I am poured out like water

For some reason Psalm 22:14 has been running through my head since last evening. The full verse reads:

I am poured out like water;

all my bones are out of joint; *

my heart within my breast is melting wax.

Psalm 22 begins with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Psalmist’s cry is repeated by Jesus on the cross in Matthew and Mark. The Psalm is a profound reflection on personal pain and suffering that ends in a triumphant expression of praise of God. It probably served as the template for the shaping of the passion narrative in Mark and is used liturgically by many churches during the Stripping of the Altar on Maundy Thursday and is designated for use on Good Friday.

No doubt, my memory called it up because of Ash Wednesday and thinking ahead to Lent. I find much of the imagery problematic when used as personal devotion, however powerful it is in the context of communal worship during Holy Week.

But v. 14 speaks to me, and for me, today.

Those who read my blog regularly may remember that I mentioned at some point in the last three weeks that I was caught completely unawares by both the protests and in thinking what role Grace might play because of its location as “the church on the square.” I’ve been reacting, often without the time for reflection that I want to take. It has also up-ended everything else at Grace. Our Lenten planning, begun in early February, came to a crashing halt and we’ve had to piece it together at the last minute.

This week was intense for reasons quite beyond events on the square. We had an elaborate and exquisite liturgical and musical celebration on Last Epiphany, with a Haydn Mass and string players. Monday was the first Monday of the month, so that meant we were feeding 150 people from the Men’s shelter and the community. Then came Shrove Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday. The Capitol Square, though, was quiet, and I felt like I was able to catch my breath and was hoping that after Ash Wednesday I could regroup and enter fully into the season of Lent.

Events at the Capitol overtook us. The protests that provided a backdrop and accompaniment for our service. It was surreal.

It was while driving home that the verse of the psalm first came to me. It remained with me as I talked with Corrie about the day, we followed events on the internet, and then watched a few minutes of local news.

It remained with me when she said, “We’ve got to do something. You have to organize volunteers to be in the church tomorrow.” I replied, “I can’t do anything. I can’t write an email right now.” In the back of my mind was, “I am poured out like water.” A few minutes later, I went to bed, reciting that verse to myself.

When I awoke in the morning, it was still with me. I managed the email; we got the volunteers. And I went off to Clergy Day which was a welcome reason to be away from Grace and Capitol Square, for at least most of the day. But still those words were on my lips and in my heart, “I am poured out like water.”

Being with Bishop Miller and with my brothers and sisters among the clergy today was restorative. Many expressed their good wishes, their support, and told me I and Grace were in their prayers.

As they spoke, shared, hugged me, and offered to help however they could, I was deeply moved and uplifted. But still, the tears were close all day, “I am poured out like water.”

When we talk about Lent, we often use language of desert and wilderness. As a community, a city, a state, we are in a very difficult place. Wherever we stand on the political debates, deep harm, perhaps irreparable, has been inflicted on our community and on our body politic.

I came home on the bus this afternoon, really the first time I’ve ridden the bus in the past few weeks. As I was waiting, a young man engaged me in conversation. I’m sure he was a student. He had been at the Capitol and asked where I was headed. As we talked, and as he learned that I was Rector of Grace, he began to open up about his fears. I was grateful to God when my bus came before we were able to enter to deeply into conversation and just as two other bystanders began to engage us.

“I am poured out like water.” I will stay away from Grace and Capitol Square tomorrow, but somehow I have to open myself up to God enough so that I can craft a sermon to preach on Sunday, the First Sunday of Lent.

While I was at Grace this afternoon, I took the time to pass through the nave and chat with the volunteers who were present. One of them said that, while she couldn’t carry a sign, walk around the Capitol, and protest, she could be in the church, sit, and pray. She said she was praying for me. My hope is that everyone who reads this blog prays for me, for Grace, and for Wisconsin.

“We are poured out like water.”

Ash Wednesday: The Changing Drama of a day

Earlier, I posted a photo showing what the Capitol looked like at 6:45 this morning. We received an unexpected snowfall. I wasn’t sure at 6:55 that anyone would make it to our 7:00 service, but a few hardy souls arrived. The beauty and silence of our surroundings made our worship meaningful, allowing us to reflect on the day, our human nature, and the God who created us. I had prepared a homily, but instead of preaching it, I reflected on our human nature, laid bare for us in the ashes of Ash Wednesday, and in the love of the God who created us.

