Sunday, September 27, 2009

17 Pentecost


September 27, 2009

Mark 9:38-50

This coming Thursday marks a big day in my life. October 1st is my one year anniversary as the Priest-in-Charge of St. Stephen’s. And I can say that, for me anyway, it has been a GREAT year! And since my contract is being renewed, I think most of you are all right with me as well. But for me, this year at St. Stephen’s has been a exciting. And as I’ve gotten to know this wonderfully eclectic congregation called St. Stephen’s, I realize I am very lucky to be serving such a congregation. I have personally have learned much in my time here—namely, what it means to service fully and completely in Jesus’ Name.

In this morning’s Gospel, we find the followers of Jesus coming to him and complaining about someone—an outsider, not one of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers—who is casting out demons in Jesus’ name. We don’t know who this person was—we never hear anything more about him. Possibly it was one of those many multitudes of people who were following him around, observing all that he had done. Possibly it was someone who was trying to be like Jesus. More likely it was a genuine follower of Jesus who simply had not—for whatever reasons—made it into the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. However, the apostles do not like it. They are threatened by this person—this outsider. And because he is an outsider, they want it stopped. So, thinking he will put an end to it, they go to Jesus. You can almost hear them as they whine and complain to him about this supposedly pretentious person.

But Jesus—once again—does not do what they think he will do. Jesus tells them two things: first “for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” And the big one—the most obvious one (you would think)—
“Whoever is not against us is for us.”
You would think that we—the Church—would have learned from this story. You think we would have been able to have heard this story and realized that, if we are all working together for the same goal—for the furthering of the Kingdom of God in our midst—then, we are all working together in Jesus’ name.


But the fact is, we have not quite “got it.” Over the recent history of the church, we have seen that the Church has at times acted like the disciples in today’s Gospel. Now, when I’m talking about the Church—capital C—I am talking about the human-run organization of the Church. As such, let’s face it, it is an imperfect structure. It has the same faults and failings of all human-run organizations—no matter how blessed it claims to be by God.
I will admit one thing to you—and for those of you who have come to know me in this last year at St. Stephen’s, this comes as no great surprise—but, I have a love-hate relationship with the organized Church.

I truly love the Church. I love serving God’s people within the structure of the Episcopal Church and I love serving here at St. Stephen’s. I also love serving the Diocese of North Dakota as the Bishop’s Executive Assistant. I love the Church’s traditions. I love its liturgy. As I’ve mentioned many times here before you, I love being a priest. And, on really good days, I am so keenly aware that the Church truly is a family. We are a family that might not always get along with each other, but when it comes right down to it, we do love each other . And I have never seen that more keenly than here at St. Stephen’s. Certainly, we here, at St. Stephen’s, are very much a family.

Now I know St. Stephen’s has a reputation. It has a reputation, rightly so, of being the first on many issues. It has been the first in women serving fully and completely. And it has been a first in gay and lesbian serving fully and completely. And I love to be serving in a church that has been the first in both of these issues.

But even so, I will be just as honest that there are many days in which I find being a member of the Church—capital C— a burden. The Church—as most of us know—can be a fickle place to be at times. It can be a place where people are more interested in rules and dogmas than a place that furthers the love of God and of each other. It can be a place where people are so caught up in doing right, that they run rough-shod over people who truly need the Church and who truly long for God.

When I was ordained a deacon, I remember a colleague of mine—someone who knew about my love-hate relationship with the Church—saying to me that they found it amazing that I—of all people—was putting on the “uniform” of the organized Church. I remember being shocked by that statement. For some reason I hadn’t even considered the fact that I would now be a representative of something that I wasn’t certain I wanted to represent.

In the years since my ordinations, I have found that, yes, I am a representative of the Church in ways others might not be. The collar I wear instantly labels me and there have been many people who have come up to me, because of the collar I wear, and have made assumptions about where I must stand on certain issues in the Church. Sometimes, they are shocked to find that I don’t hold the opinions they think I should. And sometimes, people are downright offended that I don’t. Sometimes people are especially shocked to hear that I—an ordained priest—would even dare profess the hate side of my love-hate relationship with the Church. But not being honest about it only helps perpetuate the hypocrisy the Church so often is accused of.

When I look at the Church as it is right now—with all its wrangling and arguing—I can honestly and clearly hear the voices of those disciples of Jesus in this morning’s Gospel. I can hear their statement as one of anger and one of frustration and one of jealousy. People in the Church on all sides of the issues are condemning each other, bashing each other and demeaning each other in the name of the Church as we speak. People—because of their differences—are not acting like they love each other. They are not acting like a family.

I see the Church, at times, as making a real solid effort to be what Jesus wanted it to be. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here in the Church. One aspect of the Church that I have always loved is the belief—and the fact— that there is room here for everyone in the Church—no matter who they are. I feel there is room for people who have differing views in the Church. Not everyone has to agree. But we all do have to make room for each other here. The Church however doesn’t always see itself in such a way.

