Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sermon Notes-Oct. 15 Ex.32, Ps. 106, Phil. 4, Mt. 22

Oct. 15-Ex. 32, We a look at different modes of celebration this morning in the texts. Like college freshmen, the Israelites indulge in what the story calls revelry. Idols-false gods, ersatz gods. In a culture of divine representations, it could not have been easy to worship this invisible god in the desert.they were filled with worry,and now they get to let loose for a bit.
Moses tries to protect them from the anger of God toward their celebration of a god of their own making. In crisis, he shows his insight into the character of God,. In vv. 11-13, he speaks to God of the divine promises to the ancestors of the people,  urging God to be faithful to those promises. He also speaks of the terrible waste represented in bringing the people out of Egypt just to destroy them... Moses is reminding God of the tremendous investment God has made in saving the people. Thus, Moses serves to remind YHWH of God’s own character. Moses is praying in his contention with god. He is appealing to the best parts of god;’s nature and history with this recalcitrant people. Ps. 106 says that Moses stood in the breach before God. He would plead their case like a trial lawyer before a jury.

Mt. 22:1-14 Barth put the matter: “In the last resort, it all boils down to the fact that the invitation is to a feast, and that he who does not obey and come accordingly, and therefore festively, declines and spurns the invitatio.” Worship is that feast.should worship look like a party, a scene from the golden Calf? Life together could be that festal time. Pres.Outlook-That should give us the courage to say a resounding "yes!" to the call of God no matter when it comes or where we are when we hear it.We should drop everything and come as we are, but we should also never expect to remain unchanged. Just as the first disciples dropped their nets and followed, we respond to God's invitation immediately and fully, trusting that once we do Jesus will welcome us as we are and transform us into who God intends us to be: clothed, in our right minds, witnesses to the generosity and goodness of the One who called us.Our whispers of assent mingle with the roaring wind of the Holy Spirit. And, somehow, God transforms us from Cephas to Peter, from those who catch fish to those who cast their nets to bring in people.(Pres. Outlook/Working Preacher)

Phil. 4:1-9,I don’t know about rejoicing in the midst of hard times and I certainly don’t get it when it says always to rejoice in the Lord. Where is the difference between the rejoicing around the Golden Calf and rejoicing in the Lord? Worry I know about, but it seems to say to replace worry with prayer. Then it promises an elusive peace.For instance, they would “not worry about anything” , referencing what Jesus had said in the Sermon on the Mount: Instead, trust in God leads to prayer.
So what is there to rejoice?We spend immense amounts of time searching for ersatz pleasures and  distractions and call it enjoyment.  joy comes from the confidence that, no matter what happens, we are inseparably connected to God and saved. It has to do with where the focus of one’s life
Paul advises: Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near” Gentleness is not an honored virtue in our land, especially in the white House. It sound too soft, We may well be more gentle with pets than we are children. Gentlemen and gentle lady.

Column on Listening

We started a series on civility at First Presbyterian recently. Its theme was civility is a demonstration of respect. One of the key items of respect is to listen to them.
Men are sometimes accused of selective hearing. I do enjoy a finding that as males age, we do not pick up the frequency of a woman’s voice as easily as we do other sounds. Men often do better at listening when they sit next to someone, but don’t look directly at them, as in a bar setting.

To offer a listening ear is one of the great gifts we can offer another. To listen for understanding, without  coming up with a counterargument, unless asked, without judging the person, without coming up with options to fix an issue, unless asked acknowledges the speaker. We often feel silenced. We often feel unheard. In our time, we then try to gain attention by adding emotional intensity to our words.

I was going to get a jolt of coffee and yes something sweet at Luciana’s recently and ran into the czarina of Sierra club on her way to the yoga studio to “get her Namaste on.” The word is basically a greeting, but for many it has a sense of greeting someone soul to soul in a gesture of respect. Listening puts Namaste into practice.

One of the best listening skills is to notice the emotional change and temperature of a speaker, without them s feeling the need to shout it. When that gets reflected back to them, it not only shows that you are listening, but you may well be giving them information about themselves of which they were unaware. In other words, we can listen with our mind for content; we can listen with our heart for tone.

Listening to another, especially one with whom we disagree can be a taxing task. On the other hand, listening can sometimes be pure pleasure. Music’s pleasures go beyond the aesthetic and may become therapeutic.

Listening can be a gateway into the spiritual, just as the visual. When I was a boy in Catholic school, the catechism said that prayer is talking and listening to God. The senses can lead us into another realm of experience. With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaching, I have been reading a lot of Martin Luther. Hear him on music: “I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God…The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them.... In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits...”