What a difference eleven hours makes. It was obvious from the noise outside that as we prepared for our 6:00 pm service, things were heating up. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I hoped to use the Joel reading to think about the  significance of social and communal sin.

I’m not sure it worked, but the incongruity of it all struck home after the exhortation (“An Invitation to a Holy Lent”). There is an instruction in the prayer book for silence following the exhortation and before the imposition of ashes. We kept the rubric, but there was no silence. We could hear the chants from the capitol, but even more distracting were the horns of passing cars.

We could still hear the chants and the horns as we began the Litany and prayed:

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

To put the debates over the budget and collective bargaining in the context of Ash Wednesday and Lent is no easy thing but knowing what is occurring outside our walls as we pray meant we were praying not only for ourselves but for our whole state.

The past weeks have been interesting, challenging, and incredibly stressful. Lent brings with it its own intensity. Given what happened tonight at the Capitol, the task of reconciliation will become even more difficult; our task as Christians, to respect the dignity of every human person, to love our neighbor as ourself (and our enemy as well), and in the midst of the cacophony, to trust in a God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

A few links related to the Wisconsin Protests

It really is becoming surreal. After the arrival and departure of the concrete barriers, access to the Capitol remains very limited. Even former Democratic congressmen can’t get in.

Democratic members of the Assembly have taken their desks outside and meet with constituents there.

There are voices of moderation. One is that of Republican State Senator Dale Schultz, who also happens to be Episcopalian. Here are excerpts from a recent interview. It’s well worth watching, wherever your political sympathies lie:

Here’s a link to a thoughtful piece by Paul Grant, a doctoral student at UW Madison, in which he talks a little bit about the unique culture of Wisconsin, going back to the 19th century.

Images from Grace Church today

I really did try to take a day off today. I also tried to stay away from the Square, and the Church, but I couldn’t resist coming down to see what was going on.

Some interesting images. First off, when we got there around 3:30, we saw workers unloading concrete barriers on West Washington Ave. It was surreal and evoked images of the security steps taken in the days after 9/11. It wasn’t at all clear what the barriers were for. Even after they were set up around the W. Wash. entrance to the Capitol, I couldn’t figure out why they were needed and what they were protecting.

Here’s a picture of them unloading the barriers:

Here’s a photo of the W. Washington entrance to the Capitol from the steps of Grace Church. Shortly after this was taken, the crowd here moved to the left, to the State Street entrance, on the theory that the noise they made could disrupt the Governor’s budget speech:

We went home after an hour or so, and passed another stark image. To get to our car, which was parked in the alley next to Grace Church, we had to pass through the line of guys waiting for the doors of the Men’s Drop-In Shelter to open so they could get a meal and a place to sleep for the night.

I had read about some of the cuts Governor Walker is proposing, and as I chatted with the guys in line, I wondered how many more people would end up on the street if the cuts went through, how many people would die because they couldn’t get access to health care or housing or mental health care.

Most of the protesters are union members–teachers, public service workers, police and firefighters. There were representatives from other unions as well. They have a great deal to lose, of course, but the stakes are even greater for the poor, the sick, the mentally ill, and the other marginalized members of society.

Pretty Quiet at Grace today

Our doors were open today, as they will be every day this week. Thanks to the volunteers who are providing hospitality. Not many people came in today, but then, there weren’t many people around Capitol Square, either. My guess is tomorrow will be busier, with several rallies planned as well as the governor’s budget speech. If you’re around and need to get warm, use a restroom, or pray, drop in and say hello.

I walked around the Capitol a couple of times today. I stood with the group at the King St. entrance where people were being prevented from entering. As the day went on, the numbers grew.

As I walked from the King St. entrance around toward State St., one protester who was banging a drumstick against a metal garbage can lid (or something of the sort) made his way up the stairs and on  to the portico. I was near a couple of sheriff’s deputies at the time, and I heard one say to his buddy, “I’m not going to do anything about that unless I’m ordered to.”

