Friday, December 31, 2010

Lit up

•Christmas Eve 12/24/10 The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor
• Isaiah 65:17-25 Psalm 98 •
• 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 •
• Luke 21:5-19

The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined… For a child has been born to us, a son given to us.

Every Christmas Eve, in every year, I feel the dawning of a wonderful sort of season of innocence, a kind of enchantment not usually celebrated in our society. Fifty years ago CS Lewis said that he felt the deepest need of humanity was for a “re-enchantment” of the species. He certainly did his best to create that, with his wonderful tales of the miraculous.

On my vacation I stayed with friends who have a remarkable 7 year old child. She was making her list up for Santa, in whom she firmly believes, as she also believes in God. But even she has figured out a scientifically sound reason for believing in Santa: “I have a hypothesis about this” she said. Every year she places the cookies and milk in front of the fire place Christmas Eve and every year they are gone in the morning. She reasoned that since her mother never stays awake past 9:00 and her father is lactose intolerant, it just had to be Santa. She has a sunny and grateful attitude that helped support my own seasonal optimism. As I say in the back of the car with her she said, “Its really lucky that I have you back here to talk to. My parents are always sitting together in front and I have nobody here. But then, I am lucky in so many ways.” Back home she wanted to show me every stuffed animal she has, wanted to do summersaults for me, show me how to knit, introduce me to her dog, all her toys, and she said a beautiful grace at supper. She reminded me that Jesus said we have to become like little children before we can enter the kingdom of heaven. She reminded me of what C.S. Lewis insisted was desperately needed fifty years ago, and it seems to me to still be needed today: what he called the “re-enchantment” of our species.

Traveling from Maryland to Washington DC we went from the innocence of that child to the innocence of an old friend of mine who had completely and uncompromisingly kept his pacifist hippie ideals. He had started the Washington Free Press, the Washington Free Clinic, the Washington Free School. He was always working for peace and justice. Since I had seen him, he and his girlfriend of 35 years had adopted 20 foster children. Theirs was not an entirely peaceful kingdom, but they certainly did their best, and their was not a drop of cynicism in the proceedings.

When I think of the innocence of children at Christmas time, I remember the eight Christmases during which I rehearsed children for the annual Christmas pageant at All Souls Church. Every year, a child from 6 to 8 years old would play the part of the angel Gabriel. And every year, the angel would look earnestly into the eyes of the child playing Mary, and say
"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son”

And I would look into their earnest and innocent eyes and realize that they had absolutely no idea exactly what that meant. They had only a child’s instinct for the miraculous, and no special knowledge of the incarnation.

I do not have the blind, accepting, miraculous faith of a child, and so the meaning of the incarnation has developed slowly over the years for me. I stumble on. When I first came back to the church, I approached Jesus (although he was loudly calling out my name) with great caution and suspicion. I was eased back into the fold only because my priest recommended that I read a book by Marcus Borg and felt assured that I could accept Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus, and I had to go no further. I was truly "Meeting Jesus again for the first Time" which is the title of the book.

Borg talked about what the human Jesus — the "Pre-Easter Jesus" must have been like. What extraordinary eyes he must have had, how brilliant his language skills were, how passionately wedded to justice and compassion he was. The book barely deals with what he calls the "Post-Easter Jesus," a term I now find woefully lacking to describe the Risen Christ. But at first this was helpful to me. When faced with the incarnation, with the divinity of Jesus, I just didn’t want to go there. But slowly, I began to perceive a curious image seemingly just out of my peripheral vision whenever I thought of the incarnation. I seemed to see brilliant rays of light emanating from something which refused to come into focus front and center, but nonetheless streamed blazingly just beyond the edges of my field of vision. There was a brilliance I couldn’t understand, and could not even fully see, that I began to know was present, nonetheless.

It finally came to me that I was seeing those wings of light on either side of my peripheral vision because whether or not I knew it, something was embracing me. I began to have some sense of the great and overpowering Newness of the incarnation, as expressed so heart-breakingly in the precious newness of the infant Jesus. And I began to understand that the miracle of God’s presence in Jesus Christ has little meaning (at least for me) if we did not relate it to Christ’s presence in us- in ALL of us. As I searched for a way to understand the incarnation I also searched for a prayer I could say at waking that would bring this great newness into my life every morning.

Upon opening my eyes one anxiety-ridden, guilt-stuffed dawn, I suddenly realized I could simply repeat the words of Paul: "If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Everything old has passed away — behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians)

I finally saw my first flicker of the image of brilliance that had been eluding me, that explosive and irrevocable NEWNESS, blazing right in front of me when I read the words of Father Pierre Tielhard de Chardin:

It is done. Once again the fire has penetrated the earth. Not with the sudden crash of thunderbolt, riving the mountaintops. Does the Master break down doors to enter his own home? Without earthquake or thunderclap the flame has lit up the whole world from within. All things individually and collectively are penetrated and flooded by it, from the inmost core of the tiniest atom to the mighty sweep of the most universal laws of being. (Song to the Earth)

The incarnation- this birth of hope, of light, of innocence and newness in us all- causes us and all things to be lit up from within. It fills us up, embraces us and causes us to be fully alive.

And because the wonder of it is too great to define or comprehend, the best we can do is, like Mary, to behold it, to hold it, and to treasure it in our hearts.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

One Stone Upon Another...

Isaiah 65:17-25 and Isaiah 12
Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Good Shepherd Berkeley and Holy Trinity/La Santisima Trinidad, Richmond: 11/14/10

Yosef Ben Matityahu, was a highly Romanized historian who dumped his Jewish name for the more politically advantageous “Titus Flavius Josephus.” He describes the blinding brilliance of the Jerusalem temple in 75 AD, five years after the temple was destroyed, but obviously long before it faded in his memory:

"The exterior of the building lacked nothing to astound either mind or eye. For, being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays."

Jesus responds to the ooing and ahing of the disciples by pointing out that this temple will be utterly destroyed, not one stone left upon another. And this temple was indeed destroyed in a hideous orgy of violence, by the Romans in 70 AD.
Josephus was present in Jerusalem when the city was captured and the temple was incinerated. You can hear the grief of the Roman-sympathizing Josephus in spite of himself:

"The countryside, like the City, was a pitiful sight; for where once there had been a lovely vista of woods and parks there was nothing but desert and stumps of trees. No one - not even a foreigner - who had seen the Old Judea and the glorious … City, and now set eyes on her present desolation, could have helped sighing and groaning at so terrible a change; for every trace of beauty had been blotted out by war, and nobody who had known it in the past and came upon it suddenly would have recognized the place…"

The temple was meant to imitate the holy with it’s vast solar brilliance. But as we know from other stories in the bible, when humans try to build structures to rival the glory of God, it never ends well.

In great contrast to the magnificent grandeur of this temple, throughout Luke’s gospel we are told of the lowly origins of Jesus, and the devotion with which he cares for the lowly. Jesus had the lowly birth of a homeless child, born, not in a glorious temple, but in a barn, and he will die the lowly death of a criminal. His mentor was the homeless wild man John the Baptist, who wears a mantel of camel skin and survives on what he can scrape together in the wilderness- wild locusts and wild honey.

In his first public declaration, Jesus quotes the words of the social justice loving Isaiah when he says that God has sent him for the poor, the imprisoned, the disabled, the oppressed. He heals those who were most unclean and despised: lepers, the paralyzed, epileptics, a bleeding woman, a girl who was already dead, and the blind, all observed by his apparently blind disciples.

Again and again he speaks with, heals and teaches that despised subset of the population, women, unheard of for a first century Jewish man. He warns that you must not take the seat of honor when invited to a banquet. Jesus particularly speaks against the hording of gold, telling his disciples to store up their treasure in heaven instead.

And the disciples have been with him all this time. So what do they say when they regard the splendor of the vast gleaming temple?

They say something like- “OY! Will you look at that gorgeous hunk of gold-plated real estate!”

But Jesus, ever patient, tries to tell them that, like all wealth, it will tumble, like all things material raised up, it will fall.

Jesus warns that not one stone of the temple will be left on top of another. He knows that this kind of wealth invites violence, that in fact that kind of wealth IS violence, and that violence is soon to come, war and insurrections . The violence and the devastation described by Josephus is the inevitable outcome of those things Jesus railed against over and over again: Power over the poor, hierarchy, greed, hatred.

We are a slow-learning species, and we, as a nation, are, as addictively as ever, worshiping gold and indulging in war, two wars in fact, one at least partially caused by greed, the other by revenge, the opposite of forgiveness. Jesus warns us against false prophets that will come in his name saying “I am he!: And “The time is near!” Jesus warns us not to go after them. We pray that our children do not harken to the call of the false prophets urging them on college and even high school campuses to “Be all that they can be” and help to obliterate modern temples.

Every day we hear about 3,400 other messages from false prophets, according to a film I saw called: Advertising and the End of the World. Every tee shirt you see advertising a name brand, every bill board, every TV or internet commercial, every product placement, every cereal box, every piece of junk mail and every sales man you are accosted by is helping to drive you into the hell of hording, the enchantment of gold, and, as the movie implies, the end of the world through the earth-destroying reality of manufacturing. Each false prophet will urge: “The time is near!”
“This sale ends in two days!”
“Get in on the ground floor of this investment!”
“Enjoy yourself before the economy tanks completely, or before you die, which ever comes first! You deserve it!”