Like the disciples in today’s Gospel, the governments of the Church like to claim that only they know who can and who cannot do God’s work in the world. When an upstart—when a person marginalized by society—comes along and tries to do God’s work in Jesus’ name, the Church very often tries to put an end to it.

Look at our recent history in the church. Thirty years ago, the issue was women. Can women be priests? A lot of people said, “absolutely not.” And people on both sides of the issue were ugly and mean and vicious and hateful to each other about it. One side said, “if we ordain women, the Church will fall apart.” The other side said, “If we don’t ordain women the church will fall apart.” Well, the Church hasn’t fallen apart. We’re still here and, I personally can’t help but believe we’re a much better place for allowing women to serve us as priests. When I think of what the church would be like without women priests, or gay and lesbian priests, I think it is a bleak and ugly place.

As Anglicans, I have loved the fact that there has always been room for everyone. But we also have to make for room for people we might label as “conservative.” There is also room for people we might not agree with 100%. There is room for people who challenge us and provoke us and jar us out of what can very easily devolve into self-righteous complacency.

As Scot McKnight says in his delightful book, Embraced by Grace:

“In God’s equality, difference is maintained and loved.”

Who are we to judge who God calls to serve? God decides these things. Our job as Christians is simply this: we must love in Jesus’ Name.

As Jesus says in today’s in Gospel, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” For those people who throw up their hands and say, “This doesn’t have anything to do with me.” I say, “Yes, it does.” We are all family. We are all in this together. And we need to love each other, in Jesus’ name. This Church that I love is a wonderful place to be at times. And I think it is a place from which everyone can benefit. Like those disciples, none of us is perfect. All of us are fractured, sinful people at times. Because we are fractured sinful people, isn’t it wonderful that we have a place to come to even when we’re fractured and sinful, a place where we are not judged, a place where we are welcomed for who and what we are. This is the ideal of the Church. This is the place Jesus intended it be.

The Name of Jesus puts all of us on common ground. The Name of Jesus makes us all equal. The Name of Jesus eliminates those fringes of society, those marginalized places and makes us all part of the inner circle. We—all of us—are the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, no matter who we are.

So remember, the Church is not an exclusive club. It is not a club for everyone who believes exactly the same thing. Following Jesus means making room for the person we might not agree with. Following Jesus means walking alongside someone whom no one else loves or cares for. Following Jesus means, as he tells us this morning, being at peace with each other. Following Jesus means loving each other—no matter who or what we are.

This is what, I think we are doing here at St. Stephen’s. All of us, in our own ways, are attempting to follow Jesus here. That is why I am very happy to be here, with you. Together, here, we are serving each other, we are serving those who need to be served, we are reaching out in love, in Jesus Name. So, let us, together, continue to do just that. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

16 Pentecost


September 20, 2009

Psalm 54

Now, for those of you who know me, I know this is very hard to believe, so bear with me. I—sweet, humble Father Jamie—have a bit of an ego. I know, it’s hard to wrap your minds around. I know that you can’t imagine that I—of all people—would have an ago. But I do. In fact, we all do.

The center of our universe is none other than our very own selves. As much as we try to ignore that fact or deny it—it’s true. And as a result, we often find that our egos sometimes take a beating. We often find ourselves threatened or jealous or angry at someone simply because they are who they are. Or, worse yet, we oftentimes find people who, for some reason we might not fully understand, simply don’t like us. In those moments when our egos take a licking, we find ourselves lashing out at them. Sometimes we are petty to them. Sometimes we mean to them. Sometimes we are do cruel things to them, because we think it will make our egos feel better.

Sometimes, this lashing out at our enemies happens right in the Bible. Occasionally, in the Psalms, we do come across language that we might find uncomfortable. Often in the Lectionary of the Church—the assigned readings from the Bible that we share each Sunday morning—some of those phrases that some people might find offensive are found bracketed. In those cases, we have the option to not use such language. The language, after all, is violent often. It is not the language good Christian people should use. After all, we’ve been taught to pray for our enemies. We been taught to love our enemies. We have been taught that if we have enemies who strike at us, we should turn the other cheek. But today, we get his little tidbit:

“render evil to those who spy on me;
in your faithfulness destroy them.”

This verse is not bracketed—it’s actually fairly minor in tone compared to some of the bracketed verses in other Psalms. But for many us, as we sing it, it might give us pause. This is not the kind of prayer we have been taught to pray. As I said, we have been taught to pray for our enemies, not pray against them. None of us would ever even think of praying to God to destroy anyone. It’s just not the kind of prayers good, God-fearing pray.

But the fact is, although we find it hard to admit at times, we do actually think and feel this way. Even if we might not actually say it, we sometimes secretly wish the worse for those people who have wronged us in whatever way. I like to think that, rather than this being negative or wrong, that we should, in fact, be honest about it. We sometimes get angry at people. We sometimes don’t like people. And sometimes we might just hate people. It’s a fact of life—not one wants to readily admit to, but it is there. Sometimes it is hard to love our enemies. Sometimes it is probably the hardest thing in the world to pray for people who have hurt us or wronged us.

