Thursday, August 27, 2009
"To flirt with rescue, when one has no intention of being saved. . . please forgive me."
I have never seen the musical, "A Little Night Music," and so had never heard that particular line of dialogue that comes in the middle of the song, "Send in the Clowns." But in browsing around on YouTube a couple of nights ago, I stumbled upon a clip of Dame Judy Dench performing that song. At the time (mid 1990's) she had been playing the role of Desiree in a production in London. During an interview on a British talk show, she explained the role of that song. "It is a very angry song."
I was used to the version done by Judy Collins, who has a lovely singing voice. What I had forgotten is that Sondheim wrote "Send in the Clowns" for an actress who was not a singer; oh one who could carry a tune, but not a beautiful lyrical voice like Collins, or others who have recorded this song. Watching Dench's dramatic, controlled, angry rendition of "Send in the Clowns" transformed this song for me. It is a song of regrets, of accusation, of remorse, and of grief at the missed opportunities and bad timing in a relationship.
Hence the line I quote at the beginning of this post. It is spoken by the man who is Desiree's husband, and it represents his confession. He never intended to be saved, even though he came and acted as if, given enough talk, dialogue, and time he and she could repair the damage done and come to a full understanding and a renewed relationship. Finally, he confesses his part in the farce.
Why does this song speak to me now? Well, it isn't a perfect analogy to recent events at the ELCA churchwide assembly, but there is just enough to jar me into recognizing the anger and the regret of this most recent stage in this denominational drama. "Send in the clowns! -- Don't bother. They're here."
But don't take my word for it. Listen to it yourself.
And, yes: maybe, next year.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"
And they answered him, "Well, it appears that there isn't a consensus yet among the crowds. Herod seems to think that you are John the Baptist come back from the dead; so I would stay out of Galilee for the foreseeable future if I were you. Others say Elijah; but you don't really look the part, and your diet is too rich for that to be a good description. And still others say one of the prophets. Jeremiah seems to be the prophet that gets mentioned most often, especially after that rant in the Temple; but we've also heard Amos. Thomas heard you compared to Micah; Simon even heard someone think you were Zephaniah, but I think that is a dark horse. So there really isn't agreement on this as of yet."
John piped in, "We've been concerned about this, actually, because your image is becoming diffuse and confusing to the crowds. Your public personna needs sharpening. "
James said, "Now don't get testy with us. We went ahead and hired a PR firm, one that is known for creating simple but effective public images that stick with the common man and woman. Now, they've been doing some polling, and think that you would be best served by choosing between the identities of either Moses or Elijah. Both of these have an overall positive reaction in the polling data, Moses because of the whole manna thing, Elijah because he opposed the alien influence from the Tyrian royal house, and would probably play well with the anti-Roman faction. But you need to choose one soon, today if possible, and then just stay on-message and be consistent with your public pronouncements and deeds of power."
Then Jesus turned to Peter, who had been uncharacteristically silent up to now. "But you, who do you say that I am?"
Peter looked straight at Jesus and said, "Um, the Annointed One of the LORD?"
The rest of the disciples broke out unanimously: "No, no, no! That one never even got mentioned in the polling! There will be no support for that image, not at all!"
Then Jesus said, quietly, "You know that the Son of Man will be arrested by the chief priests, and be beaten and ridiculed, and he will be crucified."
The disciples stared at Jesus in shocked silence. Then the PR guru spoke up. "Crucified, huh? Would be original; would have the advantage of never being done before. Let me try to picture that. . . no. No. That will never garner a following. Too negative, too violent. The rating on that image would never be family friendly. No, I can't see building a consensus on that idea. I really think the Moses revived would serve you best. Let's put some drawings together, present it to a couple of focus groups, and see how it plays. But I really think you can build a consensus on that. By the way, start carrying a staff. You might as well get comfortable with it now. I'll give you a call in a couple of days. But please -- no more talk about crucifixion! It is a real turn-off. You'll go nowhere with that, not if you want to have any influence on the under-30 multi-ethnic contingent. And let's face it, with an all-Jewish following, you could stand to build in something that will appeal to a wider constituency. Let's start thinking big-tent, shall we? I'll get back with something solid by the end of the week."
And thus the modern church was launched.
Monday, August 17, 2009
I ran across this video on YouTube, and what a gift! This young man has a tremendous voice, and this spiritual never sounded better, or more inspiring. Here is encouragement for this week during the Churchwide Assembly, and indeed for much more.
On this morning, before all the "stuff" begins, I am updating my Facebook page, including my group "Prayers for the ELCA." This has been a good discipline for me over these past few months, just to have to keep in the rhythm of posting a prayer every morning for this part of the Church known to us and to God as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In a couple of hours I will be registering at the Assembly desk, getting my credentials, logging in for internet access, and helping to make the Lutheran CORE room a hospitable place for those looking for the orthodox "center" at this assembly. Pastor Paull Spring reminded us last night that we are not some right-wing fringe group in the ELCA. We are centrists, orthodox, confessional, holding the faith and the interpretation of Scripture that has been confessed by Lutherans since the time of the 16th century. We are trying to hold the ELCA to the words of its confession in the constitution:
2.02 This church confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.
2.03 This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.
2.04 This church accepts the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as true declarations of the faith of this church.
2.05 This church accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel. . . .
2.06 This church accepts the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord, namely the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord, as further valid interpretations of the faith of the church.
