25 February 2009

to dust we shall return

I was thinking today about the phrase that’s used during the Ash Wednesday liturgy. It’s spoken during the imposition of ashes. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” That’s true at many different levels. Of course, theologically, we’re reminded of our mortality and our utter dependence on God. We, like everything else that has arisen from the earth, will one day return to the earth.

We’re also reminded of our origin, as beings of this planet, in the heart of our sun. We are creatures of star dust. Continuing along this cosmological train of thought, we’re told that the universe—space itself—will either continue expanding or will eventually contract into a “big crunch”: the opposite of the “big bang.” Everything—literally all matter—is reduced to its constituent components. But what are these components? Ever smaller bits until the known laws of physics no longer make sense.

That’s part of what I was thinking today with ashes on my forehead…

an enforced sabbatical

Since the beginning of January, Banu and I have been on what I’ve called an “enforced sabbatical.” (Not that we were quite at the point as the fellow in the image!) Last summer, it became clear that the congregation would no longer be able to financially support us. And after weighing the options for a month or two—basically, merging with another church, looking for a part-time pastor, or voting to dissolve—the congregation opted for the last alternative. We managed to work out a severance deal with our presbytery, but still, we are “unchurched” pastors.

We began our search for a new pastoral call last fall. All the “i”s haven’t been dotted, and all the “t”s haven’t been crossed, but our search has led us to the Finger Lakes region of New York. (We Presbyterians like to say, “If the way be clear…”)

I suppose it’s appropriate that this comes on Ash Wednesday. (We actually heard last night, on Mardi Gras, but we weren’t tossing beads at each other!) The season of Lent fits very well with an “enforced sabbatical.” It’s the perfect time to reflect on, and to reorganize, life and the art of living life.

15 February 2009

he was moved

Today’s gospel reading comes from Mark 1:40-45: “A leper came to [Jesus] begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”

Before Jesus does anything, we read that he is “moved with pity.” The Greek, splagchnizomai (say that quickly five times!), speaks of a very strong emotion. It’s also translated as “moved with anger.” It’s something you feel from the gut. So is Jesus pissed off at this miserable wretch?

It’s important to bear in mind that, in Jesus’ day, touching a leper was forbidden. People were supposed to give them a wide berth. But as the Sacred Space website reminds us, “Jesus cuts through religious taboo and harsh judgments on people with his own loving healing…Surely the leper was cleansed from more than physical illness by this touch—he was assured of personal human dignity.” Jesus’ outrage isn’t directed at this poor leper. He’s furious about the indignity heaped upon him.

I suppose we should ask ourselves, where is our compassion…where is our indignation when confronted with the reality of those we would rather shut away and ignore?

12 February 2009

Al Pacino in "City Hall"

If there's an actor better than Pacino at impassioned monologues in film, I don't know who it is. Here's one I love from "City Hall" (which I happened to see, in part, yesterday).

05 February 2009

striking a pose

According to the Associated Press, the Obama poster created by Shepard Fairey was a violation of copyright. They, and the lawyers they’ve hired, say it was taken from a photo that is their property. The media outlet reporting the story encourages readers to go to a website and make their own “Shepard Fairey-style posters.”

I decided to give it a try. I wanted to find an appropriately “upward and onward” photo of myself—something that would portray me as noble and reflective—something awe-inspiring. The result, as I suspected, proved fine enough in its ability to make me look like a poser. (If we can’t laugh at ourselves, what good are we?)

But to give it the label “poser” wasn’t sufficiently pretentious; I needed to use the original French terminology for full effect.