So, what do we do in those moments when we can’t pray for our enemies—when we can’t forgive? Well, most of us just simply close up. We put up a wall and we swallow that anger and we let it fester inside us. Especially those of us who come from good Scandinavian stock. We simply don’t wail and complain about our anger or our losses. We tend to deny it.

But what about that anger in relationship to God? Well, again, we probably don’t recognize our anger before God nor do we bring it before God. And that is where Psalms of this sort come in. It is in those moments when we don’t bring our anger and our frustration before God, that we need those verses like the one we encounter in today’s Psalm. When we look at those poets who wrote this Psalm—when we recognize her or him as a Jew in a time of war or famine—we realize that for the poet—for the Psalmist—it was natural to bring everything before God. It didn’t matter what it was. And I think this is the best lesson we can learn from the Psalmist than anything else.

We can not hide that “shadow side” of ourselves from God. And we all have one. We all have that dark side of ourselves—that part of ourselves that dwells on the fringes—in the dark recesses of our lives and our existence. It is that dark self that makes itself known when our egos are wronged. This is the self maybe no one else has ever seen—not even our spouse or partner. Maybe it is a side of ourselves we have not even acknowledged to ourselves. It is this part of ourselves that fosters anger and pride and lust. It is this side of ourselves that may be secretly violent or mean or gossipy. It is the side ourselves that fosters what St. Benedict calls in his Rule, “grumbling.”

Sometimes it will never make an appearance. It stays in the shadows and lingers there. Sometimes it actually does make itself known. Sometimes it comes plowing into our lives when we neither expect it nor want it. But as much we try to deny it or ignore it or hide it, the fact is; we can never hide it from God.

It’s incredible really when you think about it: that God, who knows even that shadow side of us—that side of us we might not even fully know ourselves—God who knows us even that completely still loves us and is with us.

Few of us lay that shadow self before God. But the Psalmist does, in fact bring it out before God. The Psalmist wails and complains to God and lays bare that shadow side of him or herself. The Psalmist is blatantly honest before God.

The fact is: sometimes we do secretly wish bad things on our enemies. Sometimes we do wish God would render evil on those who are evil to us. Sometimes we do hope that God will completely wipe away those people who hurt us form our lives. Sometimes we do grumble and complain about others. It is in those moments, that it is all right to pray to God in such a way. It is all right to wish bad things on our enemies to God. It all right to say to God, “God, wipe away my enemies.” It is all right to grumble and complain before God.

Because the fact is—as we’ve all learned by now—just because we pray for it doesn’t mean God is going to grant it. God knows what to grant in prayer and why. The important thing here is not what we are praying for. It is not important that in this Psalm we are praying for God to destroy our enemies. It is important that, even in our anger, even in our frustration and our pain, even grumbling and complaining, we have come to God. We have come before God as imperfect people. We have come to God with our big, giant egos. We have come to God with a long dark shadow trailing us.

I have heard people say that we shouldn’t pray these difficult passages of the Psalms because they are “bad theology” or “bad psychology.” They are neither. They are actually good theology and good psychology. Take what it is that is hurting you and bothering you and release it. Let it out before God. Be honest with God. Even if your anger is directed at God for whatever reason, be honest with God. Rail and rant and rave at God in your anger. God can take it.

But, the Psalms teach us as well that once we have done that—once we have opened ourselves completely to God—once we have revealed our shadows to God—then we must turn to God and praise God for the goodness in our lives as well. See what we find in today’s Psalm after that little verse that may have caught us?

I will offer you a freewill sacrifice
and praise your name, O LORD, for it is good.


See, it is good theology; it is good psychology. It’s good theology because we are being open and honest in our relationship with God. And it is good psychology because we not carrying around that psychological baggage that can hurt us and eventually destroy us. Hatred and anger and pain are things that, in the long run, make us less than who we are meant to be.

At some point, as we all know, we must grow beyond whatever anger we might have. We must not get caught in that self-destructive cycle anger can cause. We must not allow those negative feelings to make us bitter.

In the same way it’s good psychology and good theology when we can recognize that shadow side of ourselves and, like our stubborn egos, we can see it for what it is: an illusion. It is not us—not who we really are. It is a fragment of ourselves and one that simply dissolves in the Light of God that we find shining on us in Jesus.

So, when we pray these psalms together and we come across those verses that might take us by alarm, recognize in them what they truly are—honest prayers before God More importantly, pray those psalms when you are angry or frustrated. Pray those psalms when your ego is strutting about thinking it is so wonderful. Pray those psalms when you are grumbling and complaining. Let the Psalms help you to release your shadow side to the God who loves you and knows you more completely than anyone else.




Thursday, September 17, 2009

A bit of good news

September 17, 2009

Greetings,

As I shared with you last week, This Grass, a book of my poems and paintings by artist Gin Templeton, is scheduled to be published in December, 2009.

This afternoon, as Gin and I were meeting to discuss that book, I received an email from the Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University, informing that another book of my poems, Fargo, 1957, was accepted for publication.

