Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thomas' Faith

I recently was part of a small group that re-affirmed baptismal vows.

As part of that process, we met with the Bishop of our Diocese.  One of the things he asked us all, was to think on what Biblical story  we found most resonant for us.

Some found the resurrection at the tomb most important, others the story of Lazarus,  others still the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I realized that I really hadn't thought on what would be the most telling for me.

As I thought, the story that crystallizes my faith is that of Doubting Thomas.

Like many of the stories and parables in the New Testament,  this story can be viewed on many lights.  One of the advantages of a non-literal Bible tradition is that one can explore these different levels, and  we can view each of those as valid for discussion and contemplation.

The most common illumination of this story is the faith of the people who had not seen the visitation, yet still believed in the resurrection, unlike Thomas, who said "Show me."

What I find important in this tale is the circumstances involved.

In many cases, if one expresses doubt in The Faith, one is chastised or shunned.

Or the doubts force the doubter away, as they feel they have no place with those they may break from.

In this case, however, the week after the visitation that Thomas missed, he again met with the other disciples.

Those who had seen did not tell Thomas to go away because he did not believe, but welcomed him as their brother still.

Thomas himself did not cut himself from that community, either because he did not know where else to go, or he still hungered for the validation, at least second-hand, of his prior faith, or he still hungered for that faith itself.

When the Savior appeared again, He offered Thomas the chance to feel for himself the wounds, in order to prove the reality.  This was not done in spite or rebuke, but to show Thomas that he was still loved and wanted as a part of Christ's family, and that any proof would be offered gladly.

As someone was was unchurched for quite a while, this story, along with the parable of the prodigal son, speaks to me dearly, as reaffirmation that those who leave will be welcomed anew, with celebration and love.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stones of Remembrance and Five Victims

I'm a Christian. 

One of the bedrock tenets of Christianity is forgiveness.

Asking forgiveness for our own deeds; giving our own forgiveness for deeds done against us; praying for forgiveness from G/d for all who trespass.

This forgiveness does not mean that those who transgress are not to held accountable for their actions. It means that any accounting be done for justice and mercy, not retribution and vengeance.

Since the bombing at the Boston Marathon I've been trying to pray, sincerely, for forgiveness for those responsible.

Being a lifetime Bostonian, someone who occasionally stood in the crowd to see the finishers, this crime has relevance for me. It has especial resonance because, when I worked for the old John Hancock Insurance company, I worked as a volunteer on, and around, the finish line of the race.  

I wanted to pray for that forgiveness, but kept feeling for vengeance. Once the two brothers were identified it was even harder to ask for that forgiveness.

This bombing was not an unimaginable act, for it was conceived and acted upon. But it was heinous, hateful, odious, abominable, totally reprehensible.  More so, parochially,  since it was my birth city.  Now I had faces to see as those responsible.
And I wanted so, as a Christian, to pray for that forgiveness. But what I kept feeling for was that revenge.

In the "modern" Christian churches that embrace it, the rite of Confirmation, by those who have attained "the age of reason," the corporal purpose is a conscious reaffirmation of one's membership in the church, and the responsibilities that entails. (We'll leave for another day the theological underpinnings).

At my church, during this past Saturday night's meeting with our pastor, the candidates for Confirmation & their sponsors made a small memorial table up in the sanctuary for the 3 people killed by blast at the Marathon finish line and the MIT policeman shot and killed by the bombers.

At regular services on Sunday all were asked to place a pebble  on the table with the memorial, instead of flowers, in the tradition of the Jewish Stones of Remembrance.

One of the sponsors told that, as part of the group's prayers after setting up the table, they struck a bell 4 times, once for each victim. However, once the bell was struck only a glancing blow and did not ring true, so had to be struck again.  She said one of the teenage candidates told her that it was a reminder that there were five victims killed as a result of this tragedy, not four.

That teenager had grasped the essence of her responsibility as a Christian, to forgive.  Something I had found so hard to do. That fifth person was also of G/d's family, as are all of us.

That desire for vengeance is still in me.

But now, I hope, I can truly pray for forgiveness.