Seeing my collar, several people suggested the cops might let me in. I didn’t test the theory, but I might later in the week if this continues.

I’m not sure how long this will continue but enormous damage has been done to our state and our common life. I’m beginning to think of the aftermath–what can we as a community of faith do to foster reconciliation?

Opening our Doors: An update

As we have for the past two weeks, Grace Church will continue to open its doors this week for all who seek a place of prayer, warmth, and respite on Capitol Square. Thanks to parishioners who have agreed to serve as hosts on Monday and Tuesday. If you’re in the square drop by Grace to warm up and say hello. We’d love to meet you.

We’ve been struggling throughout the last two weeks to keep up with events and most of the time we’ve been reacting; dealing with situations after they’ve already begun to develop. We don’t know what’s going to happen this week, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response to our efforts to extend our hospitality.

We know how difficult a time this is for many people. It’s been difficult for us, as well. Addressing the situation on the ground while we are also trying to go about the regular work of the church–finalizing budgets, preparing service bulletins, trying to get everything organized for Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Lent. Well, we’ve been overwhelmed.

I’m grateful to our staff who have been gracious in their flexibility; grateful to to parishioners who didn’t say anything about the dirty floors of the nave today, and have been supportive of our efforts to reach out in these past weeks.

I’m also deeply appreciative to the leadership of Bishop Steven Miller and my clergy colleagues who have offered their support and prayers.

Keep praying for us, for all of us in Madison’s Capitol Square, across the country and the world who are seeking to speak out for justice in the name of God.

What, me worry? A sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Epiphany

What? Me Worry?
Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
February 27, 2011

I took a call this week from someone who was totally frantic. He was facing homelessness for the first time, due to circumstances outside of his control, and he didn’t know what to do. The fear and anxiety came through as he spoke. I spent some time trying to calm him down, and then I walked him through the steps he could take to address the situation in which he now found himself. I was also able to help him with one of his immediate needs, as well provide a little orientation to the Men’s Drop-In Shelter here at Grace.

I’ve had several such conversations this winter with men who are in a completely new situation, often in a place that they know nothing about. They are completely disoriented, both geographically, and with regard to their lives. They don’t know what to do; they don’t know where to turn for help. By the time they come to me, they are often at wit’s end. All I can do is help get them oriented to the homeless shelter and hope that they can survive in a cold winter with no personal resources and few social services available to help them.

I’m increasingly aware of the anxiety that seems to be pervasive in our world these days. You can sense it when you walk around Capitol Square—police officers from out of town who aren’t sure what’s going on and why they’re here; protesters who are deeply frightened about what might happen; state workers who are concerned about what’s going to happen to them. Workers in the restaurants and other businesses that line the square are frazzled too. For many of them, every day brings another crowd of customers. They’re happy for the money and the tips, of course, but they also need a rest.

We may be feeling it more dramatically here than elsewhere in America, but there’s no question that we are an anxious people right now. We are worried about our own livelihoods, our personal family futures, and the future of our country. Many of us are also deeply concerned about the future of our planet. Worry seems to be a constant in our lives. We do all sorts of things to reduce our anxieties. We take medications, some of us self-medicate. We search for distractions. We may try to wall ourselves off from our neighbors and the world by turning off the tv.  We may seek to insulate ourselves with wealth, and luxury. In the end, nothing can secure us from our angst.

To hear today’s gospel with such a background is startling. The incongruities are piling on. In the last weeks, we have heard Jesus make radical statements like if you call your brother or sister a fool, you are liable for hellfire, someone who lusts in their heart has already committed adultery, and if someone hits you on your right cheek, turn your left and allow them to hit you on your left. These statements, commandments really, are so far away from our personal experience and perspectives that most of us cannot imagine living according them. When do see someone who lives in that way, people like Gandhi or MLK, we quickly are inclined to revere them as saints or something more than human.

Today’s gospel seems to be in the same vein. How can we not worry? How can we not plan for tomorrow? To do otherwise would seem to be irresponsible. All of the worries that swirl around in our minds, compounded by the events that occurring around us in Capitol Square, all of those worries are certainly legitimate. They are very human responses to the lives we are living and the situations in which we find ourselves.