As some of you know, this was the book I was researching in the summer of 2008, concerning the tornado that struck Fargo on June 20, 1957. Twelve people were killed in that tornado including my mother’s cousin, Betty Jo Titgen and her husband Don.

I very pleased that these two books will be published. Samplings of the poems from these books can be found at my website:

http://jamieparsley.com/


I have also included a poem from Fargo, 1957 below.

I will keep you posted on publications dates, readings, etc as they become available.


-peace,
Jamie Parsley+


)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))



We Gasp


It was a gasp—
a breath—
they heard first.

A steady mantra
came from someplace
beyond it

and yet around it all at once.
Then the shadow came,
cold and black—

a strong body
and a rush of air
moving against the day,

against the persistent flatness
of the place below it.
It went on through them

and beyond them,
who squinted into the gray slate
of the half-night,

measuring it as it rose,
circled,
fell,

then rose again—
perfect and precise
over the churning chaos it wreaked.


--Jamie Parsley
(from Fargo, 1957)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

15 Pentecost


September 13, 2009

Psalm 116.1-8; Mark 8.27-38

It is appropriate in more ways than one to speak about the Cross today. Not only do we encounter language concerning the Cross in our Gospel reading, but, tonight is the eve of the Feast of Holy Cross. Here at St. Stephen’s, we will celebrate the Feast of the holy Cross on Wednesday at our mid-week Eucharist.

Also, today is Dedication Sunday. It is the Sunday in which we commemorate the dedication of St. Stephen’s congregation around this date in 1956. And today, on Dedication Sunday, we are dedicating…we are dedicating our Children’s Chapel. At our service for dedication after this Eucharist, we will go down and participate in consecrating and setting aside that chapel for God’s use. We will bless the chapel. And we will stand before the Cross that not hangs above the altar in that chapel.

Today and this coming week we are surrounded by the image of the Cross. And that’s not such a terrible image to have before us always.

Yes, it is a symbol of capital death, of execution, of torture and murder. Yes, it is not a pleasant , beautiful thing, despite all the decorating we have done to the Cross through art and paint and imagination.

But the Cross, whether we like it or not, is the symbol of our faith. On it, died the one we follow. On it we saw ultimate defeat. And in the face of that defeat, we saw ultimate victory.

The Cross, as much as it a symbol of death and of our faith, is really a symbol of the paradox of all we believe as Christians.

And in our scriptures for today, we find that paradox played out more poignantly not in our Gospel reading, in which Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him (though there is a beautiful paradox being played out there), but rather in our psalm.

Throughout my life in the church, I have heard many different styles of preaching. I have known pastors who have preached on every scripture reading assigned by the lectionary for a particular Sunday. Probably most of us have heard some of those pastors preach. Certainly in those days in which twenty- even thirty-minute long sermons were the norm, we all got our full of what each scripture meant and why it was meaningful to us.

I have also known pastors who have preached on a just one word from the scriptures reading for the day. Most pastors (including myself) prefer to preach the Gospel reading where there is such a wealth of vital spiritual help contained in the words of Jesus.

But one area I have heard very few preachers preach from is the book of psalms. One of the few sermons I remember hearing as a little boy was on the Psalms. The pastor at Maple Sheyenne Lutheran Church preached on Psalm 56 (verse 8), the one about the Lord collecting every tear we cry into a bottle. The actual verse is:

“You have noted my lamentation;
you have put my tears into your bottle.”

Now, of course, at that age I would never have known if he was preaching on a psalm or a Gospel or whatever, but what I do remember, even to this day, is the Pastor holding up a bottle of milky water that he said was filled with tears. It was a powerful image for me at that age. And it was, I think, the beginning of my love for the Psalms. Over the years since, as I’ve come across verse 8 in Psalm 56, I remember for a moment how I felt that Sunday morning all those years ago when that Pastor held that bottle up.

Outside of that, I don’t remember any priest or pastor ever preaching on the psalms—or certainly never preaching an entire sermon on just the psalms. And I realize that, by not preaching on the psalms on occasion, preachers really are missing out on some beautiful images that can help all of us in our relationship with God.

All my life I have been drawn to the psalms. Although I have received much consolation from the Gospels and have enjoyed reading the Wisdom Books and the Prophets from the Old Testament, the book that I have come back to again and again in scripture, is the Book of Psalms.

I have kept up a practice for the last ten years or so of praying the Daily Office—the services of Morning and Evening Prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. These services revolve, in a sense, around the daily reading from the Psalms. The Psalms, in the Daily Office, are used very much as prayer. Psalms can be read, but Psalms are most effective when they are actually prayed—when we use them as prayer. After praying the psalms in such a way, one finds that they, in a way somewhat different than other scriptures, really do seep into one’s very spiritual core. To use language form the psalms, they “seep into our bones like oil.” They speak to us in a way few other scriptures do.

The reason they are so appealing to me personally is because I am a poet. I know a few things about poetry after living the life of a poet for over twenty years.

