Presence in Prescott

Prescott_2016I find it easy to wake up early when my circadian rhythm is in Pennsylvania while my body is in Arizona. Thus, I was awake by 4:00 am this morning. That’s early for me even by my standards back home on Eastern Standard Time. I’ve journey Westward to the state of my birth and the source of my complex spirituality.  The Southwest is home for my wandering mortality.

I am joyous to be in Arizona as I will be spending time with beloved friends and family in the Phoenix area over the weekend and early next week. For now though, I’ve sojourned to the cool pines and aspens of Prescott. This Yavapai region is becoming one of my most favorite places on Earth.  I first came here as a young boy. More recently, I’ve visited Prescott to participate in a variety of camps, retreats, and conferences at The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona’s Chapel Rock Camp and Conference Center.  I am very fond of Chapel Rock. It nourishes my being. Everything from the small, solemn chapel to the woodpeckers banging away for bugs on the pine trees close to the cottages.  The cooler temperatures and Spirit’s breath on the constant breezes balances me between sky and earth.

On this occasion, I’m retreating at a dearest friend’s family cabin about 10 miles outside of Prescott. The refuge is tucked away in the trees.  A close by resident seemingly feeds the deer as they wander carefree around the property with curious eyes and attentive ears. They weren’t yet awake when I was. At least, not where I could see them.  I threw some clothes on an traveled over close to Chapel Rock for a short and favorite hike of mine.  It begins at the camp and travels up a trail toward a rock formation that borders a golf course. The tops of these rocks provide an outstanding vantage point to view sunrise over the somewhat distant Yavapai Hills.

Spectacular – all-ways spectacular.

This morning there were a few clouds turning brilliant red as dawn came into being. Birds woke up and began their quest for life.  For the most part though, I relished in silence.  The cathedral of sacred space I woke up in was filled with cool air and solid ground.  I imagine that it is for occasional transcendent moments such as this morning that my soul chose to be human.  These beauties balance out despair.

20171019_071627I remained on the watch tower for some minutes then returned to the trail to visit another favorite spot of mine. It is a spot back toward Chapel Rock not far off of the path.  The summer rains and/or snowfall melt frequently create streams and a small pool of water. Hummingbirds love to dart in and seek bugs. They perch themselves on the mesquite trees, often battered by the elements.  Other creatures come and go from this minute watering hole too. There were no hummingbirds today.  There was no water either. Yet, the spot remained ever so solemnly beautiful.

 

 

 

Presence in Prescott

Just Before Sunrise – The Hawk was here

Brilliant Red Clouds transforming into Grey wisps as the Sun ebbs into the horizon.

Above the Hills the Morning transcendence occurs.

Leaves are Turning Red – The Summer rains and their shimmering pools are gone – replaced by footsteps where fleeting slender streams once were.

20171019_071634The Hummingbirds must be south of here now. Perhaps elsewhere as the warmth and water they seek are gone – replaced by chuckling quails hunkered down in the bushes – not easily found.

So it is that I again pray. In all of it – all of this moment – here … the hard dry wood, the dusty trails, the calls of unknown fowl, the breeze blown grass, seasons transiting from one day anext – the joys of observing beyond my body – God and I abide as One

 

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Apocalypse – the costly cement of racism.

Michelangelo
Michelangelo’s Last Judgment

I believe in an apocalypse. I actually think such revelations happen in small and large ways every day.   I’m not one of those fundamentalist Christians who believes that Planet Earth is about to crash into Planet Niburu. Conversely, I am re-creating myself as a 21st Century millennialist.  A sense of emerging humility is guiding me to accept the world as it is. New ways of being human are unfolding and dying is part of such a universal and apocalyptic process.

We should desire to live in a safer, healthier, more compassionate world. But, tribalism kills us.  Fear prompts us to blame some external force that is imprisoning us or murdering us. It is who we are as a species. We fear people we don’t know. We objectify others for our problems rather than accept our own faults. We claim to be better than someone from another culture. We wouldn’t act as they do. Yes, we mostly would.

We hope that God or the president or something will make life better. We lack responsibility, creativity, or power to design and enjoy Sabbaths in sacred time and space. We dream of living in a new millennium but  our “thoughts and prayers” are insufficient on their own. Another transformational apocalypse unfolds on our fragile island Earth. Its impact mostly crashes upon impoverished, marginalized people who don’t have the time, money, or access to yoga classes, this week’s diet, or fresh kale.

Screenshot (13)We as a species are frequently willing to deny rational truths about what is taking place in our world. We neglect or deny such rational truths based upon what we value. We are unwilling to give up, power, possession, or property even when such things do not give us the happiness we seek. We refuse to accept some fact or principle even when it is blatantly and factually untrue. We fight or flee from other people when they confront, and especially attack us with their different truths.

Why? Because we are who we are because of what we feel. Our identities are most important to us. Who we are in this day and age is actually much more lethal than it was in Jesus’ day. And, we haven’t matured all that much since the time when Romans crucified thousands of Jews including Jesus of Nazareth. In evolutionary terms, we remain adolescents. Like many teenagers, we think we will live forever and our actions have no consequences. Wise elders among us know such falsehoods are dangerous and tragically risky. We cling to our egoistic, childish, and self-centered attachments – often irrationally. If we desire to bring a new age into being, we must grow up and die daily in uncomfortable ways.

