Monday, December 28, 2009

Prayer for critics and enemies

Prayer Regarding Critics and Enemies by Serbian Orthodox Bishop

By Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, Serbian bishop who spoke out against Naziism, was arrested, and taken to Dachau.

(reposted from

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Copenhagen Sermon -- Archbishop of Canterbury

Copenhagen Sermon

Given by The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams

'Perfect love casts out fear'. It's a well-known biblical text; in its original setting, it's about how we learn to have the proper kind of confidence in the love and forgiveness of God. This kind of confidence, St John says, comes from understanding that we are – miraculously – able to stand in the same place as God himself. 'In this world we are as he is'. Our own confidence, our fearlessness, is built on seeing love at work through us – not our personal warm feelings or positive emotions or even kind actions, but the love that really sets people free and brings something new into the world: God's love, dealing with the deepest tangles and knots of our situation, the love that was the essence of Jesus' life and death and resurrection.

And the deepest religious basis for our commitment to the environment in which God has placed us is this recognition that we are called to be, and are enabled to be, the place where God's love for the world comes through. We have to flesh out in our lives that fundamental biblical conviction that when God looks on the world he finds it good. We have to show in our lives some echo of the delight God finds in creation, recalling the astonishing image in the Book of Proverbs of God's eternal wisdom playing and rejoicing in the whole span of the universe.

Love casts out fear. If we begin from the belief that God wants us to rejoice and delight in the created world, our basic attitude to the environment will not be anxiety or the desperate search for ways of controlling it; it will be the excited and hopeful search for understanding it and honouring its goodness and its complex, interdependent beauty. If there is any 'fear' around here, it should be fear of spoiling the heritage given us, of forgetting the overwhelming scale and depth of the gift and of our responsibility and care for it, fear of forgetting that we are called to show consistent and sacrificial love for the created world as we must show towards our fellow-human beings. And, as we should have learned by now, the truth is that we cannot show the right kind of love for our fellow-humans unless we also work at keeping the earth as a place that is a secure home for all people and for future generations.

But there is another kind of fear we have to think about, a fear that should prompt us to get in touch again with the love that made us and sustains us. At the present moment, we are faced with the consequences of generations of failure to love the earth as we should; and we are also faced with the choices that might make those consequences less destructive than they would otherwise be. Each of us as an individual, each international business concern, each national government – all of us have choices. We are not doomed to carry on in a downward spiral of the greedy, addictive, loveless behaviour that has helped to bring us to this point. Yet it seems that fear still rules our hearts and imaginations. We have not yet been able to embrace the cost of the decisions we know we must make. We are afraid because we don't know how we can survive without the comforts of our existing lifestyle. We are afraid that new policies will be unpopular with a national electorate. We are afraid that younger and more vigorous economies will take advantage of us – or we are afraid that older, historically dominant economies will use the excuse of ecological responsibility to deny us our right to proper and just development.

There is, in a word, no shortage of excellent excuses for turning away from decisions that will mean real change. But at least let's be honest about where they come from: it is fear – not necessarily irrational fear, not even necessarily purely selfish fear, but fear all the same. And so long as that dominates our calculations, we are stepping back from love – love for the creation itself, which we must look at as God looks at it, love for one another and for the generations still unborn, who need us to do whatever we can to guarantee a stable, productive and balanced world to live in – not a world of utterly chaotic and disruptive change, of devastation and desertification, of biological impoverishment and degradation.

Love casts out fear. The truth is that what is most likely to get us to take the right decisions for our global future is love. The temptation is to underline fear so as to persuade one another of the urgency of the situation: things are so bad, so threatening, that we have to do something. And indeed there are moments when we might think, rather bitterly, that the human race is still not frightened enough by the prospect of what it has stored up for itself. But this is to drive out one sickness by another. That kind of fear can simply paralyse us, as we all know; it can make us feel that the problem is too great and we may as well pull up the bedclothes and wait for disaster. What's more, it can tempt us into just blaming one another or waiting for someone else to make the first move because we don't trust them. We need more than that for lifegiving change to happen.

And that is what we are here to say today. We meet as people of faith in the context of this critical moment in human history; and so we are not here just to plead or harangue, let alone to encourage panic and terror. We are here to say two simple things to ourselves, our neighbours and our governments.

First: don't be afraid; but ask how the policies you follow and the lifestyle that you take for granted look in the light of the command to love the world you inhabit. Ask what would be a healthy and sustainable relationship with this world, a relationship that would in some way manifest both joy in and respect for the earth. Start with the positive question – how do we show that we love God's creation?

Second: don't separate this from the question of how we learn to trust one another within a world of limited resources. In such a world there can be no trust without justice, without the assurance of knowing that my neighbour is there for me when I face insecurity or risk. How shall we build international institutions that make sure the resources get where they are needed – that, for example, 'green taxes' will deliver more security for the disadvantaged, that transitions in economic patterns will not weigh most heavily on those least equipped to cope?