And as a poet and priest, I love to preached on some of the poetic language we find in the scriptures and how sometimes it is good to have a poet in the pulpit (sometimes it’s bad to have a poet in the pulpit, especially when he or she gets a little too fancy in their language).

What so many people seem to forget about the psalms is that they are poems. Yes, originally they were written to be sung. But as well know, the words to songs are poems. Poems were originally written to be sung.

A few years ago, I taught a day-long poetry workshop at Oak Grove Lutheran School here in Fargo. I taught an hour-long course to each grade—sixth through twelfth grade. At first, you could tell that the last thing these kids wanted to do was learn about poetry. Partly the reason for this was because they always associated poetry with those rhyming poems about roses and clouds. But when I started to share with them that the words to all those songs they listened to—even the words of rap music—were poems, I saw something open up within them. And when they engaged in their own “rap battles” in the class, their appreciation for poetry changed. I was told later by faculty there that they were amazed to find teenaged boys sharing poems with each other at lunch that day.

When we look at the psalms as poems—when we recognize the poetic language contained within them and within much of scripture— most of us find ourselves coming away from the psalms with a deeper understanding of them. The language and the imagery of these poems has spoken to us for thousands of years, in much the same way the words to our favorite songs have.

Look back over your own lives. How many times—at how many funerals—have we found ourselves comforted by the words of the 23rd Psalm? Think of how many times you may have prayed these Psalms in church on Sunday over the course of your lifetime. The reasons the Psalms are so important to us is because they are so universal. They cover the whole gamut of emotions and feelings. It’s the one part of the Bible we all know we can turn to and find just what we need when we need it. When we are angry or frustrated, it’s not hard to find a psalm that addresses that feeling. If we are joyful and happy, there are psalms for that as well. When we feel as though we’ve been betrayed and slighted, there are psalms there for us at that moment as well.

Today we the beginning section of Psalm 116. At first, as we read it, we might think that it has a tone of self-centeredness. The psalm is not a collective—it is not “us” collectively, who are praying here—it very much singular.

“I” love the LORD who has heard “my” voice.

We’re not talking about common prayer here. We are talking about individual prayer. Another reason why the psalms are so vital is that they are very much the prayers of each of us as individuals. The psalms involve God and you. As we continue on in the psalm, we find the poet giving us a bit of background. Obviously he or she is emerging from a life-altering experience.

“The cords of death entangled me,”

“The anguish of the grave came upon me.”

This is not light and airy verse. These are the words of the Cross. These are words that could easily have been sung while someone hung on the cross of their death.

Psalm 116 isn’t a poem of roses and clouds. This is heavy language and heavy imagery. And language we don’t often use for ourselves. The first thought might be of an illness that has brought someone close to death.

But we need to remember here, that it is a poet writing these words. Poetic language is sometimes not as literal as we might think it is.

Oftentimes in our lives—when we have been so filled with despair, with depression, with fear—we might often feel as though death has, in fact, entangled us. Certainly in those moments when we are feeling desolate and down, life seems far away from us, while death seems too close for comfort. And if we are looking at it from a spiritual point of view, spiritual death is always lurking closer to us than we might want to admit. It is easy to fall into the snares of despair. It is easy to find our feelings of spiritual life far from us and a spiritual darkness and death come over us. In those moments, we do truly come to “grief and sorrow.”

However, in the psalms—even the laments and the dirges—those psalms that deal with the depressions and despairs of this life—those moments when one cries out to God and complains to God—even in those psalms there is always a moment, when everything turns for the better. This psalm starts out on a dark note, but there comes the moment, when the poet turns from despair and illness and looks to God—to the Life and Light God grants. The poet at this point calls out to God, “Save my life.”

And here is the paradox we are dealing with. The poet is vindicated in calling out to God in the midst of despair. The poet is innocent—of what we’re not certain, possibly innocent of whatever sins he or she feels punished for by depression or illness. And God, who is gracious and righteous and full of compassion, hears the prayer and grants it.

God saves the poet.

So, in a matter of moments, we have gone from complete despair—from a place near death—to a place of absolute joy. The restless soul of the poet finds its rest in the peace and calm of God’s Presence. The eyes that were once filled with tears have been rescued from their crying, the feet that stumbled in their weakness are now steady and full of strength, because of God’s life-giving presence. And this section of the psalms ends on a note exactly opposite of how it began. Those images of being entangled by death in the beginning of this section are replace by this incredible image of walking with God among the living.

Here we have a prime reason why the psalms are so powerful and important to us still. Most of us gathered here this morning can no doubt relate in many varying ways to this psalm. We know what this feeling is like—to be able to have our unhappiness turned to joy. Or if we don’t—and we haven’t experienced it—then we certainly long for it. Here, in the words of this psalm, are what we long for in our relationship with God. See how powerful and wonderful these psalms are. See what a storehouse of spiritual help these psalms contain.