I must confess that the radiant temple at which I worship lately, is my beloved Mac Book Pro, a false prophet I will follow almost anywhere, at almost anytime. My husband asked me what I wanted for my last birthday, and I said I would like a Kindle, an easy way to have a whole library of books at my disposal while I traveled. He immediately said no, He would get me an ipad because that could do the work of a kindle and so much more! Very weakly and for a very short time I protested, and so I now have my Ipad and I no longer worship monotheistically at my Mac book pro. In fact, now that I have a smart phone, there is a kind of unholy trinity of false prophets in my life. This phone is not only inexpressively smarter than I am, but is able to beep and buzz when it wants me to do something, which I pretty much immediately do, except at 3:00 in the morning, which has happened lately. I find that I surf the web with my Ipad (you can do it anywhere!) much more than I read on it, and it is so easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of the world wide web, wherein time slips away, and your life along with it.

But it seems I am not the only one with cyber addictive tendencies to these radiant little temples. I recently heard that the fastest selling application for the Mac is called “Freedom,” and it is simply an application that will make it impossible for an individual to log on to the net for a pre-set number of hours of the day or night. I think I better get that ap, because when I wrote this, staring at my little glowing temple, it was 10:09PM and I hadn’t yet said hello to my daughter, who got home at 4:30. I sometimes think that if this cyber-temple of mine is not destroyed, it will destroy me, that one stone of me will be left upon another.

We risk our very souls when we don’t consciously walk away from all false prophets, electronic and otherwise, when we don’t question the powers and principalities that Jesus warned us about.

But Jesus, of course, preaches a different kind of prophesy, radiates a different kind of brilliance. Jesus is seen, shining like the sun, unsheltered by any temple, surrounded by those who loved him and whom he loved, in the story of the transfiguration, not long after our story of today.

God is not shining in this story, but is hidden behind a cloud, beseeching the ever-clueless disciples to listen to the “Beloved son.” And Jesus, glowing brighter than any gold, seems to have already replaced the blinding temple, by radiating love. He is flanked by his beloved OT prophets, Moses, who taught him about the love of the sacred, and Elijah who taught him about the still small voice of God. At Jesus’ feet are the disciples who he loved so much, in spite of everything they did. Peter, so typically, pops up in the midst of all this brilliance and wants to construct a few little temples of his own- but the voice from the cloud silences him. The vast structure, the brilliant temple, the awe-inspiring edifice that Jesus the new creation gives to us is the miracle of unconditional love. And any rich person can tell you that no amount of gold, no quantity of gigabytes can buy that.

But, as Jesus says, if we can endure this culture, that makes a God out of gold, that makes a sacrament out of war, if we can open the door of our own small temple to the possibility of love without counting the cost, we may just see the new Jerusalem in our lives, a new heaven and a new earth, right here and now. And we may even be able to re-gain our true souls.


Beyond Betrayal

Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32:1-7, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Luke 19:1-10
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Berkeley, CA Sunday, 10/31/10
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

Beyond Betrayal

In today’s Gospel is the last encounter Jesus has with an outcast before his entry into Jerusalem, and his crucifixion.

Jesus has been seen to help many other kinds of dispised and unclean outcasts in this Gospel- a man possessed by a demon, a hemoraging woman, a man who had dropsy, a who is bend double with her disease, ten lepers and finally, the blind man.

The old prophets continually preached though the scriptures that a righteous Jew should help the poor and powerless, even those who were aliens. In our Old Testament reading we hear “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” But these dictates did not include the ritually unclean, such as the ones I just listed. And Zaccheaus, as a traitor working for the Romans, certainly was among the dispised unclean.

To accept someone like Zacchaeus, to have table fellowship with him was really extraordinary, in fact, inflammatory in Jesus time and place. Zaccheaus status among the Jews would have been a few rungs lower than lepers and the hemoraging woman.

The Tax collectors of the Jesus’ time, had nothing in common with the IRS agents of today. We might feel some level of unease with an IRS agent, but we know they are just doing their job. But the tax collectors described in the New Testament were uniquely dispised as true traitors, true betrayers of their people.

The Greek term teloni, in this case describes an entrepreneur who would pay a contract in advance, and then extort as much money over and above the required Roman tax as he could, for his own personal gain.

Under the rule of Herod Antipas, in the time of Jesus, there were personal, or poll taxes, land taxes, and a host of indirect taxes, such as the tax on transporting goods. Then there were the religious taxes, as well. And on top of that there was whatever the individual teloni could extort. The people were so desperately stretched and impovershed by all this taxation and extortion, that their desperation led to violent uprisings agains the Romans authorities.

So in finding a contemporary equivalent of Zacchaeus, one would not compare him to an IRS agent, but rather to one of a multitude of Bernie Madoffs, who would think nothing of backrupting elderly people and families and driving them out of their homes, just to further increase their already obscene wealth.

But Jesus, ignoring purity codes and ancient predjudices as usual, was willing to love beyond betrayal. And he was oblivious to what people would think of this acceptance of a betrayer of the Jews. Think of the political fallout if President Obama was seen having an elegant dinner over at Bernie’s Madoff’s opulent abode, pre-incarceration of course. But although the crowd around Jesus grumbled bitterly that he was associating with a sinner, Jesus didn’t care.

Jesus also may have sensed the betrayers to come, whom he also greeted with love. He not only accepted Judas’ kiss, but during the last supper, according to the Gospel of John, he gave Judas communion, handing him a piece of bread dipped in wine- forgiving him before he even committed the betrayal. Jesus may have been demonstrating to the beloved disciple by his side, not only who would betray him, but how one ought to respond to a betrayer- offer him the sacrament of forgiveness.

In his wonderful book, Works of Love, Sooren Kiekegaard speaks of the moment after Peter denyed knowing Jesus for the third time. Immediately after the third betrayal, the cock crows, and Jesus turns and looks at Peter, (Lk 22:60-61a). Then Peter leaves him, weeping bitterly. Kierkegaard, extrapolates for sometime on his conviction that the look that send Peter away weeping was simply a look of the purest love and forgiveness.

Then as a further act of compassion, Jesus later allowed Peter to ritually undo his betrayal, when Jesus asked him three time, “Do you love me, Simon Peter?”

Jesus loves through all the betrayals- the betrayal of Judas, the betrayal of Peter, and finally, as he desperately perceives it, the betrayal of God. He repeats the anguished words of the psalmist, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And so Jesus knows how to love beyond the betrayals of the tax collecting Zaccheaus.

And Zaccheaus, in our story of today, miraculusly becomes as a child again, thus beginning his ownership of the Kingdom of Heaven. Given that he was short of stature, he already had a head start, and so he discarded his dignity to run ahead and climb a tree, something any child would have delighted in doing.

And miraculously, Zaccheaus, when he sees Jesus not only looking at him with love, but inviting himself to the tax collector’s house, is able to accept the love, and to be transformed by it. He immediately offers to give away half of everything he owns, and pledges to pay back four-fold, those people he had defrauded. Therefore Jesus announces that salvation has come to the house of Zaccheaus, and that he, this dispised betrayer, is a son of Abraham, a just and faithful Jew. His betrayals are forgotten, and Jesus enacts the forgiveness we heard in our reading from Isaiah “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
This is the happiest ending in a story involving a rich man in the Gospel of Luke. Early in the gospel, it is made clear to whom the Kingdom of God belongs, and it is not to the rich. And in the “woe to you” section, of the beatitudes Jesus tells us “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” A little later, he calls the rich farmer a fool, and demands his soul of him. The sumptuously feasting rich man dressed in purple and fine linen, goes to Hades while the poor man Lazarus rests in the bosom of Abraham. Finally, not long before our gospel of today, Jesus meets a rich young man, who asks him what it takes to earn eternal life. Although Jesus looks at him with love, he tells him that to earn eternal life, he must give away all of his possesions. The rich young man, unlike Zaccheaus, turns and walks away sad.
Jesus then delivers his famous one-liner about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus looked at Zaccheaus, at Peter, at Judas, as he looks at all of us. He sees not a betrayer, but a lost sheep, a broken heart, a lost soul. All of us are broken, all of us are lost at some time in our lives. And perhaps we have the guilt of a traitor. We may have betrayed a child, a loved one, a friend, a master, as Peter did, we may have felt that we betrayed God, and we may have betrayed ourselves. But in our own lives, it is exactly in the guilt of betrayal, exactly in the brokenness of our hearts, the brokenness of our lives, that we meet Jesus. Not in our perfection, not in our riches, not in our perfectly appropriate life styles and professions. Luckily, Jesus came to save the lost, as he says at the end of our Gospel reading. He comes to save us when we need him the very most, wounded by judgements of who we are, judged as a sinner, a betrayer, an abomination before God. Judeged, perhaps most brutally, by ourselves.

This last outcast Jesus heals is a most unlikely convert, a rich man who transforms into someone who could, indeed enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Now, in our story, as we are almost entering Jerusalem, the previous reality is turned upside down. We are approaching the time when Jesus, with his death, shatters the old world order. With the great force of Jesus’ resurrection, a new world, blessed by the Reign of God is opened for us. And here the broken-hearted, the lost, the hopeless, rich and poor alike can and will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, can and will invite Jesus to stay with them, can and will be not lost, but found.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Written on Our Hearts

A reflection on Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 119:97-104 • Luke 18:1-8
Good Shepherd, Berkeley/Holy Trinity/La Santisima Trinidad, Richmond

When I was about 10 years old I had a best friend named Gregory. We lived in the same small apartment building in the outskirts of Silver Spring, Maryland. I lived on the top floor, apt 303 and he lived on the bottom floor, apt 101. I liked Gregory so much because he was not like other boys. He loved to gossip with me and he was very interested in things like clothes and movie stars and junk food and books- all the things I most loved in life.

We would hike together through a little patch of woods to the five and dime and buy comic books, and finish off our afternoon if we could scrape 35 cents together, with an ice cream soda.

