The Holy Fray of Living

 

A Meditation in Response to Proper 24, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Genesis 32:22-31 and Luke 18:1-8)

Click here for biblical texts

 

Banging on pots and pans, chanting, parading
with signs, demanding and working for change;
justice surely requires persistence
as those who seek equality, or even elemental
fairness, have to learn endlessly.
Who does not know this woman, perhaps you
have been one, are one, who pesters over and over
until she gets her answer—not that
there are not men like that, many must do the same—
and do we not at least know of an official who,
corrupted by power, listens to the little people
only when he—and this is most assuredly a he—
has to?

jacob_wrestles_with_god_small

Is Jesus comparing God to politicians
who avoid concerns of lesser beings?
Or is this parable, like others, about us,
about needing persistence in our prayers,
to desire God’s presence in our lives without ceasing,
knowing that God is always present and so
it is we who must show up, like Jacob,
and be prepared to wrestle the entire night
without knowing the outcome at daybreak
or even if for sure there will be a new day?

The struggle for justice: an endless endeavor
requiring great patience married with tenacious
impatience and commitment to create change,
undermining injustice at every turn,
calling out those who sustain the status quo
whether by active connivance and intention
or through ignorance and resignation—
a struggle in which God is at the center
despite those who claim their reign of
oppression finds support in Holy teaching.

God unceasingly breaks the bonds
where mortals seek to imprison Her,
showing us that liberty for the captives,
freedom for us and all the others held hostage
to the greed and hubris of individuals
and systems intent on their own aggrandizement
without regard to us and others—this justice
is our work as much as God’s. Perhaps more.

We cannot do it without divine help
but God seeks us, as He did with Jacob,
to prepare us, inspire us, challenge us
to enter the holy fray of living knowing  
whose banner we carry, whose trumpet we follow,
and by whose scales we are measured.

Who in our day is the widow and who the judge?

 
About this poem . . . . The parable of the persistent widow is a homely tale and can seem to suggest that God is slow to respond to our prayers—that we need to bombard God with requests for aid. Yet, Jesus cautions us to be aware of God’s constant and timely care, and warns us to be ready when we are called upon to account for our faithfulness. What have we done with our time on earth? How have we responded to God’s call for justice?  Perhaps God is the widow and we are the judge?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Impossible Is Opinion Not Fact

Meditation on Proper 22, 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Luke 17:5-10)

Click here for biblical texts

When I hear Jesus speak of mustard seed,
like a Mighty Mouse of faithful living,
I think of Muhammad Ali,
whose faith was awe-inspiring;
it matters not to me whether his faith
was in himself or in Allah
or something else, in fact he moved mountains—
he beat systems stacked against him and earned
respect even from those who hated him.
Would that I could be so faithful!!!

muhammad-ali
birminghamtimes.com

I was raised to hear Jesus shaming disciples,
us, for not having enough faith—
not even as much as a tiny mustard seed—
when what he is offering is encouragement,
indeed saying we have more than we need
to do what we are called to do, who we are called
to be in God’s economy of life and grace.
We need not be slaves to former understandings,
a Christianity that is about obligation,
hard rules, having to earn God’s love, and falling short.
Instead, we can break guilt-inducing chains,
even turning his lesson about doing what is commanded,
as if we have no choice,
into a commitment to live joyously, exuberantly
the way he did, not focused on duty alone
but also on the gift that comes from being all
we can be, of knowing that God calls us
not to perfection but to faithfulness.

Hard to hear Jesus speak of slaves, given our history,
how it continues to infect our world;
I choose not to hear this parable as an endorsement
of human cruelty. Instead, within the world he inhabits,
he speaks of a system of mutual accountability,
where each party provides what is expected: work  
by one and food, rest, care, and protection by the other.
Might this be a way to understand faith—with one
big difference: God provides the faith and the care,
and hopes we will use them to make our whole selves and our world
in God’s image? No divine punishment if we do or don’t, but
we are accountable to God and each other
for how we use God’s gifts, how we claim the power—
do we hide our soul lamp under blankets of fear
or do we boldly proclaim and live our mission,
do we don our cape, remember with Muhammad Ali:
impossible is opinion not fact?

