Saint of the Week – Dr. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou on Sesame Street

Maya Angelou on Sesame Street

Sometimes I have to go dig around for a saint of the week, and sometimes life just hands you the obvious option. This week we lost a great lady who I’m sure has used her words to touch us all in one way or another. Her words spoke truth and inspired us in good times and tough times. She rose from a childhood where she refused to speak for nearly six years, to giving birth at the age of 17 and working a series of jobs from a streetcar conductor to prostitute. She would sing, dance and perform in a European tour of Porgy and Bess. Eventually she would be encouraged to write and would pen her most famous work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

This week’s saint is Maya Angelou who died this past Wednesday, May 28th.

You can read all about the life of Maya Angelou all over the internet.  Here are a few articles that caught my eye this week:

I’m sure you can find others. Rather than spend time recounting her life though, I thought it more appropriate to focus on her words. Here are a few videos of Maya Angelou reciting her poems and some interviews. Spend some time today to remember and become familiar with the powerful words of Maya Angelou.

Still I Rise

“You may write me down in history with your bitter twisted lies, you may trod me in the very dirt, but still like dust, I rise.”

Maya speaking about the beauty of language and poetry

“Words meant so much to me, I am intertwined with them.”

I Am Human

“The brute, the bigot and the batterer are all children of God. And I’m supposed to treat them accordingly.”

A Conversation With Nell Irvin Painter & Maya Angelou

“I will not allow anyone to narrow the tunnel of my life.”

On the Pulse of the Morning

“Come, clad in peace, and I will sing the songs the creator gave to me when I and the tree and the rock were one.”

The Revelation That Changed Dr. Maya Angelou’s Life

“It’s amazing, I can do anything and do it well. Any good thing I can do it. That’s why I’m who I am. Yes, because God loves me and I’m amazed at it.”

 “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
Interview in USA TODAY (March 5, 1988)

Prayer for Ascension Day

Christ's AscensionAlmighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

I Don’t Think God Hates Who You Think God Hates.

(Photo: The Christian Post / Sonny Hong) Rev. Franklin Graham addressing pastors at the Watchmen on the Wall National Briefing, held at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Thursday, May 22, 2014.

(Photo: The Christian Post / Sonny Hong)
Rev. Franklin Graham addressing pastors at the Watchmen on the Wall National Briefing, held at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Thursday, May 22, 2014.

You ever read something that just makes you want to get up, buy a plane ticket, fly to the person who said/wrote it and put them in time out? Yeah…met too. I came across something like that late last week and it was brought to my attention again yesterday. Franklin Graham, son of the great Billy Graham, got an award from a group called “Watchmen on the Wall” and took the opportunity to address some issues he felt important. What he said came to my attention through this article, Franklin Graham Calls on Pastors to Speak Out on Abortion, Homosexuality; Says ‘God Hates Cowards’.  In the article it is reported that Frankly said the following:

“The definition of a coward: a coward will not confront an issue that needs to be confronted due to fear. That is a coward,” said Graham. “God hates cowards. And the cowards that the Lord is referring to are the men and women who know the truth but refuse to speak it.”

These statements Franklin Graham supported through the inspiration of Revelation 21:8 which says:

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Revelation 21:8 (NIV)

Graham was trying to prod pastor’s into addressing homosexuality and abortion by calling all those who don’t cowards. For Graham, abortion and homosexuality are so important to the message of the Gospel that he felt it necessary to call those who don’t speak out on such matters cowards. Graham equates those pastors who don’t speak out with the cowards referenced in Revelation 21:8.

And by the way, according to Graham, “God hates cowards.”

First of all, let’s talk about who these “cowards” in Revelation 21:8 are. More than likely the people who are the target of John of Patmos‘s ire are Christian’s who, under threat of persecution and death, have chosen to worship the Roman emperor and pay homage to the other Roman gods. This most likely occurred during the reign of Domitian who was trying to bring worship of the Roman gods and emperor worship back into common use. Laws were enacted to reinforce his ideas and many Christians probably denied their belief in Jesus as God in order to avoid prison or execution.

I don’t think pastors who choose to not speak out against abortion or homosexuality in the way that Graham wants them to have anything in common with these “cowards” in the book of Revelation. If that was truly the case, the big meeting Graham was at would have been illegal and pastors would not have a free public pulpit to speak out against…well…much of anything really. While Graham acknowledges, “Could we get our heads chopped off? We could, maybe one day. So what? Chop it off!” as may have happened to Christians during the time Revelation was written. However, there is no real threat of that in America. Maybe in the Middle East, China or other country who’s government and people do not see Christianity in a favorable light. Not in America where we are more likely to dismiss people who are NOT Christian than remove heads from those who are.

Secondly, let’s talk about God hating cowards. Let me go look that up in my Bible…

Nope…not there.

I did find a few things that God does hate though. My personal favorite list of things God hates can be found in Amos.

