The Promise of Christmas
All Souls Bethlehem Church
First Sunday of Advent
Rev. Tom Martinez
November 30, 2014 (Keeping the faith in the promise of Christmas, while the killing of Michael Brown roils the nation.)
For some reason this Advent season I’ve been thinking of Jesus’ father, Joseph, who gets pretty short shrift in the Gospels. In fact I got to wondering, what the heck happened to Joseph? We meet him when Mary is pregnant with Jesus, and then he fades away and disappears. Being the seminary trained minister that I am I did what all serious scholars do and GOOGLE’d “What happened to Jesus’ father, Joseph?” By so doing I learned that it’s widely assumed that Joseph died prior to the start of Jesus’ ministry. Evidence for this theory is that, had he died during Jesus’ ministry, Jesus would have gone to the funeral and one of the Gospels would surely have mentioned an event of that magnitude. Likewise, when Jesus is on the cross he instructs his disciples to care for his mother, something he wouldn’t have had to do had his father been alive.
In a more literary and theological sense I think it’s safe to say that Jesus’ earthly or biological father was eclipsed by his heavenly father. The disappearance of Joseph makes sense from this perspective, since Jesus’ life and ministry were so inextricably caught up in his profound sense of God’s presence in his life. Even his mother fades during the course of his ministry, though as we noted she is there at his execution.
But the long and short of all this is Joseph himself ends up with a bit part in the cosmic drama of Jesus’ life. Continue reading →
“Greed & Gratitude”
All Souls Bethlehem Church
Rev. Tom Martinez
November 23, 2014
“…in the single-minded pursuit of economic growth,
we risk losing something essential to human life”
(The Christian Century, Nov. 26, 2014, p. 24).
A while back I went to DC for the screening of a documentary. When I got to the hotel it was around midnight and a worker was out front hosing down the front steps, which I believe were marble. I remember thinking to myself, ‘this looks dangerous.’ But it was late and I was tired and relieved to have arrived so it was a passing thought. As I checked in I asked if they had a fridge in the room because I had some leftovers in the car. They did, only I had left the food in the car so I had to make one last trip down those stairs. Continue reading →
Dismantling Walls of Oppression
All Souls Bethlehem Church
Rev. Tom Martinez
November 16, 2014
Last week was the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, which got me to thinking about the arbitrariness of many of our cultural creations, especially the repressive ones, and the need to break them down. The division of Berlin was part of the compromise between Russia and the US following the defeat of Germany in WWII. Communist officials tied to Russia were of course in charge of East Germany and more democratically minded capitalists ran West Germany. This initially led to a sizeable mass exodus from East Germany, prompting rumors of a wall that would divide the two regions and “keep out” the pesky western invaders. East German officials denied rumors that a wall was in the works and then suddenly one night it was hastily erected.
I watched a documentary on the wall the other day (The Wall: A World Divided), that includes interviews with people who were living in Berlin at the time. There’s a story about a man whose wife and family happened to be visiting family in East Berlin the night the city was divided. They woke up the next morning and discovered they couldn’t return home. Continue reading →
ASBC Sunday Service: February 26th, 2017
Get Up and Do Not Be Afraid
In this week’s Gospel reading, the Apostle Peter demonstrates a series of emotions in very short order: awe, ecstasy, confusion and fear. We live in times that call forth all of these and other emotions, sometimes so quickly that we cannot fully process them when they hit us. The urgency of “NOW” can leave us traumatized, exhausted, depressed, burnt out.
How do we find rest and spiritual nourishment when we are called to respond quickly to a series of crises that threaten us, our families, our neighbors?
This week, we will examine Jesus’ instruction to Peter, James and John to: Get up and do not be afraid,” in the Gospel reading of Matthew 17:1-9.
Rev. John Magisano will be our speaker.
Richard Harper will be our musician.
