Who Does Our We Include?

A Meditation for Thanks-giving and Thanks-grieving

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,
the first line of a favorite Thanksgiving hymn
sung over and over year after year,
but these days I wonder, who is the “we” in that sacred song?
I have known for years it does not include turkeys,
as a vegetarian I am not joking,
the right of animals to live is very important to me,
not to mention how if we ate less meat
there would be more grains and other foods
for starving children and even adults.

But does our “we” include Native peoples
whose ground is no longer theirs, belonging
now to us, the white descendants of those
who took the land for a few beads or over dead bodies,
gunfights, cavalry charges, and disease
all playing a part in creating many trails
where tears and loss were, and still are,
markers on the way to landlocked prisons,
somebody’s so clever idea of fair trade:
after all, we’re civilized, they are not.

Does our we include these?

Or what about those grieving for dead sons, daughters,
brothers, sisters, friends, lying in blood on our streets,
victims of drive-bys and of trigger-happy cops
not to mention those still living who walk in fear,
holding their black and brown bodies hard and ready,
swaggering perhaps to hide the terror inside,
or the transwomen, especially those of darker hue,
who rank so high on the dead-to-be list,
and those lying in pools of their own lost identities
begging when they can for a scrap, a bottle, a kind word.

Does our we include these?

And what of those from away who journey here,
to this land we call ours,
seeking safety, work, and education,
a chance to break out of stifling, dangerous
roles and hierarchies, to breathe free air
we proclaim is the birthright of all God’s people
even as we continue to say some are more godly
than others, and their children told to dream,
but will it be deferred, even denied?

Does our we include these?

Queers, too, those who love differently,
their bodies performing outside the gender rules and roles,
for whom sex is an active language of desire
not merely a way to catch someone else’s eye
(though maybe that as well, in joy and fun and hope)
or snag their money in a purchase claiming to create
sexiness or success more than ever seemed possible—
sex workers as well–all who impudently challenge what others
claim is God’s unchanging law that only one man on top
of one matrimonial woman is ever allowed?

Does our we include these?

And homeless ones for whom alcoves and heating vents
become havens during frigid nights, huddled beneath raggedy cardboard
quilts, rickety shopping carts the only storage units
they will ever rent? And the millions even with homes of their own
with little or no health care or fearing the zeal of some
to take what they have by providing credits they can never use?
And those who do not believe, or believe in ways not as we do,
what of them? Do all these give thanks or perhaps they feel other ways,
not sure they are blessed enough to join in our thanks-giving,
instead joining in an unruly, but sacred, chorus of thanks-grieving?

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.
Who does your , and my, we include?
 

About this poem . . . . My dear friend and mentor of sainted memory, Rev. Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé, long ago told me about Thanksgrieving, a time when he, as an Africanibrahim American and Native American man, would join with many others to feel both gratitude and deep pain and loss for being alive on this one day each year when in the United States we pause to give thanks. My people, and many others, he said, paid so dearly that others, people who look like you, Robin, might carve a turkey and feel good about yourselves. I promised him I would never forget, and that I would seek to do what I can to help all of us remember and to give thanks for the sacrifice of so many, and to work to change the present and future so such sacrifice is no longer required.

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 Fatihfulpoetics.net

What Is the Reign of Christ?

Reflection in response to Proper 29, Reign of Christ, Year C

Click here for biblical texts
(Luke 1:68-79 and Luke 23:33-43)

 

What is the reign of Christ?
Surely not some royal court where he dispenses favors
at a whim, pointing a bejeweled finger
here, then there, to the delight of the crowd,
the retinue of those dependent on royal favor.
This is Jesus we are talking about,
the one who walked and talked with sinners, sex workers,
loan sharks and tax collectors, diseased folk
dreaded by all the good people,
and those cast aside for the color of their skin,
the one whom Zechariah prophesied
would give salvation to his people by the forgiveness
of our sins, to give light to those who sit
without the benefit of knowledge, to guide us
in the way of peace, the one who forgave
his tormenters at Golgotha,
who refused to play the games of Rome, and
told his fellow convict, as he tells us,
today you will be with me in paradise.

