Where We Must Go

A reflection in response to Proper 8, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(click here for biblical texts)

Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem
knowing he had to go to fulfill his mission
despite probable pain and rejection.
Mission. A word we associate with missionaries
going to foreign lands to spread Good News,
to convert, at least teach others
about Jesus, or to help with health and self-care
among those whose worlds are filled not
with science and modern learning
but with age-old remedies and ways of being.
Corporations and businesses have missions too,
principles designed to express the values and purpose
of the corporate culture, increase investment,
inspire workers to new heights
of achievement, more whole ways of toiling.

Jesus set his face medium com
medium.com

Do you have a mission? Do I?
Do we as the Body of Christ?
If we set our collective face,
even our individual, personal face,
to go to the Jerusalem, the hard place in our lives,
where would that be? Would we seek out
the person we have not yet forgiven,
be human and confess our sin
in order to set us, the world, more free?
Would we go, if we are white, to Baltimore or D.C.
or Ferguson, to engage in hard work
of undermining what white privilege has done,
is doing, to our siblings in Christ? Or
into corporate boardrooms to demand
an end to ceilings, Black and Brown and glass?
Or maybe all of us, regardless of
color or origin to stand outside the Pentagon
or White House demanding an end
to nuclear arms and a beginning to fund,
fully fund, programs to feed the hungry,
or health care for all? Or if we are L,G,B, or T,
do we bare our souls, maybe bodies, in places
of the greatest hate and intolerance,
go home to the small town we fled
and proclaim our embodied joy, or perhaps sit
in at a meeting of Catholic Bishops
or the Southern Baptists to ask them not
to talk to us but listen, just listen
to the truths of our lives? Or stand somewhere,
telling our government no walls,
return no immigrants other than criminals,
to open our hearts by the golden door
to all in need of new starts, a reprieve
from unrelenting violence in their own land.
Must we not take in the widows, orphans,
and sojourners in our midst? Is that not
holy teaching?

We are not Jesus, or Elijah, you say, not needing
to defeat the gods of Baal or of mighty Rome
or even rules of the ancient temple.
It is so, and yet, and yet, Baal walks among us
in many forms, and our nation is perilously close
to Rome despite our good intentions, our religious rules
often not far removed from the law from which Paul
told Galatians, and us, we were liberated.
We cannot condemn Pharisees
for short-sightedness when our own vision is small.
Like those whom Jesus met on his way to Jerusalem
we have many reasons to say “Okay,
just not now.” Or we can, like disciples,
threaten to destroy those from whom we feel
rejected, but Jesus, Jesus of Easy Yoke
and Hard Way, calls us to put hand to plow,
set our jaw, with confidence in God if not joy,
turn our face to the Jerusalem of our day,
our life, whatever it may be,
knowing, as it happened for Elisha
as he followed heaven-bound Elijah,
that the waters will part and we can go
where we are called to go,
where we must go.

About this poem . . . This is not an easy lectionary collection. Today’s gospel has hard sayings from Jesus, and the Hebrew accounts of Elijah and Elisha can seem too fantastic to our modern sensibilities, and even Paul, seeming to say flesh is bad in and of itself. And yet, there is through here, for me at least, a thread of engagement with the world, of being empowered and guided by divine forces to participate in co-creating the world God wants us to share.

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

Demons, Be Gone!

  • Reflection on Proper 7, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, and “Juneteenth”
    (click here for biblical texts)

When you want to drive out a demon or maybe more than one,
an addiction perhaps or a fear that saps life and energy,
or maybe a really big demon that runs and ruins many lives,
an ideology of hate or greed masked as business as usual,
you need divine help—a prayer is good, a plea for help
from on high, or if Jesus is nearby his touch or blessing works
wonders.  In Gerasene land, across from Galilee, one body’s worth of demons
is moved and then destroyed; perhaps some are aware
that in Galveston in Texas land almost two millennia later,
with what seems like less holy help,
a big demon was, for a while at least,
moved, although not destroyed (indeed it lives today,
but disguised for many).

