In Our Addiction to Convenience, Have We Forgotten the Word’s Ancient Meaning?

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. Genesis 3:7

Part of my daily ritual most mornings involves stopping at my local 7-Eleven convenience store. Freedom and spontaneity abound in my breakfast or lunch choices—planning a week’s worth of meals can be so inconvenient. Sometimes I stop at one on the way to my other job when I feel the guilt of a McDonald’s craving—exchanging one convenient corporation for another. Convenience stores have an abundance of those conveniently healthy food choices—individual packets of nuts, yogurt, power bars, and more. Convenience stores are also convenient oases for homeless persons, have you noticed?

I have a hate/love relationship with the words convenient and convenience. They have become such self-focused words—as consumers in a largely corporate economy, we measure the world in terms of our own “coffee spoon” comfort: how quickly and easily can we gratify our desires? No frustration must enter our lives, heaven forbid that we must wait in line at a grocery store, let alone interact with others who (might) thwart our ease of access. Convenience means little or no human interaction.

In seminary a few years ago, I became enamored of the now obsolete usage of the word, the original Latin conveniens, which means “fitting.” This usage forms the basis for many of Thomas Aquinas’s arguments in the Summa Theologiae. When I first read it, my eyes opened, not to a brave new world, per se, but to knowledge that there were others like me in the world–scholars, theologians, poets–using reason to understand God; faith was seeking understanding, to borrow St. Anselm’s phrase.

I had found my kindred spirits. Seemingly, the practical world has little use for mystics, though, let alone poets. And yet, I would say that even these head-in-the-cloud saints still had their hands and feet in the world.

***

Adam and Eve

God’s economy
begins in this convenient
car wash; by spurting spigot,
the man fills plastic water jugs
crafted by a nameless
corporation.
the woman produces eclectic plastic
ware–squares, saucers–from ubiquitous
black garbage bag carryall.
Synthetic black clothes her corpus, too,
leadenly animate in the chill.
Giving each dish a quick rinse under
the gushes, she then lays
them out on the grass.
No shame in either frame
as each performs their corporate chores.
Store’s red-shirted clerk ignores
their theft.

Gas pump clicks, banishing me
from this Eden, not them.
Conveniens? I whisper, a Thomist
ghost flitting ‘round
my reasoning heart.
Fitting, I murmur–
this is the wisdom of the world.

***

In my off-kilter, poet-theologian mind, I hate that we speak of, say, helping the homeless, in terms of inconvenience, as I’ve heard some priests preach, trying to wrestle with that word. Get out of your comfort zone (such a convenient cliche)! And I don’t disagree with the thought, but . . . if we are all children of God, all imago dei (made in God’s image), then should we not re-frame the wisdom of the world in terms of the fittingness of opening our eyes and truly seeing each other in that light? Inconveniencing ourselves may be the most convenient action we can take.


Image:  Välko Tuul – Art Museum of Estonia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61409440

Poem written for McLean Baptist Church

This poem was commissioned by Rev. Megan Clapp, Youth Minister at McLean Baptist Church in McLean, VA. The first week of August 2016 was VBS time, and the children learning about creative praise. Megan and Katie, the other minister, wanted a poem that could be read at the Sunday worship time by a child, with a playful tone, and be about the church’s worship space.

The Most Important Part of My Church

Do I love my church home?
Yes!
Why?
I spy
beautiful jewels
emerald, sapphire, amethyst,
with ruby and gold at the heart—
the crown and cross
of Jesus Christ our King.
Can you guess?
Yes! Our stained-glass window,
With colors bright.

Do I love my church home?
Yes!
Why?
I spy
simple, strong structure,
space to grow in Christ.
Cradling us safely, yet
with windows clear, and doors
for all to enter and go forth.
Can you guess?
Yes! Our sanctuary walls,
a welcome sight.

Do I love my church home?
Yes!
Why?
I spy
cross and threefold shadows here,
hovering over waters deep,
promising eternal life in Christ.
Before and after I’m immersed,
Jesus’ teachings I’ll learn to keep.
Can you guess?
Yes! Our baptistery,
With its inner light.

Do I love my church home?
Yes!
Why?
I spy
the place that we gather
to be joined as a body,
the body of Christ. Together
in communion at the table,
where the Word of God often rests.
Can you guess?
Yes! Our altar, set for
the feast of life.

Do I love my church home?
Yes!
Why?
I spy
every time I’m here
the most important part
of our church—its soul and heart—
singing, laughing, crying,
praying, ministering, loving.
Can you guess?
Yes! We are the church,
in our pews together, all
snug and tight.

Do we love our church home?
Yes! We do! Amen!