In older Protestant churches, the ear is the vital sense organ. In the “worship wars” the battle was joined mostly on music itself between more classically oriented tunes and more contemporary folk and rock-based tunes. In both camps, our focus on the tune has led to not paying much attention, not listening, to the lyrics of the hymns.

As the seasons change, so do the sounds of the fall. Not only can we watch the leaves turn on the river road, but we hear them crunch underneath when walking at Pere Marquette Park. Maybe it offers one of the deepest forms of listening: silence.. Even with the birds and insects and the rustle of the leaves, we can be encased in silence. For a while the clatter of phones and the clamor of noise shut down. In the silence, we may well hear intimations of the divine.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Week of Oct. 15 pts

Sunday Oct 15-Ps.106:1-6, 19-23  is at the end of Book 4 of the Psalms..Reight relations and doing justice are its core ethical statements at the start. Then it goes through a logn digest of Israel’s relations with God, including the Golden Calf episode. Our tradition has stressed idolatry. When do you make a god of your own design?

Monday“St. Teresa of Avila said to the sisters of her community: ‘The Lord walks among the pots and pans.’  We make artificial divisions between sacred and secular, between what is worthy of our awe and gratitude and what is not.” --- Christine Valters Paintner,

Tuesday-Unlike the sweet unfolding of spring, or the swaggering excesses of summer, autumn comes like wood smoke, quiet as the leaves that drop without a sound or float like amber boats upon the darkening pond. In the autumn our hearts lean into the joy and tenderness of now and the curious promise of limited time. Carrie Newcomer

Wednesday-"This is the journey toward spiritual maturity – to grow in our capacity to hold paradox and tension. We are thrust into times of terrible loss and many times those experiences do reveal treasures we could not imagine. But that does not mean the loss was visited upon us for this purpose, that is the paradox of it."--- Christine Valters Paintner

Thursday-Henri J. M. Nouwen-There is no such thing as the right place, the right job, the right calling or ministry. I can be happy or unhappy in all situations... I have felt distraught and joyful in situations of abundance as well as poverty, in situations of popularity and anonymity, in situations of success and failure. The difference was never based on the situation itself, but always on my state of mind and heart. When I knew I was walking with God, I always felt happy and at peace. When I was entangled in my own complaints and emotional needs, I always felt restless and divided.

Friday- Dorothy Day was very drawn to Therese’s 'little way' of infusing all daily activities with a prayerful awareness and intention, and a spirit of love. She loved the phrase 'duty of delight' which comes from nineteenth century critic John Ruskin. She repeated it often as a reminder to herself to find beauty in the midst of every moment."--- Christine Valters Paintner

Saturday-Pope John Paul II- In contemporary society people become indifferent “not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder” (G. K. Chesterton).…Nature thus becomes a gospel which speaks to us of God: “from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wis 13: 5).…But this capacity for contemplation and knowledge, this discovery of a transcendent presence in created things must lead us also to rediscover our kinship with the earth, to which we have been linked since our own creation (Gen. 2:7). If nature is not violated and degraded, it once again becomes man’s sister.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


Oct. 8-Sunday-Ps.19 is a great hymn on creation. What does creation tell you about God? How does silent creation speak (v.2-4)? Why do you think the psalm then moves to looking at God’s teaching/torah?

Monday-God is the living flame within each of us. We each contain a spark of the divine, a holy fire that leads us to greater love.  Sometimes our inner fires seem to die, to fizzle out.  At these times we are often overworked, overcommitted, or undernourished by the things that bring our soul alive."--- Christine Valters Paintner, PhD

Tuesday-"All traditions went out of their way to emphasize that any idea we had of God bore no absolute relationship to the reality itself, which went beyond it. Our notion of a personal God is one symbolic way of speaking about the divine, but it cannot contain the far more elusive reality. Most would agree with the Greek Orthodox that any statement about God had to have two characteristics. It must be paradoxical, to remind us that God cannot be contained in a neat, coherent system of thought; and it must be apophatic, that is, it should lead us to a moment of silent awe or wonder, because when we are speaking of the reality of God we are at the end of what words or thoughts can usefully do." (Spiral Staircase, p. 292)

Wednesday-We experience the viriditas in our souls, which Hildegard counseled. In that safe space of being met by other pilgrims who also have a love of contemplative practice and creative expression, we are able to start to drop down to a deeper place and let a part of ourselves come alive that we may keep hidden in daily life. We can welcome in the moistening of our souls. This is the greening power of God at work. We find ourselves vital, fertile, alive and saying yes in new ways, affirmed by our fellow companions. Abbey of the Arts

