Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

THE GOOSE THAT LAID THE GOLDEN EGG




As a child, I heard the story of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg many times. In fact, I loved the story so much that I would ask to have it read to me over and over again. What was it about this story that captured my young imagination? I am not sure, but I think it might be the truth that I sensed being conveyed in the story. Here is one version of the story.

Once upon a time there lived an old woman who had a number of hens, ducks, and geese. She used to send her little daughter to the meadow every day to take care of the ducks and geese.

But she had one goose that she never allowed with the others. This one had a little house and yard of its own. It was such a wonderful goose that the old woman was afraid of losing it.

Each day this goose laid a large golden egg. The woman could hardly wait for the new day to come, she was so eager to get the golden egg.

At last she said to herself, "I will kill the goose and get the gold all at once."

But when she had killed the goose she found that it was just like all the other geese.

In her haste to become rich, she had become poor.

Moral: Greed destroys the source of good.


Now here is the Gospel for Sunday, August 5th.

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?"

And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."

Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?'

Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'

But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."


Do you see any similarities between these two stories?

Is being greedy a matter of character? In other words, are there some people who are greedy and others who are not? Is the definition of greed depend upon the culture in which you live? For example, are extremely high corporate profits acceptable, but personal acts of greed, like refusing to give to the needy, unacceptable?

What other examples of acceptable and unacceptable greed can you think of in our culture and world?

What factors, large and small, contribute to our tendency to act greedy or not? What are the social limits on greed?

What is the opposite of greed?

Why does Paul call greed, idolatry?

Last week we learned about the sense of daily bread being the stuff that provides us nurture: physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. How do these two stories relate to the petition for daily bread for everyone?

I would recommend taking the Greed Survey found in this week's ACE of HEARTS. Use the link http://www.beliefnet.com/story/109/story_10966_1.html so that you can get the results of the survey provided to you automatically

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Prayer for Dummies




Prayer may seem like an activity that requires tremendous intellect or psychic powers, but Jesus taught a group of pretty ordinary men and women how to pray. He taught them a very basic prayer that has come to be called the Lord’s Prayer. There are variations on this prayer found in the Gospels, the writings of the early church, and in The Book of Common Prayer, but they all offer the same amazingly simple approach to prayer. It is this prayer which can be seen as the pattern for recovery offered in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In the 12 Steps, prayer and meditation are suggested as part of the recovery process. Acknowledging that one’s life is unmanageable due to powerlessness over alcohol is the beginning of sobriety. Seeing one’s life in need of rescue, the person seeking recovery comes to believe in a power greater than either self or alcohol that can restore the individual to sanity. Once belief in such a power becomes a possibility in the body, heart and mind, the next step is to turn one’s life and will over to the care and direction of this newly acknowledged Higher Power.

"Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come."


The opening lines of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples make clear that God is not part of our current way of doing things. There are many people named Bob, but to my wife there is only one Bob that really matters. So, too, there are many powers that claim to be god, but only one that really matters.God is not an earthly king, queen, mother or father or some other power that seeks our allegiance. God’s kingdom is not waiting until some future moment in history. God is creating a world of love, mercy, and forgiving compassion now in the midst of our less than loving and compassionate world. God’s kingdom is coming from an unexpected place and this is good news for us all.

The person seeking to live without dependence upon alcohol is looking for a new way of living and being in the here and now and this new way of living is based upon a new dependence on God alone (Holy living).

"Give us each day our daily bread."

Change is difficult. When we leave behind a way of behaving and thinking that has been our source of nurture, it sometimes feels as if we will starve to death. Our old ways have provided us with what we thought we needed. For an alcoholic, perhaps this is a drink of their favored beverage. For others, it may be any number of foods, substances, behaviors, and attitudes.

This line from the Lord’s Prayer is not about feeding me; it is about feeding “US.” It is not just the alcoholic who lives in the world of “all about me.” Throughout the Gospels, Jesus encounters presumably non-alcoholics who have cut themselves off from a full relationship with God and other people.