One of the many things we had in common was that we both had brilliant, withdrawn older brothers in their teens- creatures who seemed to be above our realm of existence all together. His brother was not just handsome- it has to be said that he was pretty- in fact, he was beautiful. I did not know him well, but sometimes he condescended to spend a little time with us. My girl friends all thought he was dreamy.

One day something indescribably horrible happened. Gregory’s older brother was found hanging from a rope in their apartment. He hung himself the day after he had been walking partway home from school with us as we chatted to each other, and he was as remote as ever.

My father told me that he did it because people said that he was a homosexual.
Even at 10 years old, I knew what that meant, and somehow I knew that that would have been a reason for doing this awful thing. The death of this young boy send shock waves through our small apartment building and all through our community. But no one talked about it. No one said a word.

The next time I saw Gregory, we, of course did not mention what happened. Gregory had had a bit of a stutter, and it became much worse. He had been a little chubby, but now I could see that he was resorting to comfort food in a big way, and not with me anymore. I am sad to say that our relationship seemed to stifle and die in that new silence. What happened to him was too enormous for me to carry with him, and he had to carry it by himself. He moved away with his family not long afterwards, and we never heard from them again.

I was reminded of Gregory and his poor brother as heard about case after case of similar suicides of young gay men- boys really, that took place during September of this year.

All of these boys died because they were, or were thought to be, gay, and had been ceaselessly bullied and harassed, until they took their own lives in despair.

Thirteen year old Asher Brown, of Houston Texas, shot himself after a year and a half of torment, with bullies taunting him about his religious beliefs, his height and of course, his apparent sexual orientation. His mother said that she had continually begged the school to do something, with no results.

Thirteen year old Seth Walsh from Tehachapi, California. hung himself after several years of harassment due to his apparent orientation. A picture shows a sweet, mischievous looking brown-eyed boy, with a lot of life and light in his eyes.

Billy Lucas was a fifteen year old, from Greensboro, Indiana. His parents found his body in his family’s barn. He had been harassed at school for months because of his sexual orientation, and he apparently couldn’t stand it anymore.

Eighteen year old Tyler Clementi, of Rutgers University, a brilliant young violinist jumped off the George Washington bridge after being outed live on the internet by his remarkably vicious roommate.

And 19 year old Raymond Chase, a gay sophomore at Johnson & Wales University in Providence Rhode Island, also hung himself, just like my friend Gregory’s brother. His mother said that he had seemed very happy, but obviously there was a different story.

As religious people, we must feel the full force of these tragedies, because the acts of bullying, and the horrific results, have been supported, have perhaps even been created, by “religious” people and institutions.

I believe we have to do whatever we can to counteract these horrible messages. As Christians, as people following the word of someone of limitless compassion, limitless inclusivity and limitless love, we have to make sure our embrace is wide enough to make a difference to all marginalized people, including and especially the incredibly vulnerable and suffering population of LBGT children and youth.

Bishop Gene Robinson put a video out after several of the tragedies of the past month, addressed to those despairing children who are still suffering. He said in the video, “Maybe you are in a very dark place now because people are telling you, religious people are telling you that you are an abomination against God. Maybe you have been told that you are intrinsically disordered, or that your life is a sin, or that God does not accept you as you are.

He went on to say that he, as a Bishop, as a religious leader, wanted to tell them just the opposite. That God wants them to be just who they are- just who God made them to be. That God loves them, as he loves all of us- more than we could possibly imagine. He said that God loves us all beyond our wildest imagination.

There are many ways in which religious establishments have created an atmosphere that could produce the violence that these boys have suffered. Misquoting the bible, misquoting Jesus, supporting hierarchical, patriarchal structures, naming homosexuality as a sin. But there is one sin that Bishop Robinson did not mention. One that we must not fall into. That is the sin of silence. Silence as complete as the silence my childhood community fell into after the death of that neighbor boy. Silence as complete as the silence I fell into with my shell-shocked friend.

I believe silence is almost as grave a sin as the complicity and promotion of the horrific messages of hate that the clueless bullies have been using like lethal weapons.

We can’t live in a silence like that. We must, like the widow in our Gospel story who over and over again goes to the judge to demand justice, make our voices heard, over and over again. We must, as Jesus tells us, pray continually and not lose heart.

Our Old Testament reading also speaks of hope for us in this time of mourning.

It speaks of an image of humankind that is so complete, so whole, so realized that it is almost heart-breaking. It speaks of a time when we will all have God’s word in our hearts. When we will no longer have to struggle to learn the law. We will no longer have to struggle to avoid sin.

“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” This is a beautiful prophesy. That the compassion, the justice and the love taught by the prophets and lived out to the fullest in the life of Jesus might live inside of us forever- might be written in our hearts. And that we will be forgiven our sins. Even the sin of silence.

I hope we never stop fighting for the justice we seek. I hope and pray that we will redouble our efforts to send out a message of inclusivity and love to all people, especially those vulnerable children and youth who are in such real danger. Let us make this church a welcome house of refuge.
Asher, Tyler, Billy, Seth, Raymond, let this be our memorial to you. And let the way you changed our lives be your resurrection.

St. Francis in the Buff

St. Francis in the Buff
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor, 10/2/10
Good Shepherd, Berkeley

My very first course at Seminary at the Franciscan school, was The Early documents of St. Franacis of Assisi. The professor told us with some exictement, that we would be reading some texts that had been suppressed for 800 years, because they reveaked the less than saintly side of St. Francis.

This encouraged me very much, because I had always felt greatly inferior to the vast generosity and spiriuality of St. Francis. I struggled with an addiction to things and to nice jackets and coats in particular, from which I am recovering one jacket at a time. I knew that Francis only wore brown burlap robes, with a coarse rope for a belt. But in this course I learned that Francis in his youth was actually quite a dandy.

One of his followers, Thomas of Celano, wrote an early life of Francis in 1229:

“Francis miserably wasted and squandered his time, almost up to his 25th year. Maliciously advancing beyond all his peers in vanities, he proved himself a more excessive inciter of evil and a zealous imitator of foolishness… in his flamboyanrt display of vain accomplishments, wit, curiosity, practical jokes and foolish talk, songs and flowing garments.”

He “was still boiling in the sins of youthful heat” when an illness fell upon him, which lasted a long but unspecified length of time.

When he finally began to recover, Francis found to his surprise that the worldly things that had so enraptured him before brought him no pleasure whatsoever. So he decided that if his life as a dandy no longer gave him pleasure, that he would go to war and be a great and famous warrier. But in the night he had a horrible dream, that his whole room was filled with the instruments of war, swords and shields, saddles and spears. He refused to go to war, and withdrew to the countryside, where he had a long dark night of the soul, hiding out in caves and desperately praying for God’s guidance. After a long struggle, he had a powerful and transformative experience of God, and he went to sell everything he owned, and not incidentally, some things actualy owned by his father, a wealthy merchant of fine fabrics.

He gave it all away to a poor priest he met on his travels, who was living in the ruined church of San Damiano. Francis begged the priest to let him stay there, and the priest reluctantly agreed.

Francis’ father began searching for his son, and finally found him living a life of happy poverty with the old priest. His father prompty dragged Francis before the bishop, claiming that Francis had stolen a large quantity of precious fabric from him, which was actually true. He screamed at the bishop to remove all rights of inheritance from Francis, and to force him to return to his father all he had. Francis did just that with great glee. He pulled off every stich of clothing he had, not yet the brown robe, but the expremely begragged garb of a nobleman, until he was standing stark naked in front of the bishop and his astounded father. The bishop, perceiving him to be a holyman, at once took off his own ornate robes and put them on Francis. Thereafter he was his friend and protector.

One day in church Francis heard these familiar dictates from the Gospel of Matthew: that the disciples should not “possess silver of gold or money, or carry on their journey a wallet or a sack, not bread nor a staff, nor have shoes nor two tunics but that they should only preach the Kingdom of God.

Francis, according to Thomas of Celano, burst out in ecstacy “This is what I want, this is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart.”

Then Francis had his famous brown robes made, gave away his staff, and exchanged his leather belt for a rope. He then began gathering his brothers, and building his humble order of servants.

But although Francis truly and loving embraced Lady Poverty, as he called her, he never really lost his taste for fine things. It seems that our Francis had a taste for cooked chicken, and every once in a while he would manage to sneak some into his cell and, with great delight, eat it. But then his guilt would torture him so that he would beg one of his brothers to help him atone for his sin.

“He commanded the brother to tie a cord around his neck and drag him through the whole city, a though he were a theif, loudly crying out, “Look! See this glutton who grew fat on the flesh of chickens without your knowledge!”

Francis lived a beautiful life of giving, reaching out and ministering to lepers, anyone in need, and famously, even the birds of the air, those animals that creep upon the earth, and even the lowly earthworm.

And after a lifetime of poverty, of denying himself, of radical giving, Francis on his deathbed wanted three things: he wanted almond cookies, he wanted a satin pillow for his head, and he wanted the company of Lady Jacobi, a female devotee about whom very little has survived the sensorship of the papal decrees. But she, the cookies and the satin pillow were all there when Francis finally passed into paradise.

I take comfort in hearing these less than saintly things about Francis. Maybe he was no more a real saint that any of us, but he certainly did his best. He was only human, but he paid attention to his calling as a Christian, he read the fine print of the gosples.

There is one biblical text that I never connected with St. Fancis until I heard my daughter’s interpretation: The rich young man comes and asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus says to keep the commandments and the young man says that he has always kept them, since his youth. Jesus looks at him with love, (the guy is probably 19) and says, “One thing more- sell what you own and give the money to the poor. Then come and follow me.” The text goes on to say that the young man went away grieving, for he had many possessions

My daughter, had a good midrash for this story. She thought it was obvious that the young man went away sad, gave his possessions away, became joyful and came back to follow Jesus! Like Francis, he went through a transformation.

