Foundry UMC

Foundry UMC header image 1

Ostinato

September 24th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, September 24, 2017, the third sermon in the series “Composition 101.”

 Text: Exodus 3:1-12

 

To compose is to create. Composers create music. God creates life. Musical compositions employ different elements to give them depth, interest, texture. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve talked about the common musical elements of melody and harmony, time signature and rhythm—in more common parlance, the tune and the beat of a song. We’ve applied musical composition as a metaphor for the life that God creates.  In that metaphor, life and the whole creation is a song, God’s love song. God’s creative love is the “melody” and God’s saving grace is the “rhythm” of the composition.  Out of overflowing love, God creates and recreates. And we, together with all creation, are made to sing, to love, to live, in harmony with God, with one another, and with the earth, dancing to the rhythm of grace.

 

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been mindful that the metaphor of music is both rich with creative possibility AND may be or feel inaccessible to siblings who are deaf and to those of us who “aren’t music people.”  My hope is that folks who think of themselves as not very musical will be open to learn some new concepts along with me!  And, as I researched engagement with music within the deaf community, a whole universe opened up around how people experience music.[i]  Visual and tactile engagement, sensitivity to vibrations in some kinds of music, and making music with others, dependent not on hearing the music, but through learning its structure and process, its technique and rhythm.  One of the things I read is that sometimes children who are deaf remove their shoes during band or orchestra practice in order to be able to feel the rhythm of the other instruments.  One particularly helpful commentary reminded me that folks (and I imagine that is primarily the hearing community) often “forget how multi-sensory music can be, what a physical act it is for our bodies to absorb sound.”[ii]  As we talk about different elements of music and composition throughout this year, I pray that there will be ways for all of us to engage, have new insights, and make new connections on our spiritual journey; and if there are ways that might help that happen for you, I hope you’ll let us know.

 

Today, we learn a new element of musical composition—it’s a term I didn’t know well before preparing for today, but after a little study, I realized that while the word may seem intimidating, what it represents is very common and familiar.  Ostinato is the term, from the Italian “stubborn”—think of our English word “obstinate.”  In music, the ostinato is a continually repeated motif or phrase.  It is a “stubborn” pattern that continues throughout the entire song. With everything else going on around it—it just keeps on keeping on.  Often, the bass guitar in a band is the one to play the ostinato.  Here are a few examples (I wish we had a bass guitar so that the notes could be felt!):

“Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen)

“Thriller” (Michael Jackson)

“Under Pressure” (David Bowie/Queen)

 

Sometimes the ostinato appears in other ways, like in “Bittersweet Symphony” (The Verve).

 

These are some pop music examples of what appears in every form of music—how about this from a different genre? (play “Pachelbel’s Canon in D” bass line)

 

So…ostinato. A stubbornly repeated phrase in music… Today, we’re going to identify the ostinato in God’s love song and the Christian “classic” we’re using to do that is the story of Moses at the burning bush.

 

First, just so we’re all starting on the same page, a little background on Moses:  Moses was born around 1400 BCE to an Israelite slave in Egypt; when then-Pharoah ordered all Israelite baby boys killed, Moses’ mother put him in a basket in the river, Pharoah’s daughter found and rescued him, and he was raised as an Egyptian prince.  As a young man, Moses saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating one of his Israelite kin and proceeded to kill the Egyptian.  Moses then fled for his life and settled as a shepherd and husband in the land of Midian.  That’s where we find him in our story today.

 

In verse 1, we learn that Moses was “beyond the wilderness”—he was way out there, on the edge, as far from Egypt as he could get.  Moses was not looking for a vision, was not looking for a divine encounter.  He was looking for a place to pasture his sheep.

 

And then a flame appears—not the destructive fires we’ve been reading about on the West coast, but a fire that did no harm.  The bush burned but was not consumed.  Some would describe this moment as a numinous experience—and whether supernatural in fact or in perception, the vision gets Moses’ attention.  Notice it’s only “when” Moses makes the decision to turn toward the vision, to respond to the mystery, that God speaks and calls Moses by name.  God tells Moses to take off his sandals, to allow his feet to touch the hallowed ground, the place where this divine encounter is taking place. 

 

God let’s Moses know that the God who is speaking is the God of Israel.  Moses is afraid—perhaps because it was already believed at that time that looking at God was fatal…or perhaps Moses hid his face out of shame for what had happened in Egypt or because he’d abandoned his people there.  God continues, saying, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.  Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Ex 3:7-8)  At this point, Moses must have started to feel encouraged. First, it doesn’t seem that God is interested in smiting him—Yay!  And furthermore, God is going to do something about the suffering!  God has come to bring liberation!  God is promising ice cream! 

 

And then God—in a particularly chatty mode—continues, saying to Moses, “So come, I will send you…”  At which point I imagine Moses went blank… **record scratch/screech** full stop**come again?!  What do you mean: “I will send you?”  God, on the other hand, doesn’t miss a beat. The promise is that God will be with Moses and that when—not “if”—Moses has brought the people out of Egypt, they’ll meet back up in that very spot. It’s like those movies where lovers promise to meet again at some future date in the place where all the magic first happened.  //

 

So what is the ostinato in God’s love song? How does this classic story of the faith provide clues?  Here are several things I notice.

 

God meets us wherever we are.  Moses wasn’t looking for God and yet God is there.  The thing that got Moses’ attention was a beautiful, strange vision.  How many of us can attest to the ways that beauty and wonder attract and turn us toward God?  There’s a reason so many people will say that they “experience God in nature.”  Another angle on that is when we witness people being wonder-full—when someone does a beautiful thing for another (is patient, forgiving, generous, thoughtful), or gracefully perseveres in a painful moment, or is brave in the face of harm; when a child laughs or reaches out to give you a hug… These things—these wonder-full visions in creation—are not God, but if we are paying attention they can turn us toward God.

 

This awareness of God, this curiosity to see and explore, is modeled by Moses in our story. Moses could have missed the burning bush entirely, could have been so focused on sheep herding techniques and where to set up camp for the night, that he passed right on by.  He could have seen the burning bush but, because it was unlike anything he’d seen before, he could have turned away due to fear or distrust.  Instead, Moses turns toward the vision, draws near, and encounters God.  This encounter doesn’t take Moses out of himself in some Gnostic way.  Rather, the divine encounter leads Moses to connect his body even more directly with the dirt, with the earth, to feel the vibration of the divine rhythm of grace beneath his feet—just like young musicians learning to play instruments. // God meets us where we are, invites us to draw near, and grounds us in our context, helping us to perceive that the very ground beneath us pulses with divine presence.

