Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; you set me free when I am hard pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. I picked up the phone and dialed one of the most respected ministers I knew: Gilbert Hellwig, the German American pastor of the storied First Baptist Church, Cleveland’s equivalent of Manhattan’s Riverside. Dr. Hellwig listened to my heartbreak, as all good pastors learn to do, then replied wistfully in that ponderous voice of his, “You know? We Christians claim to be people of resurrection and yet we are so afraid to let some things just die. But if we are who we say we are—that is, people of resurrection–we must be willing to let some things die so that new life can spring up, albeit in a very different way.” Continue reading
I love Halloween. I also love Reformation Day (which I realize puts me at odds with some fellow Episcopalians). Most of all, I love All Saints Day (and I like the aesthetics of All Souls/Día de los Muertos, though I find it theologically problematic). It has always felt right to me that these three celebrations go together, jack-o-lanterns and all. My All Saints post from a few years ago is still one of the better things I’ve written, where I talked about the healing bond holding us together with all those we love, as well as those we can’t imagine loving yet, living or dead. That’s the All Saints aspect of the whole thing.
But I also like the Halloween aspect.
I drew the short straw and had to preach at our weeknight service, and the lectionary was Titus 3:1-7, which begins “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…” You can guess how thrilled I was to have to deal with that the day after Trump won the election. But I like what I came up with, and the congregation was tiny, so I share it here in case it’s what anybody needs to hear. Continue reading
In the corridor leading from the classrooms in Demerest Hall to St. John’s Chapel are two banners, right next to one another, that I pass on a daily basis. One depicts an interracial handshake with the words from the New Testament, “Love casts out fear.” The other features three dancers beautifully posed in silhouette with a verse from a beloved Shaker hymn, “Dance, then, wherever you may be.” Their colors have faded with time. Their message of hope is timeless. Indeed, they took on a deeper meaning for me today when I passed them once again to enter the chapel, light a few candles, and pray for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and all who mourn and care for them.
You’re no misanthrope.
You just knew that all good things
Come from God.
Stealing pears or repenting
Of stealing pears;
Making love to a woman
Or feeling like you’ve lost a rib
When you send her away;
Building a church
Tearing down a church
(or maybe just a sect)
You knew that what was good in it
If anything was
Was from God.
Maybe you had no love for pears
And maybe you just wanted a
But God gave you that restless heart
That one that wanted to conspire
When it couldn’t yet commune.
You called your kid God’s gift,
And said you had no part in him
But the sin.
But surely God gave the bed you lay on
If God gave what came from that bed.
You knew that lust
Was just love misdirected
And not always too far
Off the mark.
You knew yourself
Loving and loved
And you knew how much love could hurt
How much you could hurt
Your poor mother
Your poor mistress
That poor kid of yours
How much your
Drunk abusive father
Could have hurt you
And maybe did.
You knew how much goes wrong
When love goes wrong
So you made it all hang
On love that can’t go wrong.
And if unconditional salvation
Means unconditional damnation
Who are the damned to complain?
All good things come from God
Only from God.
You knew that.
But I think you also knew
That maybe you didn’t know
Just how good God is.
All Souls Day, 2015
© 2015 Kyle Rader
This, a repost of sorts from eight years and two blogs ago, is the sermon that I preached at my grandmother’s funeral (July 11, 2007). I used a lot of the same images in a discernment paper recently, so it’s been on my mind. And since I haven’t had time to write any new posts of late…
I’ve gotten some push back on Facebook to my last post, seemingly from some people who hear me saying something rather different from what I mean to be saying. In particular, it seems that my language connotes something different to people whose frame of reference is some of the cruder versions of substitutionary atonement than it does to me. I understand how people who have been hurt by human abuse of the idea of divine anger might not find my affirmation of God’s anger helpful. As I told the person who challenged me on a friend’s wall: if this is not the time for you to be thinking about reclaiming divine anger, please don’t give the matter another thought. In fact, go read some Julian of Norwich!
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” -Romans 1:18
The first post I wrote for this blog was about love and anger. I stand by everything I said in that post, but I’ve learned more since then. I wrote that I believe God is leading me to be more attentive to my anger, and often to let it go. Like the feelings associated with my depression, sometimes my anger is just a wave on the surface of my being. It comes and goes. I acknowledge it, but shouldn’t chase it. It doesn’t touch the deepest part of me, what the Hebrew writers called the heart.
But sometimes it does.
“Let everyone be swift to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” -James 1:19
“In your anger, do not sin.” -Psalm 4:4
Anger is a tricky emotion, and it is one of the things were the direction I have felt called to go is not one that I would counsel for other people. When I first started doing something like centering prayer, one of the first things I noticed is that I was more aware of my anger, and especially more aware of it as it was arising. I usually realized that I had a choice to make concerning it right after I had made that choice, usually the choice of getting angry. I get angry at other people while driving, I get angry at politicians and pundits, I get angry with my family, and I get especially angry with people on the internet. It’s something I may struggle with in my blogging.
Anger is not bad, by any means. Like all emotions, it is morally neutral in and of itself, and it can express love. But it can also hinder the expression of love. It can explode, it can boil, it can seethe. It can turn into hatred of other people, or subtly sabotage relationships.