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bfmindia.blogspot.com

This is the one I know as Brother, Friend, and Lord,
who calls me to stand with the sojourner
in our land, and feed the hungry, comfort widows,
sit gently and lovingly with children,
stand against injustice wherever I find it—
and I find it many places
so what he asks is not to bow down but
to be brave and speak the truth with persistent  love—
trusting I am not alone, we are not alone.
In this day of troubles,
He knew such troubles—which is why
I trust him with my life—and now he shows
us to walk the walk as we talk the talk,
to listen to the depths of each other,
not just those we like but those we are trained to hate,
speak from our sacred souls more than our fear,
to create on earth the heaven as God intends
for all God’s people, their particular faith not counting
as much as their humanity, the participation
in the life of the divine family.

You may think I blaspheme
when I say I have two Jewish men in my life,
my husband and my Lord,
and with me they make a holy threesome—
oh, yes, only one of us is perfect,
and we fail him far too often—
but he helps us get up and move forward,
indeed my earthly partner who goes to temple
loves him some Jesus even though
he does not follow as I do,
but then I go to temple too
and find much truth about the Lord
I love, and seek to serve, among his own people,
ones he loves with all his heart as he loves
us who turned away from them, maligning the very ones
he came to serve and save.

This reign is one of joy and love, justice and truth,
peace and plenty for all,
so we may live out loud
as God intends.
Praise be to God!

 
About this poem . . . . What used to be called Christ the King Sunday is now the Reign of Christ. I appreciate the effort to undo some of the earthly trappings of royalty so that now we can remember, and love and serve, the one who never claimed any office but teacher and fellow-traveler on the dusty, difficult roads of life. This poem evokes the truth of my life that it took two Jewish men, my Lord and my Jonathan, to get me to accept the call of God on my life, so that today I know this paradise about which Jesus told the robber hanging with him—the blessed land of walking with him every day, no matter what troubles beset me, beset all of us, in this place we call Earth.

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Make It Real for Everyone

Reflection in Response to Proper 28, 26th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Isaiah 65:17–25; Luke 21:5-19)

Click here for biblical texts

Behold, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth–can I imagine that
when a pink sky tinged with gold and orange
bathes troubled souls,
when despite whatever
calamity has happened in the world,
an election gone awry, perhaps coup d’etat
in some foreign land, even here,
or a death in the family,
or an anguished call from a friend,
cancer diagnosis–can I imagine God
promising not only me, not only my family
and friends and community, but the world,
faithful and otherwise, such a glorious reality?
But it is here all the time, is it not?
Did God stop promising this after Isaiah
wrote it down or later prophets
intoned the words and preached
them as if they were true?
No way!
This not a new or old promise,
not even an unfulfilled one
nor expired either.

new-heavens-and-new-earth-isaiah-65

backtothescriptures.org

Do not become trapped in terror when ugly things happen,
whether created by men (yes, sometimes women,
but with their lesser social power it is more
often male-bodied persons), or by force
of nature, sometimes referred to as Acts
of God though if people die I doubt it is God
acting–God not wanting to lose any
of the divine inventory
of creation known as humans.
Instead, in the midst of challenge
see an opportunity to witness, testify
to your faith that when needed God shows up.
When you are not sure of this, check the sunset
or look at the blue waters of the bay
in front of your eyes, or beautiful child
singing quietly as she plays with toys,
or falling leaves and even snowflakes
preparing for new spring and somnolent summer,
grandfather holding the hand of toddler
learning to walk, youths abandoning care
of what others think to dance their hearts out,  
again to be reminded that God shares
much with us including beauty as well as
hardship, the former a gift to feel loved,
the latter to remind us there is always work
to do.