I hate, I reject your festivals;
I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
I won’t be pleased;
I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
Take away the noise of your songs;
I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
Amos 5:21-23 (CEB)

Here, God’s hatred is reserved for those who think they have it all right. Those who celebrate the right festivals, have great worship services and give the most expensive gifts. Because if you have enough food to have “well-fed animals”, you must be feeding yourself pretty well too. Just because you think it’s right, just because everything looks okay and just because you’re following all the rules does not merit you any special favor with God. The prophets and Jesus tell us over and over again that the one’s who think they are the safest, who give the biggest impression that they have God on their side, are the ones who are truly farthest away from God. In reality, they may be opposing what God truly stands for.

Freeing the slave, raising up the oppressed, feeding the hungry and comforting the lonely.

The book of Isaiah drives this point home when it says:

Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
and oppress all your workers.
You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
if you want to make your voice heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I choose,
a day of self-affliction,
of bending one’s head like a reed
and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?
Isaiah 58:3-7 (CEB)

The fast that God chooses is not simply a refusal of food and luxury, what many would consider the “right way” to fast. The fast God wants is an opportunity to make people whole and restore them to community by setting them free, removing burdensome yokes, giving them clothes and inviting them to your table. I’m with Graham to the extent that abortion and homosexuality are topics that need to be talked about in church. However, we part ways quickly when it becomes about enacting laws and engaging in politics that only place tighter yokes and heavier burdens on those already weighed down by circumstances of life. Making things illegal and levying fines or even prison time is just an another way to burden those already crushed under the weight of our culture and society. Enacting laws to force others to believe or do what we think is right places us squarely in the same league as Domitian. It does not make it any better or more right just because we are Christian’s and we feel like God is on our side.

Abortion becomes a choice when a woman feels like she has no other choice. I would rather that abortions not happen but I’m also for women having the freedom to choose. Enacting laws that restrict that choice only furthers the feeling that they have no choice, no power and no alternative. Let’s instead address abortion by talking about what the Church’s responsibility is to take care of those who wouldn’t be given a option otherwise. Let’s talk about what options a woman has before getting pregnant and before an abortion even enters the conversation. What if we talked more about building a strong self image for women and spent more time telling what they can do rather than what they shouldn’t? What if we focused on developing deep relationships, making safe places for single parents, or even promoted safe sex practices?

Homosexuality is a sticky issue and without wading in too far into the ever divisive issue of LGBTQ people’s place in the church, I think there are deeper issues at stake. LGBTQ people are choosing or considering suicide at an alarming rate. Again, many of them feel like they have no other choice. They’ve been ostracized by their family and communities. They feel like they are invisible and believe that it would just be better to die than to feel alone. What if the issue of homosexuality with the Church wasn’t just that people were LGBTQ and that they want to marry, but that LGBTQ people feel like they have no value? What if the Church took the stance of restoring a sense of community to LGBTQ people who were denied it by those closest to them? What if a church chose to become a new family for those who have been shunned by their own?

Let’s spend less time calling people cowards, talking about who God hates and thus building up our own sense self-righteousness. Let’s spend more time serving those who are truly afraid, those who feel like God hates them and who have been stripped of any sense of self-worth.

Let’s stoop down to bring people up, rather than stepping up by pushing others down.

Prayer for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

ResurrectionO God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saint of the Week – William of Rochester

Stained glass from Rochester Cathedral depicting St. William as a Pilgrim.

Stained glass from Rochester Cathedral depicting St. William as a Pilgrim.

For today’s saint we’re going to head off the beaten path a little bit. As I was looking over ideas for saints to talk about this week I was drawn to today’s story because it was well…crazy. It’s interesting to see what causes someone to become considered a saint and the saint we’re going to spend some time with did not enter sainthood in the normal way one might expect.

Today’s saint is William of Rochester (or Perth).

William was born in Perth, Scotland but the date is unknown. By all accounts he was a wild and troublesome child. However, sometime in his adult life he had a dramatic conversion to Christianity and began to attend church services daily. He worked as a baker and after his conversion he would give every tenth loaf of bread to the poor. One day as William was heading to mass, he came across an infant abandoned outside the church. William adopted the child, named him David and began to teach him to be a baker.

Some time after bringing David into his family, William decided to go on a pilgrimage to visit Christian holy sites including a trip to Jerusalem. William and David packed up and set out on their first leg of the journey which would take them to Rochester, England. After spending a few days in the city they set off for Canterbury. However, for reasons lost to history, David bashed his adoptive father over the head, slit his throat, robbed him of all the valuables he had and left William for dead by the side of the road.

Didn’t see that coming did you? Me neither when I first read the story.

A local woman who was considered “insane” came across William’s body and placed a garland of honeysuckle on the body and then on her head. Reportedly once she place the garland on her head she was cured of her insanity. Local monks saw this as a sign and had William buried at the nearby cathedral. They also erected a shrine to him which became a pilgrimage site to which thousands of medieval pilgrims would travel to.

