Stay Open

Reflection for the 4th Sunday in Lent, Year A

 

Textual focus: John 9:1-41
Click here for biblical texts

 

 

A person need not be born blind
to not see; it happens all the time,
those sure of Earth’s flatness,
slavery ordained by God,
women unfit to lead.
Just last week I ran a stop sign
I did not see, and before that
I knew beyond all doubt
the name of that tune
I hummed most of my life—
too bad I lost the bet.

Those born blind do not not see,
drawing on different methods  to perceive
–like butterflies and bees with acuity 
of color more nuanced than ours–
what we with working eyes often miss.
Always tempting to make fun
of Pharisees not seeing
the truth of Jesus right in front of them,
but if fast-melting Arctic ice
and destruction of Great Barrier Reefs
cannot convince us something is wrong
with the planet what good
will new glasses do?

Facts are hard to see
when we don’t want to see them,
when by the ways of the world,
some things are not seen—
white people not seeing Black lives
that matter—and others magnified
by repetition and conventional wisdom
into sacred texts—our nation right or wrong.
Everyone knows are dangerous words,
a Ph.D. does not protect us from ignorance
any more than a creed built by humans
or certainty about the truth of holy writ.
Even Jesus failed to see the woman of Canaan,
confusing her with a dog.

How many ways of seeing are there?
Stay open.
 

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This familiar story is both inspiring and troubling. Pharisees are again blinded by their ideological prism and Jesus does what seems a good thing anyway. Yet, is there not also a presumption that being without the use of one’s eyes is a condition that needs correction—a burden so heavy that it must be lifted by divine agency? I admit to not wanting to lose my eyesight, and yet people without it perceive reality I never know.
 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 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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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

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.

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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

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

Lost and Found

(Lent 4, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)

If you’ve ever been lost—scared out of your mind lost,
so lost you despair coming out alive, maybe unsure if you are really you—
you know how good it feels to find your way or to be found,
almost as good as, maybe better than, arriving in the Promised Land
or the welcome given the wastrel son embraced by his father,
robed, feted, made whole again.
Most equate ourselves with the virtues of the non-prodigal son number one,
loyal responsible no blame no shame, but the real center of Jesus’ story
is the father who loves both sons, perhaps seeing himself in each of them.
Are we not both/and rather than either/or?
Yet Pharisees among us delight in judging who can be found
or invited to a celebration of the finding. 
Think what they would do if we held parties to welcome immigrants
escaping from tyranny, violence, abuse in their native lands–but why not
celebrate their finding new homes with us?
They say sinners need not apply except who would be left if we are excluded? 
It is so easy to get caught up in blame, judgment, setting rules for who will
get into heaven, who will not, a game we play often, amusing
God who long ago decided on one gate only, unless there
is a crowd then two gates open, same rules apply: all are welcome
to this place that is not somewhere else but right here and now
up to us to live whole, faithful, hopeful, eager to open the gates of our hearts
as wide as God’s, grateful when loved ones find their way back and more so
when we don’t have to climb the fence because the gate again
again and again swings open
wrapping our bodies, spirits in everlasting
embraces of love and welcome.

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

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This parable is so well-known, but it can yield nuggets each time we ponder it. Henri Nouwen and others have helped us see it is really the parable of the generous father more than the prodigal son (as many of us were told when growing up). We still see so many “fathers” who seem ungenerous, stingy even, no matter who the lost may be (and if you are like me, you have been lost in a big way at least once).  Jesus never turned any of the lost away, just as God does not, in fact, we are welcomed.  

Blessed Is the One

(Lent 2, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God!
but not always by those who speak
plot design rules for living for the rest
machinations on high to channel us
into our assigned roles despite
what God may say or want.
Pharisees think maybe Jesus
needs to be warned
but Jesus knows the score about Herod
and he knows that Jerusalem
then as now is subject to political
jousting ego-driven
territorialism rather than the
care of those who love her
who want eternal peace
within her walls and her people.
How can we who listen
or at least claim to hear
God’s promises renew
the vision of a land
with people of peace as
numerous as the stars
helping each other cast
out demons personal
political religious ending violence
honoring prophets inside walls
welcoming more beyond
no more stoning killing—instead children
protected under angels’ wings
living to ripe old age loving
all as one people God’s people
saying over again over again
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God!

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

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem feels so current; it is as if nothing has changed except the names of whomever is the reigning Herod and those who seek to overthrow that power. And the promise made to Abram feels somehow never completed or if it was once it now needs new life, new commitment to create peace in place of constant fighting so the stars on the ground will not die before their time. We wait and pray for someone to come to fulfill our yearning, even as we know he is already here.