So, take to heart the words of the psalms we pray each week. Don’t just take them for granted. Let them become your prayer as well. Take the psalm that we pray each week with you as you leave here and return to them often during the week. Read it again and again. And more importantly, pray it. Use it as your prayer as you take up your cross and follow Jesus where he goes. Like him pray it even from the crosses of your life. Even in those dark moments, let it be your voice that rises to God in joy and happiness in the face of the encroaching darkness. Let it be your voice that says,

“I love the LORD, who has heard my voice,
and listened to supplication.”




Saturday, September 12, 2009

This Grass, paintings by Gin Templeton and poems by Jamie Parsley


This Grass, the book of Gin Templeton's paintings and my poems, is finally going to see the light of day. This book came out of the multi-media showing of Gin's paintings and my poems at the Spirit Room in Fargo in the spring of 2006. Here is a sampling from the book. At right is the painting "The Spirit of Loneliness" by Gin.



Kalpa

by Jamie Parsley


Something rises—
stark white against
a horizon swirling
toward dusk.
What clouds there were
are gone, leaving heavy shadows
shimmering across the grass.

For one moment, there is
no one else in the entire world—
not one human being in any direction,
not even the sound of one.
Just an unrelenting wind
and the lark who sings to it.

I am quiet and clear-headed
in a way that surprises me
the way this day has surprised me
with its sudden shift
into blinding clarity.

I count not grass blades or gusts of wind,
but the steady tick of my life,
sighing at my neck, and in the pale
narrowness of my wrists. I listen to it
as it clicks in a place in my chest
not as hidden and secret
as I’d like it to be.



Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Death of my cousin, Arley Parsley

Arley Jarret Parsley(July 28, 1962-September 4, 2009)

September 10, 2009

Romans 8.35-39
In moments like this, we often wonder: how do we make sense of a situation like this? We find ourselves running the gauntlet of emotions—everything from fear to guilt, to shock to levels of pain we never thought we were capable of feeling.

We also find ourselves asking why. Why did this happen? Why did it have to happen this way? There aren’t easy answers to any of these questions. In fact, there might not be any answers to any of these questions. And the fact that there aren’t answers makes the situation even more difficult to bear.

We don’t know what went through Arley’s mind in those last moments on Friday. We don’t know what peace he made with himself—or if he did at all.

But what we do know—and what we can take consolation in—is in fact that he has found a peace now he couldn’t find in this world. And we can take consolation in a loving God who knows us so completely and wholly. We can take consolation in the a love that envelopes us today and holds us up.

In our reading from Romans, we find that nothing separates us from the love Christ, not “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.”

And we are told that certainly death does not separate us from that love.

Our grandmother, Minnie, had a deep devotion of the Heart of Jesus. Even though she was a good evangelical Lutheran, her house surrounded with pictures and statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

One of the first gifts I remember receiving from her was a plastic statue of the Sacred Heart. I have cherished that statue for many years now.

But more than anything our grandmother’s devotion taught me—and I think all of us who saw that devotion lived out in the life of our grandmother—that Jesus’ love for us was a burning love. It was a love that burned brightly in his Heart and we all knew it was a love directed toward us.

We might not have the answers today, but what we do know is that we do have this love and this love is more powerful than anything life or death can throw at us.

We also know that, in Jesus, what has happened isn’t some event that happened separate from Christ. Despair, as ugly as it is, as horrible as it, isn’t something that Christ didn’t know.

On the night before he died, Jesus too knew despair. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed that the cup of his suffering would be taken from him. And it wasn’t. On the night before he died, Jesus felt such despair that he actually sweated blood.

The Jesus who went through that night certainly knew what Arley went through last Friday. The Jesus who spent the night of his death in anguish was, beyond any doubt that we might have, certainly was with Arley in his anguish on the night of his death.

The Jesus who suffered in anguish before he died was there, was truly present with Arley in those last moments of his life.

And I have no doubt that the Jesus who rose from the darkness and destruction of his violent death was there to greet Arley with the bright light of resurrection.

We are sad today. We are angry today. We are lost and disoriented and uncertain today. We don’t know what to hold onto to today.

But we can hope in the fact that Jesus knew what was in Arley’s heart last Friday and that, though it all, God understood.

And God loved.

God loved and still loves Arley. Nothing Arley was experiencing could separate him from the love of Christ in his life. That love of Christ was able to break all barriers. And it was that love that allowed Arley to come forward into the Light of Christ’s Presence and to be received into that unending joy where he would never feel pain or despair again.

In few moments, we will pray for Arley with these words. We will pray that Arley “may rest from his labors, and enter into the light of God's eternal sabbath rest.”

Those are not light and easy words only meant to comfort us in our pain and sorrow. They are words of truth and life.

Still a little bit later we will pray that Arley will be welcomed “into the courts of God’s heavenly dwelling place.” We will pray that “his heart and soul” may “ ring out in joy” to “the living God, and the God of those who live.”

That is where our hope lies today. What seems like defeat and a moment of darkness and despair is actually a moment of hidden victory. Christ’s love always triumphs and wins out over the forces of darkness. And for Arley, the despair and pain he closed his eyes to on Friday were replaced by the light and joy awakened to moments later, in the Presence of Christ.