Jesus knew about this and he tells us
nation will rise against nation
(white nations against nations of color,
men nations against nations of women,
have nations against nations of have-nots,
ableist nations against nations of differently able,
youth-obsessed nations against old people nations,
profits-above-all nations against care-giving nations,
discrimination nations against nations of Queer warriors),
and there will be earthquakes, famines, and plagues
not to mention dreadful portents, great signs
from heaven (whatever they are);
there will even be persecution and arrests:
Oh we shall, we must, know about persecution
and arrest because without those
can our testimony break through
the veil, the wall, of privilege and power
that believes in earthly strength rather than divine mercy,
bombast more than quiet murmurings of prayer,
conflict more than peaceful coexistence,
despair and finger-pointing more than hope–
can we be brave and true, faithful,
no matter the provocation?   

It takes strength, courage, to be persistent
and gentle when all about us
are flailing and screaming, beating each other up
with words, as well as fists, armies, and drones.
Endure, that is the word, the truth, the way:
new heavens and a new earth are here already
even if we,
and most, maybe all, others
have yet to see enough
right in front of ourselves
to work with each other and God
to make it real for everyone.

 

About this poem . . . God does not cause all things but God is present in all things. Troubles, like  joys and celebrations, can be opportunities for us gain new wisdom and to experience the presence, grace, and love of God.  Isaiah’s prophecy of new heavens and a new earth need not be about some time in the great “by and by,” but now, right in front of us if we are able, and willing, to read the signs. And we can see in the daily struggles of people for liberation, and wholeness and peace (shalom), despite often daunting odds and steep climbs, God at work. But we do have to be open and receptive, allowing ourselves a level of vulnerability not often encouraged in human society, one based on deep and continuing trust in God.

(c) Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Go Well into the Good Night

Reflection in response to Proper 27, 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38)

Click here for biblical texts

 

Sing to God a new song because of the marvelous things
God has done! The psalmist often plays this tune and Jesus
repeats it, too, especially when skeptics try to use
what they believe are settled Mosaic axioms to trap him
in embarrassment. Jesus is too wily to be trapped
because he refuses to be locked behind boundaries
set by his critics and by ancient texts of which they claim to be
the sole interpreters.

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pinterest.com

Sadducees not alone; other people, even ourselves,
spouting things we have been taught and accept without question,
trying to maintain control of our lives and maybe others,
too, even when they, we, have no evil intent. Others
use intimidation, base intent, to squelch those
they hate, burning Black churches in Mississippi,
erecting walls to keep Mexicans and Palestinians out,
police shooting unarmed men first, checking, asking, later.

Jesus knows we are free in God, not to abuse others or God
or do evil; but God likes free thinkers,
people faithful enough to trust God’s love does not
depend on their parroting human doctrines and judgments.
Seven dead husbands/brothers, one wife, no child—they become,
if flesh and blood or not, the center of an argument
whose purpose is to entangle Jesus and his hearers,
endless hairsplitting as if the point of religion is debate.

Yet discussion is good, even debate, about important stuff,
deep enough issues to really matter in people’s lives,
soulful digging into the ground of all being.
Trouble is too often debaters think someone has to win,
and someone lose. Religion is not free from politics
inside itself, jockeying for human advantage in the name of God,
the search for truth used to create disadvantage
for those with whom we disagree.

Before Catholics were Sadducees, before Protestants Pharisees,
religious people always dividing into groups to be sure
the right side wins. Yet the main response from Jesus
to the provocation about divorce and afterlife
is that God is not God of the dead but of the living,
saying arcane and yet important arguments
over points of doctrine and practice matter less
than trusting God to orient our lives.

Predictions of the Lord’s return just that,
no more, hopeful guesses perhaps sincerely arrived at
and intended, yet merely claims of insider knowledge
about an event of which we can know little.
Our real task is to wait and be ready
for whatever God has in store, our faith to trust
God and go forward whether we know the actual way
or not, traveling mercies being God’s specialty.

We can go well into the good night, singing a new song
not only for what God has done
but also for what God is doing, and will do.