I believe that Jesus gives us all a forge for our transformation, which is our faith, which is our existence as the bodly of Christ. It is our own personal miracle- praying as Francis did, to hear God’s call and then acting on the answer to the question: What is God calling me to do?


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dying in the Promise Land

Reflections on Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Luke 16:1-13
Holy Trinity/La Santisima Trinidad/ Good Shepherd, Berkeley

Some people think that every word of God is contained in the holy scriptures, and that all that is necessary for salvation is there. But some people think that the Gospel is on-going, that God is still speaking. and that is what I think.

In this past week I have heard the Gospel is an unlikely place, it seems to me, in the sweltering inferno of Arizona.

For three days we sweated it out at the very first official meeting of the Coalition of Episcopal Latinos. I heard God’s familiar call to justice and compassion from many passionate, committed and brilliant individuals. I heard many beautiful dreams and visions, as well as some on-going nightmares.

Early in the conference we were shown a list of the people who had died in the desert each year for the past ten years while trying to cross the Mexican border. In 2001 there were 77 deaths. In 2004 there were 219 deaths. In 2007 there were 250 deaths. And so far this year there have been 186 deaths, that is counting only up to August 18. Then we were given innocent-looking pieces of paper that were in fact, small stealth bombs set to explode our complacency.

On these pieces of paper were the names and vital statistics of those who had died, and ten of us were asked to say a spontaneous prayer each of these people.

There was Maria Julietta Lorenzo-Garcia. age 23. home town, Tulancingo, Hidalgo, Mexico. She was found on July 9, 2010, in the desert county of Pima. The cause of death was hypothermia. This young woman died alone of the cold, out in the unsheltered wilderness. God only knows what conditions she fled to take such a risk. There was Fidel Vargas Parra, age 17, hometown unknown. Cause of death: Hypothermia. He died alone of the cold near Pisinemo Village, and was found on July 11, 2010 also in the county of Pima.

Then there were the many who were found who were never identified, but we prayed for each of them as well. There was someone, an unidentified male, age unknown, hometown unknown, cause of death unknown, who was found on July, 11, 2010 , on a lonely stretch of North Mesquite Oasis Road in the desert county of Pima. There was another body found, and not only the name and all other circumstances were unknown, but even the sex was undetermined, which made me wonder how long the body had been out there, or what had been done to this person. The body was found on a wild, remote part of the desert, there was no road or town anywhere near where this person was found, only the longitude and latitude were listed, and the fact that he or she was found on July 12, 2010 in Pima County. All of these people had actually made it across the border, but the area was so brutal, so unsheltered and freezing at night, that they died even as their dream was realized.

The prayers for these seekers were beautiful heartfelt and tearful. One intercessor said that although we did not know the name or the face of the person he was praying for, that God knew his face and god knew his name, and for God he was not unidentified.

The words of Jeremiah come to me when I hear these stories:

My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health
of my poor people not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!

But even with the consciousness of all these recent tragedies, there was so much hope and strength and beauty present as well in that amazing gathering.

We were in Arizona, and so of course the brutal law that has been passed there, SB 1070 up was on everyone's hearts and minds. This law was put into effect on April 23 of this year. It allows police officers to stop and interrogate residents of the state of Arizona for no reason other than the fact that they appear to be Latino, and might possibly be illegal. The language of the law is so open to interpretation that abuses are very common. Among many other things, the bill also forbids churches from providing sanctuary, and makes illegal the soliciting of work, or the hiring of day laborers.

A woman came to the conference to speak to us, and she brought her whole family, her mother, her husband, her father, her brother, her baby and 4 year old daughter. she told the story of how they all held vigil for 103 days, even the baby. This was to bear witness to those many individuals and families who would be harmed by this brutal bill, and to pray together that the law would be reversed.

On April 15 SB 1070 was passed by te Arizona house, and on the same day a series of raids took place in Phoenix, Tucson, Rio Rico and Nogales, and in the Mexican city of Nogales, Sonora. The raids targeted people traveling on shuttle services, but whole neighborhoods were affected, with traffic brought to a virtual standstill while agents occupied the cities in their biggest operation in the seven-year history of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). Scores of people were arrested and fifty vehicles were confiscated. The effects of the law were immediate and devastating to the community. School children were afraid to leave the house to go to school, And their parents were afraid to go to work. Adults going to school were afraid to go to their classes. And of course families were devastated by the loss of their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. Seeing all this, the woman who came to speak was moved to volunteer with Promise Arizona, and organization created to fight SB 1070. These are her words:

When that bill was made law my whole world collapsed. Because I knew we were going to be persecuted I was afraid when I saw a cop and I would change my route and run away. Many people lived with that fear by the time I heard of the vigil which was at the state capital.

I decided to join Promisa Arizona as a volunteer. I knew no one in the organization, but I approached the group to hear what they were doing and I heard about the vigil. I said are you going to stay here and sleep? They said yes, so I brought from home my own blankets and one day when the press was going to come we told the people we would vigil for 90 days. During that time there was joy, crying, fighting and many said to us, how can you endure so long? But for me the endurance came from seeing the people when they came, and I said to them, have faith, pray with us do not go away. We saw the sad faces of the children saying I do not want to go away- 15 and 16yr old kids, they have been here all their all their lives they lived here and they had to go back. That gave us strength to keep on. Day after day people brought us food- every day a different group would come. And this baby was there all the time- 6 months when we started- there were many babies there but this baby we called the baby of the vigil.

The other thing gave us strength was other people came from other states to support us and I thought if they leave everything to support us how can we not support our selves? The promise we made continues. we said we would be there for 90 days we were there for 103 days and we are still holding vigil, we continue to work. We learned that it doesn't matter if we are immigrants or not we have rights. For those who are already established here is very easy to forget those who are left behind, but this vigil helped change minds. People came and said vulgar things to us sometimes. We were depressed and said how can we go on? But others would support us and give us the strength to go on. What is important is not for us but for the next generation so that they will suffer from the color of their skin. I didn’t know if I would survive for 103 days, but I did survive, because God provided. And what I learned was that God gives you what you need.

We are, many of us, Americans, and I hope, proud to be American. We grew up listening to the legend on the base of the statue of liberty, give me your tired your poor. I pray that this legend does not become a myth. And for our congregation, we have a special place in this on-going struggle. Jesus has answered the question he was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” We have many neighbors we see each time we come to this church, who have made this neighborhood a much safer place, with their eyes on the street, with their constant presence. These are our Guatemalan day laborer brothers who have endured twice the hardships of a brutal border crossing- from Guatemala into Mexico, and then from Mexico into this country. And here in the promised land they were attacked by a driver who threw a home-made bomb at them right in front of our church earlier this year. They were attacked because they were standing and waiting for work, while wearing brown skin. They are our neighbors indeed. Talk to them. Come on Fridays and feast with them at our day laborer lunches. And listen to their stories.

Perhaps it is true that we cannot serve God and wealth at the same time. We cannot worship our lifestyle, our comfort and our security, and let injustice continue. The borders rights activists in Arizona were quoted as saying that “Tuscon today is the moral equivalent of Birmingham Alabama in 1961.” The civil rights abuses that are happening down in Arizona as we speak are very much very like those of the Jim Crow south of the sixties. Families are being torn apart, and lives are being destroyed.

God spoke to me this week in Arizona. God spoke to me through the name of Maria Julietta Lorenzo-Garcia, in the God spoke to me in the name of Fidel Vargas Parra, in the name of Omar Velazquez Luna, and in all the no-names of names of the unidentified who died in the wilderness, who died in the promised land. God spoke to me through the incredible courage of Petra Falcon of Promisa America and all the families who held vigil, often on their knees, for 103 days. They are still holding vigil.

God is speaking, and if you hear the question, “Who shall I send? And who will go for us?” you can find the answer to that question in the bible.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Place at the Table

Reflections on
Heb 13:1-8, 15-16, and Lk 14:1, 7-14
Holy Trinity/La Santisima Trinidad/ Good Shepherd, Berkeley
August 29, 2010

Our readings today speak of the forsaking of God, of the necessity to continue in mutual love, and the urging by Jesus that we not take the place of honor at the table. Yesterday was a date that resonates for me with all these things.

Yesterday was August 28. This date is the anniversary of three seminal events; one tragic, the second filled with hope, and the third an apparent fulfillment of that hope.

The first of these three anniversaries is the incident that kicked off the modern civil rights movement: the murder of Emmet Louis Till, a fourteen-year-old boy who was tortured and murdered on August 28, 1955 in Money, Mississippi, when he allegedly whistled at a white woman. I saw a picture of Emmet Till’s face. He was a beautiful boy, his up-turned face filled with hope, with confidence, with humor. But that is not the face the world saw. His distraught mother made the decision to have an open casket at the funeral, so that, as she said, everyone “could see what they did to my baby.” The horror of that day was not only shared with the many mourners who came to pay their respects, but also, through photographs of the open coffin, the horror was shared with the whole world. Adding to the universal fury was that his two murderers were acquitted on the very day of the funeral, after the all-white jury deliberated for 67 minutes. One juror was quoted as saying that it wouldn’t have taken so long if they had not taken a break for soda pop. The murder of Emmet Till resonated through history, and set the struggle for human rights on fire. After so many horrors had been dismissed or hidden, this was the catalyst for the events that led to the next indelible anniversary of August 28: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Whereas fifty thousand people had stood in line in the sweltering Chicago streets to pay tribute to Emmet Till, at the March on Washington. exactly 8 years later, two hundred and fifty thousand people marched for the rights that Emmet would never have the chance to enjoy.