I'm a Christian

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Be Ye Not Afraid" (Deut. 1:29)

Yesterday (April 17, 2013) the national Parliament of New Zealand had a final vote on their Definition of Marriage bill, which passed on a vote of 77 to 44.  This makes NZ the 13th nation to legalize marriage equality.

This may still be overturned by citizen referendum.  However, from the {admittedly small) number of New Zealand citizens I know, it would not be at all certain that anything even close to an overturn would occur.

One of the MPs, Maurice Williams gave a wonderful (and lighthearted) speech in support of the bill.

A telling quote, that can be heard all around this country as well, from those favoring equality in marriage rights was: "I give a promise to those people who are opposed to this bill right now... the sun will still rise tomorrow, your teenage daughter will still argue back with you as if she knows everything, your mortgage will not grow, you will not have skin disease or rashes or toads in your bed."

Just as, here in Massachusetts, the legions of Hades have not come forth from the Sumner or Ted Williams tunnels, nor has the State House dome collapsed from divine retribution.

Here, from the magic of YouTube, is that MP's speech.  And he closed his address with the above paraphrase from the book of Deuteronomy.

"Be ye not afraid"

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

But For The Grace

We are all G/d's children.

 There is an old saw: "There, but for the Grace of G/d, go I." 

The usual accepted meaning is that there are, for all but the select few, always those who are worse off: in material wealth or physical or spiritual health. 

 What I'd rather think is that, as we have been granted that sufficiency of that Grace, it is beholden on us to pass it forward - if we received it once, whether that Grace will be replenished or not is immaterial. 

Recently, some members of the Episcopal congregation where I am welcomed worked, as part of their outreach and witnessing, assisting the regular members of the Worcester Fellowship on their Sunday lunch and worship, held on Worcester Common ("Worship at 1 PM Sundays, Rain or Shine"). 

This fellowship group gives lunch, socks, fruit and bread to anyone who comes, poor, "genteel" or homeless, no questions asked. Followed by a non-specific Christian service, with no requirement to participate, listen or even stay. The only requirement is that, if you hunger, you partake.  Either of the bag lunch or the service.  Or both.   Wherever your hunger is.

For our congregation, it was a "field trip" for the candidates for Confirmation and those of us considering reaffirmation of our Baptismal covenant. I've helped in such occasions before, but for for quite a while, and usually in a much more secular context. 

Among the persons the fellowship serves are the gamut of what our modern society either ignores, lets slip through the strands of the "safety net" or outright rejects. I've heard, again and again, that it's "their own fault," or "their own decision" to be in the straits they are. 

"They're homeless by choice."  
"He's just too lazy to get a job"
"She's just crazy"
"If she's a runaway she can always just swallow her pride and go back home"
"If she can't work 'cause she can't afford child-care she shouldn't have had those kids"
"It's not *my* fault he went to prison and now can't find work"

 And if you hear it often enough, you begin to believe, and you are willing to harden your heart. After all, we can't save everybody, now can we? There are just so many of them.


Once we see these people, how can we, any of us, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Zoroastrian or atheist, not help? 

The man who received his seven miracles that changed his life, the woman who was afraid that she didn't "deserve" to have a pastry while in line for a sandwich, or the father with his deaf daughter who couldn't contain herself when offered a second doughnut hole?

How can we not at least offer that help, as best we can? 

The despair is that we, as individuals, can make such a small difference. 


As individuals we don't have to work alone.  Together we can work miracles.  Yeah, they may be small, itty-bitty miracles, but get enough small ones and maybe the light gets a little brighter for the rest.

Many people come to working with the people we should remember through their churches, and move to political awareness or action from that springboard.  I kind of got it backwards.  My upbringing as a "left behind" Roman Catholic (and extremely "lapsed" as well) informed my choices as a "progressive" after I grew out of the childhood of "conservatism," and my re-entry to the active Christian community was that progressive bent helping me to find the spirituality, and recognition of faith again.

But.  But.

This is arguably the richest nation in the world.  How do we even tolerate that programs like soup kitchens and food banks or bag lunches on the Common are needed?

Oh, right.  I forgot.  "It's their own fault."