Juneteenth
swlajuneteenth.org

On June 19, 1865, 151 years ago—known today as Juneteenth—
when General Grainger and Union troops entered Galveston
he issued General Order No. 3, putting into effect
what Lincoln had decreed more than two years earlier:
the slaves are free. Demon slavery had not gone willingly,
hanging on through a war of rebellion that cost more lives
than any other in our national saga; and in places like
Texas, far from the fighting, ignoring whatever transformation
the local powers did not entertain or accept in what
they perceived to be their own interest. But with
the new order, now freed slaves celebrated, as we continue
to celebrate today.

The powers that were in Texas probably felt like the locals
of Gerasene, opposite Galilee, when Jesus arrived, upsetting
local customs and freeing one man from demons
who enslaved him in self-hatred and destruction.  
In Galveston, this was an act of restoration, renewal
of identity—each slave’s humanity affirmed, their community
suddenly, in law at least, given recognition and perhaps
glimmerings of social power (sadly all too soon erased,
deliberately, viciously replaced by the
caste system called Jim Crow).
In the country opposite Galilee suddenly order
is overturned as the man’s demons, cast out of him,
enter swine, destroying herds,
and the local population see the formerly naked,
incomprehensible man now dressed and in his
right mind. Afraid of what has come to pass
and what it portends, the locals
ask Jesus to leave—just as federal troops and others
would be recalled from Texas and elsewhere.
The old order it seems must always be restored,
demons given their due.

And yet, and yet, the blessed man lives to tell his tale
of liberation and we read it still today, just as former
slaves—technically free while burdened
with old racist ways dressed in new fashions
of oppression, abuse, degradation—carried and shared
body memories of those few short years,
to be and live more or less free.  Today we remember
the hope and joy that was then and join the struggle
yet raging to free people and their demons everywhere—
God’s claim on us to topple diabolical powers
raging inside addicted fearful souls
and resist daily hell on earth
that is war, misery, poverty, racism, religious prejudice
(massacres of innocents in the name of God?),
proclaiming and instituting divine reality:
all our demons, be gone!

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . I appreciate the confluence of two events on the same day this year: the reading of the Lucan text involving the healing of the Gerasene demoniac and the 151st anniversary of Juneteenth, the day the slaves in Galveston were told of their freedom. Demons come in many forms, and they are often persistent, baffling, and cunning.  Yet God continues to give us authority to cast them out, if we choose to confront them and risk creating a new world.

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

It Is Always Them and Us

Reflection for Proper 6, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

(click here for biblical texts)

Sin is the great human equalizer
even though some always point with alarm
at sins of others and often manage
to sin really big as they hide behind
their judgments. A great gift King David shares
with us is the largeness of his sinning—
no petty morality thief he—this impregnator
of Bathsheba, murderer of Uriah did it big
not for the first or last time in his storied life.
Nor is it only once that loyal counselor Nathan
conveys God’s displeasure—can you just see
him, smacking his head perhaps, thinking how could he
do this, when will he learn there are limits
even for kings? Even great kings basking
in God’s favor.

Luke tells of less violent but still a disrespectful
act of Pharasaic inhospitality toward the woman
who dared show love and care for Jesus invited
to his home for dinner; this woman, labeled a sinner,
is judged unworthy by the host to grace his home—
can you not see him looking down his privileged
nose at her, even as she bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears
and alabaster ointment—and Jesus assumes Nathan’s
role to show the eminent one that etiquette
counts less than ethics, that generosity begins
in simple acts of kindness—greeting all your guests
invited or not with dignity, an embrace or kiss,
water for hands dirtied in the ordinariness of life
and for dried throats, perhaps even ointment
for weary brow and aching feet, none of this shared
by he who sits as judge.

This leader is to be sure well-meaning,
conscious of what he and others see as his role
and duty to keep rules of social decorum in place—
how will the others know where to sit without a place card,
and know if there is no such marker they are not welcome.
Order matters for him, as for many, maybe even for you and me;
It is so easy to sit on our own throne of judgment
but when did you last invite a homeless person to dine
with you, or even stoop to share a dollar with the beggar
lying rudely in his rags on the street?