If you’re new to All Souls Bethlehem Church you’ll find all kinds of information on our webpage (www.allsoulsbethlehem.org), including our location: 566 E. 7th St. between Cortelyou Road and Ditmas Avenue—don’t be fooled by the large church on the corner of Cortelyou and E. 7th Street; we’re a house church midway down the block. We begin around 10:30. And check out our video on the homepage. It provides a brief introduction to our diverse and progressive house church! If you’re taking the train, we’re in between the Cortelyou Rd. stop on the Q train and the Ditmas Ave. stop on the F train. And please note: childcare and/or religious education (depending on the ages of the children) is available.
Wherever you are on life’s journey, you are always welcome here.
“Husbands, Lovers and the End of the World”
All Souls Bethlehem Church
Rev. Tom Martinez
October 26, 2014
We’re big supporters of the arts here at All Souls Bethlehem Church, which we express through our open mics and the upcoming photography exhibition on the theme of homelessness. There’s something powerful and sacred about the creative process. Theologically this is referred to as our being co-creators with the Divine. The birth of the cosmos and life on this planet, with its rainbows and radiant sunrises and sunsets bespeaks an infinite power of being, which we reflect through our own creative projects. In this way we are like roses in a vast garden, blossoming in a manner that reflects the larger cycles and seasons of a much more comprehensive dance of life.
Some of you know that one of my favorite artists is Vincent Van Gogh. I know he’s trendy now, but I was first introduced to Vincent years ago by my mom, who sensed the deep pathos and creative genius he brought to the world. We had books of Van Gogh’s work in the house so I was an admirer of his from a very young age.
It wasn’t until later when I chanced upon the volume of his letters to his brother (edited by Irving Stone and titled, “Dear Theo”), that I learned Van Gogh originally wanted to be a minister. During his training he was assigned to serve a community of miners who as you can imagine, eked out a subsistence existence marked by long hours underground. Vincent took to descending into the mines himself, which resulted in a rather unfortunate encounter with one of his superiors upon returning to the surface one day. Covered in grime from his journey below Vincent Continue reading →
“The Circle of Life” Easter 2014
Easter Sunday, 2014
“The Circle of Life”
Rev. Tom Martinez
All Souls Bethlehem Church
April 20, 2014
Easter can be a challenging time for progressive Protestant ministers. As I see it part of the task of progressive clergy is engaging the ancient stories in ways that allow for integrity on the part of modern, post-Scientific Revolution faith communities. All the miracles pose a challenge for those of us living in these early years of the 21st century. A few weeks ago we talked about Jesus healing a blind man and I tried to explore that with an eye toward the metaphorical meaning of developing the capacity to see, spiritually, to open our eyes to the suffering, being able to see injustice. As an example of being able to really see I used the example of being mindful of the men and women incarcerated right here in Manhattan at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. It’s so easy to be blind to their plight. The vigil taking place once a month down there is an example of a group of people who have determined they will not be blind. Not only do we stand where we can see the prison, but sometimes there’s an opera singer who sings so loud the men and women inside can here it across the concrete canyons that heighten their isolation.
So there are many ways to understand the miraculous events of the Bible. Ultimately the goal is to liberate the healing power of the Gospel in ways that make sense for us as a faith community. And one of the refreshing aspects of our faith community is there are many ways to approach these stories, to tap into their power, so that they can continue to nourish and transform us into the people God calls us to be. Continue reading →
“This is the Story of the Hurricane”
“This Is The Story of the Hurricane”
(Today’s sermon title is a line from the Bob Dylan song about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.)
Rev. Tom Martinez
All Souls Bethlehem Church
February 9, 2014
Last Sunday as we were sharing our joys and concerns I joked with Paula about how she and I needed to do our best to “stay out of the slammer.” Those of you who have been here at ASBC throughout my decade of service are probably aware that I have a particular interest in the subject of incarceration. That’s in part because of my experience at Union Seminary, where while confronting my own personal racism I came to understand the role of race in the burgeoning prison industrial complex.