So, yes, we feel sadness and pain today. But we also know that the pain and sadness we feel is only temporary. It too will pass from his, as it did for Arley, much as a nightmare passes from us upon awakening.

So, today, in our sadness, let us hold onto that love of Christ. And let us, as we cling to it, know that in it—in that open and loving heart of Jesus—Arley now rests, without pain or suffering, but in perfect unending joy.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary



September 8, 2009

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary—a feast that I have always found to be a beautiful feast. Although not popularly known among non-Anglo Catholic Episcopalians, I have always had a special place in my heart for this “birthday of Our Lady.”

Of course, I am quite devoted to Our Lady. And one of the more interesting devotions I have discovered in recent years is the devotion of Our Lady as the “Bambina” or “Baby Mary.” As overly pious and cutesy as some people might see it, I see this devotion as very beautiful.

For me devotions such as the “Baby Mary" or feasts like the Nativity of Our Lady are poignant reminders of the far ranging effects of the Incarnation. We, on this side of the Incarnation, take for granted, to some extent, the fact that Mary was the door through which the Incarnation came to be. And even in her infancy, even in that state in which she was innocently unaware of what awaited her, she was still chosen.

When we look at the larger plan—when we look at the larger perspective and see that God’s plan for the Incarnation spread not only through the Hebrew scriptures—but through the lives of those who were directly affected by Incarnation, then we can see an celebrate events like the Conception and Nativity of Our Lady as “gateway events.” They are not days to glorify Mary for her own sake. They are days which, in a sense, are doors opening onto the event of the Incarnation. They are path stones leading toward t he glorious event of God’s Presence among us in flesh like our flesh.

And, like the child Mary, who was born today, unaware of the vital and eternal event that was take place in her life—in her very body—we too are also often blissfully unaware that we too are chosen, we too are called, we too are asked to bear within us the Inarnate God and to be that Incarnation to those around us.

That, to me any way, is the beauty of a feast like Our Lady’s Nativity. So, on this day of Mary’s birth, let us rejoice in her presence in our life, because that presence we celebrate was the presence through which The Presence came among us and dwelt with us in the Person of Jesus.

In Honour of Our Lady's Nativity


by St. Anselm of Canterbury



Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin; give me strength against thine enemies, and against the enemy of the whole human race. Give me strength humbly to pray to thee. Give me strength to praise thee in prayer with all my powers, through the merits of thy most sacred nativity, which for the entire Christian world was a birth of joy, the hope and solace of its life.
When thou wast born, O most holy Virgin, then was the world made light.



Happy is thy stock, holy thy root, and blessed thy fruit, for thou alone as a virgin, filled with the Holy Spirit, didst merit to conceive thy God, as a virgin to bear Thy God, as a virgin to bring Him forth, and after His birth to remain a virgin.



Have mercy therefore upon me a sinner, and give me aid, O Lady, so that just as thy nativity, glorious from the seed of Abraham, sprung from the tribe of Juda, illustrious from the stock of David, didst announce joy to the entire world, so may it fill me with true joy and cleanse me from every sin.



Pray for me, O Virgin most prudent, that the gladsome joys of thy most helpful nativity may put a cloak over all my sins.



O holy Mother of God, flowering as the lily, pray to thy sweet Son for me, a wretched sinner. Amen.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

14 Pentecost


September 6, 2009

Isaiah 35.4-7a

“Do not fear,” God tells us through the prophet Isaiah.

You have heard me preach on these words before and, trust me, I will preach on it again and again. Just try to stop me! The reason I preach about it so often is simple: I think these three words are among the most important words we find in Scripture.

Do not fear.

In those long, dark nights when it seems despair prevails, in those cold moments when it seems there is no hope, no possibility of relief from anxiety and frustration, those words speak to us as no others can.

“Do not fear.”

Coming from God, they are not empty words. Coming from God, they are a command. They are a charge for us to stand up and face fear. They are command from God to stand up to fear and conquer it.

Do not fear.

Those are soothing words to most of us, because, let’s face it: we all feel fear at times. We live in scary times. There is still a war going. This Friday marks eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on this country. Those of who remember it well, remember too the fear we felt that day. And it was a true and palpable fear.

And now, eight years later, we are still faced with news of war around us. We ourselves are still surrounded by threats of terrorism and violence. As if terrorism wasn’t enough, we still have to live alongside hatred, anger, bigotry and homophobia and sexism in our world. There is illness, there are setbacks, there is frustration and there is a whole lot of hurt out there in the world and, and not just out there, but right here in our midst as well. As much as we want to think the world is nice and happy and wonderful, it isn’t always.
The world we live in is not always a pretty place. So, most of us are longing to hear God say to us , “Fear not.” We want God to command us to put aside our fears.

The fact is, it’s sounds easier than it actually is. After all, when anyone usually says something like this to us, we shrug our shoulders and roll our eyes and think, “Right. Sure. Easier said than done.”