For this day, and throughout this week, a portion of my morning devotions will be Romans 12: 9-21. Here are the verses I will concentrate on today:
"Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality."
Finally, let this prayer encourage us all in this week:
"This week we may be given
challenges instead of ease,
courage instead of contentment,
opportunities instead of rest.
But we have a Savior who brings
strength out of service,
faith out of struggle,
and victory out of defeat.
Go then, fearful of nothing,
sure that in everything
we are held secure
in the Master's steadfast love. Amen.
(E. Lee Phillips)
Sunday, August 16, 2009
How should one prepare for this Churchwide Assembly? I have been asking myself this question over and over for the past few months, and increasingly so in this last week. There are several temptations involved here. Yours may be different; but I will share three of mine.
The First: Despair. There's a reason that despair is in the list of the Seven Deadly Sins: it is deadly. Despair immobilizes you; because you are certain that failure is certain, you stop trying. You give up, and thus make failure more probable. Also, despair is part of the incurvatus se that Luther speaks of, being curved in on oneself as a result of sin. This sounds harsh and condemning; someone who is in despair surely is deserving of sympathy and kindness, right? Please note: I am speaking about myself, taking a good, strong, honest (even harsh) look at my own demon of despair. Curved in on myself, self-focused, self-absorbed, self-pitying: yep, that sounds about right! Indulging this is indulging the Old Adam in myself, and denying the power of the Holy Spirit to bring change to me. In fact, denying the power of the Holy Spirit, period. Which leads to the biggest reason despair is one of the Seven Deadlies: idolatry. Despair is denial that God is indeed God, and that the future is in God's care and keeping. Despair leads me to think that I know the future, and that God cannot turn it around, cannot use me even if my worst fears come true, cannot be in control if things happen differently from what I want. Instead, my despair is in control, which is a way of saying I am in control. And I have just put myself in the place of God.
The Second: Procrastination. I'm really good at this one. I can put anything off, until it is too late and it doesn't matter anymore. This is the sin I bring to God more than any other. When there is that pause for reflection right before the prayer of confession in the Brief Order, usually I am confessing something I have procrastinated about in the past week. In the case of the Churchwide Assembly, it is procrastinating on preparations. Yes, I've been busy. Yes, there have been some unexpected things pop up, especially in the last six weeks. Yes, it has been difficult to keep focused with some of the information that has been revealed recently. But I have procrastinated on some things that I needed to get done. And now I am scrambling. And some things won't get done, or won't get done right. And they could have. Once again, I will come to God with my faults on full view. And the procrastination feeds right in to the despair I talked about above. And it also works well with number three, coming up now:
The Third: Not Praying. I can pick some really bad times to get distracted from prayer. These last two weeks coming up on the Churchwide Assembly is probably the worst time to not be faithful in prayer. But I haven't been. Oh, I haven't given up praying altogether. But it is the kind of "prayer in a hurry" that doesn't really satisfy. Now, I know that God isn't keeping a tally sheet of how many minutes I spend in prayer per day; nor is He docking me "points" for giving him short shrift most days out the past few weeks. But that's just it: I'm not hurting God when I do this. I am just hurting myself. I am cutting myself off from the one thing that I know brings me strength and peace, even in the midst of things that I cannot control. Why? The Old Adam part of me, the one that has a weak spot for procrastination and despair.
So. Now that the Assembly is almost here, how do I prepare for it? Even though the past two weeks are full of missed opportunities, it is not too late. Jesus met me this morning in worship, in the Word read to me and by me, in the sermon that I preached about Jesus being present for us in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and then in the meal itself. Jesus fed me himself, and he is part of my body as I come into the city of Minneapolis, as I come into this week. My prayer book is next to my computer, and it will not be far from my hands throughout this week. I have heard from many who are praying for the ELCA in this week, and some who are praying for me. That is strength for the journey, and also impetus to make the time for my own prayers, for reading of the Psalms, and being attentive to the daily Scripture lessons. I have a bookmark list of music videos, courtesy of Youtube, that I will be going to in order to combat the despair that may come; and I will share some of those here. And I know the schedule of this week will keep me too busy to have time to procrastinate!
And Jesus is here, and will be here at the Assembly this whole week. I will see Him, both in the places I expect to find Him and in those unexpected surprising encounters where I wasn't looking for Him at all. I believe I will find Him present in and with those who are working for the same things I am working for; but I also think I will find Him in and with those wearing the rainbow stoles and the rainbow shawls, those working and praying for what I oppose. For all of us gathered in the Convention Center this week, with all of our contradictory and opposing agendas and prayers and hopes, I bring this prayer of St. Patrick:
"Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me.
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all who love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger."
Friday, August 07, 2009
The week has been full. I have been following the news out of Afghanistan, in part because I have friends who have sons who are in country, and in part because this far off country's fate is vital to our nation's fate as well. When I was in college and studying journalism, "Afghanistan" was a synonym for writing about something safe, something so far away that one could safely opine away without running the risk of offending anyone locally. That was indeed a different world. I watch the end of the Newshour on PBS and stand in silent honor as they show the names and photos of those who have recently died in Afghanistan and Iraq. The number of dead U.S. service men and women is rising. Oh, Lord, give us peace. Give peace to your world.
For this Friday, here is a prayer, sung, for the Holy Spirit to be upon this world. Let this bless your day.