the current generation of clergy has a mantle to take up. Courageous priests like Ed Allen, even in his gentle and self-effacing way, helped till the soil of racial reconciliation at a time when the harvest was plentiful but the laborers were few. And it is important for us to continue to nurture what was planted in Jesus’ name. Work that needs to continue, work that must continue if we are to be faithful to the ministry of our Lord.

Today as we remember Ed’s life and celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, we are once again reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of God. In his letter to the Romans St. Paul writes that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

For everyone privileged enough to know and love Ed Allen, nothing can separate us from the memory of this unassuming prophet. Nothing can separate us from the influence he had and will continue to have upon us. And this is precisely why, even at the grave, we can make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Jul 14, 2016

In Good Faith: One Blood, One Hope

In my latest In Good Faith column, I write about the great life-source that unites us all. Also, I quote my curate.

One Blood, One Hope

"O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth..." So begins a prayer I say
several mornings a week as part of the Episcopal Church’s Morning Prayer service. In light of the blood that’s been spilled in America in recent days, I’ve been reflecting on this image of "one blood” with particular intentionality.

The thing about blood — that human life force — is that it’s color blind. There is no black or blue or white blood. There’s just the "one blood" of our common humanity. This isn’t to deny our differences, or whitewash them, but we so easily look at what divides rather than what unites. And that’s a sad commentary on human nature; a reminder that when faced with fear, our base human emotions often emerge. Which leads to finger pointing, blame, scapegoating, and racism — not the qualities embraced by any religion or anyone with a heart of compassion.

On Sunday at St. John’s, our assistant minister, Fr. Noah Van Niel, poignantly highlighted the contrast between the celebratory shots that rang out of muskets during Fourth of July parades and the shots that took human life in the days following. Two young black men, Alston Sterling and Philando Castile, were killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota. While in Dallas, police officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens were gunned down by a sniper with an assault rifle. 

I don’t list their names because you don’t already know them, but because it’s important for us all to speak them. To say their names aloud in the same sentence as a reminder that they share the same blood; the same blood that we, too, by the grace of God, have coursing through our veins.

After watching footage of the shootings, Fr. Noah related in his sermon, “I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Sterling was wearing a red shirt in the video where he was killed. Mr. Castile a white one. And the police officers were in their blues. All of them soaked with blood. Rarely has red, white, and blue caused such pride and such sorrow in such a short number of days.”

This reminded me of the Church’s Palm Sunday liturgy. On that day, which initiates the holiest week of the Christian year, the service begins with the waving of palms and the festal shout, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We mimic the actions of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem and hailed him as the Messiah by throwing palm branches at his feet. 

There is great celebration and yet a dark cloud looms. Less than a week after this triumphal entry, Jesus is strung up on a cross to die a criminal’s death. In our liturgy, we grip our palms as the account of Jesus’ trial and death is proclaimed in the Passion Gospel. In an instant we move from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify!” This jarring juxtaposition is precisely what took place in the days following the Fourth of July. And I find it telling that as Jesus prepared to have his own blood shed, he called for forgiveness. He didn’t call upon us to forget but to forgive. 

Perhaps we’re not yet ready to forgive. Perhaps anger and outrage must first emerge. But mostly, I’m tired of seeing our flags at half staff. I’m not sure about the numbers, but it seems that over the past year they’ve been lowered more than they’ve been raised. And every time I drive past a flag pole, it serves as a tangible reminder that we have a long way to go in realizing our national potential; that the American dream has yet to be realized.

The full prayer reads as follows: “O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you, bring the nations into your fold, pour out your Spirit upon all flesh, and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

May God have mercy on us and may the “one blood” we all share be life-giving rather than life-taking.

Jul 7, 2016

Miranda Rights for White People

In the wake of...

more violence and death,
more anger and frustration,
more senseless killing, 
more shattered lives, 
more 'thoughts and prayers,'
more divisiveness...

Miranda Rights for White People

You have the right to remain silent.

You have the right to wait out the news cycle.

You have the right to maintain the status quo.
You have the right to temporarily change your profile picture on Facebook.

You have the right to keep those affected in your “thoughts and prayers.”

You have the right to support social justice issues from the comfort of your temperature-controlled living room.

You have the right to wear a colored ribbon in solidarity with the suffering.

You have the right not to sacrifice any of your personal privilege and still feel good about yourself.

You have the right to be let go with a warning.

You have the right to open carry a gun without being shot.

You have the right to wear a hoodie at night.

You have the right to interpret the Constitution to your advantage.

You have the right to think the Civil Rights Movement is over.

You have the right to a well-paid, three-piece suit-wearing attorney who will get you a slap on the wrist and a knowing nod from a judge who understands “youthful indiscretion.”

If you cannot afford an attorney… hahahaha, yeah right.

Do you understand your rights?

Jul 6, 2016

The Blessing of the Balls

Ah, baseball season. Itchy flannel uniforms, no gloves, the old hidden ball trick, handlebar mustaches. What?! 

Oh, I meant to specify baseball as it was played in the 1880s. 

You see, one of the great traditions in Hingham, Massachusetts, is the annual vintage baseball game held on July 4th weekend and sponsored by the Hingham Historical Society

You've never heard of "vintage baseball?" It's a thing. Think Civil War reenactors for the sporty set. Middle-aged guys living out their sports fantasies in throw-back style wearing period uniforms. And it's pretty great -- spectators and players alike get into the spirit of another era. You can hear "huzzahs!" and and even some 19th century trash-talking, although I've frankly never been able to distinguish between "tomfoolery" and "ballyhooing."

In the end the Derbies defeated the Coopers in a tight game, 4-3, to earn bragging rights for the next 12 months.

This year I was invited to give an invocation of sorts just before the singing of the National Anthem by Laura Winters, a parishioner and Hingham Historical Society booster. 

Since between us we couldn't come up with anything other than "The Blessing of the Balls," we decided not to insert this item into the official program. But of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have some fun with it. 

If you ever have occasion to, um, bless the balls in your own hometown, feel free to use the following. 

The Blessing of the Balls

O God, as you were with these players from the Big Inning,
With Laura Winters
Make them less concerned with losing and winning.

Than with a spirit of sportsmanship and fair play 
As we prepare to celebrate this Independence Day.

We pray for the players and fans; we give thanks for this weather
We pray for hands catching balls without leather.

May the Coopers and Derbies play with unabashed hustle
while not pulling anything worse than a muscle.

Give to the umpire the gift of impartiality
To insure the game does not end in his fatality. 

So bless these bats and bless these balls
And help us to revel in the wonder of it all.

And when the final out has been made
let us give God our thanks and our praise.