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This reading seems to combine two distinct strands and many wonder why the author of Luke chose to bring them together. And yet they are both about how we can live God’s truth and power—either claiming them or not, being accountable or not. In our today, mustard comes in a jar and slavery is ugly, so we can miss the message, or even choose to do so. But I hear power and I hear . . .  get to work, there’s a world to heal, a world to save.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Looking in the Mirror

Response to Proper 21, 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Luke 16:19-31)

(Click here for biblical texts)

 

People of means in your church help pay the bills, including
salaries, and especially the pastor’s,
and they are usually pleased and proud to do so,
but conflict may arise when Jesus tells
the parable of Lazarus and the unnamed rich man.
What church, indeed what church leader, lay or ordained,
would know the name of a beggar
but not that of a rich man who either
already gave funds to build the new addition
(and where his name is on the plaque)
or who is being asked to do so?
But that is what Jesus does—leading us
again to wonder what kind of leader
he would be for our church? Could we afford
a pastor who lives this way, turning the tables
not only over in the sanctuary but also
making it difficult, perhaps impossible, to buy new ones?

lazarus-and-the-rich-man-wikigallery-org
wikigallery.org

Here again Jesus provides comfort to the slave,
the sharecropper, the unemployed, victims of racism,
ableism, sexism, xenophobia, and all other ways we divide people
into those with whom we connect,
those we see, those whose eyes we meet,
and those we walk by, step over, avert our eyes
as if to say we deny they exist,
echoing today in the claim “All Lives Matter”
in response to anguished cries of many
that some lives more than others are blown away by bullets,
thrown away by poverty, discrimination and privilege.

Privilege. That is what the rich man had,
the option not to see Lazarus, not even to see
the dogs who licked Lazarus, infecting his wounds.
So we see what to do, emulate Father Abraham,
bring those we “diss” and dismiss into our heart,
make it the bosom of Abraham—and that is not
only the work of the rich but also many, including me,
whose privilege is not only wealth greater than most
of the world but also whose skin color,
gender, ability, age, weight gives us
a leg up in the marathon of life.

Oh that Jesus, doing it again, holding the mirror
up to see ourselves so we can decide
which actor in the parable is us—
and perhaps choose how to respond . . .
today.

If you are reading this, it’s not too late.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This parable continues Luke’s focus on money and spiritual health, but it seems to me to be one that is often overlooked, because I suspect it makes us uncomfortable. There is no mercy for the rich man and somehow many of us (the ones who set the social norms or whose lives live in concert with them), although most certainly not all of us, instinctively know who we are in the story. And we may inhabit several different identities and that can change which character we are at any given moment. Still, it seems, again, that Jesus wants us to choose.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Real Choices

A Reflection in Response to Proper 20, 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Luke16:1-13)

 

Click here for biblical texts

 

A cool September morning, walking in the park,
my husband talking about work troubles,
our dog sniffing the ground and eying the scampering squirrels,
birds flitting and singing, we sharing good mornings
with those on the same path, admiring other dogs,
all the while I keep hearing Jesus, you cannot serve God and wealth,
or the way I learned it long ago, God versus Mammon,
the god of money, Caesar, evil chasing after wealth,
visions of an ugly beast with multiple tentacles
reaching out to ensnare us all
into putting the pursuit of worldly riches
at the center of life.

money-prisoner
godmammon.com

Sometimes he just gets in your head and you can’t stop it,
sort of like the manager in Jesus’ parable caught up in
what he saw as survival, leveraging what was not his
to keep him from money or Mammon ruin,
forgetting about honor or responsibility—
and strangely he seems to come out alright
avoiding the axe using other peoples’ money;
is this not what we read about with banks too big to fail?
Is Jesus recommending cheating those who are owed?
Or is he playing us, and his hearers?
I don’t claim to know, some scholars I read
seem unclear at best, so I can only say
the Jesus I know does not dismiss honor, care,
love, responsibility, moral judgment so easily.
You just have to take my word on that. Or not.

Wall Street, even lobby of my friendly local credit union,
feel far away, because I keep hearing Jesus who once again
sounds like a socialist, not a fan of free enterprise, or consumersm.
Ouch. Most U.S. citizens are not partial to that label,
despite The Bern, not ready to see the welfare of the mass
more important than the profit of the few who make it work,
no prophet of that ancient view accepted even in his hometown
or sanctuaries that claim him for their own.
Once again Jesus unsettles the easy assumptions
of my life and the lives of my comrades in the pews,
and so we look away, embarrassed by the demand
on our individual and collective soul.
Why does he do this again, force us to stand,
uncomfortable like school children found wanting,
not knowing our lessons and resentful that we cannot
go to recess and play as if we have no cares,
pretending that no one Is hungry, no one is shivering,
no one is dying from neglect?