 

God is paying attention to us.  While we may miss the invitations to wonder and encounter and may not always pay attention to God, God is always paying attention to us.  In the story, this is made very clear.  The God we worship—the God of our ancestors, the God of Jesus—observes, hears, knows, responds.  God perceives the suffering and oppression of the enslaved Israelites and is determined to do something about it.  We can—and do—argue that God seems to wait a long time to get involved.  That is a fair argument and worthy of conversation—and beyond a nod to the fact that God’s vision and experience of time is likely not our own—this is beyond the scope of what we can dive into today.  Today, the critical piece to learn is that the God of the Bible is represented not as a distant, aloof God who doesn’t care.  Some people suggest that there’s a God, but after making the world, God disengaged.  Everything in our Christian tradition suggests just the opposite.  We may experience distance from God, we may wonder whether God cares or is paying attention.  But again and again, as in our story today, God shows up and says, “I see, I hear, I observe, I care…”

 

God calls us to participate in God’s life and mission.  Like Moses may have thought, it would be lovely if God would show up, fix everything, and take us for dessert.  But instead, God shows up and sends us—you and me—to be agents of love and liberation, of hope and mercy, of tenderness and justice in places of injustice, pain, and need.  Moses didn’t want to go where God was sending him.  He pushes back in all sorts of ways—“Who am I to go?!” “What if they don’t believe you sent me?” “I’ve never been good at public speaking” (Ex 4:1, 10)—and finally: “God, please just send someone else!” (Ex 4:13)  But God is not deterred.  God knows that Moses is the one through whom this work of liberation can be accomplished.  Along with perceiving the suffering of the people, God also perceives gifts in Moses—gifts that Moses may have known nothing about.  Moses is aware of his shortcomings—he is a murderer who abandoned his people to save himself and has a speech impediment.  God is aware of Moses’ gifts and potential.  And just as throughout the whole story from the beginning right up until today, God calls and sends us, with all our “stuff,” to participate in what God is up to in the world.

 

God meets us where we are.  God is paying attention to us.  God calls us to participate in God’s life and mission.  These are the clues that lead us to identify the ostinato, the consistent, repeated motif in God’s love song.  The ostinato is attentive, engaged, empowering relationship between God and creation.  God is with us. God cares for us.  God is engaged in the world and in our lives.  God’s presence calls us beyond ourselves and into the larger reality of God’s mission of love, justice, and reconciliation.  And as we turn toward the God who is always turned toward us, we are assured God will go with us into whatever breach we are sent.

 

In God’s love song, God’s creative love is the “melody,” God’s saving grace is the “rhythm,” and God’s empowering, eternal presence with us is the ostinato.  It repeats again and again.  God says, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” (e.g. Gen 17) “I will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deut 31:6).  Mary’s child is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.”  Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned.” (Jn 14) “Remember, I am with you always.” (Mt 28)  The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, “as he lay dying, his friends gathered around him…cried out, ‘The best of all is, God is with us,’ lifted his arms and raised his feeble voice again, repeating the words, ‘The best of all is, God is with us.’”[iii]

 

 

 

[i]http://gapersblock.com/transmission/2010/07/22/beyond_vibrations_the_deaf_musical_experience/, http://www.matd.org.uk/, https://prezi.com/mytgnnnj614d/hearing-impaired-and-music-education/, http://blogs.jwpepper.com/index.php/teaching-music-to-deaf-students/,

[ii] Aharona Ament, “Beyond Vibrations: The Deaf Experience in Music,” http://gapersblock.com/transmission/2010/07/22/beyond_vibrations_the_deaf_musical_experience/

[iii] http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/

00:0000:00

Time Signature

September 17th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, September 17, 2017, the second sermon in the series “Composition 101.”

Text: Genesis 6-9 (excerpts)

 

I thought long and hard about whether to reveal my secret in this public way. But it seems important to share on this day when the heart of our reflection is about sin and grace and the grounding story is the story of Noah and the ark. Here it goes (and I ask that you show a little grace): I once sang and danced a cha-cha on stage, donned in a wet suit and scuba gear, complete with mask and flippers. The play was a children’s musical called “The Rainbow Express,” I was about 13, and my character was “Noah’s conscience.” The song was a caution against procrastination. “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Don’t you know that by tomorrow all this could float away?”

 

Though it’s usually funny to think about that memory, today we cannot fail to acknowledge that, right now, beloved members of our human family are reeling from floods caused by hurricanes. The destruction is widespread and, for many, the devastation is complete. When our worship team developed this series months ago, we couldn’t have known the upheaval in the earth that we would be experiencing right now.  But in some ways, it brings a greater sense of reality and perhaps urgency to our reflection.  At the heart of the story of Noah and the ark are big questions about human life, God, and what kind of world we live in. New York Times columnist, David Brooks (who is increasingly using his platform as a public theologian), reflected at length on the story of Noah in his most recent column[i], noting that it is one among many “flood myths” that circulated in ancient cultures around the world.

 

I remember when, as an undergrad, I first learned of the ancient Near Eastern parallels to and influences upon the Noah story—like the Epic of Gilgamesh.  It was a good lesson about how God’s wisdom is woven across cultures as human beings seek to make sense of the realities of life—including the often harsh realities of flood, fire, and wind. Some scholars believe that in response to a verifiable, historical, catastrophic flood the various myths emerged as an attempt to explain the “why?” of it all. In ancient cultures, the tendency was to believe that different gods controlled the various elements (sun, rain, fertility, wind, sea) and that when the gods were angry, they would produce or withhold natural elements as a form of punishment.  Emerging as it did in a multi-cultural context, it should come as no surprise that the ancient Hebrew version of the flood story in Torah and Christian Bible retains a heavy emphasis on that old understanding of God.

 

There is no way we will unpack all the challenge and blessing of the story of Noah and the ark today. But, this story is a “classic” of our faith and therefore fair game for our “Faith Remastered” theme.  And there is a primary thread in the story that makes it important to include in this “Composition 101” series.  Over the course of these weeks, we’re looking at the essential elements of our faith—the things that make up or “compose” our faith story; and we’re doing that using the metaphor of musical composition. Last week, we thought together about melody and harmony and the love song that is God’s creative love. That love song is the first foundation of our faith story. Out of overflowing love, God creates and recreates. And we, together with all creation, are made to sing, to love, to live, in harmony with God, with one another, and with the earth.