 
About this poem . . .  Doctrinaire believers are nothing new, and they generally are sincere in believing what they profess. At the same time, the debates can so often become like erecting walls to keep some in and others out, perfecting points to demolish one’s opponents, or at least attempting to make them look foolish or uninformed or ignorant. In the record we have, Jesus was deft in deflecting others who seemed to want to trap him, without demeaning them. It is a skill many of us could learn more fully. It probably begins with an admission that what we believe is, at best, a partial truth, God being far bigger than all of us combined.

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Always More with God

Reflection in response to Proper 26, 24th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Isaiah 1:10-18 and Luke 19:1-10)

  Click here for biblical texts

 
Isaiah starts in chapter one telling the Israelites
how little God values their sacrifices, they really
get under the divine skin, creating holy heartburn.
The prophet reminds them God wants justice:
Do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend orphans,
plead for the widow. Don’t waste time, energy on empty
rituals, focused on obeying rules. Show up
where needed, be ready for divine presence at all times
especially when, like Zacchaeus, you catch a glimpse.
Always want more, eager to see and to receive,
because with God there always is more, never less.
Sometimes you have to climb up to get a good view,
one reason God creates trees is so that we can
see above the crowds, past the human barriers.

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prayer-bracelet.com

Desire to see God, to be with God,
is an attribute, an attitude, a precondition and an outcome of faith.
In parts of the world going to church, temple or mosque
because you want to be with God
and others who love and want to serve God
can cause trouble in your life, even serious injury
or death. In other places, some people will be angry
if you try to come to church because you are viewed
as irredeemably sinful. Don’t come here with your filth,
they say! Sometimes, as happened with Jesus and Zacchaeus,
people grumble when you hang out with the wrong sort
at church or anywhere, or as happens today
when the wrong people—maybe immigrating “bad hombres”
or Black men wearing hoodies—walk or move
into “our” not their neighborhood,  
want their kids to attend “our” not their school,
to disrupt our children’s opportunities in the Ivy League.

Jesus says he came to seek out and save the lost.
But who is lost? Was Zacchaeus, even though he wanted
to see who Jesus was and gave away much
of his ill-gotten wealth—if he was lost, he surely now
is saved. What about the grumblers? A woman
told a pastor she would no longer come to
church because they had sinners serving communion.
The pastor replied that he did not know who else to ask;
besides, he said,  if sinners were excluded then he too
would have to step aside.

 
About this poem . . . Christians struggle today, as always, with the competing demands of religious perfectionism in ritual and other practices versus enacting justice within the church, in society, even in the family.  Isaiah’s remonstrance to Israel rings very clearly today. And Zacchaeus is a wonderful role model for faithfulness, not so much because he gave away so much money but because he climbed a tree to see Jesus. Would we bestir ourselves from our television if Jesus came to town? Or would we go to a neighboring church if he went there rather than showing up at ours?

 

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

God Is Ringing the Bell

Message shared at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. on October 16, 2016

Lectionary Texts: Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 121, Luke 18:1-8

You can read the message below, and you can listen to it here

I remember wrestling once, perhaps twice or more, in middle school
gym class, not really knowing the rules, certainly
having little athletic skill of any sort—
but I remember how intimate it was, how my opponent,
my partner, and I touched each other a lot, really all over.
I think of this when I hear of Jacob wrestling,
wondering what it would feel like to be that close
to God, to feel God’s muscles, God’s head, hair and beard,
God’s feet and legs and hands and arms,
to smell God’s sweat, to  hear God’s grunts and groans,
even gastric retorts up close and personal.

Jacob is in such an intimate encounter—we must
remember he is on his way to what could be a life-giving
or death-dealing meeting with his estranged
brother Esau, the brother he wronged, the brother
whose forgiveness he seeks as his knees knock
and heart beats in fear–what if Esau attempts to kill him
in revenge—so it is an emotional time, Jacob
has left his herds and servants and family and he is now
alone, in the dark, and a man appears.
Is it Esau, also separated from herds, servants, family,
or is it a robber? We must remember that although
we know it is neither, Jacob did not. Have you
been in the dark, perhaps in wilderness, alone,
as I have, hearing strange noises, wondering if
someone unknown was there, or a wild beast? 
Would you be afraid? Yes? I was.