But is there good news in these words from the gospel? Are there words that can help us get necessary perspectives on our lives and on our world and experience the grace of God? We might be tempted to say that “God will take care of everything” or just pray, or trust in God, and it will all work out. But many of us no all too well that such statements ring hollow and false in the face of the real challenges we face—whether it’s our economic well-being, our health, whatever.

To answer these questions, it might be helpful to look back to other texts we heard today, in particular, the reading from Isaiah and the Psalm. The reading from Isaiah clearly dates from the period of the exile, when the elites of Jerusalem and Judah had been forced into exile by a victorious Babylonian empire. It begins with the prophet promising deliverance to a disheartened people, assuring them that they will return to Jerusalem, and that God will take care of them on that difficult journey. Yahweh speech ends with a statement that God has comforted God’s people and had compassion on those who suffered.

These words rang hollow to the exiles as well, who replied to these promises by saying that God had forsaken them. To this, the prophet replied, using a surprising metaphor: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?” Comparing God to a nursing mother, the prophet reminds God’s people that a mother’s love is a powerful bond that unites her with her child.

That same image is picked up in the Psalm, which some scholars think was written by a woman who is describing her own experience. It begins with a stunning reversal of the sursum corda, the words we sing or say at the beginning of our celebration of the Eucharist. In the Instead of “We lift our hearts unto the Lord” the NRSV translation of the Psalm reads, “My heart is not lifted up.” For whatever reason, the Psalmist cannot praise God. But the psalm continues, saying that in spite of all the trouble that may be taking place:

I still my soul and make it quiet

Like a child upon its mother’s breast

My soul is quieted within me

We might think, from our translation, that the Psalmist is using precisely the same imagery here as the prophet did in Isaiah. That’s not the case. Where Isaiah likened God to a mother nursing her child, the force of the Hebrew in the Psalm implies the child has been weaned. No longer dependent on her mother for all nourishment and protection, we can imagine a toddler, eager to explore the world, yet often in need of comfort.

Two slightly different, yet equally comforting images of a God, who like a mother, loves and cares for her child. To remember those images, the notion that God is like a mother who loves, nourishes, and comforts her child, helps us put Jesus’ words about not worrying in proper perspective. Instead of hearing them as instructions on how to live our life, plan for tomorrow, or even plan for the rest of our lives, Jesus is reminding us that our lives are ultimately held within God’s loving embrace.

To hear those words, and to experience that embrace can give us the assurance that in the midst of a difficult and uncertain world, with all sorts of concerns and worries swirling around in our heads, our lives are in God’s hands. We may continue to struggle to find security in our lives by accumulating status and wealth, by grasping for security. Some of us may respond to our uncertainty, and our fears, by protesting. In the midst of all that, in the midst of the chaos, confusion, and conflict that surrounds us, let us remember God’s loving embrace, taking comfort in that love, and drawing strength for the journey that lies ahead.

This is what Religion looks like, Part 3

Video of Bishop Miller at the rally today:

. Thanks to Shannon Kelly.

I didn’t see Bishop Miller today. I was in Grace as the clergy assembled and my guess is he was either outside the church or couldn’t make it through the crowd.

One amusing note: clergy and protesters behave like everyone else when they enter a church. They crowd the back and leave the front half of the church completely empty.

This is what religion looks like, part 2

I went up to the church this morning after learning that the steps of Grace Church would be a gathering point for another Interfaith rally. When Corrie and I got there, and realized how cold it was, we decided we had to open the church. I was there from 10 to 5. I made it out onto the steps of Grace for a few minutes to soak in the atmosphere. People came in to warm up all morning and early afternoon, but by 2:15, we had a crowd inside.

This is what religion looked like at 2:15:

Here a few Grace members:

Here’s what religion looked like at 4:00:

I didn’t follow the group as it went around the square. I stayed back at Grace, keeping our doors open for those who were looking for a warm space and somewhere to rest their feet.

We were a sanctuary. In the course of the day, I had interesting conversations with lots of people. It was a long, exciting, and rewarding day. Thanks to all of those Grace people who helped today.