Artwalk Ink

REASONS TO COMPLAIN – LENT 2017

Fr. Thomas Carey and I concelebrate and I preached on the conversation between the Samaritan woman and Jesus…. Readings: Psalm 95:6-11,Exod. 17:1-7; John 4:5-42

“On this Third Sunday of Lent we hear people quarreling with God. Well, this Sunday we might all feel we have reason to complain. The Israelites certainly thought so, and I’m inclined to agree. They didn’t have any water. Many of these people might have thought what was crazy from the outset, going out into the desert even to escape slavery. Now it seemed like a deadly miscalculation of their means and their leadership. So they complained and God listened. Out of a rock water flowed. So what’s the lesson here? Every teenager knows this. Complaining loud enough, long enough, can make miracles happen. Particularly if you have a point, parents change their minds.

And every parent knows, it sometimes works because the kid does have a point. What is my point here? We are no longer young children of God. We may be God’s difficult teenagers, but most of us are God’s adult, grown children, ao we really need to start engaging with God with at least the maturity of a teenager.

But listen to the Psalm, “This people are wayward in their hearts, they do not know my ways….” That sounds like a distraught parent, and I’m channelling my teenager within to talk back: “Dah… We don’t know your ways? God, your ways are pretty unpredictable. When I said ‘yes’ to you, God, I didn’t see any of this coming. Out in the desert with no water?”

Here, in the 21st Century, most of what has happened in my own little life, let alone in the world, I didn’t see it coming. So where’s the informed consent? Where’s the answer to my prayers? This is it? Yep.

I am not merely an adult but quickly becoming a senior in the body of Christ, and so it’s about time I stop complaining. It is with adult ears, I hear today’s Psalm, trying to remain open to God’s ways, and open to today’s Gospel. Now that’s easier. I just love the story told in today’s Gospel.

Maybe some of us identify with mainstream Jews of that era, those that found that other way, going around Samaria. You didn’t have to go through Samaria in order to go to and from Jerusalem. There was another way around, and another well, so you didn’t need to use this well. But Jesus is here, clearly willing to mix with the riff-raff, the Samaritan woman here in the middle of the day. Some commentators say that the timing here is also significant, that this woman comes to the well in the heat of the day so she won’t run into other women in the morning, women who might be critical of her lifestyle. So instead she meets Jesus, who knows all that, yet isn’t critical. He’s rather playful. In fact, this passage seems to scream to be played, acted out, and if I were an actor I would love the part of the Samaritan woman.

While Jesus is messing with her, she pushes back. “Hmm… not bad. You guessed that right about me. Have a sip. Use my bucket.”

Perhaps many women identify with this Samaritan, the outsider, rather than the insider, even while fully part of this one body. We might be baptized, part of the body, but out there in the world we don’t get paid equally, and even inside the church we might not feel heard even when we summon the courage to speak up. We might not feel heard because we’re not being heard.

But in this story, something else is happening. In this text we seem invited to identify with the Samaritan, outside mainstream Judaism of the time, to identify with the women who avoided her peers, other women, by coming to the well in the heat of the day. We feel invited to engage with Jesus. I really enjoy this, and I want to underscore that this enjoyment is different than love, though it might lead to love. Let’s revel in the enjoyment here, the banter. It’s not between a teenager and parent, but between two mature adults, peers actually, a man and a woman. Jesus engages in this banter, wasn’t put off by her complex marital history. Jesus seems to have no difficulty seeing her as an interlocutor, and most surprising is that this Gospeler didn’t seem to have much difficulty with that either. The banter, the engagement is disruptive discourse; it leads to witnessing something different, to the truth.

Here we have a model of an adult relationship. This week in 2017 marked the beginning of the 61st meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), when UN member states, faith-based and civic organizations from around the world convened in New York to discuss ways to improve the wellbeing of all women almost 2,000 years after this playful exchange was penned, women are gathering, Episcopal women well represented. Though many women still aren’t being taken at their word, and here in the very country hosting the conference, we’re forced to orchestrate an enormous push-back against the present regime, the marches, the fight to protect our reproductive rights, for our own physical integrity. We knit pink hats and proclaim the slogan, “the pussy grabs back”. Let’s honor in ourselves the importance of this human strength, this capacity to engage, to witness, to be heard, to push back, hopefully to win our rights, here and internationally. And while the present administration doesn’t seem to get it, we get it. Jesus got it. Jesus demonstrated the capacity to be present to women, to this Samaritan woman, to engage with us. But it’s more than winning our right to be heard. Fully human, we in the Jesus movement become one in the Body of Christ.

I wasn’t there in New York for the gathering of women. Wednesday I was at a meeting about financial tools for housing co-ops, for providing permanent affordable house, supportive housing and other social housing models, and to try to pull this off in the Trump era. Members of the panel prefaced the talks by saying last year was the year of disruption and this year is a year of uncertainty. The gospel was proclaimed in times like this, and I’m really feeling it.