Jacob does not back away, they wrestle,
he and this unnamed man.
We do not know how long
they grasped and grunted and grimaced,
first one on top, then the other, rolling
on the hard ground, seeking the advantage,
losing it, gaining it. How many times
one was on top, then the other, we do not know,
all we know is that as rosy fingers of dawn
creep forward, he who started things
asks to be released. Did that mean Jacob had won,
or only that the other wanted to stop? Jacob had
endured that is true, yet his adversary, his partner,
struck him, at the hip socket, some translations say he “wrenched”
and others he “touched” him but whatever
the action, Jacob’s hip is dislocated and he walks on with a limp.

There is no trip to the ER or urgent care, no call
to security, only Jacob asking for a blessing from the contender
before he will release him. Jacob readily supplies his name—somehow we think
the man must have known without asking—and is told
his name is now changed, no longer Jacob (‘heel grabber” for
his long-ago animus toward Esau)
but “Israel,” “overcomer of God,
because you have wrestled with both God and mortals, and you
have prevailed.” Prevailed, meaning  Israel,
the one formerly known as Jacob, did not lose.

More, he realizes he has done as Moses did,
he has looked on the face of God
and survived, more than that he has been blessed.  
In this case, God has taken human form
to engage a flawed human named Jacob, a man God had already blessed
despite misbehaviors, a man God wants to continue
to show up and serve God, and to serve and lead God’s people.
Here’s some good news my friends:
God shows up, one way or another, because God
wants us to do the work of God.
You might think that God lost this match;
I think instead God chose to stop because once again God
had taken measure of this man Jacob, who did not let God down,
who stayed the course, who wrestled mano a mano,
and when his adversary said “Enough,”

Jacob was clear whose blessing he wanted.
God is big enough to lose, or seem to lose, and will do anything necessary
to help us stay our godly course.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

I don’t know about you, but I have wrestled a few times
with God. Oh not hand to hand exactly, but surely mind to mind,
heart to heart; I have protested, I have tussled, I have argued,
and cursed, said “No” more times than I want to admit. And God
has let me survive, even prevail. God has asked to be released,
recognizing I think because God knew further contest
would not serve any purpose then, and has blessed me
even when I did not ask. And I know God has
blessed you even when you did not ask. Just like me.
God does it all the time.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

But here is another truth. God would like to wrestle more
with me, with you. In fact, God’s mat is all set up
and the bell ready to be rung,
waiting for me, for you, for us, to care enough,
to love enough, to doubt enough, be scared enough,
to be angry enough, be bold enough,
to go mano a mano, faced to face,  with God.
I continue to learn that God taps me
on the shoulder all the time, pokes at me,
tries to get my attention, even tackles me;
but I am expert at ignoring these
divine provocations. God does not cause
bad things to happen to us, any of us, but
I will tell you this: God enters the fray
as soon as something does, hoping we will engage.
Indeed, I know that when I get angry
and say something nasty to God,
God gets this big ole smile and just says, bring it on!
Come on, Robin, come at me! Talk to me, baby,
curse me if you want, lay a hand on me, let’s get it on,
let’s wrestle until I know you know, my beautiful, blessed child,
that I care, I love, you so much I will spend my whole night,
even days if I must, rolling around on hard, unforgiving, ground
just to get your attention, just to leave you my blessing.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

Jesus knew about this, I suspect Jesus had plenty
of matches with God, in fact, I think Jesus wrestled his
way into what our ancient teachers called the Trinity.
I know he and I have had a few encounters,
along with the Holy Spirit. We have all rolled around
more than once, and often it happens when I feel certain
I know where I am going, or gotten into a rut
where I refuse to see any alternatives,
and then one of them shows up—or sometimes
I think all three of them come by, knowing I am that far
off course—and they wrestle me to the ground
and we go at it. I remember Jesus’ parable  
about the woman endlessly pressing the judge
to pay attention, to grant her enough dignity to not only hear
her plea but also grant her justice. Would that some
of his political descendants now could learn
that the righteous don’t give up, not if we
are paying attention to the divine power
at work in ourselves and that same power
that is always right at our side, on our shoulder,
whispering in our ear, grabbing our hand,
even sometimes giving us a punch in the gut.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