As in the story of the Good Samaritan, we are asked to expand our understanding of “neighbor.” When we ask God to “Give us bread for today,” we are acknowledging that God has already given enough bread for all of his children to eat each day. The question then seems to be: why are so many of God’s children starving for lack of food?

If God provides enough food for everyone perhaps it is our way of sharing what God has so graciously given us that is the problem. When we acknowledge God’s gracious giving to everyone, we are confronted with our complicity in not sharing. This petition for daily bread then is a confession of sorts that signals our willingness to change and to align our wills with God’s will of providing daily bread for everyone. The world of “All About Me,” is being replaced by the gracious Kingdom of God.

Such a petition turns us away from the belief that the whole of life is just about me and not us. It is the beginning of seeing the world through a different set of eyes. We discover that we can live a life of trust in relationship with others by sharing what we have with others. The answer to this petition for bread for all allows us to move forward in our spiritual life.

“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us."

Sobriety and Holy living depend upon our willingness to be forgiven and to forgive others. Resentments, rivalries, divisive behavior that demands that someone be excluded in order to restore peace and order, self-pity, and fear are the poison fruit of living without accepting that we have been forgiven and sharing that forgiving grace with others.

The 12 steps invite the newly sober person to sanity. Sanity allows us to do a previously thought to be impossible thing: confession. To do a thorough, complete, and courageous moral inventory of one’s life can be terrifying, if the newly discovered Higher Power stands threateningly over the person. But those whose Higher Power is a loving source of forgiveness and nurture seem to be able to complete their life’s inventory with greater abandonment of fear.

Once this inventory is completed, it is suggested that it be shared with a flesh and blood human being and with God. This Fifth step is a major experience in a newly developing life of prayer. It reestablishes a life of communion and communication with God and the human community.

To this point in the 12 Steps, there has been no mention of prayer (although there are prayers for the 3rd and 7th steps offered elsewhere), but each of the steps, before and after Step 5 represent a conversation, a getting into relationship with God which is prayer. All relationships with oneself, God, and others begin with honesty.

The confession or moral inventory provides some important material for further spiritual growth.

1. A list of people that the recovering person harmed during the days of drinking that can be used to make amends to those folks.

2. A better understanding of what are called "character defects" (ways of thinking and behaving that result in negative outcomes for others and for oneself).

3. An ongoing way of living honestly and lovingly in relationship with others through a daily inventory (Step 10) of our behavior.

4. A prayer for the willingness to make amends to those whom we have harmed.

Step 11 is the only step that specifically mentions prayer. It reads:

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” *

I would like to suggest that the pattern of prayer offered in A.A is very much in keeping with what Jesus’ taught his disciples. The final petition of the Lord’s Prayer contained in Luke’s Gospel reads:

"And do not bring us to the time of trial."

What is this time of trial that Jesus speaks about? I would suggest that the trial is the one in which our own judgments of others are used to judge us. In saying this prayer throughout my life, I have come to believe that it is both a prayer for the individual and for all creation, including the church. The church and creation is brought to the time of trial whenever we insist on judging others before we have judged ourselves and received the forgiveness and love of God in our lives.

The trial of which Jesus speaks is the trial without mercy or love or forgiveness. If God is our judge, we can pray for the blessing of honesty with the promise of forgiveness that leads to life.

Shall we pray?

*POST SCRIPT

Here are some of the suggested ways members of A.A seek to make this step a part of their lives.

11th Step Guidelines (http://www.12stepsrecovery.org/11th%20Step%20Guidelines.htm)

The following summarizes the description of the 11th Step provided in Alcoholics Anonymous (primarily on pp. 86-88). This is supplemented by some suggestions [in brackets] that we have found helpful.

Preparing for the Day Ahead

1. We ask God to direct our thinking, asking especially that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonesty or self-seeking motives.

2. We consider our plans for the day. We can now use our mental faculties with assurance.

3. If we face indecision or we can't determine what course to take, we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision. We relax and take it easy.

4. We pray to be shown all through the day what our next step is to be, that we be given whatever we need to take care of problems.

