Spanger

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Nope, not that Spanger

This morning’s God Pause from Luther Seminary, written by Joe Natwick, introduced me to a new word, more a portmanteau, that I had never heard before: spanger.  Just as one can become hangry -hungry and angry – when they have not had enough to eat and their blood sugar begins to drop, the author suggest that those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus can experience spanger – spiritual anger – when we see the world around us falling so short of the dream of God.  Natwick goes on to suggest that the only cure for spanger is a heaping helping of the truth.  That is, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to speak the truth in the face of injustice, oppressing, and degradation.

A quick Google search shows that Natwick cannot take credit for having created the word, spanger, however, he might be the first to use it as a combination of spiritual and anger.  Ironically, according to that ever-trusted resource, wiktionary.com, spanger’s previous use is as a pejorative term to describe a beggar.  Again a portmanteu, this earlier usage comes from combining spare and change, as in, one who begs for spare change.  This older usage, which dates all the way back to 2007, actually creates a scenario in which both uses of the word would work.

“My encounter with that spanger outside the coffee shop left me feeling spanger.”

This rather long introduction can be blamed on the Apostle Paul (or one of his disciples), who, in the letter to the Ephesians gives the Christians there permission to get angry, but with the strong caveat not to fall into sin.  This anger that the author of Ephesians speaks of is that righteous indignation that comes when we look around and see a world full of corruption, violence, and oppression, often under the guise of Christian virtue, that is so obviously not what God had in mind at the beginning of Creation.  This righteous anger should, as Natwick suggests, lead us to action.  It should spur us to speak the truth in love.  It should motivate us to work toward justice and peace.  It is God at work within us, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that propels us out into the world to break the bonds of oppression, patriarchy, racism, xenophobia, classism, etc.

The portion of the letter to the Ephesians that we will hear on Sunday is the perfect response to those who would suggest that Christianity isn’t political.  Christianity, because it is interested in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven, is, by its very nature, political, calling the kingdoms of this world to leave behind selfish desires and to remember the poor, the needy, the orphan, and the widow.  May our spanger over this world being so out of sorts compel us to good work to glory of God.

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I’ll give you…

… Something to be angry about!

As our interminable summer foray into John 5 and 6 continues this week, our Gospel lesson doesn’t just start where the last one left off, it helpfully includes the last verse of last week’s lesson as the first verse for this week (then immediately skips five verses that actually help that first verse make sense in context because RCL).  Having taught the hungry remnant of the 5,000 what the miraculous feeding was meant to represent, Jesus declares himself to be the bread of life.  Those who eat of this bread, Jesus says, will never again know hunger or thirst.

If one were to try to figure out the most offensive thing someone could say in the 1st century Jewish context, this was pretty close.  As I noted last week, this “I AM” statement by Jesus, the first of seven in John’s Gospel, would have been fairly obviously blasphemous, unless that person really was the Messiah, the Anointed one of God.  To claim the holy name, that which has gone unspoken even about God in Judaism, for one’s self would have been unimaginable.  Yet, in a very public setting, Jesus was willing to say “I AM.”

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The tetragrammaton – the Hebrew name of God

When confronted by the crowd for making such a bold statement, Jesus essentially says, “U MAD BRO?  I’ll give you something to get mad about!”  Jesus doubles down on his claim – saying twice more “I am the bread of life” and “I am the living bread.”  He claims that he will raise those who believe up on the last day.  He is even so bold as to suggest that the true bread that gives life to the world is his flesh.

One of the leading complaints about Christianity in the early days was that it was a cannibalistic cult.  Jesus does himself no favors here, and yet, he feels compelled to make such outlandish claims because he knows that all of it is true.  Jesus is “I AM.”  Jesus is the bread of life that God has chosen to offer to the world.  Jesus’ flesh, in the bread of the Eucharistic feast, will be the nourishment of all who come after and the sign by which Christ’s Church will signify the ongoing life of faith.

It would have been hard to imagine Jesus going further off the deep-end than his initial “I am the bread of life” statement, but deeper he went.  All the while, even in this polemical rhetoric, Jesus is offering an invitation.  “If you want eternal life.  If you want the salvation that comes from a relationship with God.  If you want to know life abundant, then believe what I am saying, as outlandish as it may be, for these words which I speak are the true bread that gives life to the world.”