We can tell ourselves all we want to not fear but the fact is the fear will probably remain. However, it is more than just a matter of saying it. We need to believe it and we need to live out in our lives. Those words—Fear not—need to be the “call words” for us throughout our entire lives. Those are words we need to be reminded of again and again in our lives. No matter how much we claim our own braveness, we do feel real fear. And we’re not the only ones.

Isaiah and the people he was prophesying to in our first scripture reading from today knew a few things about fear. Isaiah’s message for today came in the midst of a message few people wanted to hear. He was in the midst of telling those people that the world they knew and cherished was about to come to an end. Armies were amassing, ready to overtake the lands of Judea and Israel and send its people off into exile. Most people who heard Isaiah, of course, didn’t believe him. How could we—God’s chosen people—be driven out of this land that God led our ancestors to?

As you can imagine, prophets were not always popular people. They were popular when the prophecies foretold good times that were to come. But those prophets of joy and happiness were few and far between. Most of the prophets were prophets because they were the vessels through which God wanted to warn people. More often than not, a prophet was one who had to stand up and say, “unless you repent, punishment will come upon you.”

Let’s face it, none of us would want to hear that—especially from someone who claims that God told them to tell us that. And I’m none of us would want to be in the prophets place either.

Imagine for a moment, having a prophecy of a future disaster that is about to befall an entire nation. Would you seriously want that responsibility? Would you want the responsibility of saying to people, “Listen, if you don’t turn away from your wayward habits, there is going to be some major destruction coming your way.”

These poor prophets were not lucky. Yes, God chose them and spoke to them in a special way. But the words God spoke to them became yokes to them. They became weights on their shoulders. They had many years of toil ahead of them as prophets—struggling under the weight of God’s words in their life. And often the reward many of them received for their toil was exile and occasionally violent deaths.

Isaiah, it is popularly believed, died after being put inside a hollow log and sawed in half for what God compelled him to speak. So, even Isaiah knew the power fear had over people.

But in the face of these stark realities, in the face of the stark reality of the exile that awaited the people of Judah and Israel, God was still able to speak through Isaiah that somehow, despite all the bad things that were about to happen, ultimately, God would prevail. Even in the face of the invasion by foreign armies, God was still able to say to those people with real conviction, “fear not.” This call is not some “pep rally” cry. God isn’t telling them not to fear just so they rally and win the big game.

The “fear not” from Isaiah is a command of real integrity. It is a command of true bravery and real spiritual strength. God is saying to them through Isaiah that, yes, terrible things are about to happen to you, but what is more important than these terrible things?

God is more powerful than anything that can possibly happen to you. So, even in the face of overwhelming defeat you can truly not be a slave to fear.

Fear is crippling. It is a prison. Fear blocks us from carrying out what God calls each of us to do. If fear rules, we cannot live our lives with any sort of fullness. If fear rules, God becomes an afterthought. God loses out to fear if we let fear control our lives.

Certainly, we all must face our hardships in life. Now, maybe violence in not in our futures (I hope it isn’t in any of our futures), but we do all have much to face in our lives before our own journeys are over. We all have much to be afraid of at times. But in those moments, the words of God cut through those uncertain futures like a blinding light.

“Fear not,” God is saying to us still. Nothing you suffer from this time forward will be hidden from your God, who loves you. Nothing you have suffered so far can be hidden from God. God knows what you’ve been through and what you will go through. God is not turning a blind eye to you in the face of these hardships. Why? Because you are valuable.

Just as we hear throughout scripture that we should not fear, we also hear that we are valuable. We are precious in the eyes of God. Each and every one of us is important to God. We are so precious that God came to us as one of us in the person of Jesus. We are so precious that God, who knew we feared—who knew that we are at times crippled by our fears and act violently and ridiculously out of our fear—came to us in Jesus and, in Jesus, showed us that fear, although real, is ultimately temporary.

In a sense, it is an illusion. Fear is somewhat like a nightmare. When we are actually going through the nightmare, it seems so real—so horrible. But when we awake, the nightmare just sort of fizzles in our memories. That is what fear is like. When we are afraid, there is nothing else like it. It dominates our lives. But when we are beyond the fear, we forget in many ways how terrible it was.

In Jesus, God came to us as one of us and in our own words, with a mouth like our mouths, told us “Fear not.”

In Jesus, God came to us as one of us and said to us in our uncertainty those words we long to hear.

“Fear not.”

So, take to heart what God is saying to you in the prophecy of Isaiah and through the words of Jesus and through all of scripture: fear not.
Rather, rejoice in God’s love and presence and know that nothing can separate you from a God who longs to know you and to take your fear from you.



Saturday, September 5, 2009

Prayers for the soul of my cousin, Arley Parsley

I ask your prayers for the soul of my cousin
Arley Parsley
who died very suddenly last night
(Sept. 4, 2009)

I also ask for your prayers for my aunt and uncle
Karen and Cliff Parsley
and their family.

Memorial services are pending.