The crisis deepened in our time by the end of the week, when we heard US Secretary of State Tillerson announce a change in the US policy toward North Korea. But I know because Jesus challenges me, through you, through the wider church, through my students, even through the amazing will of flowers to blossom in the desert and on my dining room table. I find the strength to push back, to stand in solidarity with immigrants and refugees and students and homeless people, against war and deprevation.

We pray here for refugees and immigrants, we pray here even for Trump. Today, let’s offer a special prayer for women who find it difficult to be heard, women who go to the well only at times when they think they might avoid critical eyes, or any eyes. They go may go alone but they can encounter Christ there. Here.

This may be a year of uncertainty but there is one thing about which we can be certain: Jesus is alive among us, the spirit moves us and works as energy in and around and through us. We look for miracles and we find water gushes out of a rock. A woman speaks, as if her words matters because they do matter. On this third Sunday of Lent, I can say definitely, our voices matter. The spirit is alive among us. Right here. Right now.

Do the people of God say Amen?”

(Rev. Dr. Roberta Morris, March 19, 2017)

Clean clothes, blankets, etc. are a big concern for homeless people and the working poor. Members of Holy Spirit, Founders MCCTrinity Episcopal Church and St. John’s Pro-Cathedral team up on the last Wednesday of every month to provide quarters, soap and a friendly hand to help guests get their laundry cleaned. To find out more, see the Laundry Love page.

 

 Sermons from “Chick-lit”?

Okay, my go-to for preparing a sermon generally includes the Episcopal and Roman Catholic links for preaching ideas, then Sojourners, and The Jewish Annotated New Testament.   Probably never before or ever again will a memoir, one that could be classified as “chick-lit”, provide a commentary so appropriate, actually stunning and beautiful, as Reba Riley in Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome.  She offers up the most precise communion prayer as our spiritual explorer finally accepts communion at Stone Village, that co-incidently sounds like a gallery space similar to Holy Spirit Silver Lake where I was reflector on the Gospel this week:

“To those whom I have judged, I offer acceptance, to those I have cursed, I offer blessing.”  And after dipping the bread into the wine:  “To those who have caused me pain, I offer forgiveness.  To those I have hated, I offer love.”

Another wonderful aspect of this book is that this isn’t the end of the story.  The heroine’s goes on to visit a mosque and a virtual reality liturgy before she’s done this “30 before 30″ quest you’ll have to read the book to understand.  It’s actually not about understanding, though.  It’s accepting mystery.  Thank you, Reba Riley.  I didn’t see that coming.

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Lent 2015

This Lent Rev. Dr. Roberta Morris reflects on Fr. Leo Joseph’s contributions to Kathrin Burleson’s book The Soul’s Journey.  Leo was a member of ArtwalkInc’s Board until his passing on January 23, 2015.  

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Ash Wednesday

Mostly all I know about this day I learned from T.S. Eliot’s grim poem “Ash Wednesday” that spoke so clearly to me when I was a young woman, and now not at all, or hardly at all.  Mardi Gras makes sense to me still, Shrove Tuesday.  Make pancakes and eat them with sweet syrup;  time is short and we are still alive, so eat up, dance – dance!  Forgot T.S. Eliot’s crabby life run dry.

Full on pancakes, I push the book that lies on my sofa away to spread out.  Here on my sofa lies Kathrin Burleson’s The Soul’s Journey; an Artists Approach to the Stations of the Cross.  It’s an awkward size, too large for my bookcase.  It will always be set somewhere, moved here to there, and here it’s fine for now because I’ve decided to make this my Lent, to look at her art and read the text again and again, plunging in to the parts that Leo contributed to the book.  Leo was just buried.  Friar Leo.  Leo Joseph.  Buddy to my art walk, on the board of Artwalk Inc, a non-profit and isn’t everything really not profitable, eventually compost at best, or landfill.  In the meantime, pass the pancakes.

I’ve the maker of pancakes and Leo is keeper of minutes.  Motions.  Passed.  Carried.   Leo was good at this, ordering the meeting, bringing me to order.   Kathrin knew him far better and I knew him through her art.  Because I liked her icons I wound up at a church where he was saying mass and where her icons hung on the walls with utter simplicity.  Her book is not like those stark icons: the colors are all hot orange and yellow and even the green seems a warm green, with a great deal going on.  Now it lies on my sofa, and he lies in a grave and here I lie on the sofa and begin again.  Ash Wednesday.

Kathrin Burleson doesn’t start there.  She starts with the first station, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and she calls it “Acceptance”.

“Why are you sleeping?  Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”  Jesus says that.  Luke 22:39-46.