Because he was murdered on pilgrimage to holy sites, William is considered a martyr. Along with the healing of the insane woman who found his body, many miracles were associated with William after his death and he was considered a saint by the people. William would be officially recognized as a saint in 1256 by Pope Alexander IV. May 23rd is recognized as the feast/memorial day for William and he is considered the patron saint of adopted children.

May we, regardless of past actions, experiences or knowledge remain diligent to help those in need around us. May we see all people as members of God’s family and be willing to welcome them as such. May St. William’s story not serve as a tale of caution and restraint, but as encouragement to serve God and walk out a holy life regardless potential dangers and persecution. May we be encouraged by his example to serve God in spite of where we’ve been or where our life may take us.

More Information:
Saints.SQPN – Saint William of Rochester
Wikipedia – William of Perth
MyCatholicBlog – Saint William of Rochester: Patron Saint of Adopted Children
Rochester Cathedral – History of Rochester Cathedral

Is Community Essential to Intimacy With God?

I was sorting through drafts and ideas I had for blog posts recently and I stumbled across this one I had scribbled down in February. The idea was spawned from a comment conversation I had on a friends blog. He asked the question Are Worship and Intimacy Compatible? which created a nice little discussion. As I wrote out comments and thought more about it, I realized I had sort of compiled a blog post. Some of the thoughts here are pulled almost directly from my comments with some additions to tie it all together.

The blog and questions that inspired this post were examining if a church worship service is the best place to encourage intimacy with God. This got me thinking about intimacy in general, both with God and with the gathered community in a church. I think we took a bit of a diversion in American and Evangelical Christianity when we spent so much time focusing on a “personal” relationship with God. This may also be compounded by our evangelical idea of a stuck-in-one-moment-in-time decision to follow Christ or be a Christian. Everything seems to have become so focused on personal experience and individual salvation that worship has become an individual experience too. People critique a worship service like they would critique a meal or latte on Yelp. One bad personal experience or one moment of “not feeling it” and people move on to the next thing. They go looking for that personal feeling, the intimacy with God that many believe can only be discovered in a one-on-one relationship with God or experience of God. They eject themselves from communion with others, from a church community, in order to find intimacy with God.

The problem becomes when we uproot and go looking elsewhere, there is little chance for true intimacy to form. I was always told growing up that intimacy without others was a bad idea. If I might push the image further, intimacy with just myself was empty and a false image of what true intimacy with others can be. Chasing an intimate relationship with God defined by our own feelings and experiences, absent from close community with others, is essentially religo-narcissism.

It seems to me that engaging with community is essential to not only intimacy with other people but also leads to a deeper intimacy with God. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for personal prayer and devotion in one’s growth as a Christian. However, choosing to not engage in intimate community with others is selfish and seems to miss the point of this whole Church, Kingdom restored creation thing that God has worked through Jesus. Gathering as a community was essential to the early church as we are told in the second chapter of Acts.

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47 (CEB)

When we sing songs, speak prayers, eat together, read scripture, pronounce blessings and forgiveness of sins communally we acknowledge that this Church endeavor we’re on together is not just about us as individuals. It is in those moments, especially in moments of communal blessing and forgiveness (i.e. the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper), when we are more open to intimacy with others. We are more open to engage with others and welcome them to the table that God through Christ has opened to everyone.

I bet the closer we feel with those in our church community, the more welcoming and hospitable we are, we would be surprised how much closer we feel with God.

Intimacy with God then could equate to an intimacy with a community. If that is true, then many churches have REALLY missed what true intimacy can look like. From that perspective then, intimacy with the community and God might look a lot like the relationship you have with your spouse or other close relations. Highs and lows are a part of, and essential to, the intimacy of the relationship. Your best friend and closest partner knows how you feel and what you do in both your best and worst moments. Entering into a relationship opens yourself up to not only how things are now, but how they might be in an uncertain future. Intimacy with the community and God then embraces something more than just “me” and ” right now”.

It embraces the community that existed before and the community that will exist in the future.

It embraces the God who identifies as “I will be what I will be” or “I am that I am”.

It acknowledges and wrestles with the lows and celebrates and remembers the highs.

It may be important to understand and give the disclaimer that God is not the community and God is not the experience. But, what we do see when gathered as a community of God’s kingdom is only a faint glimpse of the God who is beyond and has yet chosen to interact with His creation. I think precisely because it is difficult to contain God in words, intimacy with God is not like what we often understand intimacy to be. We can have a difficult time communicating with and “feeling” close to God unlike how we communicate and feel in close relationships with other people. This is why the community gathered in worship is so essential to any development of intimacy with God. We may believe and read words that God has spoken in the past but the community gathered currently has the ability to embody and speak God’s words into a new time and a new place.

As it has in the past, as it is doing now and as I will in the future.

Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:23-25 (CEB)

Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

ResurrectionAlmighty god, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.