 

In addition to melody and harmony, a primary building block of a musical composition is beat or rhythm. These elements are organized within the framework of what’s called a composition’s “time signature.” A piece of music is divided into “measures” and within each measure there are a certain number of beats. There are time signatures with four beats, three beats, two or six beats per measure.  Each has a different feel and allows for different rhythms.  Time signature and rhythm connect with melody and harmony as key elements in a musical composition.

 

The composition of our core faith story includes these key elements: the “melody” of God’s creative love with which we are designed to sing in harmony; and the “rhythm” of God’s response when we fail to join the song or seek to silence the song.  We’ve explored the melody of God’s love through the story of creation found in Genesis 1.  And today we’ll think together about the rhythm of God’s response when we stop singing—through reflection on Noah, the flood, the ark, and the rainbow.

 

The beginning of the story of Noah and the ark is marked by God’s observation that “the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:5) God sees that the earth is corrupt and filled with violence. (Gen 6:11) Clearly, God’s creation is not singing the song of love and harmony. Imagine the worst expressions of human violence, corruption, cruelty, sadism, and dehumanization through history and then imagine that as the reality in every corner of the world save one. According to the story, that’s the scenario God sees. And the storyteller draws upon the then-common understanding of how things work—of how gods work—spinning the tale of God’s broken heart, disappointment and regret, the story of God’s terrible decision to wipe out all living things and all but one “righteous” family by sending the waters of a flood. Water fills and covers the earth for a very long time. But as the water recedes and the remnant people and animals leave the ark, the story takes a turn.

 

“God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’” (Gen 9:12-16)

 

There may be other versions of the flood myth that include a similar divine turn. The ones I’m most familiar with don’t highlight such a shift in God. 

 

In the column I mentioned, David Brooks focuses a lot on Noah, highlighting his rabbinic critics—mostly that Noah is passive and doesn’t push back on God or advocate for others.  I am not smarter than the rabbis and scholars Brooks mentions and I guess I generally agree with their assessment of Noah.  But it occurs to me that this story isn’t really about Noah in the largest sense—Noah isn’t lifted up for any just or wise action as a way to offer an example for other people to follow.  This story is trying to work something out about God.  God is the prime actor: God sees, sends, says, directs, remembers... And we can still get angry at the idea that God would do such a thing as wipe out almost all life on earth—even after acknowledging the ancient cultural influences on the narrative.  We can be outraged that, if God was going to wipe everything out, God should have completely started over with new human creatures who wouldn’t keep hurting each other and the earth (instead of stubbornly holding on to the original models). We can disagree with the way God allowed the creation to evolve, including as it does, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, the fact that life is so vulnerable, and that we humans are given so much responsibility.  God can take our anger and disappointment, by the way, so don’t worry about that.  A great deal of freedom comes once you realize, as Rabbi Harold Kushner teaches, that we can both be angry at God and forgive God for the way things are.[ii]  What our story today is working out is that, ultimately, our God may become angry or hurt or disappointed in us, but forgives us again and again.

 

In the beginning of the story, I imagine an even 4/4 time signature, perhaps played evenly and urgently like the beat of a war drum. It’s that old way of understanding God, that steady beat of punishment continuing as rain falls and water rises. But after the storm, the story moves into a new time. Perhaps it feels more like a waltz with its swirling 1,2,3—1,2,3...but whatever the new time, it is no longer the drum beat of violence, it’s no longer the beat of divine vengeance or capriciousness.  One commentator explains, “The sign of this covenant, God’s bow in the clouds, is precisely the bow of battle. Ancient depictions of a deity armed with bow and arrow are not unusual. To hang up one’s bow is to retire from battle. That bow in the clouds is the sign of God’s promise that whatever else God does to seek our restoration, destruction is off the table.”[iii]

Perhaps the shift was not so much in God, but in the evolving human understanding and experience of God.  Somehow our ancestors, in their telling of the flood myth, were moved to shift the time signature of God’s song, to experience a new rhythm, the rhythm of grace.  The rhythm of grace animates the melody of God’s creative love; this is the primary composition of our faith—God’s love and grace.  God makes a covenant promise to shower the world not with what we deserve, but with second chance after second chance after second chance.

 

Because God knows that the world could once again be filled with corruption and violence. God knows the price of allowing the human creature to endure, endowed as we are with the gift of free will that’s so easily tempted and turned toward ourselves and against the other. But God decides never again to respond to our selfishness with selfishness, to our power plays with power plays, to our destruction with destruction.  In response to our fault and frailty and sin, our God chooses to sing and dance to the rhythm of grace, to move in time signed with a rainbow and, ultimately, a cross.  Thanks be to God.

 

 

[i] David Brooks, “Harvey, Irma, Jose…and Noah,” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/opinion/harvey-irma-jose-and-noah.html

[ii] Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People

[iii] Elizabeth Webb, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1222

 

00:0000:00

Melody and Harmony

September 10th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, September 10, 2017, kicking off the new program year and annual theme.

Text: Genesis 1

 

 

Music is one of the most powerful unifying forces around. Melodies from across the years continue to resonate and, often, allow disparate voices to sing together. As we enter into this fall with new opportunities for study, service, and engagement, the language of music will provide creative inspiration. These days, musical classics—from pop songs to sonatas—get “remastered” so that they sound better than ever. Over the course of the next year our guiding theme is “Faith Remastered” and we’re going to highlight some “classics” of our faith tradition. Key stories, rituals, and theology of Christianity will be lifted up—so that we experience them in new and life-giving ways.

 

Today we kick off the “school year” with a new sermon series: “Composition 101.”  To compose is to create. And any creation is made up of essential elements. A written composition uses elements like words, sentence structure, punctuation, and so on. A musical composition is created with different elements: notes, rhythm, and our focus for today, melody and harmony. The melody of a song is a memorable series of pitches…commonly called the tune. It is a primary building block of a musical composition.  Harmony is comprised of notes that support the melody.

Today our children helped us experience the story of the first composition ever. In Genesis chapter one, we experience God’s voice singing a brand new song. Out of the chaos of “a formless void,” God created harmony.  Each day, another stanza gets added, day and night, sky, water and dry land, sun, moon, and stars, vegetation, animals, and human beings…like an ancient chant, God calls things into being; there was evening and there was morning, again and again, and it was good. God observed that it was very good. The composition was a new creation. Every day a new creation. The new creation was interwoven. The new creation was mutually dependent. The new creation was made to live in harmony. The new creation was a love song, God’s love song, a melody that saturates everything that is, seen and unseen.