The other reasons I’ve long been interested in the plights of prisoners is more personal. Those of you who’ve read my book, Confessions of a Seminarian, know that I’ve been locked up a few times. More recently that’s been the result of civil disobedience, but to be real hear I have to admit back in college I was locked up a few times and let’s just say it wasn’t for civil disobedience. The most serious scrape with the law I experienced occurred at a party in Auburn, Alabama, where I was going to school. One night at the tail-end of a wild party I was in a room with a group of people snorting cocaine when all of a sudden someone opened the bedroom door and hissed, “The cops are here! The cops are here!” Seconds later the door burst open and a group of undercover police officers stormed into the room. I direct you back to my book if you want to know the full story of that night, complete with secret notes smuggled into prison and the informant ending up in the cell next to me after having stolen our keg and being arrested for DUI.
But for today’s message I simply want to touch on a general idea. Looking back on the whole experience—the charges were later dropped on a technicality—I realize my good luck was really part of a larger pattern. As a middle-class white man (whose father is an attorney) the system worked to my advantage. That’s not to say I’m not grateful for the legal work done on my behalf. But my point is instead of serving ten years in prison I was able to go free.
My friend Matt Kern wasn’t so lucky. Matt was among a group of teenagers involved in a car-jacking late one night in Miami, in which the driver of the vehicle was shot and killed. Matt turned himself in and was initially placed in a juvenile facility. But when he turned 18 he was placed in an adult prison, one of the youngest inmates there and needless to say in great danger of being raped and/or otherwise exploited.
Matt describes his experience in his book Face (his nickname during his years in prison). Upon this first transfer to the adult system Matt soon found himself being harassed by an older inmate who had singled him out. Another seemingly harmless inmate nicknamed “Gimp” due to a limp he sustained after a knee tendon was severed in a fight, offered to intervene. Gimp appeared to keep to himself and the offer seemed genuine. Still, Matt had heard enough stories to be cautious about accepting help from anyone. Prison culture required that one stand up for oneself.
So Matt took matters into his own hands, obtaining a weapon and “creeping” up on the man who had been bothering him, stabbing him as he slept in the early morning hours. The man lived and Matt’s reputation as a “creeper” not to be messed with was established. Years later, while still imprisoned, Matt had a profound spiritual experience which transformed him. He began a new way of life while still behind bars and in a miraculous turn of events was granted clemency by the Governor of Florida. So it’s a powerful story with a very happy ending.
But I mentioned the terrifying start of Matt’s experience behind bars to provide entrance into the story of the Hurricane, the one-time prizefighter Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who spent over twenty years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Carter had been in and out of various juvenile facilities himself as teen, prior to his meteoric rise as a prize fighter. So when he was framed for the 1966 murder in a bar he was no stranger to the system. In fact, he had determined to succeed as a boxer precisely to avoid ever being locked up again. So when he was blamed for the murder, it was a perfect storm of injustice he vowed to fight. Looking back on it now it’s clear that various corrupt individuals within the criminal justice system colluded to pin the murder on Carter. What’s more remarkable however, is the spiritual force with which Carter entered this “16th Round,” echoing the title of his autobiography.
The film version of the story begins with a black and white recreation of one of Carter’s fights, juxtaposed with an experience he had in prison years later. Prison guards in full riot gear are rushing toward his cell as he frantically stuffs towels into his clothing as makeshift body armor. As he does so he yells out that he’ll kill the first few guards who enter his cell and that if they want to experience the Hurricane, they need merely enter. Then a guard who has presumably come to respect Carter walks up and motions for the others to give him some room.
“What’s going on, Rubin?” he says through the bars.
“They want to roll my cell,” Carter explains, meaning they intend to go through his belongings looking for contraband. Carter goes on to say he’s written a book that tells his story and it’s in his cell. If that were to be taken, everything would be lost.
The guard tells him to strap it to his leg and promises he won’t be touched. The book survived, was published, and truth of his innocence began to spread beyond the confines of the prison like waves rippling across the sea of popular culture. Bob Dylan wrote a song that told the whole story and many public figures took up the cause. After twenty long years, with the help of a dedicated and eccentric group of Canadian friends and an African American teen they had welcomed into their household, Carter was exonerated and freed.