Love casts out fear; and the promise that makes sense of all this is the promise we heard in the reading from St Paul's letter to the Romans: if we allow God to teach us trust and if we learn to live in trust and confidence, the whole created order feels the effects. The 'slavery' imposed on the created order by human sinfulness and selfishness gives way to liberation; human freedom and the fulfilment of the destiny of the world around are manifested together, and the result is glory.

In this season of Advent, we renew our confident hope that such a future is possible. We give thanks for the Christmas gift of Jesus Christ that has broken through our selfishness and begun the work of our liberation. We reaffirm our conviction and commitment in the name of love; and we say 'don't be afraid' to all who stand uncertainly on the edge of decision. Don't be afraid; act for the sake of love.

© Rowan Williams 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

writing christmas

Honestly, it's been so long since I've done any serious writing that I'm not sure I know how any more. What do I mean by serious? Crafted language, inspired by the Breath of God (rather than the completed work of someone else), that puts the poetic in perspective, that makes mystery manageable, that in-spires as well as ex-piring.

So we get to Christmas, and a couple of hours of research later, nothing out there says what I want it to say the way I want it to say it to the people I want to say it to. Or for. Whichever. Now I have the choice of continuing to look for the right words (someone else's) for a few more hours, or taking those same hours and begging God for both breath and skill. And trust. And patience.

How many hours would it take 100 monkeys with typewriters to come up with Shakespeare? And how many hours until Christmas eve?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Luke 13:34b

That's it. Just the scripture.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Do they know it's Christmas?

They're so young.
And it's still a good question.

Out of body -- back in 30 minutes

So I get to the office today and there's a message on my phone from my cousin* Debbie. I was last in contact with Debbie in the early 1970s. She got my church number from her mother, Lynne.** I do a little googling and find Lynne in a YouTube video. I may have also found her son's wife's blog.

You'll have to excuse me now: my body seems to be typing without me.

*She may be my cousin too -- I don't understand these things. Her great-grandmother and my grandmother were sisters.
**I think Lynne is genealogically my mother's cousin. I don't think I have been in contact with her since my mother died -- 2 years before I started at this church. Maybe. Unexpected, nonetheless.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Is it too late to be a youth minister?

I love my kids.
I feel for the parents and teachers.

If you're a praying sort, would you please keep them and their families in prayer? I'm seeing a few slo-mo train wrecks in the works.

And btw: if you're a former teacher of mine, I'm sorry. Pick an event. I'm sorry for it.

Friday, December 04, 2009

4 new family milestones

Location: Neighborhood sit-down Mexican restaurant, packed at dinner hour.
Scene: Mama and Toddler Daughter out for girls' night. Both on banquette side, facing out. Mama wearing business casual, Toddler in dress and leggings. Toddler has eaten well, been well mannered, a joy.
Time: Dinner winding down. Check paid. Toddler starting to play with straws and spoons. Good moods all around.
Event: Toddler pokes Mama with her mouth-held straw. Straw pokes back of Toddler's throat.
Milestone: First public full frontal vomiting of horchata and tortilla. Ongoing, pathetic.

Milestone: First time Mama holds Daughter's hair back while she throws up.

Milestone: First time young teenage stranger goes to kitchen and comes back with many napkins, and helps me spread them around and under Daughter's fountain. And does it again. My hero. His mother helpfully suggests I clean out Daughter's mouth with water to help stop the vomiting.

Aside: Did I mention we were facing out, toward the other people in the restaurant? Or that the family directly across from us was celebrating with a huge platter of beautiful shellfish -- crabs, mussels, oysters?

Toddler goes to bed at 7:45 pm. By choice.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Have a beer with the President?

I never understood the "if you wanna have a beer with him, vote for him" standard of presidential election. I don't want a president who is my peer. If I have to choose between liking and respecting, I'd rather respect.

As you might imagine, it has been a long time since I respected my president, prone as we have been to electing The Guy Next Door. I've met the guy next door. I don't want him as president.

Obama is bearing up well under a constant campaign to "other" him. Fearful people from various threads of the tattered political flag are working hard to make him a noncitizen, a socialist, a communist, a czar/tyrant who will abolish free election, a turncoat dove, the antichrist. While this is all ludicrous -- all of it -- and much of it racist, and some of it anti-intellectual (can anyone say "Palin"? No, not Michael, though he would be a lot easier to stomach.), here's the bottom line for me: though I want us to agree on the Big Things (like the belief that the real purpose of government is caring for the least among us), I don't want my president to be my mirror image. I've seen myself in the mirror, and I wouldn't want me as president.

So, I want my president to be "other" than me in some really critical ways. I want a president who is way smarter, more well-informed, more even-keeled, more thoughtful, and quicker than I am. I want my president to be more humble than I am. And, when we disagree, I want my president and his advisors to have enough spine to not label me unpatriotic/unamerican/unreal, even if I stoop to name-calling myself.

I don't always agree with President Obama, and Jesus is still my commander in chief. But finally, I have a nonfictional president* I respect.

May God bless and keep him and his.

*Hey, Josiah Bartlet was my president for a long time. I just wish he existed outside Aaron Sorkin's head.