 

At the beginning of time, the melody of divine, creative love was sung and became the first foundation of the world and of our faith. The song of creative love is what we are created to sing—in harmony with God, with each other, with animals, plants, water, air, and all creation. The power of overflowing love to create something new is at the heart of our understanding of God and of creation and of what it means to share life together as children of God.

 

It is not lost on me that as we gather here, talking about creation and a loving God, the people of Houston are reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma has made landfall in Florida after doing extraordinary damage to the islands further south. Let me be clear. It is because of our faith in the power of God’s love at work in us and in the whole world that we reject any notion that devastating storms are divine punishment. I’ve read a long list of possible causes folks think worthy of divine punishment—everything from America’s choice of current president, to the sexual orientation of Houston’s former mayor.  That’s just bad theology.  In moments of disaster and destruction, we are called not to look for scapegoats, but rather for opportunities to care and to love and to participate in restoration and renewal.

 

That is not to say that we cannot name where wrongdoing has led to harm. Scientists have helped us understand that the earth has shifted and changed dramatically over thousands of years. We know that the planet is both beautiful and powerful. Natural disasters are nothing new—they are part of the way the creation has evolved over time—ice and volcano, tectonic shifts, floods, and drought—all of this has been part of natural history. Human beings, like all living things, are vulnerable to injury and death in the wake of powerful, elemental forces of the planet. That has always been so—simply part of the deal for those gifted with life on this amazing earth. Just days ago, Anthony and I found ourselves on a back country hiking trail in the Wasatch Mountain Range in northern Utah. As we hit a particularly rugged point several miles in, with no other humans in sight, the mountains dwarfing us, strange sounds echoing from the forests alongside, and a dark storm cloud rolling in, Anthony said, “We are guests here.” There are places in nature when our vulnerability—and smallness!—is startlingly clear. 

 

And yet even as small as we are, scientists have also taught us that human actions are doing damage to the planet. While natural disasters are not new, current data reveals that the rising temperatures in air and water—caused primarily by human activities like burning fossil fuels, clearing land for industrial use, agriculture, and more[i]—are making what would have been bad storms even worse.[ii]  We were created to live in loving partnership with the earth, to tend and to care for the creation of which we are a part. We and the water and trees and mountains and air and earth and animals were meant to sing together in harmony. But our shortsightedness as a human family has and is doing harm.

 

And it’s not only the planet we’ve wrecked.  Human pride, greed, fear, and hate continue to do harm to the bodies and spirits of other people.  The capacity for human cruelty is breathtaking.  Our failure to see beyond our own pain or perspective or need or desire cuts us off—as though separated by a vast canyon—from those with whom we might share life, or laughs, or even love. Our faith calls us to name the harm that we see, to take responsibility for our own culpability, and to actively participate in acts of recreating love.

 

What we call “the creation story” in Genesis 1 is only the beginning of the story of creation. Across the ages, things are renewed, recreated, and resurrected by the power of love. Just as God created something new day after day in Genesis 1, God is still at work creating new things every day. Every time we gather here in worship, God is creating us anew as community, as church, as the body of Christ. I love the image of a Godmother for me in the church, who would say that in worship God scoops us up and pats us back into shape so that we can go back into the world to embody more closely the life we’re made for. New every morning, God’s love is active and working to restore, to recall, to recreate, to renew.  It is that ongoing, ever-loving, creative power that gives us hope in the midst of the storms, hope not that there will be no destruction, but hope that whatever happens, God will be at work to restore and renew the face of the earth and to mend broken lives and hearts.  It is God’s love—the source and power of all creation!—that gives us hope even in the most difficult and confusing moments of life. 

 

What we see and experience right now is not all there is. If you are in turmoil in your personal life, God’s love is with you and has the power to bring you through this present suffering into new life. The blatant racism, prejudice, saber rattling, and more that we see being supported by so many in our nation and world simply uncovers what has been there all along in more furtive form—and therefore may have the capacity to wake more people up to the call to respond with love and justice. That’s not to say that we are marching forward on some idealistic, even trajectory toward a “kum bah yah” utopian vision.  New creation is often borne out of a crucible moment. Bringing new life into the world is painful and messy. Amazing strides forward for the cause of justice are often met with devastating backlash and retreat to old ways of violence and control. The recent cases in point in our nation and others are too numerous to name.  The promise of new creation is not Pollyanna. It is gospel.

 

The first story—the creation story—in the Bible reveals an essential element of our faith. It is the story of God’s desire and God’s power to create life out of nothing, to bring new life out of death.  It is the story of Easter and the story of so many of our lives.  When we couldn’t see a way through, when we didn’t know how we’d do what we had to do, when we were so deep in the shadows we figured we’d stay lost forever, when we were so hurt or sad or angry that we couldn’t imagine ever recovering ease or joy…something happened… a faint or forgotten melody emerged…the melody of love and hope in new life.  Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Hope means to keep living amid desperation and to keep humming in the darkness.”[iii]  Perhaps, in your life, the melody you began to hum in the darkness emerged in the sound of a bird or crickets on a summer night, perhaps in the image of light through trees or light in another’s eyes, perhaps in the witness of courage or solidarity in unlikely places, perhaps the melody emerged in the stubborn love of a parent, partner, or friend, in a piece of art, in the smile or kindness of a stranger, the sloppy kiss of a dog, the memory of what matters most of all. 

 

Life, death, new life. Cross, tomb, and resurrection. Chaos, creation, and harmony. God’s creative power is always at work, singing, singing, singing, the melody of love. The animals and rivers and trees and plants sing along better than we do most of the time.  But the good news is that we are created to harmonize, to hope, to hum along. And God will carry the tune—and us!—until we’re able.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

[ii] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-06/hurricane-irma-was-made-worse-by-climate-change-scientists-say

[iii] Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands, Ave Maria Press, 1995.

 

00:0000:00

A Brand New Shibboleth

August 20th, 2017

 A sermon preached by guest preacher Rev. Michelle Ledder on Sunday, August 20 as part of the Outstanding Preacher series at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington DC.

Text: Judges 12:1-7

 

Good Morning Foundry United Methodist Church. I am humbled and honored to be among you this morning and am excited to experience what God will do with us and among us. Thank you for your deep hospitality and welcome.

 

I bring you greetings from my home church, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church right around the corner here in Washington, DC – where the Rev. William Lamar IV is pastor.

