Monday, September 15, 2014

The Weak, the Vegetarians, and the Church

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans,
"Welcome those who are weak in faith, some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables."
 Did you know that downtown Philly hosts a new restaurant called Vedge? 
Apparently, Vedge might be a spot for the weak in faith, but according to their website and local reviews it is a hotspot of gastronomic delight.  Their website touts the following:
Opened in Fall 2011, Vedge is a vegetable restaurant by Philadelphia Chefs Richard Landau & Kate Jacoby.
The menus at Vedge are globally inspired, using locally sourced ingredients that closely follow the beautiful Northeastern seasons.
Absolutely no animal products are used in the Vedge Kitchen.
Vedge  prides itself on being a “foodie’s” restaurant – for omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores alike.
I am sure none of this language is obscure to you. 
After all, eating these days is a very complex process.
We don’t just eat.
We inquire: Is this organic, GMO free, free-range, pesticide free, lactose free, gluten-free, vegetarian, pescatarian, or omnivorian.
It seems in the modern era that these are just some of the words we have become accustomed to throwing around when we do something as simple as “eat.” 

However, even in Paul’s time, eating came with its own limitations. 
Remember good Jews followed kosher eating laws.
And apparently, in the many house churches in Rome there were varying opinions about the necessity of following food laws or giving them up for freedom in Christ.
Paul cautions us not to get caught-up judging one another about what we eat. 
In fact, Paul cautions us not to get caught-up in judging one another period.
The language he employs give us a strong indicator that it is not our job as faithful Christians to judge each other when it comes to matters of customs. 
He writes about the weak aka—the vegetarians,  that God has welcomed them.
He goes on to say that it is the Lord who is able to make the weak stand. 
In other words, God judges, not us, and more importantly, God acts, not us.

Now, in some ways, this all sounds a little postmodern doesn’t it? 
Does Paul sound too cliché? 
After all, the mantra of our secular times is that everything is equally valid as long as we are happy. 
But, Paul makes a distinction in his teaching; Paul believes that we must not get lost in passing judgment on others amongst the faithful.
Rather, we should work towards improving our relationship within the body of believers and ultimately with God himself.

I remember a wise priest once told me a pastoral story in which a couple in the church made an appointment to see her. 
She was ready for the worst because rumors had been circulating that the couple did not like the new organist/choirmaster.
When they sat down the couple complained bitterly about the new organist and one of their biggest complaints was that the organist did not play the hymns written by the former organist. 
They then challenged the priest by saying, “But we don’t think you are strong enough to fire her.” 
And finally the priest had a great insight. 
The priest realized that this couple had been very close to the former organist—that they had shared meals and years of choir together. 
The priest realized that in no way was this issue about weak or strong, it was about grief. 
The priest quietly said, “You must really miss Dr. Smith. He was a good friend of yours and I noticed you mentioned his name a lot in this conversation”
The couple said nothing and sat quietly for a while.

You see, even the church has gotten this narrative about strength and weakness wrong. 
With all of the decline in mainline Christianity, we are afraid of appearing weak. 
We become afraid if our numbers decline. 
We are afraid of failure. 
But, the conversation is reframed in Paul’s words as “they (the Romans) will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” 
Indeed, it is our identity and our sole purpose to glorify God.
St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

So, let’s not get caught up in bickering over vegetables or meat, incense or none, wine or grape juice, but let’s turn our sight to encouraging one another to find our primary identity in Christ.
Paul does this with a stroke of his pen, by moving from a debate over eating rituals and honoring the Sabbath, to cutting to the core of our identity as Christians. 
He takes us right to death because it matters how we define ourselves both in life and death.
Romans: 14;7

These words may ring familiar as they are used in our burial liturgy as the body is borne into the church at a funeral.
These words are a visceral reminder that we do not need to quibble or squabble (even though we will because of the nature of sin)
But, it is our job, no our purpose and calling, to bring people back to the body and to build up our relationship amongst fellow believers.

In my first position as a priest, I was a called a curate.
The word curate referred to the literal "curing" of souls.
I imagine Paul would encourage us to see where we can find places amongst the faithful where we can cure instead of judge. 
The disappointments and disagreements of church life are real. 
But, so is the opportunity to lean in a bit closer and see where the spiritual growth might come.
Perhaps we must lean in and listen so that we can cherish an opportunity to be a curate--one who helps others in the cure of their souls. 

I never found out what happened to the couple who didn't like their new organist. 
I do know, however, the priest did not fire that organist. 
And I can only imagine in that quiet, but brave insight, that all three may have drawn closer to their core identity as Christians.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Move Over Messi

Herein stands the new boss of soccer, aka known as football, to the rest of the world. I could not stand the cuteness of this little boy whose team trotted to a 9-2 victory with Adelaide and Elias enthusiastically proclaiming that their little brother's team was "crushing" the other team.  If that wasn't enough, little Jed seemed affable on the field, but not committed to getting too close to the ball.  When he managed to get said ball, he usually dribbled in the opposite direction.  However, he understands victory and can't wait for next Saturday's game. He is now a big boy like his brother and sister.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Elias becomes his own self-advocate

Since Elias has been given a tentative diagnosis of Tourettes' Syndrome, he seems to have embraced this news wholeheartedly.  I can only posit that he feels relief--and also solidarity with others who have it.  He even asked if we could make  video about Tourettes the day before his school started. (Yet his tech-savvy mom can't seem to figure out how to get it on here.)

Eli's video

The most touching event of the last few days at a new school is that Elias sought out the guidance counselor on his own.  He then told her about the difficulties he had last year, but informed her that he felt safe and comfortable already at this school.  He then proposed a plan to tell the other kids in his class about Tourettes; he says that he wants to "inform" them, so that they won't be scared.  We had been discouraging him to share the beans the first week of school in hopes of having children get to know each other organically.  However, we feel Elias thinks that if he tells the other children it will prevent them from teasing him.  He told me that he did not want a "clone" of last year.  So, a plan is now in progress with the guidance counselor, but it is under the general umbrella of group guidance and looking at similarities and differences amongst people.  I am so proud of how Elias reached out and is finding ways to support himself and how the school is responding with abundant enthusisam--what a joyous change.sEli's video