Thus, we indeed find ourselves on the brink of catastrophic consequences. One way of understanding our apocalypse is to see it through the lens of ancient prophets. They were  not just oracles who forecast a future imperial utopia. Instead, they viewed stark realities though the paradoxical presence of widespread despair & irrational hope. They spoke and wrote with confidence because of an unshakable faith and trust in a divinely engaged God who was witnessing and responding to all human cruelty.

coates interview
Watch Ta-Nehisi Coates’ interview with Stephen Colbert.

Such prophets abide among us today. Ta-Neihisi Coates prophetically writes and states that we who live in the United States are living and participating in An American Tragedy. One aspect of this tragedy is that our president, in Coates’ words, “who is effectively conducting diplomacy with a nuclear rogue state via Twitter. … We forget how far gone we actually are.” This state of affairs and results are happening because we elected the country’s first Black president. A significant number of white people in the United States resent that reality. Power dynamics are consequentially shifting in the waters of American whiteness.  President Trump seeks to reverse initiatives that President Obama brought into being  according to Coates. Later on  The Late Show, Stephen Colbert asked Coates if he has any hope about  us becoming a better country, creating better race and political relationships. (h/t to Constance Grady on Vox.) Coates’ answer: “No, but I’m not the person you should go to for that. You should go to your pastor. Your pastor provides you hope. Your friends provide you hope”

Really? Not at the church where I serve – at least not authentically. I’m kinda like Coates in one way.  I don’t want to make up bullshit when I don’t believe what I’m teaching or preaching. I have a hard enough time convincing myself that God is present in the continuing suffering and oppression of black and other people of color in the United States. And yet, that is precisely where God is as God was with Jesus.

I am convinced too that our economic and social ways of being are tragically unfair to millions of white people.  That’s not the main thrust of this blog post though. I and millions of people participate in seen and unseen racist ways and motives as a white people.  Thus, I question whether or not I am hopefully dismissing my own racial prejudices by mentioning Coates on my blog. My intention is to become more responsible for addressing the absence of manifest hope for “overcoming the racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. (Sen. B. Obama, Philadelphia, 2008). Racism is one integral chemical in the apocalypse that is revealing itself to me. I learning how to cope with suffering that is and isn’t within my control.

cornerstoneDespair haunts my apocalyptic thinking.  Perhaps I’m reading too much into scripture. Today’s Gospel suggests that Jesus was quick to point out what happens when religious peoples, especially pastors’, priests’, and theologians’, actions are hypocritically inconsistent with God’s yearnings for humanity’s peace and prosperity. He quickly and rudely points out how powerful authoritarians act quickly and violently to harm and execute God’s prophets.  Matthew’s Parable of the Wicked Tenants‘ analagous assault on the vineyard owner’s of course includes Matthew’s conclusive context to the parable. Such an interpretative ending also runs through all other readily available gospel writers’ narratives too, including the Gospel of Thomas. If we don’t like those endings then it is up to us to faithfully elect how to redact and revise them. This is resurrection and reordering work. Jesus the Christ provides a source and cornerstone for such miracles.

Human beings, then and now, choose to observe what is going on in the world and reject it. Our mortality is established upon love/hate relationships with the world we live in and the people we live with each day. We cement ourselves and our stories upon truths that we are attached to and their presence becomes the foundation for our own destruction. Unacknowledged or racial prejudice is one such cornerstone. Will it be that our blind eyes and anxious hearts will cause us to lose the vineyards we live in. This message is especially pertinent for people with significant degrees of racial, political, economic, social, and historical power. Let anyone with ears listen.

This Morning’s Prayer

Night_aerial_view_Las_Vegas_Nevada_04649u-2
I support and join with the Episcopal Bishops Against Gun Violence

I have composed and sent this prayerful letter to the Senators of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – Sen Pat Toomey  and Sen. Bob Casey.

Dear Senator,

I pray today that dozens of people will not die or be wounded today because of someone who converted his or her legal semiautomatic weapon or abused his 2nd Amendment rights to own a gun.

I intercede, as a priest of The Church and as a citizen, to you and our nations’ senators to prevent an angry person who is perhaps living with a mental illness or unresolved despair to inflict mortal carnage upon people living in Pennsylvania or elsewhere across our nation.

I ask you in the name of Jesus Christ, for repentance (a change of heart and direction) to manifest wisdom in making it more difficult for someone living in the Commonwealth to convert the weapons they own into battlefield weapons.

cross with gunsI yearn for God to mercifully receive the souls of those people who will die and be wounded today. I pray that God’s angels will indeed be close to people who will lie perilously close to death on our nation’s streets and in countless hospital beds because someone else shot them. I will ask God and you why there are so many guns in our nation when our bodies are so fragile when rapidly fired bullets impact us.

I pray that God will abide with doctors, nurses, counselors, pastors, and first responders who will provide aid to victims and will need pastoral, spiritual, physical, and mental support themselves.

May God grant you the wisdom, courage, and grace as my Senator to do something to make the lives of your constituents safer and more joyous today. May God’s Holy Spirit guide and direct you to act and legislate so that our shared thoughts and prayers for victims and their families will become more than words and manifest the truest and most compassionate love of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

The Rev. Jim Strader-Sasser – Christ Memorial Episcopal Church – Danville.

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As God’s Spirit Leads you – please visit – The Episcopal Bishops United Against Gun Violence’s webpage. They have compiled a useful list of liturgical resources and objective facts.

I encourage you, on behalf of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania’s bishop, The. Rt. Rev. Audrey Scanlan, to visit and resourcefully use the Smart Gun Laws website.

May our words and become more than words and may we have the courage, patience, and compassion of Jesus the Christ.

Amen