When the March on Washington took place, I was about the age of Emmet Till when he died. And since I lived in Silver Spring Maryland, very close to Washington DC, I wanted to go. I wanted to march. My family belonged to St. Michael and All Angels Church in Adelphi Maryland, and we considered ourselves to be pretty radical. We had mimes performing during the liturgy, we had the blues guitarist John Fahey providing music, we had a committee for civil rights, and when I was 12, I started going on demonstrations with my mother. Fahey later wrote and recorded a song, March! For Martin Luther King! although, unlike my mother, he didn’t have the courage to actually march. Before the March on Washington, protesting in large numbers for civil rights was synonymous with getting your head bashed in, getting dogs sicked on you, or if you were lucky, just getting water hoses trained in your direction, and very likely going to jail. It was a real risk to go on the March on Washington.

Medgar Evers had been the Field Secretary for the NAACP, and had been among those who had searched for Emmet Till. He was also among those devastated when the body was found. Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his home in Mississippi on June 12, 1963. After his funeral, where 5,000 people came to pay homage to him, a smaller number of mourners hit the street singing and moving toward the main street of the city. The police stopped them with billy clubs and dogs. The mourners responded by throwing bricks, bottles and rocks. This was the atmosphere at the time of the march on Washington.
So my mother forbade me to go. But I remember the day very well, because I was at home, filled with mixed feelings of guilty relief, because I was afraid the march might turn violent, fear for my mother, and regret that I didn’t go. So my mom got to go to the march, and hear Martin Luther King, Jr. give his famous speech, and all I got was this lousy bulletin from the march. But from the bulletin, I know that the program began with Marian Anderson singing the National Anthem on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The last time she sang there was on Easter Sunday 1939, after being barred from singing in Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, because she was black. So with the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, she had her open air concert, with the great statue of Abraham Lincoln looking on in approval, while 75,000 people attended and millions listened on their radios.
I know from the bulletin that Mrs. Medgar Evers, two and a half months after the murder of her husband, led a tribute to “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” that included Rosa Parks. And number 16 on the list of speakers, simply listed under “remarks” was The Rev. Martin Luther King, Junior. Inside the bulletin was a special plea by the organizers that showed that they feared violence as well:
“We, the undersigned, who see the Washington March as wrapping up the dreams, hopes, ambitions tears and prayers of millions who have lived for this day, call upon the members, followers and well-wishers of our several organizations to make the march a disciplined and purposeful demonstration. We call upon them, black and white, to resist provocations to disorder and violence… We call for self-discipline, so that no one in our own ranks, however enthusiastic, shall be the spark for disorder.
Under another section entitled “What We Demand” were such outrageous requests as: Comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation to guarantee to all Americans: Decent housing Adequate and integrated education The right to vote Meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.
We may feel that the reign of Jim Crow is long over. But quite aside from the victims of the on-going economic crisis, those who have lost their homes, their jobs and their dignity, there is a whole class of people whose rights, those hard-won rights demanded at the March on Washington, are being systematically stripped away.
I recently read that as many as 1 in every 9 young black American men is now incarcerated. The vast majority of these are for nonviolent crimes, mostly drug-related. The percentage of black men in prison is even more incredible when you read the stats that young white men are just as likely to be involved in this kind of non-violent crime. And once one is incarcerated, every right that we take for granted as Americans, is lost. I heard this trend described recently as the new reign of Jim Crow- even the right to vote can be rescinded. Employment is made incredibly difficult, even public housing is out of bounds.
Paul entreats us, in his letter to the Hebrews, to “remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them.” It is also those who have served their time and find themselves permanently on the bottom of a brutal caste system who need us to remember them.
Paul also urges us to “remember those who are being tortured, as though we ourselves were being tortured.” We can honor Emmet Louis Till, by remembering that he was tortured and killed solely because he was a young black man.
We have continually taken the place of honor at the table. We have enjoyed incredible freedoms, privileges, rights. The right to vote, the right to live in a decent place, the right to a good education, and for some of us, the right to marry. Paul also urges us to “let marriage be held in honor by all” and how better to honor it than to make sure this human right is shared with everyone.
Paul urges also us to “continue in mutual love,” and if he is following the teachings of Jesus, that means love for everyone, even the stranger, even the outcast, even the lowly.
Martin Luther King wrote, poignantly from the Birmingham jail:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride for freedom is not the… Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…
King wanted us all to remember that none of us are free until everyone is free.
But there is, in all this seemingly endless, seemingly hopeless struggle, a ray of hope, an almost painfully promising ray of hope. The third anniversary.

On August 28, 2008, Barack Obama accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party for the office of President of the United States. Ninety thousand ecstatic people watched his acceptance speech in a Denver auditorium, and through the media, the whole world was watching. A place of honor had been granted to a person from the struggling class, from an enslaved people. Now those troubled young black men whose previous career options had been life in prison or gang membership, had another option: They might become the president of the United States. It seemed to be so tangibly the answer to Dr. King’s dream, to the great promise he held.

We need to continue to dream. Because dreams, like prayers, can move mountains. Can profoundly change hearts. Perhaps Paul was dreaming when he asked so much of us, but it is a beautiful dream: Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have. And do not neglect to show hospitality to those not of your tribe, for by doing that some have entertained angels without even knowing it.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Reflections on Luke 12:49-56
Holy Trinity/La Santisima Trinidad/ Good Shepherd, Berkeley
August 15, 2010

Well, what happened to “Do not worry about your life?” What happened to the lilies of the field? What happened to “Do not be afraid, little flock?” Jesus, in this stunning passage, seems to be saying “Be afraid, be very afraid!”

In trying to tease out the meaning of this passage, we find many references to sayings in the Old and New Testaments, some that confirm the old prophesies, some that turn them on their heads. In his promise of fire upon the earth, Jesus seems to be confirming the proclamation of John in the beginning of the gospel, that Jesus will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” And calling down fire on the heads of opponents is a time-honored tradition, done several times in the Old Testament, by Elijah in Kings I and II against the prophets of the pagan god, Baal and a few other unfortunates. It was such a familiar act that James and John helpfully offered to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume” the Samaritans who refused to receive Jesus in their village, earlier in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 9:54). Jesus refers to his own coming baptism, but it is nothing like his gentle experience with the water and the dove. Rather it is his own baptism of fire, his crucifixion and death that he is dreading, that is causing him, in this understated modern translation, such “stress.” And poignantly, the bright predictions of the peace that Jesus will bring are flatly contradicted. In the song of Zechariah, the Prophet of the most High is sent to “guide our feet into the way of peace.” And of course, once he is born, the angels sing, “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”

The source for the awful division of family unity and love seems to be in the Book of Micah, which reads:
Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one;
Guard the doors of your mouth
from her who lies in your embrace.
For the son treats the father with contempt,
The daughter rises up against her mother
The daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
Your enemies are members of your own household. (Mic. 7:5-6)

Since Jesus chose to quote this horrendous passage, it kind of makes you wonder what his own family life might have been like.

But there is a more reassuring passage from the book of Malachi, although it begins as harshly as any fire and brimstone in the Old Testament:

See the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evil-doers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. (Mal. 4:1)

But then a few verses later we have:

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah. …he will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents…(Mal 4:5-6)

Well, anyone who has had difficult and even fiery relations with a parent (perhaps as even Jesus did) or with a child, knows that sometimes the fire is necessary before the reconciliation is possible. I have experienced that in my own life with both of my parents, but a friend of mine just told me a story of fire and reconciliation that goes beyond anything I have ever experienced.

The story began with an urgent call from my friend. She was begging me to pray for her son, who was in the emergency room after a massive stroke. He was 40 years old. She had had a difficult relationship with him for a long time. When they communicated he was hostile and secretive, arrogant, and he surely treated his mother with contempt. This had been the case for many, many years, and eventually she gave up hoping for a reconciliation. Then he had this sudden massive stroke, and suddenly she was by his bedside every day, begging everyone she knew to pray for the life of her son.

In the emergency room he was comatose and bristling with tubes. After some days, the doctors told her to summon all the family who needed to travel. They said that her son would surely die. My friend called someone she knew of, a non-traditional healer, since Western medicine seemed to have given up on her son. The healer told her to place her hand on the heart of her unconscious son and say the following. ”Someone broke your heart. Your heart is broken, but now you can begin to heal.” She did this for days, literally reaching out through the fire for healing and reconciliation. As she continued to pray, she was aware that she was violating one of her own rules of prayer- that she pray only for God’s will and the power to carry it out. But she could not bear to pray for anything but the survival of her son. For days in the hospital he seemed to be slowly fading and she kept up her fervent prayers along with the mantra the healer had taught her. Then, she was visited by a woman who had lost a baby. The woman described seeing her beloved infant covered with tubes, in apparent pain, and unable to come home, to be held, or to have any kind of a normal life. The woman told my friend that she finally let go, she let God have her child. After two weeks in the hospital, after one more visit to see her comatose entubated son, my friend went home and prayed. She finally said I am ready, God. If this is your will, I accept it. I pray that my son be in your arms, and whatever your will is, that is what I pray for.

The next time she visited her son, to her amazement, he began to come around. And not only did her son slowly come back to health, but he confessed to her and to the doctors that he had been an addict of methamphetamine for 23 years. This is what caused the stroke. As he confessed these things, he asked his mother what she had been saying to him while he was unconscious. She told him what the healer had told her to say. Then her son said to her, “That’s right. Someone did break my heart.” Twenty-five years before, unbeknownst to his mother, he and his girlfriend had lost their infant, and then his girlfriend left him. In his great broken-hearted grief, he destroyed his health and was lost to addiction. But now he wanted to start over with his life, and he wanted to go into recovery. My friend said that his personality had completely changed. He spoke to her with respect, with love and gratitude, his heart had turned toward his mother. The fire he had gone through, the fire that my friend had gone through, seemed to have burned away a lot of dross, and seemed to have made their reconciliation possible.