Thursday-Practice simplicity first. When we find this simplicity, they believed, we find true life.”
--- Christine Valters Paintner, PhD  

Friday We can only keep it together when we believe that God holds us together. We can only win our lives when we remain faithful to the truth that every little part of us, yes, every hair, is completely safe in the divine embrace of our Lord. To say it differently: when we keep living a spiritual life, we have nothing to be afraid of. Source: Bread for the Journey

Saturday-Philip Britts-In the face of the strain of tasks beyond our strength, we must turn inwards to the source of strength. If we measure our human strength against the work we see immediately ahead, we shall feel hopeless, and if we tackle it in that strength we shall be frustrated…and fall either into torpor or exasperation. There is no healthier lesson we can learn than our own limitations, provided this is accompanied by the resignation of our own strength, and reliance on the strength of God.

Sermon Notes-Oct. 8 Ex. 20, PHIL 3:4, MT. 21:33

Oct 8-In History of the World., Mel Brooks has Moses come down with 15 commandments, but he drops one of the tablets and announces these 10, 10 commandments.Ps. 19, creation and science and telos/goa/endpoint-It seems an odd combination-the order of the heavens and the order of God’s instruction, God’s blueprint for human life. God is a god of order, of arrangement, of aligning life. We can adopt the sheer beauty of nature, but we hear this wordless voice encoded in science as well. We have untangled the blueprint of life in DNA. We have probed the atom; we can see our brains respond in different ways to stimuli, even religious ones in reward centers. Over time, religion has a hand in sculpting our brains over time..God as creator will not give up on this creation.God forgives. God redeems our faults, mistakes, and missteps.We treat the first tablet shabbily. Other than the coveting prohibition, the second tablet is part of being a proper human being;nothing out of the ordinary.We do not honor the Sabbath. We treat god;s name  as an expletive or even worse as useless. We construct ersatz divinities all of the time, our of celebrities, and our own ideas and fantasies.

Human life is of two tablets: god and neighbor. Jesus is of two tablets: the human and the divine. Love god; love the neighbor. Respect God; treat the neighbor with respect.
Phil 3:4b-14,citizenship in heaven-I don't think he means that we no longer have status and concern here on earth-allegiance may be  his concern-as way to deal with first tablet of 10C-are we aliens here or is dual citizenship- rights and responsibilities-seek the common good- I tis one thing to be a citizen or a slave or an alien, or  an american citizen, but to be a citizen of heaven, of God's own commonwealth (see3:30)that transforms body of humiliation , goal of destruction to a life worth living.Eastman-In practical terms, this means that we are not only  our past or our memories.  From the standpoint of the grace of God in Christ, Paul  is no longer defined only by that history, because only God provides full identity papers, a passport for travel.
Paul's life  is not primarily about him. It's about God... Jesus Christ is the threshold where our past and our future meet. Jesus is the one who nullifies the power of our own history and liberates us for a new future.  Christ himself makes us righteous and thereby brings us into the life-giving presence of God. When Paul yearns to "be found in" Christ, he is responding to the self-giving love of Christ who was "found in human form" (2:7).
Finally, Paul uses the image of a race to describe the Christian life.Maybe the 10C can be called the starting line. We are on the move;the runner  keeps her "eyes on the prize" will stay on track. Similarly, the runner who mistakes the halfway marker for the goal and stops there, saying "I made it!" will drop out of the race. Paul says that he has not "already reached the goal" (3:12). The phrase is literally, "have already become perfect or mature."  Paradoxically, "mature thinking" means recognizing that we're not yet mature! We're not yet perfect, and if we think we are, we are deceiving ourselves. Rather, we are always in the midst of the race, carried forward from the past to the future in union with Christ.How can one be a whole person. Where do you find the capacity to go on? Christ is our companion.

Column on Early Principia college

As I noted previously, a group of men meet here at 10 AM on Mondays. This fall, they are seeing how other religions can teach us about our own faith. Upriver, Principia College is a jewel on the bluffs over Elsah. It is the only college in the country based on the religious thought Of Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science. We have a treasure  in our midst, but one we pass by with a bare glance on the way to music of Grafton, or the fine Pere Marquette Park. (I have yet to bring myself to pronounce pere as peer). Mind over matter is a phrase from Christina Science. I would wonder if our current emphasis on perception and reality has its roots in Christian Science’s cultural impact. Christian Science works with Paul’s admonition to “be transformed by the renewal of your minds.”