While Carter’s experience was obviously in a literal prison made of concrete and steel, the principle of incarceration works just as well on a metaphorical level. Each of us knows the ways in which we are imprisoned emotionally, spiritually, conceptually. We end up erecting barriers to the outside world, sometimes in reaction to personal wounds, sometimes out of fear and the need for protection.
Today’s Biblical text about Peter being broken out of jail by an angel speaks to all these realities. We could argue and speculate as to whether or not this ever really happened (is it historically accurate, etc., etc.), or we can dispense with that sort of Tomfoolery and embrace the deeper wisdom of the story. I would offer up two observations we can glean from this powerful, ancient text.
First, there’s something about the Gospel that tends to get people locked up. Think of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi (who read the Sermon on the Mount everyday), Dorothy Day, the Berrigan brothers and countless others up to today. But just as important, there’s something about the Gospel that contains the power to set us free. In his kitchen on a fateful night not long after his first arrest, King admitted to feeling fear. Of course that’s understandable given that he was then receiving about forty death threats a day. He wanted to run. He feared for his life and the life of his family and he feared he would let the Movement down. But in his moment of utter weakness he experienced a spiritual uplift, the sense that he was part of something far larger and more powerful then the machinations of his enemy, larger and more powerful than the entire system of racial oppression he sought to overturn.
I want to quote a portion of King’s own account of his experience, as found in Bearing the Cross, by David J. Garrow:
“…That night, unable to be at peace with himself, King feared he could take it no longer. It was the most important night of his life, the one he always would think back to in the future years when the pressures again seemed to be too great.
‘It was around midnight,’ he said, thinking back on it. ‘You can have some strange experiences at midnight.’ The threatening caller had rattled him deeply. ‘Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out, and blow up your house.’
[Barrow here quotes King.]
‘I sat there and thought about a beautiful little daughter who had just been born…She was the darling of my life. I’d come in night after night and see that little gentle smile. And I sat at that table thinking about that little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken away from me any minute.
‘And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted and loyal wife, who was over there asleep. And she could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her. And I got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I was weak. Something said to me, you can’t call on Daddy now, he’s up in Atlanta…. You can’t even call on Mama now. You’ve got to call on that something in that person that your Daddy used to tell you about, that power that can make a way out of now way.
‘And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me, and I had to know God for myself. And I bowed down over that cup of coffee. I never will forget it…I prayed a prayer, and I prayed out loud that night. I said, Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak.
‘And it seemed at that moment I could hear an inner voice saying to me, Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world. …I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No never alone. No never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone’” (as found in David J. Garrow’s, Bearing the Cross, pp. 57-58).
King of course was a Protestant minister and I could have used the description of his spiritual experience as one of our two readings today, but that would have kept our sources completely within the Christian tradition. So I instead our first reading came from Lao Tsu’s, Tao de Ching.
The idea being that there is a deep and eternal truth reflected in this universe that has birthed us. If we succumb to the violence and hatred we get caught up in the endless cycle of revenge. But if we instead choose to align ourselves with the power of love, we can seek to harmonize with forces more powerful than any hurricane. But whether you look to Jesus’ command to love your enemy our the Taoist ideal of harmonizing your energies with the rhythms of the cosmos, the idea is the same: trust your struggle, have the courage to be who you are, and live out the implications of your heart’s knowing, so that you might remain true to your own deepest calling.
A few weeks back I told the story of Amanda Knox and what happened when she was released from an Italian prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Remember how when she returned to her cell for the last time to gather her things how the other women chanted her name, joyful for her release and feeling a spirit of solidarity?
When my friend Matt received clemency from the Governor of Florida his family wondered at first how best to celebrate. They of course wanted to spoil him and celebrate and initially considered picking him up in a limo and taking him to a feast fit for a king. But Matt just wanted to return home in the family car. What about the fancy dinner? Nah, he just wanted a regular meal surrounded by family. He just wanted to be in an environment where he was free to love and free to be loved.
