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

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.

Beloveds of God

A Meditation in Response to Proper 14, 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (especially Luke 12:32-40)

Click here for biblical texts

Jesus tells us, several  times at least, that we have what we need,
but most of us worry, doubt even, that we are not good enough
to earn, deserve, what we have already received.
And then Jesus tells us more proof that the gifts will arrive,
perhaps when we least expect it, and it can sound like we
had better be sitting up all night with our ears attuned to every
sound—which one will be him or God or Spirit breaking in our lives?

What he is really saying is that it is always happening,
In fact we need to learn how to be open to all the gifts, so many
gifts, that God has for us each day, all day.

I hope someday you grasp how loved you are
ursulinesmsj.org

Did you see the glint in the person’s eye as you passed by
them at the mall, they were having a God moment,
you could have received it too if you had been paying attention.
Or what about the touch of your friend as you parted after lunch,
did you feel the embrace of the Holy Spirit,
did you feel electric current between you and
your friend as it traveled up your arm into your shoulder,
taking direct aim at your soul? I mean, did you really
feel deep holy warmth at your core?

And the simple Shasta daisies outside your neighbor’s door,
did you see heaven as you rushed by them
this morning on your way, late for work, not too late
for God’s presence if you could simply pause
long enough to breathe? The question is not only
where are you putting your treasure, your money, but also
your time, your energy, focus. Where is your heart?
Your mind, is your mind on God or your to-do list?
Indeed, is God on your to-do list? Does God have a time
on your calendar? Every day? More than once a day?

Jesus wandered around Palestine talking with people,
all sorts of people—including the local people of color
known as Samaritans, as well as hated tax agents,
listening to their troubles, worries, ailments, offering
healing  and hope and clarity about how God,
the holy, is not locked up in Temple or even a book, but
is on the loose, moving freely among us, like Jesus,
open to hearing us, sitting with us, even praying
with us—how about we stop praying to God, start
praying with God?—everywhere we are, all of us,
not limited to folks in a particular pew in a particular house
of worship, God in some ways less like a bridegroom,
more like a street person, a beggar, just hoping
we will notice and stop and pass the time of day,
perhaps sharing not only a quarter or a dollar
but also a word or two of connection, human connection,
divine connection, trusting that as we open ourselves
to the wonders of the universe we shall remember
from whence we come and whose we are.  And then
we shall be ready for the next moment we catch a glimpse
of the holy among us, in us, with us, and we shall
celebrate with God and know we have once again
been invited to sit at the holy table and feed until
we are full of our inheritance, ready and eager
to share the blessing with those who do not yet know
what a glory it is to be blessed, to be beloveds of God.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . It is so easy to get wound up in the literal text that we miss the larger message. In Luke 12:32-40, I don’t experience Jesus telling us to be in a literal vigil, not doing anything but sitting in readiness, day and night after day and night, but rather to be alert in all that we do and say and see and hear, in all moments, to the presence of God. We are given so much each day, each moment, and we, at least I, miss so much of it, busy fending off the vagaries and troubles of life that I forget to see the beauty and joy and holy power in each molecule, each atom, each moment.

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever and wherever this poem is published

 

We All Know the Story. Right?

NOTE: I posted this poem, although I consider it incomplete–due to time and commitment pressures at the General Conference of Metropolitan Community Churches in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Reflection in response to Proper 10, 8th Sunday after Pentecost

(click here for biblical texts)

We all know the story.
Jesus continues on his journey to Jerusalem;
even as his face is set toward danger
he is asked the question we may well ask
if we are brave enough to trust we can bear the answer:
What must I do, how must I live, to inherit eternal life?
It’s so simple, Jesus seems to say in response:
You shall love God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your strength,
and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
He does not have to come up with a new teaching,
he merely cites Deuteronomy and Leviticus
like a good judge calling on precedent already set
to decide the case. But his interlocutor, lawyer or scribe,
has a further question: then who is my neighbor?
Is it a trick question or is it a sincere seeking after wisdom?
Or do we care?

