At the Corner of 4th and Walnut … and Woodward & Warren

I was reminded recently of a moment in Thomas Merton’s writing.  The particular moment is memorialized at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets in Louisville, Kentucky, and shared in Merton’s work, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness.

Merton reminds me of a truth that I believe is among the deepest with which humankind struggles.  The truth that, while each of is unique in himself or herself, God’s plan was never that we be separated one from another.  Yet, most of us long for that feeling of being special. We join clubs and organizations and strive for accomplishments, often for the sole purpose of being distinct (at best?) or exclusive (at worst?).

Not only is this reflected in our social relationships and constructed organizations and institutions (and I’m not leaving the Church out of this), but it is also reflected in our laws, and therefore our government.  Over time, we have begun to scratch the surface of changing some of these things.  Our law no longer treats anyone as “three fifths” of a person (US Constitution, Article 1.2).  But we have constructed elaborate systems of property ownership, death benefits, healthcare access, and more, that routinely discriminate and adversely affect many people who are just attempting to go about their everyday lives, pursuing the “domestic tranquility,” “general Welfare,” and the “Blessings of Liberty” (US Constitution, preamble).

For a long time we have used religion as the leverage to justify our discriminating actions, and Christianity, my religion, has often been the loudest voice in this justification – much to my sadness.  Every once in a while grace has overcome our stubbornness and we have been part of the voice for a change that embraces, that draws the circle wider.  Those are better days.

I know that I am thinking about these things, and holding them in my prayers, right now for a couple of reasons.  First, a judge where I live is about to rule on the constitutionality of a Michigan law banning same sex marriage.  Second, my bishop released a statement in support of Marriage Equality, and I am proud to stand with him, and add my voice – as Dean of the Cathedral and most of all as a baptized Christian.

Based on my non-lawyerly reading of the US Constitution, there is no way it should be allowed to stand.  Based on my reading of Scripture it doesn’t stand either.  Now, if you know me, you know I’m not into “proof-texting.”  We can pull out our bibles and go back and forth citing a verse here and a verse there in a slugfest of Holy Writ.

As I examine Christian holy writing more and more I find the continuation of Merton’s epiphany to be the overarching trajectory of the Divine Voice found in those holy writings.  Merton observed: “The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream.”  But because I am aware of the profound desire of many for some sort of Scriptural substantiation, I will invite you to a rarely cited one that is a large and powerful compass for me.  Take a look the whole of chapter 56 in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  In short, I read it to say that anyone, even the heretofore disallowed (eunuchs and foreigners are the terms used in the text), who love God will have a place in God’s house, and God’s house will be a house of prayer for all people.

From the earliest time of cathedrals, they were intended as a place of worship and spiritual care for all people.  Since the early days of my coming to the Cathedral it has been offered as a place of “Diverse People, Daily Relevance, and Inspiring Space.”  We declare that” “God loves you.  No Exceptions.”  So if you support and embrace marriage equality, come.  If you don’t, you come too.  If you just don’t know, welcome.  We don’t ask, or even expect, that we all agree.  We do expect that dignity of every human being will be respected.  And, thereby, awaking from the dream of separateness continues.

Lenten blessings,

He drew a circle that shut me out — Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!
 “Outwitted” by Edwin Markham (1852-1940)

So, How’s It Going?

As of today we find ourselves at the end of the first week of Lent. So, how’s it going? The giving up of something, maybe. The taking on of something? Maybe you decided to take up reading the Bible or doing some other spiritual reading.

Around the Cathedral Church of St. Paul this past Sunday, the topic from the pulpit was sin. Yep, the 3-letter four letter word. Preachers, well most Episcopal preachers, and pretty much all congregations wince at the thought of “sin” being the preacher’s topic. Now, if the preacher was making some salacious confession, the congregation might be willing to rethink their interest. Well, that didn’t happen, but ….

It seems to me that folk in Scripture want to get very precise about what is, and what is not, sin. Folk a few thousand years later in the 21st century simply may not care so much, but when they do, they tend toward a desire for hairsplitting “is” and “is not” determinations as well. Clergy and theologians have filled volumes and volumes on the subject. And, frankly, I think we make the whole thing much too cumbersome. That’s probably because cumbersome is very easy to hide behind.

Seems to me the definition of sin is pretty simple. It is putting our (my) wants ahead of God’s wants – something that Jesus was unwilling to do in Sunday’s Gospel – Matthew’s version of the temptation in the wilderness.

If the definition is really that simple, doesn’t it beg the question, “Why then do we continue to sin (so much)? That answer, too, is pretty uncomplicated is seems to me: We want what we want, more than we want what God wants.

I’m sure you’ve already beat me to the next line. This would be a lot more simple if I could be sure I always know what God wants. That is sometimes harder, I’ll grant you that. But, I don’t believe it is as hard, as cumbersome, as we often argue, or hope, it to be.

If you are using the Penitential Order (a particular beginning to the Holy Eucharist included in the Book of Common Prayer 1979) or visit our Rite 1 Holy Eucharist, you encounter very early on one of Jesus’ summaries of the law. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself – my simplification. (The whole “Who’s my neighbor” question has been addressed in the Gospels – it’s everyone – so no need to go further down that path.

So the intentional and ever arching question is – are my wants consistent with that? If so, my wants are consistent with God’s wants.

So, now we are back to where we started. So, how’s it going?

Lenten blessings,