Notes from the Vicar of Grace

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Bill Harper

Hey All--     


I had intended, this week, to write something a bit light-hearted.  Sort of funny, and thoughtful.  Like any new convert I wanted to share my new delight.  "Glee," has captured my pop-culture heart and I want to tell everyone about it.  And "it" of course is nothing but fantasy.  It's a television show about a high school glee club and the lovely disarray of personalities singing their songs.  It's good stuff.  It has heart and soul and some real life sown among the musical fiction.  It has pretty people, diverse people, truthful people (who say the things we all wish we had said in high school).  And they can all sing!  I want to live in that glee-full world!

 

                But of course real life got in the way of  sharing some light-hearted fantasy.  That's what real life usually does.  All week long my Glee-world has of course been overshadowed by the latent responsibility I've felt to say something about the death of Osama bin Laden.  It's not that I had any presumption that I could make sense of this week's news; that I would say something that would help all the tumblers fall into place and together we could say "oh, that makes sense."  I can't do that.  Yet I still, often, feel pulled to offer some thought about how our faith can be real while living in this painfully real world.  What I don't want for myself, or any of us, is a faith that is fantasy--and so what we believe needs to stand and live side by side with the hard realities we all experience week to week.

 

                Here is one of those hard realities: human cultures and individuals have not figured out how to live without violence.  We have not even shown that we want to.  Violence is real.  And it breeds.  Hatred, fear, callous exploitation and a sense of injustice provide the nourishment.  Some think violence itself is necessary and inevitable (I'm not so sure, myself) and the best we can do is contain it, mitigate it--even manage it.  Most of us believe that when we initiate violence we are justified, and that when we are victims of violence we are innocent.  Sometimes this is actually true.  Far too often it is the innocent who suffer the most.  This is, frankly, why the terrorism of the type Osama bin Laden believed in is so plainly evil: it uses violence against the innocent to sow the deepest of fears.  He was hardly original, and his death will not end the cycle.

 

                As a citizen of this country I will admit some kind of quiet relief that "we got the bad guy." And I marvel at the courage and risk and commitment that are so much a part of military service.  But to be honest, I try very hard to be a citizen of a broader country--the Kingdom of God.  In that Country--well, death and violence do not win the day.  Therefore, in this real world, I find it hard to be glad or gleeful about a death sentence realized.  And I was ashamed, honestly, to share citizenship with cheering crowds shouting stupid things lubricated by ignorance and chemistry.  I know reasonable minds and loving hearts can disagree about this, but when I bring my faith to bear on the real world it is so terribly hard to ignore very simple words: "Love your enemies."  Go ahead, look up chapter 5 in Matthew's Gospel.  Here's the link.  These are not just pretty words.  This is a life proclamation, and a prophetic ethic.  And it takes grace and courage to live that way.  It takes God within us.

 

                So this is no last word on any of these subjects.  I'll just stop here--and offer poetry and a song.  Which, ironically, is how every episode of "Glee" ends.  The poem is from Steve Garnaas-Holmes, whose reflections have come to shape my faith very deeply.  And the song comes with a short video.  You'll find it here, on the Grace website.  Go ahead and click through.  This is either fantasy or reality.  That choice awaits us.  We can justify and rationalize and add more words to the pile (which I have now done).  Or . . . well, I don't know for sure what else.  I just know that I want something more than justification or rationalization that simply accepts the world as it is today--as it was this week. 

 

Shuck Off Your Burlap

In the resurrection-that shedding
of our little crust of death-
Judas is lighthearted,
and Pilate contemplates eternal truths
and writes ecstatic hymns.
They always had it in them-
and finally they are free.

 

Listen: in this evil ugly world,
bugged as it is by the illusions of depravity,
there is only beauty and holiness.
Among all the mad and mangled people of earth
there are only saints and royalty.

 

In your ordinary life,
with its handbag of pain
and your few little coins of success,
an entire star burns with pure glory,
a field of wildflowers exults.
This is not good luck, or physics gone wild.
It's God.

 

What can you do, you who are made of delight,
but fall defenselessly in love with everybody,
and give yourself away
until you are pure song?
What can you do but
shuck off your burlap clothing,
catch fire
and dance?

 

 

Bill's Signature 

 

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