Monday
Nov262012

You're getting warmer

From Jeff Munroe

How did belief in climate change become political?

Have you noticed that generally people who vote Democratic believe in climate change and people who vote Republican don’t? The devastation of super-storm Sandy a few days before the election led me to do my own informal research. I simply asked people whom I knew were very conservative if storms like this made them wonder if the climate is indeed changing.

The first person I asked is a farmer and he said, “No, the weather’s always unpredictable.” Sounds like what a farmer should say, and being the all-around nice guy that I am, I didn’t engage him in a discussion about the difference between weather and the climate. I could have, but I didn’t want to be in his face about it.

Next I asked a pastor. He said, “I’d need to see a lot more data to be convinced there is something special going on.” Again, being the nice guy I am, I didn’t say, “Pull your head out of the sand. There is an enormous amount of data available. Why not take to look at it?”

Sunday
Nov252012

Christ the King, November 25

Prayer: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, whose Son ascended on high to rule in sovereign love over all the earth and to gather for himself a Church chosen to eternal life, grant, we pray thee, that with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we may laud and magnify they glorious names, evermore praising thee and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory; glory be to thee, O Lord Most High. Amen.

This prayer was written for the 1968 Liturgy and Psalter of the Reformed Church in America. For the coming Sundays I plan to offer a prayer from that book, which was rich treasury of prayer, and then a hymn by Charles Wesley, with some commentary on the hymn.

The Feast of Christ the King is a late and problematic addition to the church’s calendar. For Reformed Christians, at least, Ascension Day is the true Feast of Christ the King. So let me offer you Charles Wesley’s great hymn on the Ascension.

1 HAIL the day that sees him rise,
Ravished from our wishful eyes!
Christ, awhile to mortals given,
Reascends his native heaven.

2 There the pompous triumph waits:
“Lift your heads, eternal gates;
Wide unfold the radiant scene;
Take the King of glory in!”

3 Circled round with angel-powers,
Their triumphant Lord, and ours,
Conqueror over death and sin;
“Take the King of glory in!”

4 Him though highest heaven receives,
Still he loves the earth he leaves;
Though returning to his throne,
Still he calls mankind his own.

5 See, he lifts his hands above!
See, he shows the prints of love!
Hark, his gracious lips bestow
Blessings on his church below!

6 Still for us his death he pleads;
Prevalent he intercedes;
Near himself prepares our place,
Harbinger of human race.

7 Master, (will we ever say)
Taken from our head today;
See thy faithful servants, see,
Ever gazing up to thee.

8 Grant, though parted from our sight,
High above yon azure height,
Grant our hearts may thither rise,
Following thee beyond the skies.

9 Ever upward let us move,
Wafted on the wings of love;
Looking when our Lord shall come,
Longing, gasping after home.

10 There we shall with thee remain,
Partners of thy endless reign;
There thy face unclouded see,
Find our heaven of heavens in thee.

Let me offer you some commentary on the hymn. Wesley has woven in scriptural imagery from Psalm 24:7-10, Acts 1:6-11, Ephesians 1:19-23, and Ephesians 4:7-13. In stanza 1, the word ravished originally meant something like “siezed.” The picture here is of the disciples gazing upward, losing him to sight. His native heaven reminds us that Christ was pre-existent eternally in heaven before his incarnation. In stanza 2, the word triumph connects us to Ephesians 4:8, where St. Paul compares the Ascension to a Roman general’s triumphant entry into Rome, accompanied by all the captives taken in battle, and giving out his war-booty as prizes to his friends. The glory of the scene is amplified by repeating the last lines of stanzas 2 and 3.

The hymn shifts, in stanzas 4 through 6, to celebrate the Ascension’s benefits for us. These benefits are guaranteed by the nail-prints in his hands; Wesley regards these as Our Lord’s most glorious prizes, and because they are so precious to us, he calls us to See and See again. It is on the basis of those scars that he pleads his death on our behalf and intercedes for us. He is our friend in high places. The most important blessing he bestows on us is the forgiveness of sins. Another blessing is our future inheritance, as he promised to his disciples in John 14:2-4, when he said he is preparing a place for us. The word harbinger is an old word for the “ambassador” or “herald” who announces the coming arrival of somebody important who is still on the way.

In stanzas 7 through 10 the hymn shifts back to us, who are still below and gazing upward. Only now the hymn becomes a prayer of petition to the Ascended Lord. And this is what we’re praying: “Take us with you, Lord, when it is time.” We are reminded of that stanza from Wesley’s great Easter hymn, “Soar we now where Christ hath led, Following our exalted head; Made like him, like him we rise, Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.” We are also reminded that in Acts 1:11 the two angels admonished the disciples, saying, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring into heaven? Do you not know that this same Jesus will come back in the same way that you saw him go? So now we are gazing upward for a different reason, not as if we’re saying goodbye, but in anticipation of his coming back, or as the hymn says, we are Looking when our Lord shall come, Longing, gasping after home.