Anger isn’t sin, but supressing it can be.

I got my feelings hurt yesterday.  As I laid in bed, I stewed and stewed and stewed to the point of almost boiling over.  In the rare case that something like this happens, my usual response is to get out of bed, sit down in front of my computer and write an email to the person who upset me.  I don’t send it, at least not for twelve hours, and usually the act of getting the thoughts out of my head, down my arm, through my fingers, and into an email is enough to help me let go of my anger.  Last night, I chose a different path, mostly because my laptop was packed away and I was too lazy to set it up.  I just kept laying there until it occurred to me that I should pray.  What a novel idea for a priest in the Church!

I prayed for the people who hurt me.  I prayed for our relationships.  I prayed for our future together.  I prayed that I might be forgiven for my wrongs and that I might be able to forgiven them theirs.  I was still hurt when it was all over, and I think that’s OK.  I didn’t feel quite as bad, didn’t feel quite as ugly, didn’t feel quite as angry.  And while I did write that email this morning, it was from a much better place, and I most likely won’t send it.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians goes against the cult of nice that pervades the modern Church by suggesting that it is OK to be angry… for a little while.  Lately, we’ve become so obsessed with not hurting anyone’s feelings, we’ve turned their natural reaction when we do, anger, into a sin.  We’ve said that trying to be nice counts more than your feelings in response to our failure, and that is a) not Biblical and b) impossible to sustain as long as people are involved in community.

It is OK to get angry when someone hurts you.  It is not OK for that anger to lead you to sin, and yes, I think passive aggressive behavior might be the leading sin in the Church today.  It is not OK to let that anger linger and ultimately be defined by it.  We need to relearn the virtue of anger, how to work through it, how to pray through it, and how to forgive.  As long as the Church continues to assert, passive aggressively (of course), that anger is a sinful emotion we will teach people to suppress it, stuff it deep down inside which allows it to fester, to build, and to control our lives.

So go ahead and get angry, but do not sin.  Get angry and then follow Jesus’ advice by praying for your enemies.  Get angry and pray for forgiveness your own failings.  And no matter what, follow Paul’s advice and don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  Work through it right then and right there.  You’ll feel better in morning, I guarantee it.

What is it? vs I am.

As far as I can tell, supercessionism hasn’t yet been declared a heresy, and while it probably should be clearly defined as a heterodox belief, sometimes supercessionism is really hard to avoid.  Put simply by the good folks at Wikipedia, “supercessionism is the belief that the Christian Church has replaced the Israelites as God’s[2] chosen people[1][3] and that the Mosaic covenant has been replaced or superseded by the New Covenant.[4]”  It is a wildly dangerous belief that has led to violence against the Jews for two millennia.  Since the holocaust, more and more Christian theologians have repudiated supercessionism, but sometimes you read John 6 and you can’t help but think that Jesus’ rhetoric is pretty strong.

In the midst of what has been called “The Bread of Life Discourse,” Jesus pits two ways of looking at the provision of God up against each other.  Having heard the grumbling of the Jewish leadership, Jesus makes a bold and clear statement about his identity, “I am the bread of life.”  It is one of seven times that John has Jesus uses the two word phrase “ego eimi” which is a literal Greek translation of the name that God gave to Moses at the burning bush.  If you’ll recall, Moses has been called to return to Egypt to save the Hebrews from slavery, and Moses says to God, “the people will want to know who sent me, by whose authority I have come to set them free, whom should I tell them has called me?”  God replies, “Tell them that I am sent you.”

For John, it is vitally important that Jesus is God, he is just as much “I am” as the voice in the burning bush, and so seven times Jesus declares “ego eimi.”  In the next breath, here in chapter six, Jesus contrasts the certainty of who he is with the uncertainty of the Jews, reminding them that in the wilderness the Hebrews ate bread, but not the bread of eternal life.  The bread they ate was given the name manna which means “what is it?”  They were confused, untrusting, and hard headed.  In contrast, Jesus sets himself up as sure and certain.  It sounds awfully supercessionist, and it is a point upon which the preacher should spend some time, at least personally, so as to avoid leading a congregation astray.