And do we really know the story?
It all seems so neat, so tidy. We are to show mercy,
as the lawyer concludes, be kind to others,
help the stranger stranded by the side of the road.
But, but, always the but, with Jesus,
we should know by now that our Lord teaches
at many levels, with meanings within meanings.
Maybe here it is good to ask, for example,
who is it from whom we cannot imagine mercy,
from whom we would not want mercy, whose kindness
would set our teeth on edge?
Who is it whom we cannot imagine as neighbor?
Is the man from ISIS my neighbor? Is the gunman
mowing down dancers in Orlando my neighbor?
Is the presidential candidate who says everything
I abhor my neighbor? Is David Duke my neighbor?
Is the policeman who kills a black man on the ground my neighbor?
Are any of them your neighbors? Why or why not?
Can we say their names in the same sentence
as neighbor, or do we, like the lawyer who refuses
to say “the Samaritan,” choose to look and speak the other way?

The prophet Amos and his plumb line perhaps
can help us here, or make it even harder:
do you, do I, do we, hold ourselves to the same
standard we insist for others? Of course, not!
We are human! Is the status quo
too often our refuge as it was for Amaziah
the priest–not a bad man we might say, just
a little protective of the king? Do we have
the national flag in our sanctuary reminding us
that Jeroboam or his successor today is king?
Where do we pledge allegiance, really?
Do we accept immigration
quotas so we don’t have too many of them, the others,
invading our space? Our space, our country,
our land, our, our, my, my, my, my,
but whose is it anyway?

That ditch was on the open road, a dangerous road
we are told, between Jerusalem and Jericho, maybe
like a highway going too close to inner city “danger
zones,” nonetheless part of God’s creation, God’s earth,
where people may, if they choose, freely go. But would we
even be on that road, and would be we be walking so we
could see a person in the ditch? Or would we be whizzing
by in our SUV unable to see someone in distress,
and if we did see them, would we stop? Would we call
911, or would we think, hope, someone else would do it?
Or would it not even occur to us to call?
Would we wonder why these danger zones exist and
would our answer be to blame those who live there,
avoiding any culpability for ourselves or those who
profit from these places.

We all know the story. Right?

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net

 

 

Time to Sign Up

Reflection in Response to Proper 9, 7th Sunday after Pentecost

(Click here for biblical texts)

We are descended from the seventy
appointed by Jesus to go to all the towns
where he intended to go. So we too must go,
offering like Elisha our version of God’s power
and wisdom to heal those who are sick or broken—
such as Naaman, the mighty warrior, commanding
troops but unable to command God’s man
who heals not on human order but on divine
grace—and so many today seeking help,
thinking they can gain blessed, fruitful life,
not from holy agents but from acquiring
more things, controlling more people, building
walls and attacking those they fear, not trusting God
or really anyone, even their sacred selves.

Sending-the-70-out-to-heal
diggingdeepernow.org

There seems so little faith today, even among
ones who proclaim how strong is their belief,
confusing belief with faith, the latter
being, as sainted Bill Coffin said long ago,
not believing without proof but trusting
without reservation.  Can we trust God,
will we trust Her to not only send us
out to the places we are needed but also
to give us the tools we need to do what
is right before us, the first tool being
sight clear enough to see the work,
brave enough not to look the other way,
smart enough to escape the snares
put in our way.

Can we be as wise as Naaman’s servants who counseled
him not to be dazzled by showy demonstrations of prophetic power
or in thinking it is he who knows the way of healing
because he is a man of earthly power—can we in short
go about God’s work, our work, with a quiet determination,
listening to deep parts of ourselves, seeing God
in the faces and lives of others, trusting our call—yes, you, me,
everyone, has a call, maybe more than one but often
we miss it, paying attention to life’s fluff and stuff,
thinking we can be made whole, and others as well,
through the market and social media, watching
videos, unreality television, celebrity sightings,
forgetting God comes so often in stillness, soft voices
gentle glances of care, loving touches of our sacred bodies.

It is easy to admire the 70 who went out for the Lord
and then to look askance at how they enjoyed their moments of fame,
as if we are so pure and unwilling to be drawn in by worldly lures—
indeed we best start by signing up to receive our assignments,
admitting we feel ill-prepared and need to lean on everlasting arms
that will carry us from place to place, errand to errand,
in humble service,  whose reward is not “volunteer of the year”
but rejoicing, as Jesus said, for our names written in heaven.  