 

Please allow me a moment to thank, the senior pastor of this house, the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, and the Executive Pastor, the Rev. Dawn Hand. I am grateful for their trust in the Spirit to work in and through me this morning and I hold seriously that responsibility.

 

I’d like to thank my beloved Scott for coming out with me today. He supports me with the patience and grace of a saint – and I could never do all that I do if it wasn’t for him and – for that – I can never be grateful enough.

 

Most of all – I’d like to thank God for plucking me out of the muck and the mire and starting me on my way. To God I give all the glory and the honor and the praise for doing what I could not do for myself – giving me the gift of salvation into eternity – even right now.

 

Would you pray with me?

            You know we’re down here LORD –

Waiting on You, waiting on You, waiting on You;

            You know we’re down here LORD

Waiting on You… And we can’t do nothin’ ‘till You come.

 

God of silent tears and weary years who holds our hands and our hearts even when unborn hope dies – O God – we offer you our grief and our anxieties – our joys and our dreams – and because of Your faithful character and demands for justice – we feel safe and secure giving You our whole selves to be made whole selves by Your sanctifying grace. Open our hearts and our minds and our souls this morning that our spirits may commune with Your Spirit without hindrance of the preacher, sin, or enemies of the good. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable, holy, worthy, and worth it in Your sight – O God – our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.

 

***********************************

***********************************

 

 

In an episode of the West Wing, entitled, “Shibboleth,” President Bartlett must decide whether or not a group of Chinese Evangelical Christians qualify for sanctuary after traveling in a shipping container to escape religious persecution. The Deputy Chief of Staff tells him that he has heard concerns that sometimes – people feign faith in order to qualify for religious asylum and are coached in what to say. He asks the President, “How will you know the difference?”

 

President Bartlett goes on to tell the show’s short interpretation of our text this morning. That Shibboleth is used as a password for the army to determine “the legitimate” from “the imposter.” When the President meets with a representative from the group of refugees he asks him a set of questions, “How did you become a Christian?” “How do you practice?” “Who’s the head of your church?” “Can you name any of Jesus’ apostles?” After answering all of his questions, Mr. Jhin Wei says, “Mr. President, Christianity is not demonstrated through a recitation of facts. You’re seeking evidence of faith – a wholehearted acceptance of God’s promise of a better world.”

 

At this point – the music has begun to swell – and I’m still trying to figure out whether I could have answered the President’s questions to his satisfaction – when the man offers his final response during the crescendo: “Faith is the true… (then wrestling to find the right word, says) Shibboleth. Faith… is the true Shibboleth.” At this point we don’t know how President Bartlett is going to get it done but we know things are going to be alright because he responds, “Yes it is. And you sir, just said the magic word, in more ways than one.”

 

And in the world of 1990’s political dramas with sexist, ethnocentric, and racist problems of their own – it seems like it is settled. Faith is the true Shibboleth. But what the TV show never asks is this: “Who determines how we define faith?”

 

The title of this morning’s sermon is: “A Brand New Shibboleth” “A Brand New Shibboleth”

 

I was in Charlottesville last weekend. I had answered the clergy call from Congregate Charlottesville to stand in counter-protest against the Unite the Right rally being staged in Emancipation Park. Local organizers had invited the Rev. Sekou – an experienced master activist – to provide training in what Martin Luther King called, “militant, non-violent, direct action.” We were told in our training that Friday – it was likely that white supremacists and police would get up in our face and attempt to dictate both our verbal and physical responses. We were trained in strategy and tactics with simulations, we were

 

 

led in centering meditation, and we engaged in resistance-focused worship that steeled our resolve and prepared our hearts for the likelihood of arrest or injury the next day. On Saturday after a sunrise worship service, we were called into a final strategy meeting. It was then we determined our best courses of action based on a lower than expected number of clergy and an even higher expectation of arrest or injury – even including the possibility of death.

 

As we silently marched toward the park, first two-by-two, then eventually linked arm-in-arm about 10 clergy wide and about 6 rows deep – none of us knew what to expect. Many of you have seen the violent attacks white supremacists perpetrated against counter-protesters – and many have seen the pictures of the clergy lined up at the edge of the park singing “This Little Light of Mine” while faux militia with assault rifles kept close watch over us with a tight precision that demonstrated intense training and forethought.

 

What you probably didn’t see, were the times when, in response to our direct action, the Ku Klux Klan, American-Nazi’s, and white nationalists left the police-barricaded park to perform impromptu marches along the sidewalk between the armed militia and our clergy line.

 

With hate-filled flags and speech, and with helmets and shields, they shouted ideological bile aimed at our humanity based on race, sexuality, and religion. But we expected all that. We had been trained not to respond verbally or physically but to “hold the line” and to stay disciplined.

 

What I never expected were the number of domestic terrorists holding what looked like Bibles shouting at us, “Nice costumes – where did you go to seminary?” “How many books in the Bible?” This all followed by quick fire questions for us to name or explain certain biblical texts and their connection with our counter-protest.

 

I had expected the intimidation with slurs and other hate speech – I had been committed to – even as I could never really be ready for - the possibility of physical harm. But I never could have imagined my deep impulse to answer their questions when they began to demand of me their version of a Shibboleth.

 

While I managed to remain silent – I recognized my instinct was to defend my own Shibboleth. Theirs was verbal – mine remained in my head – but what I was witnessing was dueling Shibboleths.

 

In our text for this morning, the Judge Jephthah is ruling over and working to protect Israel. This time not from an external enemy – sometimes those are easier to fight – but from an internal one – the fellow tribe of Ephraim. As we enter the story – the Ephraimites challenge Jephthah for not inviting them to help fight the Ammonites. Commentaries describe Ephraim as a dominant and important Northern tribe throughout much of Israel’s history. That being so, I imagine them being unaccustomed to not being in charge, not coming up with and being the heroes of the solution, and certainly not being contradicted in their telling of the facts.

 

Perhaps they had always been in a place of privilege – able to create law and policies that were folded into history as if they were objective and equitable but in reality served only to protect and benefit themselves and those who looked like them. Perhaps they had seen how the way Jephthah ruled allowed for a shift in access to resources, benefits, and opportunities and now – to Ephraim – “equity felt like oppression” (HuffPost article title can be found here).