She was amazed that she had not seen the signs, that she had not suspected any kind of addiction. He had held down a job, she had never seen him high, or so she thought. She had considered herself to be a very wise and perceptive woman, but although she knew how to predict when the rain was going to come, or the scorching heat, she had not anticipated the Kingdom of Heaven reaching out for her son.

Later in our Gospel of Luke, the fire did arrive. But it was the fire of Pentecost, not a destroying fire, but an inspiring, blessing, illuminating fire. A fire of the spirit that first created familial unity between the disciples, and then spread to a familial unity between the vastly diverse members of the Body of Christ. The Greeks, the Jews, the Africans, the slaves, the free, the males and the females, the rich and the poor.

We are feeling a fire between many members of the family of God in the world today. The fire that separates human rights from those who, by their identity as children of God, deserve them. The fire of warfare on innocent people, the fire of inequity of wealth the world round. If we fight this fire, surely there will be those in the family of humanity who will turn against us. But as we watch with anxious eyes the signs of the earth, let’s remember that the time for justice, the time for reconciliation, between family members and within the family of humanity, is now, is in the present time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor
Hosea 11:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-9, 43 , Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21
Holy Trinity/La Santisima Trinidad/ Good Shepherd, Berkeley
August 8, 2010

Well, in last week’s gospel reading, Jesus warned us about greed, and this week he isn’t letting up any. Jesus has also previously urged us to stay awake- just as he begged the disciples to in the garden of Gethsemane. Here he tells us to have our lamps lit- to be ready for action. Speaking only for myself, if I don’t make a conscious effort I do fall asleep. And if I don’t keep my lamp lit, I fall into self-centered thinking. I fall into self-addiction. I had already been thinking along these lines, given last week’s gospel, when I happened to begin reading a book a friend gave me a long time ago. I whole-heartedly recommend to you. It is called “Blue Like Jazz,” and it is an unusual book, in that it is a fervently and even evangelically Christian book, written by a generation exer named Donald Miller. He tells many wonderful stories of his Christian journey, but he often goes back to the theme of self-addiction- just the thing that Jesus always tries to free us from.

Miller recalls the hero of the wonderful film About a Boy, who thinks that life is a movie about him. He is the main character and everybody else in his life are just supporting players. Things always get out of hand when one of the supporting players seems to think they are the star.

When author spoke of his troubles to his pastor, after thinking about it, the pastor answered him very baldly: Unless you can wake up every morning and be willing to die to self, maybe you should question whether or not you are really following Jesus…

CS Lewis makes a confession of his self-addiction in this refreshingly honest poem, called As the Ruin Falls. Achingly, he realizes that his self-involvement is only beginning to fade as he is losing his wife to cancer:

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love --a scholar's parrot may talk Greek--
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack,
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

We might hope that it will not have to come to this. That we would not have to have the ultimate heart-break in order to see the illusion of our superiority- the illusion of our separateness. The relative triviality of our needs when compared to someone else’s’.

My favorite part of Donald Miller’s book was the amazing and unlikely time he spent at Reed College. Apparently Reed has a reputation of being somewhat anti-religious, and perhaps anti-Christian. But there was a small brave band of Christians on campus, and our hero was one of them. Reportedly, there was a big party at Reed every year, kind of a pagan love fest, called Renn Fayre. It was known for its drinking and drugging and wild behavior. So Don asked his fellow Christians what kind of a statement did they want to make at Renn Fyre. At first they couldn’t think of anything, just that it would be a good time to come out of the closet, a good time to introduce themselves to the school as Christians. Finally, Don jokingly suggested, let’s set up a confession booth right out there on the square. Everyone laughed except for one of their number, a particularly convicted young Christian named Tony, who sat up like he had been electrified. YES! He said. That is exactly what we will do! They rest of the group protested wildly, “No Tony, no!” They will lynch us! They will burn the booth down!” Tony looked at them all with a smile. “No! we will build it, but there will be a catch.”

Everyone was quiet, trying to hear what the catch was. “The catch is, we will confess to them. We will confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving. We have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We have been judgmental. We have not been true to the teachings of Jesus. We will apologize for the Crusades, for televangelists, for neglecting the poor and lonely and we will ask them to forgive us.”

They all recognized the genius of this and they actually went through with this. They built their booth, a few stoned curiosity seekers came inside and got the surprise of their lives. After the first student was confessed to he said, “I think what you guys are doing is really cool. I am going to go and tell my friends.” After that the relationships between the Christian group and the rest of the campus changed dramatically. A group started volunteering at a homeless shelter, and soon they had to rent a second van because so many people wanted to come. There was a volunteer poverty day where people lived on 3 dollars a day to show solidarity with the poor. And at one point they had four bible study groups going, made up entirely of non-Christians.

Paul tells us in our lesson from Hebrews today, that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. To have faith, then, is to somehow be assured, regardless of what IS seen, regardless of external factors, that the things we hope for will be fulfilled. But I would also say that faith is not what you believe, but what you do. Jesus gives us very strong advise in all the gospels. We may feel that we believe it, but do we do it?

In another part of his wonderful book, Don Miller talks about a church that was planted in Seattle, and their efforts to grow it. For a long time it was just 20 people. The author described it as an AA meeting gone bad. Then one week the pastor showed up looking kind of beaten up. He had been at a conference where it was stated that the church had lost touch with people who didn’t know about Jesus. Had lost touch with people who were different than the typical church goer. Rick suggested that they repent, that is, repent in the original sense, which does not mean to say you are sorry, it simply means to change. The best translation from the original Greek of metanoia would be to transform. He suggested that they should transform into missional Christans who are actually doing what Jesus suggested- loving people who are different from themselves.

Two chapters before our gospel of today in Luke, a lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him, what is written in the law? The lawyer who may not have been up on his scriptures answers, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Actually, the first commandment says nothing about loving God, but simply says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Then way over in Leviticus, between the dictates of whose nakedness you must not uncover, is written, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” But in Leviticus, the commandment bears a different meaning from what Jesus apparently thought it meant. The whole passage in Leviticus makes it clear that it is your kin and those of your tribe whom we are to love as ourselves. The whole sentence goes, “You shall not make vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But when Jesus is questioned, “Who is my neighbor?” he uses as an example the biggest enemy of his tribe, a Samaritan.

So Don’s pastor suggested that they start listening to Jesus, and praying every week that God would teach them to live missional lives, to notice people who needed to be loved, even, and especially those different from themselves. The goal was not to love them so they would come to church, the goal was just to love them. And they seemed to subscribe to the idea that love is not what you think or say, love is what you do.

Our author tells us that lots of people started coming to their church after that.

The good news is what is said at the very beginning of our gospel:
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

It is God’s will, God’s good pleasure that we should enjoy all of the fruits of the kingdom, that we should experience heaven on earth. But apparently, heaven is not a very homogeneous place. It includes all kinds of people, people who love each other, and it does not seem to include an addiction to possessions. Heaven is a place where we are able and willing to continually keep our lamps lit, to keep our eyes and our hearts open for the Kingdom of God.

The Unequal Inheritance: August 1, 2010

Hosea 11:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-9, 43 , Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21
Holy Trinity/La Santisima Trinidad/ Good Shepherd, Berkeley

As most of you know, I have been in Guatemala for the past month, and it has been a breath-taking and eye-opening and uncomfortable experience. On the one hand, I saw a high level of Bay Area style luxury, apparent in the swank hotel near the house I stayed in, where I paid to experience an actual shower, some of the restaurants that cater to tourists, and some of the shops and markets. These places looked and felt somewhat familiar to me.

But then there is the sharply different Guatemala. The Guatemala of the indigenous people and the many workers and laborers, sellers of trinkets, hawkers of beautiful indigenous fabric and bags on the street, drivers of the tourist-seeking horse-drawn carriages, street beggars, and the servants in so many houses including the one I stayed in. The Mayan servant in our house, Ruty, named after the biblical Ruth, works hard for 9 hours a day, six days a week and makes $250 dollars a month. And our landlady frequently pointed out how well she paid her. In fact, I found out that Ruty was a trained nurse, but that her job cleaning our house and making meals paid better than hospital work, and had much more humane working hours. One morning, one of our number at breakfast didn`t want the single egg we were offered, and suggested that it be given to a fellow student of Spanish with a big appetite. Ruty paused, confused, although her Spanish was very good. We later realized that she just could not conceive of anyone having the opportunity, or even the ability to consume more than one egg at a sitting.

Mayan woman in their exquisite native clothing were everywhere, including the great and beautiful Iglesia de San Francisco, the largest and most beautiful of the four huge and ancient Catholic churches in Antigua. At one service I saw 12 indigenous babies baptized. To the right of the great altar there was a section that read Sólo para las oraciónes- For prayer only. After the service I went through the railing to pray and I beheld a vast and beautiful mural, featuring multitudes of indigenousness women with their gloriously colorful wipiles and skirts, laborers and farmers and children and babies surrounding an image of Jesus emerging from the water after his baptism. To my amazement, the mural, which depicted so many beautiful brown Mayan faces, rendered a Jesus who resembled no one so much as Peter O’Toole. A blond blue-eyed Jesus in a sea of black haired, brown-eyed indigenous people. This was bad enough, but then when I told my Spanish teacher about it, she told me that in her little pueblo of Pastores, just outside of Antigua, there is a statue of a Mayan God, Maximon, with distinctly European features. I later read that the God Maximon was originally embraced by the Catholic church, but then they decided he was too threatening, so they began to depict him as Judas Iscariot. What have we left them, I thought. Co-opting Jesus was bad enough, but stealing the identity of their own Gods as well?

