Monday, October 16, 2006

Social Justice. With Booze.

Yesterday at church, our preacher talked about the very uneasy-making Gospel: Jesus' instruction to the young man to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor. This hits comfortable Americans pretty hard, especially since -- as the preacher cheerfully acknowledged -- most of us aren't going to do it.

I started going to church partly because my husband and I had just bought our first house, and I didn't want to get complacent about living with one other adult and several housepets in a structure that could shelter entire third-world villages. (Our house is small, by Reno standards -- 1,700 square feet -- but even so.)

It worked. I'm not complacent. But I'm not about to sell the house, either, and I have a pretty crappy charitable-giving record. I'm much more generous with time and talent than I am with money. I'm banking on being forgiven instead of being damned, which may very well be a dangerous strategy.

Anyway, among other things, our preacher talked about the ONE campaign to end extreme poverty; this fits right in with the UN Millenium Development Goals, which the Episcopal Church strongly endorses. So I've now signed on to the ONE campaign, and -- as you may have noticed -- am displaying a nifty banner on the upper-right-hand corner of the blog.

"I was hungry, and you added a nice blog button." I'm betting that earns me goat-hood rather than sheep-hood. But at least I'm spreading the word, right?

In my defense -- are you listening, God? -- I help coordinate our parish's involvement in Family Promise, a program in which faith communities house and feed homeless families, parents and kids, for a week at a time every few months. We've been a host congregation for five or six years now; in 2007, we're going to switch to being a support congregation. Our final hosting week is coming up in November, and during announcements, I asked for volunteers. I got a lot of slots filled in during coffee hour. Most of the people who came forward were regulars, but one brand new person signed up, too, and I bet the homily had something to do with that.

On a lighter note, I have to say that church yesterday mega-reinforced some stereotypes about Episcopalians. Q: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Two: one to call the electrician, and one to mix the pitcher of martinis.

And of course, wherever you find four Episcopalians, you'll find a fifth.

I walked into the parish hall at 9:00 yesterday to discover people drinking champagne in honor of the wedding anniversary of two parishioners. "Wow, we're drinking at nine in the morning," I told our senior warden.

She raised an eyebrow, checked her watch, and said, "No, it's a few minutes after nine, so it's okay."

And then there's the communion wine. One of the things I love about my parish is that we have homemade everything. Our altar was hand-carved by a former rector (whose grandson's wife is one of our current priests). The congregation made the stained-glass windows, getting together once a week for several hours, over a period of months, to learn the skills they needed. This happened about twenty years ago, long before I started going to church, but it's one of my favorite bits of our parish history. Our communion bread is homemade by people in the congregation: none of those tasteless fishfood wafers for us, nosirree.

And our communion wine, very strong stuff, is homemade by a parishioner who runs a home-brewing company.

So during announcements yesterday, we learned that the Sunday school kids had somehow been involved in bottling and labeling the communion wine for the following year (I'm unclear on the details), and would be bringing the bottles up to the altar as part of the offertory. Sure enough, the offertory included a procession of tykes lugging bottles of wine -- sometimes nearly as big as they were -- and leaving them in front of the altar, which began to resemble the site of a really wild party.

We start them young, in the Episcopal Church.

A few years ago, a friend of mine who was about to move away rented our parish hall for her going-away party. A work friend of hers asked anxiously, "But are we allowed to bring liquor, since it's a church?"

When she'd stopped laughing, my friend said, "We're Episcopalians. We don't let you in unless you bring liquor."

Sometimes I joke that I'm in the wrong place, since I don't drink. I should be Baptist. I do take a sip of communion wine each week; some parishioners, for various reasons, don't. Our clergy have always emphasized that taking the bread is sufficient for communion.

I love our commitment to social justice, though. And I love my parish community. Yesterday a friend came up to me and said, "I just learned you won an award! Why didn't you announce it at church? We love you, and a lot of us would have wanted to be there!"

I'd announced it on our listserv, but that was a while ago. I was startled by her vehemence, but also very moved. When I'm sick and tired of church politics (which is almost all the time), or feeling fuzzy in my faith (which is too much of the time), the people are what keep me going back.