Ash Wednesday, 2015

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Roberta’s posting  on Lent is based a series based on the five contributions Friar Leo Joseph made to Kathrin Burleson’s The Soul’s Journey; an Artists Approach to the Stations of the Cross(Forward Movement, 2014).  She dedicated this book to Leo, our go-to wise man and treasured member of Artwalk Inc’s board, who passed on January 23, 2015. His first entry refers to the eighth station of the cross, “Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.”

First Sunday of Lent - Witness

“A great number of people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:27)

Yesterday I cleared up the remains of the week, checking in at the studio to see that things were fine for an event that was to be held last evening.  Art might have to be rearranged on the stage – check.  Lecture notes available online – check.  Follow up with that man who dropped in for mass and left his card – check.  Take the compost to the community garden, spend some time puttering – check… That’s not really work.

This is my day off.  Now I sit and look around my little apartment, and again tears start streaming down my face. Under the “Ellis Act” we’ve all been evicted.  Where will I go? Oh, all this art people have given me, the books, what should I take?  Here’s a sofa that is so dilapidated I was going to replace it or have it reupholstered; I’ll just leave it by the curb instead for some more ambitious scavenger.  And this coffee table with its beveled glass top?  Someone might like it; I always have.  What do I really need to take?  Think of the homeless folk at the corner who have grocery carts so full with what looks like garbage that it perplexes my other neighbors, those with homes.

Fr. Leo had much in common with my grandma.  He did his dying with amazing grace, putting everything in order and even digging his own grave when he got the diagnosis: terminal cancer.  My grandma Murphy taught me how to do this, getting rid of everything toward the end of her life so that it only took us a few hours to clear her place out and turn everything over, including her house, to the St. Vincent DePaul society, as her will had indicated.  Grandma had stood witness to Christ’s dying and resurrection in her life.  This last stretch was rather simple, it seems, for Grandma and Leo.

But I’m not dying, so I’ve got to make a plan. Maybe I’ll occupy my own home. I think about buying a van so I can just hang out in front here, and in front of our landlord’s other buildings, for years maybe.  This is our home after all, our community garden.  I could do this, drive the van to all his properties and drive the landlord crazy.   He has so many properties, why evict all of us to make even more money? What could he possibly be thinking? He already has far more money and buildings than he can ever use, no matter how luxurious his life.  This kind of greed we know about; it led the US economy to the brink just a few years ago, and here we go again.  We need to develop a twelve-step program for overarching greed.

My go-to-for-Jewish-wisdom-friend, David Chack, sent me this from The Ethics of the Ancestors (Pirkei Avot 5:13)

“There are four character types among people:
a) One who says, ‘My property is mine, and yours is yours,’ is an average character type,
but some say this is characteristic of Sodom;
b) ‘Mine is yours and yours is mine,’ is an unlearned person;
c) ‘Mine is yours and yours is yours,’ is scrupulously pious;
d) ‘Yours is mine and mine is mine,’ is wicked.

This Lent, let me be with those women who didn’t run away in the sight of evil worse even than greed. Let me stand with the homeless in this city, the evicted who couldn’t keep it together, couldn’t find a housing plan. I want to occupy a place of hope and love with my neighbors as we work this through together.   But evil is really ugly. There is no sugar coating it, when even the sugar coating is evil. This week I start with Fr. Leo’s reflection on the women who witness the crucifixion, and hear again Jesus’ own words as he carried his cross:

“… For if they do this when the wood is green, what will they do when it is dry?” Luke 23:31

Second Sunday in Lent – Jesus is nailed to thecrossbeam

This second week of Lent I’m reflecting on what Fr. Leo wrote about Jesus nailed to the cross, he reflecting also on the fact that these were to be in his own final days as he wrote:

“Now the crossbeam is hoisted in place on top of the upright post, and the final nail is quickly driven through your feet, securing your ultimate loss of physical freedom. Final loss of liberty comes to us all, O Jesus, whether sick bed or deathbed, imposed or chosen, the prison or the monastic cell, old age or youthful tragedy, when suddenly or gradually, we are deprived of our physical freedom and our material world, left only to exist in the interior realm.”

The Soul’s Journey; an artist’s approach to the Stations of the Cross by Kathrin Burleson.

There have been Lenten seasons that I sailed through, not really paying much heed to the violence of the crucifixion. This year, though, with Fr. Leo’s death and then this week Malcolm Boyd’s, and with the possible demise of my community through an “Ellis Act” eviction, that also feels like a kind of death, the pain that so often comes with our lessons of impermanence is in my face, breaking my heart.

Leo jumbles the inevitable suffering with suffering a great injustice. He draws a parallel between a monk choosing deep solitude – Leo himself was a Franciscan monk — with the prisoner’s loss of liberty. This troubles me. Again, I compare it with this eviction: I’ve chosen to move before, and looked forward to change, even though it entails some loss. This feels totally different, our community being destroyed. Injustice and cruelty create a different quality of pain than does chosen change, challenge and effort. Birth pains can’t to be equated, are not comparable, to the death rattle.