This hymn is in one of Wesley’s favorite meters, 7.7.7.7. Most churches sing it to LLANFAIR, adding Alleluias. But that makes for a long hymn. You can combine the ten stanzas into five and sing it to MENDELSSOHN (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”). Use the Metrical Index of Tunes in the back of your hymnal and try some other tunes in 7.7.7.7 or 7.7.7.7. D (for Double).

Daniel Meeter is pastor of the Old First Reformed Church of Brooklyn, New York. His most recent book is Why Be A Christian (If No One Goes to Hell).

Saturday
Nov242012

Sandy and the White House: A Report from New York

From Daniel Meeter (substituting for Jason Lief)

On Tuesday, November 6, the people of the United States elected Barack Obama for a second term as President. For many of us this election had two stories — the election happened in the aftermath of Super-storm Sandy. Residents of New York and New Jersey and the surrounding region had to struggle to vote like in some undeveloped country. People were voting in tents set up with generators. People were voting in the backs of National Guard trucks. My wife and I live in Brooklyn, the largest and most populous borough of New York City, and it took us two hours to drive and walk the two miles to cast our vote. Most of us have been far more focused on living through the aftermath than on national politics. I spent the week after Election Day organizing volunteers to deliver food and flashlights and blankets to the victims of Sandy still without hydro or living in local shelters.

The two stories came together for the whole country with the visit of President Obama to New Jersey to survey the damage and destruction, not as a candidate, but the Head of State. His host was Governor Chris Christie, who had nominated Mitt Romney at the Republican convention. We watched the two of them, side by side, getting along, serving the afflicted and storm-tossed with power and compassion. Obama won a point for the federal government as a common good, and Christie did not deny it.

Romney lost and Christie won. I mean in terms of the Republican Party. Romney represented the GOP as a sort of Christian heritage party, with Mormons now included among the Christians. The Party’s platform was the public enforcement of personal moralities based on revealed religion, together with that unique American mythology of revolution, liberty, violence, race, and guns. But Christie represents the old pragmatic GOP, a progres­sive conservative party, anti-revolutionary, pro-federal government, and strong in favor of civil rights, the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisen­hower. The Republican Party will have to choose to be what Romney lost or rather what Christie won.

Friday
Nov232012

Poem for Black Friday

From James Bratt

I’ve treasured this poem ever since I first read it as a freshman in college. It appealed to this then late-60s kid as a brilliant send-up of American consumerism ‘50s style, a consumerism we had kicked for sure. Only it turned out we were upgrading it in hipper style.

The poem still strikes home today, though with a twist. Four years out, the backwash of the Great Recession has turned for many people into a slough of despond from which no exit appears imminent. The poem’s picture of absurd prosperity might trigger a wistful thought for a second, a yes-but, until we remind ourselves that we know better, that the postwar boom was all hollow and misbegotten. Wasn’t it?

Or is that an impression only the materially comfortable can draw? Think of an alternative ode, written on this Black Friday 2012. Would its images be more poignant, its tones more sad than sardonic, amid persisting high unemployment? Might it skewer the feints and blather of high rollers playing fiscal-cliff politics, their own safety net quite secure, thank you very much? How would it register the spiritual costs of faded economic dreams, of uncertainty, of straitened prospects enfolding whole regions and generations?

Maybe such thoughts mix into the undertone we’ll hear this year while watching news footage of the Stampede at the Big Box, that pilgrimage on hyper-speed which opens America's truly holy season. How to capture so jaded a frenzy? Here’s the original to give inspiration, complete with the poet's original headnote.

Thursday
Nov222012

The Theater of Thanksgiving

From Theresa Latini

It’s 11pm, the night before Thanksgiving. The house is clean; the table is set; and, the turkey is defrosted. My husband and I will awake at 6am to stoke the fires (okay, turn on the oven) for our family feast. Nieces and nephews, sisters and brothers will arrive in a little more than twelve hours.

This Thanksgiving holiday is a production, with a cast of characters who are set to play their parts. One will bring a vegetarian dish; one, a gluten free dessert; another, the makings for mimosas; another yet the stuffing for the gluten eaters. (We’re a challenging crowd to cook for.) My husband and I will probably repeat at least one of those same twenty arguments that they say married couples have throughout their life together. Our labradoodle Sandy will swipe food off the counter or someone’s plate. If she really scores, we’ll chase her around the table, trying to keep her from overdosing on tryptophan. We’ll cheer for opposing football teams, play charades, and take a group walk through the neighbor. Families, friends, and communities who are blessed with enough resources will produce their own version of this Thanksgiving Theater from east coast to west. Most of us will take at least a few moments to express gratitude to one another and God for the many gifts bestowed upon us this past year.

Gratitude is the essence of Christian life, as we have been taught by John Calvin, Karl Barth, and a whole host of other theologians. Gratitude is the human response to God’s grace. As twin moments in the divine-human encounter, grace and gratitude are inseparable. Just a taste of God’s bountiful grace—that unmerited favor through which we are united to Christ and through Christ to one another—always elicits thankfulness and praise.