Oh, let me be clear about something very important:
This is God who is on the move
not the God who is locked up in a book
where so many want to keep Her, or Him,
whatever name you wish to say for God,
or the God whom preachers tell you is unchanging,
stuck up in the sky in some never, never land,
that if we are really, really good, I mean extra good,
we may meet in some distant time of which only they know  the date– 
indeed the God who met Jacob, now Israel, is the same God
who later told King David he did not need a palace,
was perfectly happy to stay in the tent so he could
move around with all the beloveds, on the ground,
in the ‘hood, with folks, right beside and among them,  
enjoying the intimacy of dear friends and neighbors.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

See, I lift my eyes to the hills—and into the valleys,
and I lower them to my feet, all the places God is,
from where my help comes, help that comes
from God, the One who made and makes
heaven and earth and all in between, God
who will not let our footsteps slip, will not
wipe us out in a wrestling match, the One
who never sleeps and thus can be found on the shore
of the Yabbok River and the Potomac and the Nile
and the Yangtze and the James and the Seine,
wherever and whenever we are, Guardian
of Israel who reminds us that each of us
has a special name in God’s family roster,
God whose scrapbooks are overflowing with Polaroids
and selfies and even videos that God shows proudly
to all who will let the divine pride be expressed—
have you ever heard God say, “Look at this picture
of Robin, isn’t that just the most precious thing
you ever saw?”—God who blesses us again and again
with purpose and mission, God who shades us
when the glare of evil, indignity, inequality, greed, and hate
threaten to drown us in shame and despair,
God by our side so the ugliness does not overpower us
whether by day or night, God who guards us from harm,
who guards our lives and the lives of all, guards our leaving and our
coming back, now and forever……

Provided, my friends, we let God do it.

See, that is our power, we have the power to say no,
and if you are like me, you do it all the time,
maybe not in so many words,
but by failing to engage. God wants us. Oh God wants us,
not just to sit with God, not even to listen to God—
although listening is a very good thing and we need to do more—
but God wants us to take God seriously enough
to engage, to wrestle, to push back, to argue.
God does not so much want obedience—God is
not, never has been, a tyrant, God does not want
to trump our souls or make us grovel, God wants us
to stand up, knowing from whence our help comes,
and trusting in that help to be bold and daring
and loving and audacious, to let ourselves, our very names,
our souls, our hearts and minds, be changed,
to be changed over and over, because like Jacob we are not perfect;
when we  trust enough to face our flaws  we become willing,
despite our fears, and all the fearmongering around us,
to go on tour with God and the whole wrestling team
of angels and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, facing forward,
to do justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Because, in case you have forgotten, our help, our help, comes from God!

I don’t know about you, but my card is full, actually
two cards are full, my dance card, God’s one hot dancer—
but that’s another sermon—and my wrestling card.
I hope you are blessed that way, too.
Actually I know you are. So what are we waiting for?
God is ringing the bell. Let’s get it on!

Idols of Our Day

A Meditation in Response to Proper 25, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Jeremiah 14:19-22; Luke 18:9-14)

Click here for biblical texts

 
Idols are not always objects.
Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story,
we can bow down before our own attitudes and habits,
seeing only our self-publicity, our own estimation,
or as in his case, and maybe ours,
his righteousness, looking down his patrician nose,
thinking so well of himself that no one else counts
in his endless internal census of who is good and who not.

being-humble-mindbody-core-values
MINDBODY Core Values

We too can assess others based on what they do
for work, what kind of car they drive or home they own
(or don’t), who they are, whom they love, their race,
or where they or their ancestors came from, of course gender,
or gender identity, ability, weight—aah weight!
a whole culture overrun with judging bodies
as fat, old, wrinkled, bad hair, with wrong breast or penis size,
so much judgment!!!!