 

After being confronted, Jephthah challenges Ephraim’s account – saying he did in fact call upon them for help – but receiving none – fought the battle without them and won. The Ephraimites cannot handle this – they call the people of Gilead fugitives and renegades – in today’s language – race traitors who have abandoned their own home tribe. The Ephraimites’ prior threat to bring fire down on their heads becomes real as the two sides go to war. And this is where Shibboleth comes back into our work today.

 

In the midst of battle, the warriors of Gilead defeat Ephraim except for a few folks who escape and try to return home. When they get to the entry points at the Jordon River, however, the Gilead soldiers stand their ground asking, “Are you an Ephraimite?” “Prove it!” “Say, Shibboleth!” But when they tried it came out differently so they responded, “Sibboleth” and were killed on the spot. Altogether, 42,000 Ephraimites were murdered in war that day.

 

This is a tough text to deal with – it’s clear the lectionary compilers don’t want to deal with it – I mean they didn’t include Judges 12 in any of its readings. In the whole 3 year cycle, there is not one time a lectionary preacher would preach on this text or a congregation who listens to them hear a sermon on this text. None of them will have to struggle with what it means to fight with one’s own people. None of them will have to figure out where the Good News of the Gospel is in a story with so many casualties. None of them will have to figure out what it means to define “legitimate” and “imposter” as it relates to faith – especially to those of us who believe in inclusion.

 

But there are times when we have to deal with things we wish we didn’t have to deal with and wishing won’t make it so. The U.S. Church is in a Shibboleth moment. People who have been blessed with greater amounts of melanin have been telling those of us who are racialized as white this for a long, long, long, long time. For God’s sake folks – we have been in a Shibboleth moment since Christianity was used as a weapon of physical and cultural genocide against America’s indigenous peoples; since it was deputized to enslave Africans and their descendants, and now since it was hidden behind to legalize and po-li-ti-fy racism.

 

Now, I’m a theologian so I get to make up words: po-li-ti-fy is the act of pretending something is polite when it’s actually not.

 

For some of us – Charlottesville has become a time of awakening. For some of us – Charlottesville has become the tipping point of waiting no longer. For others still – Charlottesville is just another example – another expression of what has been here all along simmering but now bubbling over a more public and publicized surface.

 

For all of us – Charlottesville should be a call for the Church to step up and declare – once and for all – in one voice – our own Shibboleth: that to be a person of faith and a follower of Jesus the Christ – white supremacy will no longer be ignored nor denied – no longer tolerated nor rewarded. We are in the midst of a crisis. It is a crisis of conscience. A crisis of morality. A crisis of faith. The time for waiting is over. Our sisters and brothers of color are dying. The humanity of those of us who are white is dying. We cannot wait. God will not wait.

 

Saying “Jesus is Lord” while at the same time refusing to stand up and speak out against the legalized and racialized reign of terror upon Black and Brown people in this country is blasphemy. The Jesus who overturned money-changing tables IN THE SANCTUARY is waiting for us to overturn all systems of government, justice, policing, schools, communities, AND church that will not value nor protect Black and Brown bodies in equal measure to white bodies. And all systems that will not protect the rights of Jews and Muslims, of Baha’i and Hindu, and the wide cacophony of religious people in equal measure to Christians. And all systems that will not protect the humanity of all LGBTQI people in equal measure to cis-gendered heterosexual people.

 

Proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” means something radical. It means we stand for righteousness, fight against evil, and resist sin always, in every place, and at all times. For U.S. Christians this means we must announce – in word, sign, and deed – that white supremacy will no longer be tolerated or rewarded in any form, in any form, in any form. In. Any. Form.

 

To choose “Jesus is Lord” is to recognize radical racial justice and equity is a holy sacrament, divinely orchestrated to miraculously transfigure our systems of racial hatred into systems of healing and wholeness.

 

For U.S. white Christians, to proclaim “Jesus is Lord” in 2017 is to embrace without reserve our moral obligation to incontrovertibly break the stranglehold white supremacy has on this country and on our souls.

 

This is a clarion call for us as people of faith who follow Jesus as Christ and Lord to declare this day – It’s Time for a Brand New Shibboleth.

 

A Shibboleth that no longer relies on difference of accent to include or exclude people from safety and survival – rather a Brand New Shibboleth that extracts every last drop of white supremacy from our schools, from our economy, from our communities, from our churches, and from every inch of our government.

 

A Shibboleth that refuses to allow white supremacists to terrorize Charlottesville with torches and teargas while simultaneously refusing to allow white supremacy to reign in our business, academic, or church meetings through microaggressions and whitesplaining.

 

It’s Time for a Brand New Shibboleth.

 

A Shibboleth that fights for all symbols of the Confederacy – including but not limited to flags and statues – to be taken down once and for all while simultaneously refusing the temptation to protect the laws which keep them in place over and above the people who utilize civil disobedience to get them down.

 

It’s Time for a Brand New Shibboleth.

 

A Shibboleth that empowers people to gather in the thousands to stand with the people of Boston against hate speech while simultaneously emboldening Christians by the thousands to transfer all of our personal and ecclesial money into Black owned banks and shift at least 50% of our spending into businesses of color.

 

It’s Time for a Brand New Shibboleth.

 

A Shibboleth that will dare not shout unity when what we really mean is that white people will feel comfortable.

 

A Shibboleth that will not pray peace when what we really mean is that white people will be the only ones who determine what order looks like.

 

A Shibboleth that shall not hide behind weak, ineffectual, and unfaithful definitions of love that only serve to protect the already protected from our responsibility to get involved in tangible and meaningful ways.

 

It’s Time for a Brand New Shibboleth.

 

A Shibboleth that believes like the West Wing writers that “freedom is the glory of God” and like Saint Fannie Lou Hamer that “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

 

A Shibboleth that makes us ruthless – ruthless in our unwavering commitment and execution of disrupting, dismantling, and destroying white supremacy and racism in all of its forms.

 

A Shibboleth that dares not shake its finger at society “out there” before it endures a deep critique and radical transformation of the church structures “in here.”

 

A Shibboleth that examines its own leadership structure and membership; its own decision making and decision makers; and its own temptations to hoard power for some at the expense of the rest.

 

It’s Time for a Brand New Shibboleth.

 

And our tears will not stop us and our shame will not stop us and our guilt will not stop us NOR will we ignore or deny them… because we belong to a family of faith that believes in the kind of courageous grace that allow us to stare deeply into our own sins of racism, repent tangibly and meaningfully, and being the healing into wholeness.