I was constantly torn between dismay at these absurd inequities, at seeing the tremendous need of so many in the streets, and struggling with my own middle class discomforts- the lack of all the things I take for granted- drinkable water, electricity that stays on, showers with warm, clean water, dry clothes and shoes, beds with no uninvited living creatures, and disturbingly of all, inconsistent cell phone and internet access!

Our gospel warns us about greed, but desafortunadamente, by the time I decided to check out the readings, I had been treating my discomforts with retail therapy, and my natural greed was in full flower. I was assailed on all sides by expert saleswomen in the streets offering some of the most beautiful fabric items I had ever seen at, of course, ridiculously low prices. By the time I saw the readings about greed I was praying every morning for God to grant me the strength not to purchase every piece of beautiful fabric in Guatemala. But like the man who planned to build two new barns to house his many possessions, I found I had to purchase two more bags to bring home all my bounty.

After my brain was bursting trying to memorize the myriad verb forms in the past tense, my Spanish teacher suggested I get a Latin American Bible and that we just read through that.

I went right away for the most familiar and beloved passages, and I opened the beginning of the Gospel of John. But to my great surprise, the passage was not as I expected En el principio era la Palabra or “In the beginning was the word.” It read instead, En el pricipio era el verbo. “In the beginning was the verb.” After that bible reading, God started giving me all kinds of unsubtle hints about how I might also be a verbo.

I went to a lecture about an organization that is deeply involved in building schools and insuring better education for the children of Guatemala: Common Hope/ Familias de Esperanza. The opportunity for sponsoring a child’s education for a pittance appealed to me, but I also wondered about a more direct involvement. The man who spoke said that Guatemala had the highest gap between rich and poor of any nation on earth. He said that only one quarter of the students even pass first grade. This was due to conditions in the home which, to say the least, are not conducive to successful learning. Food and shelter and clothing, the bare necessities of life, were often not available to them. The men are very often out of work, all too often alcoholic, and the women are often left to figure out a way to survive.

We saw the sad extreme solution to that problem when we drove past the red light district on way out of town, and saw the women leaning out of windows, with their children playing in the dirt outside.

Then a woman I met at the Spanish school recommended a book, Three Cups of Tea. This is a really incredible story about a Midwestern mountain climbing drifter, Greg Mortenson, who became an unstoppable force for promoting education to impoverished children in Pakistan, and then Afghanistan, by actually building schools in these difficult mountainous areas. He was especially interested in educating girls, and this was in Muslim country just before during and after 911. The story was astonishing and inspiring.

Finally, we heard about an after-school program for needy kids called Angel Guardian, started by a woman who had been an orphan herself. The kids had nowhere to go after school, and normally they would just be out on the streets. But at Guardian Angel, they got help with their home work, opportunities to make art, healthy snacks and loving care. During one visit, I played for about an hour with a four year old Mayan girl who seemed to have big anger issues. We played with blocks, tranquilly for a while, and then, apparently trusting me a little more, she started letting the blocks fall down the cement step we were playing on, then eventually she started violently smashing the blocks together, then letting them fall to the ground like dead people. After doing this for about an hour, she calmed down and quietly ate her snack while sitting on my lap. I was later told that her father, to whom she had been very close, had been murdered in the marketplace, traumatizing her and rendering the family destitute. Many of the mothers of the kids who go to Guardian Angel are employed there, or in a neighboring farm that benefits the program. My little friend’s mother had found a job at Guardian Angel, and the girl had apparently come a long way since she had come to the center.

When I planned to go to Antigua, no one told me that July was the rainy season, and that I would experience torrential rainfall every afternoon, if not all day every day. That my shoes would never dry out, because I would have to wade through deep water in the narrow streets which quickly became rivers. The last day I visited Guardian Angel, I noticed that all the kids seemed to have colds. Outside, a particularly impressive thunderstorm was in progress, and at 5:00 all the kids pulled small scraps of plastic over their heads and proceeded into the downpour on their long walk home. I too waded home in the downpour, trying not to think of exactly what was in the water we were deeply wading through. But as I walked that soggy way home, I suddenly thought of a way to be a verbo. I had noticed at the grand mercado in Antigua, that children’s raincoats were very colorful and cheap. I told my friend about my plan to buy 20 raincoats, and she donated enough money to buy five more. The next day, my last day in Guatemala, I asked my Spanish teacher if she would come and help me bargain. Whenever she spotted a stall with raincoats I made myself scarce. Three stalls and twenty-five beautiful colorful impermeables later she proudly gave me change back for the amount that I thought it would cost. I spent a ridiculously small amount of money to keep twenty-five kids happily dry through the rest of the rainy season. It felt good to be a verbo for a change.

As our gospel of today tells us, you can`t take it with you. It is implied that rather than building barns for our possessions, it is possible to build the Kingdom of Heaven right here on earth. In fact I think one of the surest ways we can experience heaven is when we pass it on to someone living in of hell.

Of course these organizations would love your support, but you don’t have to go to Guatemala or Afghanistan to be a verbo for children’s education. The children of Wilson Elementary School in Richmond need help and support, and Liberty Hill Baptist Church one block from Good Shepherd in Berkeley does free tutoring for high school kids every Saturday morning at 10:00. They could use our help too.

When the man who gave the lecture on unequal wealth in Guatemala finished with his statistics and his numbers, he said the following to the very white and affluent group who had gathered to hear him:

"The gap between rich and poor in Guatemala is just an example of the gap between rich and poor world-wide. Given that we are on the grossly rich end of that unequal divide, I have two questions for you: 1. How do you feel about that? and 2. What are you going to do about it?"


June 27, 2010: Home: Reflections on Luke 9:51-62.

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14Ps 77:1-2, 11-20, Gal 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62
Holy Trinity/La Santisima Trinidad NOT GS

After all the healings, the feasts, the anointing, the praying, Jesus finally sets his face for Jerusalem, for his awful and inevitable death. He sent messengers ahead of him to provide for lodging, because as we hear, the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

But if this was the intention, the village of the Samaritans would provide no such thing. They would not receive him precisely because his face was set toward Jerusalem. The Samaritans worshipped only on Mount Gerizim, and did not acknowledge the Temple in Jerusalem as the home of God, and the Jerusalem Temple Jews and the Samaritans despised each other with a passion. The hatred of the Jews for the Samaritans is well illustrated by a passage from the Book of Sirach, which represents the Samaritans as sub-humans;

Two nations my soul detests and the third is not even a people: Those who live in Seir, the Philistines and those foolish ones who live in Shechem [of Samaria].
(Sir 50:25-26)

There were solid reasons for hatred from both sides. The Samaritans, although they were the descendents of the Jews of the Northern Kingdom, had included pagan elements in their worship, which was anathema to the Jews of the Jerusalem Temple. The Samaritans rejected all the books of the Jewish prophets and all references to Temple worship in Jerusalem. The Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim, until their temple was destroyed by a Jewish high priest a hundred years before Christ. Apparently a hundred years was a small amount of time to those villagers in Samaria who refused to receive Jesus.

The continuing sentiments of the Jews toward the Samaritans are well-illustrated by The helpful offer of James and John:
"Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"

Jesus had twice in other gospels, demonstrated his outrageous and shocking acceptance of the Samaritans, both in his tale of the Good Samaritan a little later in our Gospel of Luke, and the beautiful story of the Samaritan woman at the well in the Gospel of John. In both cases he is reaching out to or praising Samaritans individuals. A less likely source of praise or fellowship could scarcely be imagined by his disciples. To their continuing shock, he refused to punish or judge the Samaritans, and he rebukes his disciples for even proposing such a thing. They were probably so exasperated that they just passed on to another village without further comment. A devout disciple on the road proclaims that he will follow Jesus where ever he goes, and Jesus answers,
"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

This past week I did something I had wanted to do for years. I joined the San Francisco Night Ministry on one of their amazing tours through the freezing and non-tourist oriented tours of the night. I went with a youth group that came to visit from Washington State. They were all children of migrant workers, all Latino, but with indigenous languages, not Spanish as their first language. They had heard about out Latino ministries on the web and came and stayed at the house next to Good Shepherd Church. So with some excitement and some anxiety, I rode with them in their van into San Francisco at 8:00 Tuesday night. This left some time for orientation with the night ministry chaplains, because they do not get going until 9 or 10:00.

I was teamed with a tall blond chaplain named Tom and a 19 year old from the youth group named Juan Carlos. With the chilly fog blowing all around us, we walked down the street from the church headquarters into the Tenderloin. Almost immediately an emaciated man with a paper cup in his hand engaged the chaplain in conversation. He never asked for money, as he knew that the night ministers never hand it out. They hand out something much more important than money. They hand out a kind of home to the homeless. A place of acceptance, non-judgment and most importantly, a listening ear. Apparently, the gentleman we were conversing with was not only used to the Chaplain making his rounds, but also used to others accompanying him, as he started telling us about his life immediately. He was standing at the garage exit of a hotel with his paper cup, waiting for the guests to exit and hopefully, contribute. He gestured to a overhang near the entrance and said that was where he lived. Juan Carlos, immediately intrigued, asked “Where do you go to the bathroom?” This remained unanswered. The man told us that he had AIDS, that he had been addicted to crack for many years, that he was an abused child, had seen his sister raped and was sexually abused by his parents. That was in the first 5 minutes. He had that dramatically pinched face and absence of teeth of one who not only suffered from malnutrition, but from drug addiction as well. He said he was given medication for his depression, but that it only made him crazier. He had a remarkably kind and gentle aspect for someone in his condition, and I began to realize how absurd it was for us to be afraid of people like this. After a while the chaplain offered him a new pair of clean socks, which were received with gratitude. As another car came through the drive way we said our good-byes.