5. We ask especially for freedom from self-will.

[We might also pray for help with specific defects or problem areas, and review our 10th step corrective measures for the day ahead.]

Prayers to be of Use


6. We ask for guidance in the way of patience, kindness, tolerance and love especially within the family.

7. We pray as to what we can do today for the person who is still sick.

[We might also pray for specific people in need, or those with whom we're angry.]

Spiritual/Religious Exercises

8. If appropriate, we attend to our religious devotions, or say set prayers which emphasize 12 Step principles.

9. We may read from a spiritual book.

Practicing the 11th Step throughout the Day

10. We pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action.

11. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day "Thy will be done."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

WHO IS LOVED BY GOD?

DUST IN THE WIND


A. A woman who serves tables, but who is resentful.
B. A woman who decides to focus her attention on being with a group of men who are listening to Jesus.
C. A lawyer who is concerned about getting eternal life as an inheritance.
D. A pile of dust.

What was your answer? Was it hard for you to answer this question? Was one of the choices more obviously the right one for you? Check out this week’s reflection.

Today’s Gospel lesson about Martha and Mary and last week’s Gospel in which Jesus told the story of the Samaritan who comes to the rescue of a man by the roadside who had been beaten, robed, and left for dead do have some interesting similarities. Here is the Martha and Mary reading:

Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Luke seems to be making a statement about God, rather than commenting on the work habits of Martha. God creates us out of dust. God does not reward our personal value or worthiness by giving us life. God creates us out of nothing, out of the primal dust of the universe. Our value and identity is in God’s creative action that brings us in being. We did nothing to earn the right of existence. It is God’s love that moves us into life.

To cry that we are unworthy of God’s love is simply another way of saying that God’s love is not a commodity for which we have to barter. So, Martha and the attorney who asked Jesus who his neighbor is, discovered in their encounter with Jesus more about God than they had bargained for.

What do I have to do to get and keep God’s love?

We already have it. God loves what God creates. God creates based upon nothing I did as a pile of dust. Since our very existence did not depend upon our performance as dust, our continued existence takes place in the loving view of God.

What do I have to do inherit eternal life?

Jesus affirmed the attorney who spoke of loving God and neighbor as self. He said that the essence of living eternally was in such loving of God and neighbor. It is not that we earn eternity by loving God and neighbor, life with God in eternity is all about loving.

Martha is looking for a path to God. Mary is walking the path with God. The attorney is questioning the dimensions of the path to God. God is coming to him as a neighbor who is an enemy.

Dust is loved into existence by God. Dust responds to love with love. Dust returns to dust having been loved from beginning to end and on the Third Day…

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

GRACE COMES FROM AN ENEMY: GOD AS SAMARITAN


Imagine for a moment that you are in a crisis. Perhaps you are ill, really down on your luck, depressed, alone and lonely, or some other grave situation.

Imagine seeing someone you consider your enemy coming towards you.

Now imagine this person offering to help you during your difficulty and asking nothing in return.

Such is the parable of the Samaritan. One teaching that flows from this story is that we should be good to our neighbors and that our neighbors are any people who are in great need of help. To go one step further, by using a Samaritan, he uses an enemy of the Jews to show them the compassionate character of God. Talk about adding insult to injury!

But I would like to offer another view. This parable is not so much a call to be a “good” Samaritan, as it is an invitation to recognize our own alienation and rivalry with God and God’s gracious response of compassion for us.

Pause for a minute and ask yourself this question: Why would Jesus tell a story about the compassion of God using a hated and despised Samaritan as an example of that divine compassion?

Perhaps Jesus tells this story using the Samaritan, to invite us to be honest about our personal and corporate relationship with God. If we pay very close attention to what this story is suggesting, we might just see that the Samaritan represents God. How could someone who is hated, despised, and considered evil be cast in the role of God?

How could Jesus who we call the Son of God be accused of being evil, in league with the devil, and a drunk and a half-breed?

If God is our enemy, as this parable seems to say, the man lying on the side of the road may just represent the state of physical, emotional, and spiritual bankruptcy that will finally accept rescue from God (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” Matthew).