A walk in the park is a choice for health and happiness;
the market says we have choices, and we do, between brands
of toothpaste and cars, but Jesus reminds us we have real choices,
life and death soul choices.  

 
About this poem . . . . This choice Jesus calls us to make, between focusing on God and focusing on wealth or money or Mammon, is perhaps the most difficult one there is, at least in the United States where the reigning ideology is about getting enough wealth to survive and then to do more, to become wealthy enough to live well and then better and better, until we die and leave it our loved ones who can continue the quest. We are, it seems a “more” culture—everyone wants, we are told by experts, 20% more than they have . . . and that is true if we are at the bottom of the economic pile or the top. Do not our things get in the way of our relationship with God? What are we supposed to do?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit live above when this poem is published

Turned Upside Down

Reflection in response to Proper 19, 17th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

(click here for biblical texts)

Jesus’ long line coming before him, just like us, includes:
Moses being told by God to get down off the mountain
to stop the golden calf, Jeremiah speaking of God’s anger
at foolish people, psalmists singing of people, us, gone astray.
And then there are those who grumble because he dares
to hang out with, even like, wrong people, you know
those who still make golden stock portfolios, who make fools
of themselves denying God and others, who wander off
from divine connection, maybe never seeking that gift
so they do not even know what they are missing,
until they meet Jesus.

bayard-rustin-angelic-troublemakers
princetonlgbt.tumblr.com

That’s the point, right? Freshest recruits for spiritual awakening
are not among the practiced who already know
the answers everyone else knows, those running church affairs
who view order as the sign of their faithful stewardship,
or those who daily read their Bibles avoiding new ideas religiously.   
Moses was not the only one who encountered stiff-necked people,
and their descendants are all too sure of themselves today.
A question for this time: would Jesus join us for worship
or would he be on the wrong side of town
hanging out on the street asking passersby for spare change
for homeless people, or joining protests against police
brutality in the ‘hood, or maybe drawing crowds in alleys
as he healed the sick, lame, blind, and lonely?

Brother Bayard Rustin praised angelic troublemakers—
he was one himself—and he knew heaven rejoiced
when someone cared more for healing a hurt
or righting a wrong than for living decently
and in the correct order.
God is indeed merciful, waiting patiently for us
to get things turned upside down by worldly standards,
that is, divinely right side up.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem. . . It is easy to feel superior to those who questioned Jesus’ choice of companions, but do we really get the radical demand he places on us? How much time do we spend hunting for, caring for, the lost sheep, or do we just walk by them on the street?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2015 FaithfulPoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published.

Not Too Late

A Reflection in Response to Proper 18, 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C,
(especially Luke 14:25-33)

Click here for biblical texts

Disciples walk, at least those following Jesus,
and not just the Galilean ones but today’s as well,
but not always a pleasant garden stroll,
chatting, admiring the flowers and butterflies;
more often a demanding call on our soul and body,
asking us to set aside important things, as we see,
for life-changing, even world-changing acts of faith,
trust, love and justice to transform ourselves,
maybe all God’s people,
and even save some corner of God’s earth.

Jesus discourse with disciples James Joseph Jacques Tissot Public domain, Brooklyn Museum
James Joseph Jacques Tissot, Brooklyn Museum (public domain)

A lesbian woman goes on a journey, connecting
with her soul and body, as loved ones reject her—
you are not our daughter, sister, they say, we no more family—
her walk feeling desert dry, dust caking her mouth
and her heart. She keeps walking with Jesus
her disciple walk of truth, wholeness, beside him.
A writer denying his craft for more lifetimes
than he cares to count hears the call,
laying down what he thought the world wanted from him
and walks not really knowing the direction but trusting
Jesus by his side. One, sometimes a man, sometimes woman,
 who has every possession, trips over all the stuff—
lands upside down hearing the voice
trying to get through for so many years,
gives up trying to decide which of six homes to visit,
what investments to sell, which party to attend—
breaks clean from that pursuit to kneel and pray
and then gives most all away save one little urban bungalow
and some green energy stocks and peace bonds,
to walk sweaty streets with the Lord, greeting homeless,
ex-cons, disturbed, old and young, inviting them home to a meal and shower,
lessons in self-care, clean clothes, job and education links,
like some latter day Paul saving souls they used to condemn.