That got me to thinking, that’s really what the church is about, providing a space for people to learn to love, to be free to love, and to feel safe enough to allow love in. If that’s not true freedom, I don’t know what is.
May it be. Amen.
Groundhog Day Sermon 2011
Groundhog Day 2011
A Journey of Spiritual Evolution
Rev. Tom Martinez
All Souls Bethlehem Church
I imagine everyone’s had the feeling, I’ve been here before. I’m not necessarily talking about a past life. It might be a powerful wave of Deja Vu, or it just might be you’re engaged in doing something that you’ve done many times before, like shoveling the snow or brushing your teeth. If you have to take daily medication sometimes you go to take it and you think, wait, did I take this today, or was that yesterday?
We move through life on many levels simultaneously. It’s so easy to go through much of our days half-awake, sort of a in a trance. We return home wondering “where did the day go?” Often times it’s the mundane, routine aspects of our lives that incline us to switch on the auto pilot. And to be honest more often than we’d like to admit we end up sleeping through matters of great importance.
I think this is what Camus was getting at with one of the most famous first lines of any novel ever written. I’m referring to how he begins his masterpiece, The Stranger. “Mother died today. Or yesterday maybe. I don’t know.” Immediately as the reader you want to judge him for that, you want to shake him and demand, “How can you not know if your very own mother died today or yesterday?” But as you read on you realize that the narrator, who goes on to murder a Muslim and to face a judge and jury, is his own harshest critic, holding his life up to the light of truth and seeking to understand the mystery of human existence in all its depth and complexity.
And that, I would dare say, is why I like the movie Groundhog Day so much. I know, I know, it’s a bit of a jump from Camus to Bill Murray. But after Caddyshack does anything else need to be said in defense of Murray’s genius?
Seriously, I really do like the movie Groundhog Day and as a person of faith, as I said before, I’m not alone. Many people resonate with this strange, quirky film built on the premise that Phil, a somewhat typical, egotistical television weatherman is cursed to live the exact same day over and over and over again. The fateful day is, of course, Groundhog Day.
Phil has been sent out to Punxsutawney to cover the ritual whereby the Groundhog is taken out to see if he sees his shadow. Being a big-shot TV weatherman Phil is very put out by what he sees as a ridiculous and insipid tradition but, to keep his job, he goes to cover the story. He covers it and then tries hurries to leave town with the crew, assuring them that they needn’t worry about the rumored winter storm because, hey, after all, he’s a meteorologist, a professional Weatherman.
So he and the small television crew (his producer and cameraman) leave town trying to beat the storm. But low and behold, they are forced to turn around after a few miles when they reach a road block manned by a State Trooper who informs them the interstate is closed due to a severe winter storm. This is the first of many crushing blows to Phil’s ego as the universe goes about putting him in his place in the larger scheme of things.
And herein lies the power of this film. Phil is a lot like us: he wants to feel in charge and in control. He wants to be able to predict what’s going to happen not just in terms of current events but in terms of the larger weather patterns; in short, in relation to the whole world. But as much as we’d like to be in control, life has a way of reminding us that we’re all in truth a bit like Matthew—or me—as the passing of the peace winds to a close. We are not in control. [After the passing of the peace during the regular Sunday service at All Souls Bethlehem Church the minister who is going to lead the sharing of joys and concerns stands before the mingling congregation hopelessly waiting for a bit of order to return to the joyful bunch of rabble rousers.]
That’s the first lesson Phil the weatherman learns on his way to spiritual enlightenment. Life is bigger than any one of us and we are not in control. It’s a humbling of the ego in relation to the larger mystery of life and the universe which, as the winter storm reminds him, is far more vast, powerful and complex than he will ever be.
This is essentially the entrance fee Phil must pay as he crosses the threshold into this strange world in which he lives the same day over and over. And it’s ironic, because right after being confronted with his relative insignificance in the larger scheme of things that he suddenly discovers he is free to do whatever he wants. We might say that when we admit to the limits of our powers we simultaneously connect ourselves with what we can do. According to the premise of the film he can say and do whatever he wants because when he wakes up the next day it will be Groundhog Day all over again and no one but Phil will remember the day before.