After a while, we began to move out of the Tenderloin and into Union Square, where many go to beg. We approached a laughing group of tourists standing in front of an African American gentleman who was performing as a mime. Standing perfectly still and then suddenly coming to life moving quickly, as each group approached. The tourist laughed riotously and dropped a few coins into his cup. The night was freezing and the mime was wearing a t-shirt. After they left he resumed his stock-still vigil.

On the corner next to Macy’s was the most defeated-looking woman I have ever seen. She was kneeling on the cold pavement with a small dog around her shoulders, and a cup in front of her, her face cast down to the street. We approached her and after a moment, during which she did not look up, I asked her what kind of dog she had. “Jack Russell Terrier,” she said immediately with surprising dignity in her voice. We stayed and chatted for a few minutes and then the chaplain handed her a few granola bars. They apparently knew each other well.

At the church headquarters when we returned, we discussed who we had seen that night. A man who said he was a pirate, a man who wanted to chase them away, like the demons inside the possessed man in the Gospel we heard of last week. And someone who said he was Jesus. They laughed at that and said, “Oh yes, we have met Jesus many times.” I thought to myself, yes, you have met Jesus EVERY time. We had all met the Jesus who says "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." If we believe what Jesus says in Matthew 25, everything we did or said to these brethren and sistern that night we did and said to Jesus. He is them.

This Gospel passage we heard today is all about home. The dispute of the Jews and the Samaritans was the question of where the home of God lay. The follower on the road was willing to follow Jesus, but may not have understood the homelessness that following Jesus would entail. One follower wants to go home to bury his father before following Jesus, and another wants to say farewell to those at home. Jesus tries to explain that only the Kingdom of God will be their home from now on.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Christian I have quoted to you before, practices what he calls engaged Buddhism. He is always reaching out to the suffering, working for peace, putting himself in danger or discomfort to do these things. But he has a calm and serenity that is enviable, because he has found his true home. He speaks of a home that to me is comparable to the Kingdom of God. Jesus has said that the Kingdom of God is at hand, is in the present moment, that it is within us. And in today’s scripture he is saying that to go back to the past, to what is dead, is to relinquish this precious kingdom. Thich Nhat Hanh says the following mantra as he mediates:
I have arrived. I am home. I have arrived in the Pure Land, a real home where I can touch the paradise of childhood, and all the wonders of life. I am no longer concerned with being and nonbeing, coming and going, being born or dying. In my true home I have no fear, no anxiety. I have peace and liberation. My true home is the here and now.

We might even say, my true home is the Kingdom of God.

Longing for Running Water: Father's Day 6/20/10

Reflections on Luke 8:26-39
Holy Trinity/La Santisima Trinidad/Good Shepherd

What great readings for Father’s Day! A single frightened prophet is plagued by survivor’s guilt, a dear longs for running water, and a man full of demons is finally healed. I don’t know about you, but I have to say that these stories really remind me of my dear old dad.

My father always seemed to be longing for something beyond his reach- something that might soothe him as surely as cool water soothes a forest animal. He has longed for it his whole life so far, and for much of that time, what he longed was a mystery to me. But at some point I realized that what my father was longing for was his own mother, who died very suddenly when he was only thirteen. I know that like our psalmist of today, for many years my father felt that tears were his only food day and night, and the question certainly came up for him, "Where is my God?" My father developed into a life-long atheist, probably because he just couldn’t answer that question, given what he felt God had done to him.

So it seemed that the only thing nearly big enough to even begin to fill the void that my father lived with, was the whole of glorious creation. He made the worship of our great mother earth his whole life and became a geologist.

My father had very early wilderness experiences which shaped him his whole life. His father was a crusty old silver miner named A.C. Gardner, and so my father grew up in a tiny encampment right on the silver mine- the Betty O’Neil mine near Battle Mountain Nevada. My brother and I once made a pilgrimage there just to see if it was real. It was.

When my father was two years old, he was given a huge, shaggy and protective companion named Bobbie dog. With Bobby dog to protect him my father was apparently free to roam the Nevada desert. He was after all, the youngest of 4 and his mother was very busy. One time, when my father was only five or so, a rattle snake appeared out in that desert and quick as lightening, Bobbie Dog leaped between my father and the snake, who bit the dog on the nose. My father ran home, terrified, assuming that Bobbie dog would follow, as he always did. But to his great sadness, Bobby dog did not follow him home, and for two weeks they waited in vain. Finally one night at suppertime they heard a faint scratching on the front door, and there stood Bobby dog, skinny, weak and covered with mud. They later realized that he had gone down to the river and stuck his nose in the mud, instinctively knowing how to save his own life. He was immediately named the hero of the town and my father basked in the reflected glory.

My father joined the Navy as a young man, and was delighted to experience marine wilderness. His longing for running water took him to many strange places. He told me that once when he was on leave from his duties he found himself in North Carolina at the beach right after a hurricane when the waves were still tremendously high. Longing for running, in fact, crashing water, he and two of his buddies swam out to body surf in these towering waves and one of his friends had brought a canteen and handed it to my father. It was not full of running water, but rather, it was full of running vodka, but the discovery did not dissuade my father. They got more enthusiastic as the afternoon and evening wore on and my father apparently felt more and more at one with the elements as he continued to assault the great waves as the night grew very dark. For some reason he did not drown, but eventually looked around and realized that his buddies had gone home, and the canteen was empty and he was freezing cold. As he splashed ashore a Coast Guard officer spotted him, and watched him stagger out of the water in swimming trunks, obviously disoriented. The officer assumed that my father was a ship-wrecked sailor. My father decided to enhance this impression by speaking only in rapid Portuguese and making wild arm movements describing the sinking of his ship. The officer took him to a police station, and while my father dried off he over-heard the officer submitting a report that detailed his courageous rescue of this drowning Portuguese civilian. My father, dry and almost sober at this point yelled out, “Oh give me a break!” These were the first English words he had uttered and a chilly silence followed. When my father was court marshaled he said that the judge, upon hearing the story had to pretend to cough and finally to cover his face with a handkerchief to hide his laughter. He didn’t give my father any formal punishment, but once he had gained control of himself he uttered a phrase that would live long in my family history. He told my father, “Not every one has a sense of humor like yours, Gardner.”

Vodka continued to be my fathers way of staving off his demons, with predictable results.
Of course there were wonderful times interspersed with the very bad. One Christmas not long ago I called my father to reminisce about our Christmases and how I had loved to go and buy the Christmas tree with him and drag it home through the snow. “I’m really glad to hear you say that,” my father said. “Because your brother just called me up to tell me that I ruined every Christmas we ever had with my drinking.”

After a short but very successful and promising career as a soil scientist, as the head of the National Soil Survey, which is now the National Geological Survey, the demons that my father had held at bay for so long, possessed him with a vengeance. My father contracted a demonic disease at 38 years of age that hadn’t even been invented yet. Arithema Multiformi, was a crisis of the immune system that was scarcely seen again for another 30 years, when it became common among AIDS patients. It involved among other things, horrible sores on his arms and legs and a swelling of his throat that stopped his breathing and almost killed him. The disease was so rare and fascinating to the doctors that my father was hospitalized at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda Maryland, and teams of medical students would stop by my father’s bed to stare at his bizarre and spectacular allergic symptoms. The doctors told us that he would surely die. He lost an incredible amount of weight, and finally he could hardly lift his head off the pillow. We would go and visit him and reminisce about the places we used to go as a family, about the camping trips and the mountain hikes and the beautiful beaches. Slowly and to the doctor’s amazement and embarrassment, my father began to rally. He was such a devout atheist that he never would have prayed for himself, but his family prayed for him. We prayed fervently at our little church of St. Michael and all Angels in Adelphi Maryland. Apparently Michael or one of the other angels troubled the waters in just the right way and my father got well.

My father never gave a thought to thanking God, and since he just kept getting sick again, it sort of makes you wonder. He continued to battle ill heath, probably caused by the internal scars of first illness, all his life. But he always seems to rally and rebound from the very brink of death. There have been quite a few death bed visitations that have turned into bright chatty gab sessions. The last time I visited my father, he regaled me with stories of his days in the navy, his courtship of my mother, and his bizarre sense of humor.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about my last visit to my father, was what seemed to be his awkwardly emerging faith. He had a giant bible by his bed and I, of course, asked him about it. Glossing over the fact of his life-long atheism he said, “Oh- it’s the King James Version- don’t even talk to me about the other translations.” Then he asked me to read the part in Revelation that talked about the end times. Feeling like I was in a strange dream, I found chapter 20 of the book of Revelation and read it to him. He listened carefully, remarking on the beauty of the passages. He also showed me a copy of “The Purpose Driven Life” which one of his nurses had given him. Not taking any chances, she signed his name on the dotted line where you commit yourself to Christ. He thought this charming. Before I went I asked him if I could say a healing prayer for him and he consented immediately. I put my hands on his thin silver hair and offered a healing prayer. I prayed for his health, for his comfort and for peace in his heart. He was visibly touched and, as he said, very grateful.

When my father was healed, saved, from the demonic disease, like the man in the story, he was able to go home again, but, of course, not praising God. My father was somehow saved, after a youth of bitter mourning, horrific illness and alcoholism in his adult life, and life-long bouts of euphoria and depression. He was saved by God in creation and he didn’t even know it. He was saved by all the glorious running waters he took us to, the glory of God in everything from the exquisite paramecia in the soil he loved so well to the grandeur of the planets and the stars and the glory of the earth itself. He was saved by God in creation, and God apparently never even minded that the favor was not acknowledged. At least not so far.