Not all disciple walks are dramatic, a change in attitude
enough to turn around to walk with Jesus rather than against him.
What voice are you hearing , or refusing to hear?
Walking beside him may not be the same as following;
turning back is harder when you are shoulder to shoulder.
It’s not too late to turn aside from the demands we and the world
have put at the center to walk with the One who is the center.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . It is not easy being a disciple, and Jesus does not want to delude us with an easy invitation. So he makes it hard, really hard. We may even be shocked by talk of hating one’s family, but we surely know of family that hate their children, grandchildren, siblings. Sometimes, discipleship is not about our hate but others hating us. Or finding our own way even though we don’t know the way, or maybe we have to give up dreams of material abundance? He’s often gentle, but not often easy.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 Faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above wherever this poem is published.

Damn It, Jesus

A Reflection in Response to Proper 17, 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(focusing on Luke 14 and Proverbs 25)

Click here for biblical texts

Jesus is a gracious guest, not grabbing
the best seat, not worrying for himself
about status—at the same time using status
to suggest that blessing
is more important than being blessed,
even as we bless others we are blessed.
He is such a good rabbi, reminding the gathering
as in Proverbs 25, “it is better to be told,
‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in
the presence of a noble,” but Jesus also, again,
makes a challenging claim on us—
“when you give a banquet, invite the poor,
the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

beggar with hands out
vincentmars.com

There is a man at the Metro stop where I live
who sits often, saying “pennies, pennies, pennies . . . .”
in a small, rasping, needy voice.
Most of us pass him by, part of the everyday landscape
not unlike the Native woman who carries a crude sign,
“Single mother, 4 child,” holding the hand of one of them,
a girl about seven or eight, seeking donations on the train.
How do we invite them to share in the banquet?
So far all I know is to give them some
change, a dollar bill or a protein bar.
Most people seem to look away.
Is it enough for me to give that small support
or do I at least need to see doing this as a joyous act,
not a duty but a gift given to me to reach out
and invite them to the banquet?

I mean whose banquet is it anyway?
And what kind of banquet is it,
where I, or we, invite the poor—I am afraid
to ask Penny Man home, would he leave
when the meal ends and how would I feel sending him
back on the street?
How could I forget him when I did that?
Damn it, Jesus, why do you leave us with these words
that challenged those long ago and can upend us
when—if –we allow ourselves to let them
get under our skin—when we usually resist
by hoping someone else will feed the poor
and the rest you mentioned, and more we know
need help? Can’t the government do something
or what about other churches or charities?

But you speak about more than helping; you want us
to become community with those we rarely see and never
consider part of our group, our social set, our tribe, our people.
That would mean digging deeper into understanding our neighbor;
who is my, who is our, neighbor really?
I know the immigrant is my neighbor,
and others who some despise, but what about Penny Man
and that desperate mother and the Black man and others
behind bars for being in the wrong place at the wrong time,
as well as those who really broke the law?
When was the last time I visited someone in prison?
At least they have a roof, three squares a day—
but not much dignity on the inside
and most often little help when they are allowed to rejoin
what we call society.

Thanks to you, Lord—yes, I mean that,
and my voice also carries an edge—I cannot get Penny Man
or the mother with her four kids,
out of my head, maybe even my heart.  
I’m on my knees, let this cup pass me by I say,
knowing how offensive that sounds compared
to your request in the garden long ago . . . so I keep
praying, trusting you will guide me to become both
my neighbor’s keeper and just a better neighbor.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Sitting in a comfortable church and no matter the power of the excellent, liberating preaching, it is not always easy to hear and feel the discomfort Jesus intends with his modest words, especially when they can seem to be about others long ago. I have walked by, and even given money and food to, more homeless people than I can possibly count. I am not quite sure why this man at my Metro stop, and this mother with the haunting eyes and her daughter whose face registers both fear and gratitude when I hand over a dollar, have gotten under my skin, but I know some of it, much of it, has to do with Jesus, and not just this reading from Luke. I am feeling ‘buked for my years of what appear to be hard heart (and thus a little, maybe more than that, ticked off) and simultaneously blessed for being given a gift I do not yet understand.  Is this what faithfulness looks like, feels like?
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published.