When God, whom we consider the enemy of our personal interests and security, draws near to rescue us, it is only accepted when we have come to realize that our own systems of defense, self-justification, and conventional wisdom have failed to protect us from others.

When our sovereignty fails we come face to face with the One God against whose reign all of our protective defense systems have been erected. Notice that the man on the side of the road had been stripped. He has no identification. We do not know if he is rich or poor; powerful or among the powerless; landed or a peasant living off of the land. Is he a Jew? Is he a scribe? Is he a Pharisee? Is he a priest?

Do we judge the priest and the scribe in this story harshly? They were simply following the conventional wisdom of their day. They had rules that governed their behavior and that took precedence over the needs of this man. When we see suffering in the world around us, do we have similar rules that we follow that keep us from responding to this need? Do we have enemies for whom we offer only death instead of compassion?

Perhaps our judgment of these two men who pass the man on the side of the road could be tempered by our own examination of conscience. The man on the side of the road could have been either the attorney or the priest who passed him by. Their rules, like our conventional rules, turn compassion into a duty that can be avoided for other duties and needs. The way of God is compassion. Compassion does not see us as enemies, but as beloved children in need of rescue.

What is the cost of such a rescue? In our story, the Samaritan does not count the cost, but offers whatever is required to make this man whole. The Samaritan’s imitation of the God of compassion is Jesus' offer to us. God, out of the abundance of his very being, continues to come to the rescue of those who see him as their enemy.

Finally, imagine how this story might impact you if, instead of a Samaritan, a member of some international, national, or local group that you see as evil, debased, or dangerous was the one coming to your rescue? Compassion offered by our family and friends is expected. Compassion offered by our enemies is not. Are there people who consider you their enemy? Would you accept being rescued by such an enemy? How might that change your relationship with this person or with God?

Monday, July 02, 2007

“THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!”


“THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!”
Geraldine, AKA Flip Wilson, circa 1964

This week’s Gospel from Luke contains a small phrase that is often overlooked as simply superstitious mythology.

Here is the passage in which this phrase occurs:

“The seventy (disciples) returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.




See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’"


So, what do you make of this phrase? This week I share my own exploration of this phrase on the Gospel Reflection blog. Join me.

So, what does this phrase mean to me?

First, it means that as long as I am looking for evil in others, Satan is still my god. I worship him by condemning others and if I condemn others in the name of the God of Jesus and I use the Bible, so much the better. Such is the subversive nature of the Adversary of humanity, as Satan is often called.

When Jesus reports seeing Satan fall like lighting from heaven, it simply means that the peace-making actions of the disciples have successfully avoided using Satan as an excuse for destroying God’s children. It seems that every religion has a Satan that is most obviously seen in one’s enemies. Certainly, those who claim Allah and who in his name kill the satanic infidels of the west, are worshipping at the altar of the very Satan they seek to eliminate through violence against their enemies. There are Christians who have a similar belief that Satan is in the enemies of Christ and need to be eliminated.

Secondly, Satan’s loss of transcendence and power over the human race means that I can no longer use him as an excuse for my personal behavior that hurts others or myself. Without Satan, God is the only transcendent power in my life and it is God who created me, knows me, and loves me. God knows I make mistakes out of my human limitations and fears, but forgiveness allows me to take responsibility for my actions; seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness; and to chose to love and create a world of justice.

Thirdly, Satan’s fall from heaven means that God is not a co-conspirator in our human ways of hating, rejecting, and murdering those whom we refuse to call our neighbors. God does not underwrite the divine right of kings; manifest destiny; or any number of other purely human institutions.

Finally, it means that I have not only the authority, but the power to live according to God's ways. God’s ways are ways of peace, love, generosity, justice, forgiveness, and mercy. Jesus’ disciples are asked to not only declare the coming of God’s reign, but to live in that incoming era. Jesus’ disciples have been given authority to live this new way and to invite others to join in the coming of God’s most gracious era of peace.