Friday, August 3, 2012

Living Toward Transfiguration

On August 6, the Church Calendar will invite us to reflect on The Feast of the Transfiguration. Readings for that feast day can be found here.

On this same date, in 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

Somehow the juxtaposition of the holiness human beings are called to, and the evil of which human beings are capable of- converging as they do on this particular day, makes my head spin.

Yesterday I had lunch with a colleague and we talked about blogging. I realize some people have a 'theme' - they blog about "God and Physics" or Food or Social Justice.

I am a parish priest. This has been an emergent thing for me, but I realize that even when I venture into political conversations, the questions that concern me most are about how we build a visible witness to the gospel in small communities like the one I serve. How can we more faithfully be salt, light, and yeast that gives hope to the world, even in the midst of polarizing culture wars? If I have a "theme" then that is it.

My last two posts go to the heart of what I think are some of the big issues that the Church (holy, catholic, and apostolic), my denomination (The Episcopal Church) and the congregation I serve (St. Francis Church) must wrestle with if they mean to be faithful in this unique time and place in history.

The questions I struggle with most do not have right and wrong answers. They are questions we live into, and wrestle with. What are the limits of tolerance? The Church is called to be a place where all are welcome, but how do we deal with and include the unwelcoming without losing that call to the radical hospitality of Jesus. Jesus did, after all, eat with sinners and tax collectors but he was also willing to eat with religious leaders too. It's just that some of those wouldn't eat with the sinners and tax collectors. Jesus refused to compromise on that, which sometimes meant that the "religious" people self-excluded. That is the reality of who he was; yet I consider myself a person who is both spiritual and religious and yearn to help create a community where people aren't forced to choose one or the other.

And how do we live our lives in ways - as individuals and as a community of faith -  that embody both grace and courage? The gist of what I tried to say in my August 1 post on this topic is that grace without the courage to act in ways that lead to justice is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." We must act in ways, as a community, that make it clear that we stand for justice. On the other hand, courage without grace allows the church to simply replicate the culture wars. More than one of my Facebook friends this week has posted the photo of "Christians" standing in line at Chik-Fil-A for a sandwich and asking the question about why that many "Christians" aren't in line at a soup kitchen to feed the poor. (It's a fair question. And yet many Christians I know, including the people among whom I serve, ARE quietly doing just that: feeding the poor regularly and without much media fanfare.) Courage without grace divides the church along the same battle lines as those of the culture.

My friend and the patronal saint of my parish, probably didn't really write the prayer attributed to him but that prayer does take us to the very heart of Franciscan spirituality: Lord, make us instruments of thy peace...

I yearn to be part of, and help lead, a Church that is about love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy - even in the midst of so much hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness, and sadness. That takes me to the heart of my vocation as a parish priest - as a person trying to be spiritual and religious - and it takes me to the heart of why I blog, as simply one more "media" for trying to do that work (with God's help.) I blog for the same reason I preach: to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

We live in a world of warring madness, and August 6 gives us a chance to pray and reflect about how God calls us to be peacemakers, and to try to find ways to beat swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. August 6, as we contemplate Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration, invites us to be transfigured and to share in that new be in some small way, instruments of God's peace.


  1. Hi Rich, This is the first time I've accessed you blog and I found it thought provoking.When I find myself feeling uncomfortable around "some people" and I think about how ungodly I am being I know that I am still a work in progress and thank God for the blessings He has given me which includes opportunities He presents to me in which I can serve Him. In that service I agree that we mostly do it without fanfare and the only thanks we get is the smile and thank you on the lips of (in my case)the veteran on who's tray I have just placed some food. That's all the fanfare I need and I can tearfully say, "thank YOU" and "Thank you Lord for yet another blessing" Bev Heath

  2. Rich,
    This is a really insightful reflection that brings home to me in a new way how Jesus' teachings are fundamentally founded on paradox. When I am least willing to embrace the ambiguities that seem to be inherent in the Christian life is when I become judgmental and "unChristian." The generosity, that I think you imply as a required calling, is itself paradoxical: giving away what we can't afford, and ultimately having more.

    As one who deals as much with secular worlds as ecclesiastical ones, the failure of Christians to embrace ambiguities like "graceful courage" and "courageous grace" prompt a major (and I think, righteous) criticism from those who have shoved off from the institutional church. It may be those who embrace yet another ambiguity -- that the church needs those outside itself to see the person of Jesus -- who can most fully grasp the body of Christ, and know that ultimate grace.