 
About this poem . . . The story of Naaman’s healing by Elisha is a suitable backdrop for the account of Jesus sending the 70 into the field, neither the General nor the disciples aware of how dependent they are on God’s grace and power. And it causes me to recognize in myself certain tendencies of self-aggrandizement and congratulation, cutting me off from sacred union with the divine within.  

 

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

 

Of Human Bonds, and Bondage

Reflection on 2nd Sunday after the Day of Pentecost, Proper 4
(Click here for biblical texts)

If ever we needed proof that healing
happens communally ask Luke’s Roman
centurion. Dramatis personae include
the soldier and his cohorts, the Jewish leaders
he turns to for help to contact Jesus,
the slave near death and other regimental slaves,
Jesus and disciples, and most likely a host
of others who heard of the plea for help
and its magnificent outcome. In our today,
the news would have blanketed internet,
Dr. Oz probably jealous,
and most likely Ellen’s next guest would be
the centurion, probably without his slave
or lover or whatever he is—we are not able
to imagine people owning their love objects,
even as bodies are sold every day, vulnerable
young and older women, young men, enslaved
for the sexual pleasure of others—because
this story is about one kind of healing from
sickness and almost death, but not being
liberated from inhuman bondage.

Roman centurion
shalominthestorm.blogspot.com

But can we imagine a new ending—
when the centurion/owner sees his great love
healed, in the pink of health; in gratitude
he orders a party at which he pronounces to all the world
not only his love but also that he purchased
an end to bondage—larger story where love not only
heals but also frees both parties
from entanglement in a system that values
people as spoils of war, conquered peoples
as machines to be chained for what they can
produce, including, in some cases, sexual pleasure.
Pleasure, did I say pleasure?  It may be one thing
to pay for pleasure from a willing seller but it is,
isn’t it, different not to pay but to own body
if not soul of another to receive the divine gift
of intimate lovemaking as if one’s command
can create bonding of such power, grace, and love.

Yes, this is an old story without this happy ending
and still it tells of faith profound, true, real,
strong enough to cause Jesus’ amazement
but even more to clear away all bars
to healing and then to welcome holy power
that heals wherever it is allowed to land. Was it words
from Jesus, not recorded here, or was it faith
from the centurion/lover that healed?
Or Jesus’ recognition of that faith?
We shall never know for sure, but this we do know:
faith can move mountains and does, but sometimes
the mountain must want to be moved
or at least its many admirers know it must
be moved—God has the power to do all,
but counts on us to lend our shoulders, hearts,
minds, feet, and hands in the struggle.

Whose healing, whose liberation, have we
made more possible, more real, today?

 

About this poem . . .This beautiful story of love and healing leaves a number of unanswered questions, including just how was the healing accomplished? And like many stories from a vastly different age, things we abhor today are unremarked and unchanged. That does not leave us unaccountable for who we are and what we do today; instead, it reminds us that holy testimony of old is still in need of new holy interpretation today.

 

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

The Next Prophet

(4th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C; click here for biblical texts)

Now the word of God came telling Jeremiah
I appointed you a prophet to the nations
But prophets are more numerous speaking
unstoppable truths no matter some try to bury them.
God testifies from unlikely places a southern white
matron organizes spy ring to  undermine the Confederacy
a rabbi speaks for whole justice for Palestinians
Jesus pokes at ancient insularity by harking back to
Elijah and the poor unnamed widow at Zaraphath
in Sidon Elisha’s healing the leprous Syrian army leader
Naaman while white people march with Dr. King heterosexual couples
refuse to wed until their lesbian gay friends can be married.
Prophets often pay dear especially when some perceive
them breaking social rules undermining the status quo
that protects their shared group.
Membership carries privilege conditional at best
the price often too high we look the other way
keep heads down but there are always some who are reached
by God even those who do not believe.
Their bravery changes things us the world
saves lives even as it may cost them theirs.
And they like Jesus walk through angry crowds proving
once again divine truth love peace joy hope will not be stopped
always another day another voice the next prophet
could it be you?

©Robin Gorsline2016  lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . We tend to think of prophets as the ones with big names—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Dr. King, Mohammed. We don’t usually think of Jesus precisely in that way, but in Nazareth, among his home folks, he learned that telling too much truth can land you in hot water (and then he just kept doing it). Many people, even ones of lesser note, throughout history and today have done or are doing the same thing, sometimes on a grand scale, sometimes smaller. It’s how things change.