That simple plot device renders the consequences of his actions meaningless while at the same time, lending them a sort of eternal significance. This is where I think the Eastern religious traditions have a very legitimate claim to the film since it’s based on a non-linear perception of time. Phil becomes a symbol for all humanity, or the archetypal spiritual seeker, in that he goes through various phases of awakening as the spiral of life takes him deeper and deeper toward the heart of the mystery of love.
At first he is confused and angry. He can’t believe he’s trapped in this little God-forsaken town destined to live out the same day over and over and over again. Every day he must greet a fellow guest at the bed and breakfast where he is staying, along with its proprietor, and on the pesky insurance salesman who accosts him when he walks out to the street. Like Job or Solomon in Ecclesiastes he rails against the absurdity of it all, but his alienation and need for love nudge him onward.
As his process unfolds he at first seeks to leverage his understanding in ways that are entirely self-serving. He seduces a beautiful woman by convincing her they were classmates in a high school English class. He notices there’s a split second during which the guard of an armored car is distracted so that he can simply reach down and pick up a bag full of money and walk away undetected. He can eat whatever he wants and do whatever he wants without consequence, so he does, giving in to pure selfish desire.
But after a time he grows weary of this existence. It’s ultimately unfulfilling in ways he can’t quite explain, though if he wanted an explanation he could simply have read the book of Ecclesiastes. But he just gets tired of eating donuts. Here, too, it is love that serves as the bridge between his enslavement to desire and his true blossoming into a more self-actualized state.
The object of his heart’s deeper desire is Rita, his co-worker played brilliantly by Andie MacDowell. At first Phil tries to use his eternal same-day freedom to trick her, too. But this relationship isn’t just another trifling fling. It represents his need to genuinely connect with another person in the world, to find love, and ultimately we could say it represents the internal spiritual merger of male and female that is part of each person’s individuation. And so it is that every time Rita is about to giver herself to Phil she senses something’s not quite right. Every time Phil takes note and tries to improve his performance. But ultimately it’s not a performance Rita wants but a real relationship.
It’s not until Phil rises above the level of manipulation to a free and full respect of the dignity of persons that he wins Rita’s heart and frees himself from what the Buddhists call the “samsara” cycle of endless suffering, which literally means “endless wandering.”
Enlightenment, freedom from endless wandering, the discovery of love and spiritual freedom—these sound like good things and indeed they are. The question of course is how to harness these energies individually and collectively as a faith community. Now I’m tempted to point out the obvious and say that obviously we’re not all trapped in the same day over and over and over again but of course the reason the film contains so much spiritual energy is because in a way we are.
The trick, as the film makes clear, is to avoid being lulled to sleep by the familiar. So long as we are alive, we stand at the intersection of all of our past experiences and the unwritten future. Like an artist before a blank canvas we are given the opportunity to make something beautiful—every day. I’m not just talking about actual artistic creations though of course that’s part of what it means to be creative. But it could be as simple as the way you greet your neighbor, or spouse or sibling. It’s about splashing some spiritual water on your face and waking up to the grandeur of life as we ride the still-unfolding explosion of the Big Bang, poised on the tip of an evolutionary spear. With the Earth revolving around a star that’s—like us—rocketing away from a distant explosion light years away, with historically unprecedented change transforming Egypt, the largest Arab nation in the world, with winter begrudgingly giving way to spring, it’s a matter of waking up to the astonishing wonder of it all!
This is where I believe religion comes in. Not religion as fear of punishment but religion as a celebration of the Earth and the entire universe, religion that doesn’t shrink from science but which affirms the ancient history of collapsing stars and the evolution of life. From a cosmological point of view, we occupy a brief moment in time wherein we can reflect on the beauty and immensity of all that exists, we can affirm the sacred value of life, we can speak out in support of a balanced reverence for the Earth and her creatures. It is a spirituality of life, of opening to wonder and amazement with deep reverence for the sacred.