The point of it all is faith.  The Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years for lack of faith in the God who saved them.  Those who question Jesus do so for lack of faith in a man who has taught and done amazing things in their presence.  It isn’t that one way of approaching God is better than the other, but rather that both are a call to faith, a call to trust in the God of all creation who seeks to be restored to right relationship with the whole world.  He tried through the Hebrew people.  He tried through Jesus.  In both, he called the people to a life of faith, trusting solely in God’s good provision of bread from heaven.

Sealed for the Day of Redemption

If you’ve hung around this blog for even a short period of time, you probably know by now that I am an unabashed church nerd.  I love our liturgy and I love to study liturgy.  I love our history and I love to study history.  I’m not big on vestments, but I love to know the theology and history behind them.  In The Episcopal Church, there is one service that stands above all the others when it comes to church nerdery at its finest, the Ordination of a Bishop.  Here in the Central Gulf Coast, we had the opportunity to celebrate just such a service a few weeks ago, as we welcomed our Fourth Bishop, the Right Reverend Russell Kendrick.  For all the pomp and circumstance that went on during the more than two-and-a-half hour service, the piece that I find most intriguing happened hours earlier and for the most part, went totally unnoticed until the official pictures were posted today.

Photo by Cindy McCrory of Blue Room Photgraphy.

The Signing and Sealing of the Ordination Certificate is, for me, one of the coolest parts of an episcopal ordination.  It signifies that new bishop’s place in something much larger than the particular diocese two which they have been called.  The wax seals, made with the ring of each bishop in attendance, shows that the new bishop is part of a bigger church, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that encompasses every denomination and every Christian since the disciples stood, staring slack-jawed at the bottom of Jesus’ feet on Ascension Day.

It also signifies the seal that every disciple of Jesus wears upon their forehead, the seal that Paul speaks on in his letter to the Ephesians that we will hear read on Sunday.  We who have been baptized are sealed by and with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption.  We are marked as belonging to the tribe of Christ, the family of God.  We wear upon our foreheads the sign and symbol of the redeemed, the same seal worn by Peter, Paul and Priscilla; Augustine, Francis, and Teresa; William Reed Huntington, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The seals on Bishop Russell’s ordination certificate should remind each of us of the seal we wear upon our foreheads, the seal that sets us apart as sinners restored and disciples of Jesus Christ.  The seals should remind us of our place in the Church catholic throughout the generations.  The seals should remind us of the work to which each of us has been called, reconciling the human beings to God and to each other through the love of God, the mercy of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
The Book of Common Prayer, page 308

Taste and See

One must carry quite a few life skills in their quiver in order to make it through discernment, seminary, and ordination in The Episcopal Church.  You’ve got to be smart.  You’ve got to have deep, deep, deep faith in the God who has called you.  You’ve got to be skilled in the art of listening.  Perhaps more than anything else, you’ve got have a sense of humor.  Without the ability to laugh at yourself and the absurdities of the Church, seminary is likely to suck out of you every bit of joy, leaving a grumpy, life sapping, shell of human being where a talented priest might have been.  Part of my plan for surviving seminary was surrounding myself with smart, faithful, and funny people; many of whom graduated in the class ahead of me in 2006.

Towards the end of their time at VTS, the members of the class of 2006 began to discuss their class gift. Among the nominees was a soft-serve ice cream machine for the refectory that played a midi of “Taste and See” as it dispensed frozen goodness.

As I sit in the Hardman Conference Room at Beckwith Camp and Retreat Center procrastinating the second half of my thesis and reading the lessons appointed for Sunday, I can’t help but stop at the end of Psalm 34, chuckle and remember fondly the good times that seminary afforded me.  I also can’t help but give thanks for the many ways in which God is made manifest in our lives.

The Pslamist invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” but we need not stop there.  We can hear the goodness of the Lord, as Paul tells us, in words that are meant to build up and encourage.  We can feel the goodness of the Lord in a handshake or a hug at the Passing of the Peace as we are each reminded that being a Christian means being a part of a community, family, the Body of Christ.  We can smell the goodness of the Lord in the simmering of spaghetti sauce cooked for homeless guests staying on campus with Family Promise.

The Lord shows himself to be good in many and varied ways, and often through the work he has called each of us to do.  Today I’m grateful for the reminder to take time each day to taste and see, hear and feel and smell the goodness of the Lord in and through the good people who God has placed around me.