 

And our fear will not stop us and our internalized oppression will not stop us and our anger will not stop us NOR will we ignore them or deny them… because we belong to a family of faith that believes in the kind of costly grace that was spent by the Son of God’s own self in order that those among us who are targeted and most directly affected by the wounds of white supremacy’s sins would be free and made whole from the inside out.

 

It’s Time for a Brand New Shibboleth.

 

Now for us to do this – we’re going to have to wholeheartedly embrace a differential ethic. A differential ethic runs counter to what many of us have been taught – let’s all make a plan – let’s split up the work evenly – then let’s execute the plan. Rather – a differential ethic rightly places the greatest amount of responsibility and risk upon those of us who are white and benefit from the privileges of white supremacy and racism in all of its forms.

 

This is the kind of Shibboleth that requires that those of us who are white “go get our cousins” – and while we’re at it – go get our bosses, and our grandmothers, and our spouses, and our neighbors, and all the other white folks who will only listen to us – not because what we say is more true or more powerful that when said by Black and Brown folks – but rather because that is the way white supremacy works.

 

A Shibboleth that refuses to water down the work that is ahead of us – but will no longer hoist it onto the backs of people of color because those of us who are white refuse to do our work.

 

It’s Time for a Brand New Shibboleth.

 

Friends, It’s Time.

 

Just like this is not an easy text – this is not easy work. What we are embarking on is a Shibboleth of Anti-Racism. Transforming our thinking and doing, our ideologies and actions, our policies and our practices all toward the goal of creating, sustaining, and protecting systems of racial justice and equity.

 

Each of us will be required to risk something different – for some of us who are white – we will risk our privileges, our protection, or our stories of, “I marched with King” (in my case, Charlottesville) in exchange for, “this is what I’m doing right now.” For some people of color, you will risk being vulnerable to hurt or harm, being scapegoated for bringing the injustice to the forefront, or being misinterpreted that you are selling out.

 

Shibboleth is scary work especially for those of us who believe that tolerance of different ideas and respect for all human beings is sacred. Declaring our Shibboleth defines who we are and inevitably excludes some folks because it creates a line in the sand over which one cannot cross. For those of us who are worried about or have experienced the harm that comes from being excluded by the church this is especially terrifying ground. But declaring a Shibboleth of Anti-Racism simply means that we are intolerant of intolerance.

 

In 1945, what is called, “The Paradox of Tolerance” was written down for the first time publically and attributed to Karl Popper. Popper stated that while it may seem counterintuitive for tolerance to be intolerant of anything it is simply a paradox. This is because the first thing intolerance does is to eradicate tolerance. Thus, tolerance cannot exist if it tolerates intolerance.

 

I’m going to say that one more time – While it may seem counterintuitive, for tolerance to survive – it must be intolerant of intolerance. This is because the first thing intolerance does is to eradicate tolerance. Thus, tolerance cannot exist if it tolerates intolerance.

 

Intolerance isn’t simply another philosophy or ideology – it is the inability to allow for any other philosophy or ideology to survive in its midst or in its wake. This is exactly why white supremacy or racism in any of its forms cannot be reduced to just another option, or idea, or preference. All forms of intolerance will use hatred, fear, and violence to indoctrinate followers and eradicate the rest.

 

What if the only intolerance Christians were known for was the intolerance of intolerance?

 

I’m gonna say one last thing and then I’m gonna take my seat. You may have read in some of the articles about Charlottesville that the clergy line chanted, “Love Has. Love Has. Love Has Already Won.” Out of context, it sounds like we are blindly believing the whitewashed version of Martin Luther King’s quote that “hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that.” This version makes it seem as if Dr. King is talking about the Hallmark version of love – full of feelings but devoid of commitment – full of dreams but devoid of reality. But in context it reveals something else.

 

Rev. Sekou led us in this chant when we were surrounded by the taunts and chants of the Klan, American Nazi’s, and white nationalists. As they marched in front AND BEHIND US…. and as our hearts began a double time drum beat within our chests – we were instructed to declare that LOVE HAS. LOVE HAS. LOVE HAS ALREADY WON.

 

When the first scrap ups began between domestic terrorists and antifa at one end of our line – we were locked arm-in-arm chanting LOVE HAS. LOVE HAS. LOVE HAS ALREADY WON as our only defense.

 

The fluffy bunny, pie in the sky, Hallmark kind of love doesn’t cut it here. This is James Baldwin’s love that says that if I love you I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see. This is Dr. Cornell West’s love that says Justice is what love looks like in public.

 

This is Jesus’ love that says you may be looking at Good Friday – or sitting in the deep despair of Holy Saturday – but there is a Resurrection coming that you can’t yet imagine and you can’t create on your own without me.

 

We weren’t singing Love Has Already Won because it had – we were singing it because we believe in a God whose love has conquered even death. The kind of love that stares in the face of structural sin as 1000s of Klansmen – and women – American Nazi’s and white nationalists scream “blood and soil” and “you will not replace us.” It allows us to sing songs of freedom while held hostage in a church by torch wielding domestic terrorists who cannot stand the idea that God intends for power to be shared and for justice to reign.

 

We don’t declare a Brand New Shibboleth because it’s already here – we declare a Brand New Shibboleth because LOVE HAS. LOVE HAS. LOVE HAS ALREADY WON…. (continue with hand clap)….

00:0000:00

A Stubborn Passion

August 6th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, August 6, 2017.

Text: Ephesians 4:25-5:2 

 

 

Is it OK to be angry?  Is it acceptable to express anger? 

 

In our reading today from the letter to the Ephesians we hear, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”  This epistle was written in the first century of the Common Era.  I doubt we’re surprised that the quandary of anger management has been around from the beginning; it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.  Anger is a stubborn passion in human life.  It is part of the deal.

 

I know from experience there are folks around who feel it’s wrong to get angry.  But the scripture today says, “Be angry.”  It doesn’t say, pretend you aren’t angry, it doesn’t say, play the martyr and bury your anger, it doesn’t say, ignore your anger so that you don’t have to deal with it.  It says, “Be angry.”  This may be stating the obvious but it is very important if we are to begin to understand what our Christian faith has to say to us about this very real, very stubborn part of human experience.  Anger is part of our life.  Let me be clear at the outset: This verse is NOT biblical permission to go around indiscriminately spewing anger.  The letter to the Ephesians is trying to help the early churches learn how to live the new life in Christ together.  In order to live together in love and peace, it’s imperative that we attend to our anger.