And yet I know few people who think so highly
of themselves—certainly some in the public eye
come to mind, with egos large enough to fill Yankee Stadium,
and you want to think they are healthy but sometimes
it looks like insecurity more than sanity—most of us
carrying around some sense of inadequacy
induced by Madison Avenue or bullied into us
on playgrounds, in locker rooms or summer camps long ago.

All humans err but few of us want to be reminded
of our sins or these days to so openly declare them
like Jesus’ friend the tax collector; sin such an old-fashioned word
in a world obsessed with tweets, instagrams, selfies, sexting,
and well-rehearsed reality television where confession
is intended to boost ratings and perhaps land
a contract, at least a headline, for the one who tells all.
Now it is Judge Judy absolving or assigning penitential rites.

Still Jesus comes again, reminding us
that simple humility is not only wise
but also divine—even if Caesar and his saplings
of the day jeered as do those now who seek to trump  
common sense and dignity in a sea of denial
masquerading as self-importance and power
believing they now make the rules. If it were only human rules
they might be right, but instead it is a more basic truth:
what is pumped up must sooner or later come down.

About this poem . . . The prophet Jeremiah reminds us again that God’s people are usually in some sort of struggle with God, due to our inability to live fully the lives God has for us. And Jesus, knowing his Jeremiah (and other texts) well, as a good Jew, shares with us a lesson about what it means to be humanly aware of our shortcomings as well as trusting in God’s love. None of us is without shortcomings and none of us is without God’s love.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

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

Made Well by Faith

Meditation in response to Proper 23, 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Luke 17:11-19)

 

Click here for biblical texts

 

I know people like Samaritan Leper Number 10,
despite being among the innumerable despised,
putting thank you at the top of their vocabulary,
for the sun rising, moon glowing, worms crawling, bugs biting,
children hugging, also begging, adults arguing, politicians pointing,
dancers leaping, actors declaiming, movie stars posing,
thieves conniving, cops getting it right, even wrong
when we need to get angry about racism,
and lots of other ills we have yet to fix—still
all these are signs of life in God’s universe,
opportunities to celebrate creation
or to pray, confess, take responsibility for what
has gone wrong.
So far.

black-hands
vi.sualize.us

Gangs of today’s lepers wander our streets;
some claim them untouchables out of fear
they will rob or hurt them or because they look different.  
Others know these modern Samaritans hurt too,
projecting toughness to disguise their pain,
so mothers and lovers will not give away truth
of their vulnerability to The Man who patrols
mean hard streets looking for trouble.
And then the sound of gunfire, was it police,
or was it another untouchable?
What if Jesus appeared, would they keep their distance
but call out, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
We don’t want to die, we don’t want to kill,
have mercy on us. Would Jesus send them
to local priest or pastor, would Jesus send them
to church to be judged, given a food bag,
sent on their way?  Or would they be welcomed,
given a bath, new clothes, hope, an invitation
to come back next week for more of the same
and even more, a ride to a job interview,
chance to earn a GED, then community college,
visit to medical clinic, maybe even a hug?

And then, improbable as all this sounds,
would one come back to say thank you,
praise God—could they even believe
God is involved given the press God gets
these days—prostrate in gratitude,
ready to create a new life for themselves and others?
A miracle you say?
Well yes. Maybe it could happen,
maybe it would happen, for real,
if we centered ourselves
in faith that results in, and rests on, gratitude.
Then Jesus would say to us, get up, go your way,
your faith has made you well.
About this poem . . . Leprosy remains a significant health problem in some parts of the world, and in the United States several hundred contract the disease each year. It is now curable by a multi-year regimen of powerful antibiotics. Scholars are not certain that the biblical references to leprosy involve what we know as leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, today. It may have been in ancient times also a reference to a number of skin conditions which were thought to convey impurity and contaminate the entire community, requiring the contaminated to stay a distance away from everyone else. There is another skin condition that too many among us fear yet today, one that is not curable by antibiotics—praise God—but the fear that infects can be undone by mercy, confession and full-throated justice.
©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