  1. Our gospel reading yesterday was the same as yours.

    The priest who celebrated Mass was a Fransciscan Friar, so it was hard not to laugh out loud when he brought up the fact that most of us are not called to literally give up everything and follow Christ - since he so clearly has come much closer than the rest of us.

    In his homily, he mentioned that it would be impractical for most of us to follow the command in this particular gospel, and that Jesus must not have meant it quite literally. His take is that we are called to distance ourselves from our posessions -- to own them rather than being owned by them. It makes sense to me.

    He also called attention to the parish drive to support the local crisis pregnancy center which is located across the street from the church. I think that will be a successful fundraiser. Timing may not be everything, but it sure helps.

  2. Hi, Judy! Hurrah for the Revised Common Lectionary, which has so many of us thinking about the same Scripture passages at the same time!

    I have to admit that I'm always a little nervous when people say about Jesus' words, "He must not have meant that literally." Questions of culture and translation aside, I've noticed that this usually gets applied to things people don't want to do or don't agree with; while we all read Scripture selectively to some extent, I also think we need to try to be very aware of when (and why) we're doing so. Otherwise it's too easy to say, "Well, Jesus told me to love my neighbor and forgive my enemies, but he never met these people, so he can't have meant it literally."

    In yesterday's Gospel, I take hope from the fact that Jesus loved the young man even while giving him a difficult command -- and that he assured his listeners that all things are possible with God.

    All of that said, though, I like your Friar's take, too!

  3. Hi, Susan! I got the same reaction, in wanting to give more, to the sermon at our church which was done by a wonderful retired minister. He was so good I'm going to get a recording of him.

    I decided to donate more but wanted to give it to the Labyrinth Guild at our church because that is one of our outreaches and recently when our church got broken into one panel of our portable labyrinth was stolen.

    Because my church is such a strong giver to Bread for the World I feel as if my contributions go a long way. We also do lots to support the Good Sam shelter and several of our members work there. When we serve coffee and food we try to use as many Fair Trade products as possible. I like the way our church tries to support the world in its day to day functioning.

    If I have one area I want to see pushed for in my church's giving it is the idea that charity begins at home and we need to see and know our neighbors and who in our congregation needs help. Sometimes it isn't always obvious. I've needed help from time to time and have taken advantage of it but it isn't an easy thing to say that you need help.

    I believe that God is gently trying to make me more aware of the lifestyles of those less fortunate than I am and also the resources those people have so that I am an aware giver and not just a thrower of dollars. I work at a Title I school which means we work with a large population of low income families. I have a friend there who was poor growing up and is showing me the ways he manages to make ends meet even though his salary is higher than mine since he is certified as a teacher. Lessons in frugality remain, apparently, and I need to know how to help and where help is needed and welcome. Because I am so much inclined to give where I recognize a face rather than to the stranger I think that compassionate giving should have a personal flavor to least for me. I suspect that you get a similar feel when you volunteer at the are working with a face rather than a cause.

    Peace, Hope and Joy!

  4. Anonymous6:36 AM

    "I was hungry, and you added a nice blog button."

    Oh, this made me laugh.

  5. Hi, Marcia! Glad I could make you laugh. And Lee, yes, you're right about the personal flavor.

    Our church had a portable labyrinth stolen, too. What is it about labyrinths?

  6. Thanks, Susan!

    We think they wanted the bag to carry off the other goods that were stollen. They are rather large, sturdy, of good quality and appearance. The panel probably got tossed. We've papered the neighborhood with flyers and so far no results.

    Have you replaced your panel yet? We are planning on starting the construction of a permanent labyrinth this year so if we don't get the panel back I hope they step up the initial ground breaking.


  7. Hi, Lee. Our whole labyrinth vanished -- borrowed and never returned, as I recall, rather than actually stolen -- and eventually came back piecemeal in bad shape. It hasn't been replaced yet, no. We've made noises about making a permanent one (we have some land behind the church we've never decided what to do with), but so far nothing's come of that.

  8. I think you're very involved in social justice issues. This is one of the things we learn about in intro to social work. Through this blog, you're a great advocate for the "poor and vulnerable". You're drawing attention to issues that aren't always easy to deal with, and that we tend to want to avoid. This is the an important role, to draw attention to the issue. You're advocating!

  9. Thank you, Nickie. I really appreciate that!


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