 

Often, anger is a second emotion, preceded by pain, vulnerability, frustration, or grief.  Insofar as this is the case, anger can be for us a helpful sign, like the impulse of pain we feel when we touch something that is too hot, our anger can alert us to something deeper within us that needs some care and attention.

 

Furthermore, if we never get angry, then that is itself a telling sign—do we really care about anything?  Is there nothing we can see in ourselves, in our relationships, in our world that makes us angry?  If this is the case, then we need to pay attention to that for sure, because it is likely pointing to the fact that we are either mightily depressed or terribly apathetic, neither of which is good for us or for anyone else.

 

So…“Be angry.”  These words remind us that being angry can be a sign that our hearts and minds are rightly attuned to injustices or problems; or can be a sign leading us to self-care.  “Be angry.”  These words allow us to give ourselves a break from beating ourselves up for feeling anger.  These are good things.  But I, for one, don’t want to hear these words.  I don’t want to be angry.  I don’t want to acknowledge my anger.  I don’t want to deal with it; I don’t want to have to name its source.  I have my reasons for feeling this way—and maybe you feel the same for your own reasons.  Maybe you grew up in a household that was full of rage; perhaps you were taught by example not to show your anger or to talk about it; maybe you’re afraid of the sheer force of your anger if you were to let it out; or maybe you can’t bear to admit the reason or circumstance that causes you to be angry.  Maybe you are guilty about your anger because it comes up in your role as caregiver to a partner, parent, or child.  Wherever or however you find yourself when you hear the words, “be angry,” the bottom line is that there is both comfort and challenge in them. 

 

A big part of the challenge comes in the line that follows, “Be angry, but do not sin.” 

I am convinced—and I believe that this is the point of the admonition to “be angry”—that the only way to be angry and not sin is to be mindful of our own anger—this means that we have to do exactly that which I do not want to do.  We have to learn to recognize when we’re getting angry, to be attentive to our anger, to reflect on it, to sit with it, to get to know it. Ugh.

 

Don’t we know, after all, that uncontrolled, buried, festering anger will do damage to others and to ourselves?  Unmanaged anger can get projected onto other people, it can build up and then blow up way out of proportion and, when turned inward, can lead to depression and all sorts of other self-destructive things. 

 

While we may know all that, many of us don’t know how to attend to our anger gently, with love; we don’t know how to express our anger creatively, in ways that will build up instead of tearing down.  Iona Senior Services is a wonderful, local organization that supports people as they experience the opportunities and challenges of aging.  A recent post on Iona’s blog provides such helpful information for managing anger.[i]  While the post is focused on anger that arises in providing care for a loved one with dementia, the tips are so helpful for any occasion when we find ourselves needing to manage our anger with love.  The first two are all about self-awareness: recognize the signs of anger (shortness of breath, muscle tension, getting red in the face, raising your voice, etc.) and become aware of the ways you express your anger (aggressively, passive aggressively, passively, etc.).  The blog goes on to provide some suggestions for healthy ways to manage anger once you’ve begun to identify it.  I commend this resource to you. 

I also highly recommend the work of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who teaches both how to be aware of our anger and how to hold it gently.  Over the years he has offered retreat to Vietnam veterans.  He tells of one American commander who lost 417 of his men in a single battle on a single day and had been unable for twenty tears to get past his anger.  Another man had out of anger taken the lives of children in a Vietnamese village and had lost all sense of peace.  Thich Nhat Hanh taught what he calls mindfulness, which is simply sitting and watching one’s breath come and go and looking after one’s anger, seeking neither to push it down nor erase it but to attend to it, to offer it affection and care.  It was a way of giving the anger both space and boundaries so that it could be touched and felt and recognized and healed.  When we are angry, he writes, we are not with ourselves.  We are thinking about the one who makes us angry (that can be another person or ourselves) and thinking about the hateful aspects of that person: his/her betrayal, rudeness, disregard, meanness, cruelty and so on.  Instead of attending to what is in us we spill out what is in us on the other.  And the more we attend to the other, the more the anger grows.  We have to come back to ourselves and look inside.  Like a fireman, he continues, we have to pour water on the blaze before we look for the one who has set the house on fire.  The simple practice he offers is this:  ‘Breathing in, I know I am angry.  Breathing out, I know that I must put all my energy into caring for my anger.’”[ii]

 

And so we learn that in order to be angry and not sin, we cannot allow our anger to be forgotten, ignored, or buried.  The admonition to not “let the sun to go down on our anger” is, I think, not only a reminder to attend to it today, but also that anger allowed to move into the dark, out of the light of our attentiveness, can grow into something ugly and destructive; it opens the door to “the devil,” to that power that feeds on negativity and on harbored resentment.  When left alone, our anger can feed in us a self-righteous, judgmental attitude that is incapable of seeing the other as lovable or a person of sacred worth; this breeds hatred and division—the devil smacks his metaphorical lips!—what a feast!  But when held lovingly in the light of our consciousness, we are able to identify our own weaknesses, our own pain, our need, indeed our own tendency to make mistakes that cause others to be angry or hurt.  This self-awareness helps us to have compassion, not only with ourselves, but also with the one with whom we are angry.

 

God shows us what it looks like when righteous anger is expressed not with vengeance, but with love.  We see it in the prophets whose hearts broke and whose voices raged on behalf of God’s disappointment and grief over the brokenness and injustice and forgetfulness of Israel.  And we see it most clearly in Jesus Christ who had every reason to be angry at us, but whose love for us was more stubborn than our refusal to love him back.  And so he got angry at the ways that we hurt each other and ignore God, but he did not sin.  His stubborn passion was love.  That love, freely offered to you and to me is what feeds us, it fortifies our hearts to be able to love ourselves and other people enough to attend to our anger. 

 

A poetic prayer entitled “Holy Anger,” includes the line, “let anger be the first note in love’s ascending scale.”[iii]  Loving attentiveness to our anger can be the beginning of healing, the first glimmer of a sacred calling, the birth of greater love of ourselves, of others, of God.  So let your anger, whatever it is, be the first note in love’s ascending scale.  You might be surprised at what happens—in your relationships, your thoughts, your own heart—when you’re in tune with the love of Christ.

 

[i] https://www.iona.org/manage-anger-caring-dementia/?bblinkid=55569581&bbemailid=4586880&bbejrid=344310322

[ii] Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, 1998.

[iii]Thomas H. Troeger, “Holy Anger,” Copyright and reproduced at The Living Pulpit.com by permission of Oxford University Press, 2000.

00:0000:00