Yet Leo’s point is well taken, and poignant as he himself was deprived of physical freedom when he took to his death bed in those last days, to exist in the interior realm he describes. It is always there, always waiting for us to enter, not as a retreat nor as an escape but as a challenge to live fully. Let us not suffer our suffering, and instead embrace this solitude Leo points to, and pray with him, “Jesus, in spite of loss of movement, enable me to love and to know that love’s labor continues until the last heartbeat.”

Third Sunday in Lent – Standing at the foot of the cross

It was offered as a joke:  “Jesus promised us the kingdom of God and what we got was the church.” But thinking about this small group standing at the foot of the cross, it is too poignant to ever laugh. Jesus in his dying moments and hanging from a cross, concerns himself with his mother’s well being.  He is reconstituting his family here, passing on his responsibility for the care of his mother to the beloved disciple, the one who didn’t run away.

We live as church in light of the resurrection, but here at the foot of the cross, we see what it means to be church – to go the distance, to witness injustice, even such gross injustice and not to flinch.  To be there with the suffering, as well as attending the banquettes.

This Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, coincides with International Women’s Day, when we’re all invited to celebrate the wonderful women in our lives, past and present and internationally.  We’re also asked to stand at the foot of the cross with those women who are fighting sometimes subtle, sometimes fierce oppression.  The reflector on this station in Kathrin Burleson’s book, The Soul’s Journey, refers to the moment in the Eucharist celebration where people are invited to add their own intentions: “At hat moment, you can witness the Christian community at the ‘Foot of the Cross’, gazing upon the crucified and the suffering they have encountered in their lives and relationships.  It is a powerful moment of prayer, for we realize that we are all connected and united, that a spiritual family of sisters and brothers has been brought together at the ‘Foot of the Cross’ of our humanity.” (Fr. Alberto R Cutie)

Today let’s remember particularly our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, and the generations of women around the world who teach us strength and compassion. The theme of this year’s IWD is “Make it happen.”  Standing at the foot of the cross.

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Death

Fr. Leo’s entry in The Soul’s Journey on “Death” reflects today’s Gospel, as Jesus speaks about how he will be lifted up:

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

In post-resurrection times we think of both how he he was risen up onto the cross, and then again rose from the dead.

Today, how does is “rising up” up occur in a world stricken but seemingly endless war?  In voices from the Middle East it might be in song.  Here is a report and the reponse:

“The human losses are devastating: At least 210,000 people have died in the ongoing battle between the Assad regime and the Syrian rebels. ISIS has joined the violence and exploited the instability in the country, taking control of large parts of northern and eastern Syria.

And now, in the unofficial war over Syria’s cultural heritage, art is the main casualty. As of September 2014, five out of six of Syria’s Word Heritage sites had been destroyed including Aleppo’s 12th century Umayyad mosque...

“But war hasn’t been able to destroy Syria’s sacred music. Before the war began, punk rocker and photographer Jason Hamacher recorded some of the world’s oldest spiritual music for the first time, preserving it for antiquity. To learn more about how this drummer became an art preservationist in Aleppo, read Kimberly Burge’s: “Songs Before the Cataclysm” (Sojourners April 2015).”http://sojo.net/magazine/2015/03-0/how-we-fight-terrorism-saving-syrias-sacred-music

For keep focused on the artist’s response I’ve contracted the report by Sojurners but encourage us all to study this, ponder our involvement in this war, and prayer for God’s mercy and an end to all war.

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Love

How perfect, that this last Sunday in Lent I’m contemplating Leo’s last entry in Kathrin Burleson’s book, and that it’s about love.

We live as church in light of the resurrection, but here at the foot of the cross, we see what it means to be church – to go the distance together.

Leo went the distance with Christ.  He’s contemplating the ultimate horror, even as he was facing his own immanent death, with breathtaking courage and dignity.

In this last reflection Leo recalls the mothers: “the mother kneeling on a trash-strewn ghetto street, weeping over the corpse of her child shot in a senseless gang shooting; the mother kneeling beside a hospital bed, cradling the body of her young son who had just died of AIDS; the mother throwing herself over the casket delivered from the belly of a military transport plane.”

Evicted this winter from my apartment, along with everyone in this building and this beloved community, and evicted from Spirit Studio, I’m going toward the last week of Lent holding Fr. Leo in my heart, and all these temporal and therefore temporary communities we call family. I’ll shut up now, my own concerns seem so petty.

We go on with love and the words of Rachel, a seven-year-old consoling the others as they watched a passion play, horribly vivid:  “But he rises again in three days!  He rises again in three days!”