As for David, those despicable acts are in a class
by themselves, so surely we can judge righteously,
not being rapists or murderers ourselves—but,
and think carefully before answering, when was
the last time you marched into your bosses’ office
and told her the company’s investments in the
West Bank, resulting in Palestinians being moved
off their land against their will, were immoral, or even spoke up
to object to the telling of a racist or homophobic
or transphobic joke, or went to an abortion clinic
to stand with women having to brave the pickets
standing in judgment of their need for help,
or if you are a person who considers himself white,
when was the last time you tried to organize your neighbors,
all of whom look like you, into protesting policies
and practices that make black men as many as ten times
more likely to be arrested than you and your friends?

Sin is the great human equalizer
because it comes in so many forms
and maybe the best way to see it is to look
in the mirror, at least to start there as a reminder
that redemption begins at home, that forgiveness
is a gift that keeps on giving, mercy is rarely overdone,
kindness is always appropriate, greed is always wrong
whether it is a brutal taking or a sly shoplift, killing
is at the apex of the index, whether it is one-on-one
or we sit idly as our army kills whether we know
the cause or not, just because someone has told us
it’s them or us.

The truth, God’s truth, is that it is never
them or us, it is always them and us, just us.
The sooner we learn that, the sooner sin
will die a holy and natural death.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . It can be comforting to read scriptural accounts of the failings of others, and to feel sorry for them, or judge them, or both, but in truth what if someone were writing down our acts, or our lack of acting in response to the wrongs we see? How would our story come out? Humility is a good place to live our faith. But boldness, too—when did you last bathe a stranger with your tears?
©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

Will We Let Ourselves Be Changed?

Reflection on Proper 5, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
(Click here for biblical texts)

Can you imagine being alive in the days
when Jesus walked, when Jesus walked,
I say again when Jesus walked,
when Jesus talked, when Jesus said to an
unnamed young man, Rise from your bier!
and even soon after, when Paul was touched,
knocked down from his religious height,
the perch of supremacy, of knowing
your faith is right, the other wrong . . .
Can you imagine, I mean can you really grasp
what it must have been like for either of these two,
one certainly dead, the other deadly certain?

And what of the others–how would we react if
someone sat up in the open casket
or began banging inside the closed one,
different yes from someone beating cancer
odds, surviving surgery doctors said would likely kill,
but still cause for celebration. A miracle?
Would it be like one raised Republican,
slamming others who want government to fix things,
climate change a hoax, Obama worships Allah,
realizing they were wrong, and rising to say it
while incredulous neighbors, long named as traitors,
suddenly find Saul now naming himself as Paul
at the local Democratic caucus voting Bernie? A miracle?

A miracle? Does the Pope decide or do we?
It was a miracle I passed my German test one point to spare–
it is that one extra point that felt like the miracle
at the time, making it clear: not a fluke.
I know its small potatoes, but if you knew how little
German I really knew you might be on your knees
as I was, allowed to stay in graduate school
to take more tests in subjects about which
I actually knew much and cared far more.

Have you experienced a miracle, or even more than one?
Do you expect more? Do you want more in your life,
in the life of the world? Do you pray for a miracle
or have you given up? So much that passes for wisdom
today seems bereft of the possibility of change
coming from outside ourselves, coming from on high,
or low, wherever we imagine God to live (of course,
when we do this, we limit God again, just like those who
claim God lives only in the pages of the holy book).

Too many so-called leaders claim they will make things
all better–great again, if you vote for me–not seeming
to need the rest of us, let alone divine aid–a clue for sure
at how limited their vision is, but then we do the same thing
when we leave God out of our plans, do not include
the ever-present possibility of miracles in daily life.
We cannot assume such intervention–hubris of the worst sort–
but to assume God has already used up Her quota
is an equally egregious egotistical exaggeration
of our place in the cosmic order, claiming for ourselves
the roles of Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier (spiritual energizer).

Sure, we are descendants, chips off the old block, but
we are not the block, the Source herself, and S/he has lots of life left
and will use it whether we agree or not. The question is, as it was
for Saul and the mother’s only son being carried to his grave,
will we let ourselves be changed, or will we persist
on our way, no matter how ugly, how limiting, how lacking
in godly mercy, justice, hope, grace, joy and love?
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . So often we read stories of healings and raisings and assume the age of such things is over. But is that true? Or have we set it up in our minds so that we can’t see miracles right before our eyes? Have we set ourselves up in a cynical theological mindset so that God can no longer be God, no longer do what God does?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the above credit when publishing this poem in any form