“Not All Who Wander are Lost,” or Apotossomai to All That

http://tinyurl.com/ChristinePentecost6A

By way of a prologue—

When does a journey begin? In stories, in poems, in epics, we, as the audience, know because the poet or the writer tells us. We have Chaucer’s “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,”we have the Beowulf poet’s “Listen!” But the characters don’t necessarily know the nature of the journey to which they’ve been called—no chance or thought to make preparations. Characters such as Perceval, the paramount knight of King Arthur’s court and the Grail quest, and Tolkien’s hobbit of Lord of the Rings fame, Bilbo Baggins, come to my mind.

I also think of my own journeys, and especially this week (the Tour de France is only a week away!) of one for which I was totally unprepared. When my priest, my mentor, at Trinity Episcopal in Waterloo, IA, asked if I was interested in being a support driver for a charity bike ride around Missouri, I didn’t think, I just said, “yeah, that sounds like fun!” Packed my bag and off I went! No inkling of what was to come—shepherding cyclists and yelling at motorists, writing about the Tour de France, going to seminary, learning about mission and community and connections. Helping to lift others up.

Today, Luke starts us on a journey; we take the first steps with Jesus and the disciples at the beginning of the road to Jerusalem, the road that will bring them to the cross. We have would-be disciples, including one who asks if he might say good bye to his mother and father, echoing Elisha’s question, asked of Elijah, his mentor. The Greek word apotossomai in Luke that means “say goodbye” is the verb form of the word “apostasy” that we use today as turning away from, a turning one’s back on, a withdrawing from, one’s principles, one’s religion, one’s cause.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with our (All Saints’ Episcopal, ATX) lectionary group, which meets between the services as an alternative to the Adult Christian Education forums; I invite you to join us sometime. Part of our discussion involves thinking of creative responses we might have to the Gospel. And so, that’s what I have for you today. The journey’s about to begin; I invite you to close your eyes and listen:

Do we set our faces toward Jerusalem?
Apostasy means never having to say goodbye again.

Perceval, the ultimate knight, the straight, the true, who
hopes to hold the Grail, doesn’t look back
following the angels in shining armor
he wants
to follow without question
the men who must serve God in their perfection

Never saying goodbye to the mother who
hid him, bore and raised him,
in the security and surety of the forest.
But he sets his face toward . . . what?
Glory, fame, to be the best, among the best,
To quest.

Apostate to his mother
she lies dead in the clearing
A hand outstretched, a heart broken
“Let the dead bury the dead”
though she taught him communion and to say Our Father
he never looked back, his hand on the plow
turned into a sword.

Perceval should have asked
“who does the Grail serve?”
but hand to the plow, eyes
and the body’s grace do not allow
him to look behind; mazed at the samite-clad
silent procession,
the single wafer
upon the platter.

What is the cost? “I’ll follow, I’ll follow. . .”
Fools rushing in where only an angel offered a place for his head
“where ever you go”
Even the cross? Can you let go?
Where is your face set?

A young Bilbo runs down the road
without a handkerchief to hold
Dwarves and dragon await.
Much, much later, apostate, withdrawn,
Bilbo, older now, slips on the Ring,
the one to Rule them all,
though it should go into an envelope.

The hand falters on the plow
but finally “the Road goes ever on and on”
face set toward Rivendell and elves.
The Precious left with his nephew,
precious, too, to follow the precarious Road,
to set his face,
to lose a finger,
hand on the plow,
but heart in the Shire.

The prophet cries out against Israel
His face set toward Jerusalem
but Elisha’s set his eyes on him.
He slaughtered the oxen with the very
yoke under which they served
straight and true (all twelve)
fed the people in farewell, his father
and mother and uncles and cousins
a feast of apostasy. “Turn in the rags
and giving the commodities a rain check.”

And Paul, free and Spirited slave, apostate to himself,
to Saul, on the road to Damascus, turns his face from Jerusalem
turns toward Christ. The writer writes, urging others to journey, to apostasy—say goodbye to the Law; lift up each other in love.

Where does your journey begin? Where do you set your face? Amen

Claustrophobia II

She’s not fool enough to actually stick her head all the way out the window, riding in the backseat of a friend’s SUV at the finish of a sacramental night, instead settling for an inward chuckle. For a brief space, she wears a dog’s mien as she gazes in rapt attention at the midnight Texas sky, unbounded by city lights.

The temptation to lean out into the night air is almost overpowering–just to feel more fully the cool autumn air rushing past; just to more fully take in all the stars, the Milky Way, to look for familiar constellations–long-lost friends kept at a distance by orange-sodium urban incandescence.

Head rush, soul rush–tranquility and tumult exist in the liminal space between one heartbeat and the next; the dog collar, invisible, yet felt, always binding her heart, just like the stars newly binding her wrist.