It started as an elementary and secondary school based on Christina Science principles. Mary Kimball Morgan started homeschooling her own children, but it developed into a school based on Christina Science principles toward educational reform. “Right thinking leads to successful living.” It became a junior college and plans were drawn up to expand into the only college based on the principles of Mary Baker Eddy. They found that their fine St Louis site would have a new road constructing “right through the center of the proposed chapel.” The Depression was starting, but the founding spirit, Mrs. Morgan, was undeterred. She followed Mrs. Eddy’s injunction that “Health is not a condition of matter, but of Mind.” Mrs. Morgan saw human beings as channels for Divine Wisdom. From that source, education meant “to think truly and therefore effectively.” further, education leads us in “developing the power to think accurately, wisely, and with intelligent discrimination; cultivating the ability to dissect thought and to discard that which is not constructive in daily living.”

F. Oakes Sylvester, a poet and painter, worked at the Principia high school. He had a studio near Elsah, and they found that a good bit of land was available from there toward the Chautauqua site at a fair price, including the estate of Lucy Semple Ames, the wealthy businesswoman and advocate of women’s rights. The planning architect, Bernard Maybeck,  San Francisco-based, had said that the new site could be better, and he was thrilled with it as it looked over the river. His buildings work with the contours of the land and re-create the feel of an old English village. “The buildings cannot compete with the beauty of the [Elsah] location, but should fit in without effort.”  Somehow, as the Depression was wrecking fortunes, they raised money and construction started. As promised, the chapel was the first building erected. It shows the New England roots of the faith, as it is a stone version of a meetinghouse.

She was able to see the project to completion as she insisted on a motto of one of the classes: Principle not Persons.” She saw our energies too much directed to vagaries in preferences and opinions., to self-interest and self-centeredness. Divine principle “shows no partiality” and is therefore impersonal, applicable to all. She saw education as more than the acquisition of facts but a step toward wisdom.  . She did not compartmentalize her life, with her religion occupying a small corner. Hers was a thorough-going attempt to do her best to integrate her life, her whole life, with her faith. To make a vision a reality can be miraculous. To create an institution that reflects that vision, that endures through the years is a living testament and connection to those who precede us; we who stand on the “shoulders of giants.”

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review of Mark Lilla's The Once and Future Liberal

Mark Lilla is an intellectual historian at Columbia. His new book, The Once and Future Liberal is a bit of a screed. At the same time, it is the type of cultural criticism that I treasure, a book that gives us a lens to view the state of political life.

For me it crystallizes a vague disquiet that I have had for years but did not have the wit to notice well. I first noticed it in Gary Hart in 1984. He was addressing himself to the suburbs more than to the working class. I later recall the taunt of Paul Tsongas that liberals love jobs but dislike employers. I had a bad feeling when the latest Democratic convention brought o up group representatives but did not include obvious labor or working class representatives. Democrats assumed a bump in support for Sec. Clinton, but still, a majority of women voted for the president.

He places the burden of his argument on what he terms identity politics. He sees the Democrats as representing disparate groups of people, but that lack common concerns, a sense of the public interest. (See Lowi on interest group liberalism). At the convention, Democrats will tend to bring up representatives of different groups as illustrative of their concerns, but often lack a policy agenda for those concerns. On the other hand, Bernie Sanders could quickly speak of aid to college students and universal health care in every speech. In so doing, Democrats have abandoned their long standing base of support, the working class.

He makes an analogy to the new wave of political discourse to religion. It has a passion for purity, not compromise. It has a high priesthood in a hierarchy of values. It excludes others, even allies, if they do not demonstrate a dogmatic commitment to its creed of the moment. He directs most of his ire toward campus limitation of robust discussion into an echo chamber of language games. For me it would be crystallized in the notion that “dead white men” should have their work disparaged or ignored due to their race and gender. I would add that his work dovetails into my concern for discussion of privilege as a political loser. I am open to the clear signs of privilege as advantage, as unearned, undeserved advantage, and my eyes are not as open about “micro-aggressions.” to privilege the under-privileged would not necessarily lead to better information and decisions. Quite simply, it would not speak to someone in southern Indiana who is dealing with a collapsing economy and community fueled by meth and opiate abuse.

In so doing we have adopted the politics of theater, symbolic politics, more than the difficult, even agonizing work, of pounding out legislation and regulation. For me, the classic instance was Democratic representatives holding a sit-in within the very halls of Congress. From my vantage point, did any substantive change emerge, from their job as legislators, from this stunt?

Lilla suggests that we try to re-introduce the language of citizens as possessing rights and duties as a way to energize political results for the entire nation. In his views, citizens work together for common purposes. Equal protection is his lodestar for assessing the reality or appearance of privilege.