This is of course what Jesus was all about. He said if we a tiny bit of faith, the amount of a mustard seed, can move mountains. Through the narrative of Jesus’ mature thought there’s a sense of exponential expansion. In the text we looked at today, the Parable of the Sower, the sower sows seeds that yield a harvest of thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. I don’t think we can understand the ethic Jesus puts forward in these early chapters of Matthew apart from this larger sense of a radical opening to the infinite beauty and wonder of the spiritual world.
In such a world of course we want to be at peace with our neighbor. Yes of course we should avoid violence, we’d even want to avoid feeling hatred and the fear that gives rise to it. It’s all a waste of time. It limits our sense of the dignity of all people. Jesus gives the example of having a disagreement and presents the ideal of reconciliation, a term and process many peacemakers are applying in some of the worst war-torn regions of the world.
That, I would say, is the ultimate test for any spiritual model: how well does it hold up to the tests posed by the world in which we find ourselves—or is a given spiritual solution the equivalent of a diet of constant donuts? Within the narrative of the film Phil’s character figures out how to live in a manner that serves the community and brings him peace. By the end of this evolution he spends his day saving lives and helping people and even comes face to face with death at which point he simply looks up to the heavens beseechingly.
That moment marks the end of his transformation and the film then moves to its zany, happy ending. But as spiritual seekers it’s worth pausing to consider the meaning of that moment in which Phil confronts the reality of death and simply looks up. I interpret his inability to save the life of his homeless friend to be his final lesson in spiritual humility. There is much we can do. Yet we are mortal creatures born into a world in which life is balanced by death. To accept this reality as part of the given created order is to open to the mystery without fear or denial. One could say that much of the self-serving greed that goes on in the world is really a flight from a deeply repressed fear of death (those familiar with the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker will recognize his influence here), a chasing after immortality through symbols of wealth and power. That way of being in the world has come to define the zeitgeist of the ruling military-industrial complex as we invade and occupy foreign lands in search of oil and strategic power. (To get the latest on this I highly recommend Michael Hastings article, “King David’s War,” about General Petraeus in this month’s Rolling Stone.)
But there is another way, we might call it the way of Phil, or the way of Jesus, or the way of Egypt. It involves a humble acceptance of life and death, the realization that we are part of something truly beautiful in its own right, this vast miraculous experience of life as we know it in the Milky Way galaxy, with our changing seasons, the astonishing variations of light and color, the lengthening and shortening of days.
This emerging, spiritual sensibility leads to the realization that all people should have basic human rights, should be treated with dignity, should have a voice. That is the kind of world envisioned by Jesus. So let us all continue to expand our spiritual horizons, to explore our creative powers and our capacity to speak truth and work for justice. Rather than hating and killing and hoarding, let us kneel before the mystery and do our best to serve the larger community.
May it be. Amen.
“It Gets Better Sermon”
Rev. Matthew Westfox
All Souls Bethlehem Church, Brooklyn, NY October 3, 2010 Mark 14;53-71 – The beginning of the trial of Jesus, and Peter’s denial
The song following the sermon was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
When I was in high school, New York State Senator Thomas K Duane, then a City Councilperson, came to speak to one of our assemblies. I would later wind up working for him but this was the first time I’d encountered him – the first I’d met him. As New York’s first openly gay elected official, he spoke about homophobia in schools – teasing, and bullying. Like most of us, I couldn’t tell you what was said in 95% of my high school assemblies – but what Duane talked about that day has never left me. Continue reading →
“Liberation as a Biblical Theme”
Rev. Tom Martinez
July 18, 2010 Sermon
Last week I shared some stories about the popular movement that has risen up in Honduras following the military coup there a year ago. The experience, as I tried to convey, was rally powerful; especially because we’re so gay friendly at this church and two of our three denominations are so Open and Affirming and gay people in Honduras are in real danger. Of course it’s not just the LGBT community. Everyone who is speaking out against the repressive regime there is in danger. Actually meeting the leaders who were risking their lives to speak out for justice has left me feeling the need to think more about their situation and our relationship to it. Continue reading →