Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nightmare Judgment: Jesus, Twain, and Dickens


Have you ever had a nightmare? You know the kind of dream that leaves your heart pounding, your mind confused and fearful, and your body sweating when you wake up? If you have you have had such an experience you may be in a better position to understand our Gospel for this Sunday.

The ancients and modern day depth psychologists such as Carl Jung believe that dreams whether pleasant, benign, or fearful and seemingly malevolent offer a window into the human soul. The stories we tell and the way we live our lives also offer us a viewing the human soul, individually and corporately.

Mark Twain wrote a novel called The Prince and Pauper. Here is the plot summary of this tale of royalty trading places with an impoverished kid named Tom.

The novel begins with Tom Canty, an impoverished boy living with his abusive family in London. One day, Tom Canty and Prince Edward, the son of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, meet and as a jest, switch clothes. While dressed in the pauper's rags, the Prince leaves the palace to punish the guard who knocked Tom down. However, the boys look remarkably alike and because they switch clothes, the palace guards throw the prince out into the street. The Prince fares poorly in London because he insists on proclaiming his identity as the true Prince of Wales. Meanwhile despite Tom's repeated denial of his birthright, the court and the King insist that he is the true prince gone mad. Edward eventually runs into Tom's family and a gang of thieves and Twain illustrates England's unfair and barbaric justice system. After the death of Henry VIII, Edward interrupts Tom's coronation and the boys explain, switch places, and Edward is crowned King of England. (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prince_and_the_Pauper)

While based upon historical figures King Henry VIII, Jane Seymore, and Edward VI, Twain’s story is fictional, but offers a view of the human soul. The young prince who sneaks out of the royal palace and trades places with the young and fictional character, Tom Canty, finds himself living in poverty and temporarily unable to reclaim his royal place.

How would such an experience change the perspective of the future king of England? Would his experiences change his view towards the poor of the land? Would his eyes be opened to the plight of the poor or would he go back to his palace and forget everything he had seen and experienced?

This novel surely mirrors the life of Jesus as the prince, the son of the King of the universe, who becomes the least among us and dies on a Roman cross without ever ascending to any earthly throne. What did Jesus, the prince, take back to his father, the King? How will his experience change the world?

Our Gospel reading is called the Judgment of the Nations, but it is also like a very bad dream for those who are unable to see the needs of others who are hungry, thirsty, the strangers in our land, the naked, the sick and those who are in prison. The goats discover that all of those in need were, in fact, the Son of God, Jesus. It is important to note that those who are called the sheep also don’t recognize Jesus, but they do see people in need and respond to those needs.

This story, like Twain’s novel and our worst nightmares and stories, invites us to see the state of the human heart and soul. Are we able to see those in need? Are we able to respond to those in need? What are the consequences of being blind to the needs of others? Should it matter that God has chosen to be found in our neediness, not just the poor and needy of the world, but in each and every person? Is this nightmare of judgment and crisis a wake-up call to help move us to open our hearts to our own neediness and to the needy of the world? Can we look at the suffering and needy of the world and get a view of the state of our soul?

Does Jesus, like Charles Dickens in his novel , *A Christmas Carol, tell this story to allow us an opportunity to change and come alive and reconciled?

Is he giving us time to rediscover the tenderness and mercy that can open our eyes and bring us the joy of meeting the needs of others and awaken us to the human future if such changes do not happen?

Is this story meant to threaten us or to simply open our eyes to human need?



*”Dickens divides the book into five chapters, which he labels "staves", that is, "(song) stanzas" in keeping with the title of the book (he uses a similar device in his next two Christmas books, titling the four divisions of The Chimes, "quarters", after the quarter-hour tolling of clock chimes, and naming the parts of The Cricket on the Hearth "chirps").
The tale begins on Christmas Eve in the 1840's, exactly seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge is established within the first stave as a greedy and stingy businessman, who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity or benevolence. After being warned by Marley's ghost to change his ways (so that he may avoid a miserable afterlife like him), Scrooge is visited by three additional ghosts; each in its turn, and each visit detailed in a separate stave, who accompany him to various scenes with the hope of achieving his transformation.
The first of the spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, takes Scrooge to the scenes of his boyhood and youth, which stir the old miser's gentle and tender side by reminding him of a time when he was more innocent. The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge to several radically differing scenes (a joy-filled market of people buying the makings of Christmas dinner, the family feast of Scrooge's near-impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit, a miner's cottage, and a lighthouse, among other sites) in order to evince from the miser a sense of responsibility for his fellow man. The third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, harrows Scrooge with dire visions of the future if he does not learn and act upon what he has witnessed. Scrooge's own neglected and untended grave is revealed, prompting the miser to aver that he will change his ways in hopes of changing these "shadows of what may be".
In the fifth and final stave, Scrooge awakens Christmas morning with joy and love in his heart, then spends the day with his nephew's family after anonymously sending a prize turkey to the Cratchit home for Christmas dinner. Scrooge has become a different man overnight, and now treats his fellow men with kindness, generosity and compassion, gaining a reputation as a man who embodies the spirit of Christmas. The story closes with the narrator confirming the validity, completeness and permanence of Scrooge's transformation.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Carol#Plot)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A PRIMER ON PRAYER


Praying

Before we begin here are some questions to see what you may already know about prayer (True or False):
1. In the Episcopal Church most of our praying is done corporately (together on Sunday mornings).

2. Episcopalians are discouraged from praying as individuals.

3. Millions of people, both young and old, pray everyday.

4. You need to memorize prayers in order to pray properly.

5. Praying is talking to Jesus about what matters to you.

6. If your prayer is not answered the way you think it should be answered it means that God didn’t hear your prayer.

7. Prayer helps us make sense of the world in which we live while we draw close to God.

ANSWERS:1.T, 2.F, 3.T, 4.F, 5.T, 6.F, 7.T

PRAYING MADE SIMPLE (but not easy)

Much of the prayer of the Episcopal Church is corporate, that is to say we do it together and this is reflected in much of what you will say when you recite Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer. Yet there is another side to our prayer life, our own individual prayers, as we try to share in Christ's prayer to his Father, that his will be done, his kingdom come.

The advice we provide here was originally written for a children's book. However, whether you are a child, young person or an adult, prayer is easier than you might imagine! Millions of people of every age pray every day.

You don't have to know any prayers if you want to pray - in fact, words can often get in the way. Picture Jesus, and then say what is in your heart, what you feel.
REMEMBER!

God hears every prayer - but not all prayers are answered in the way we might expect or desire: we don't always pray for his will to be done!
ARROW PRAYERS can be offered to God anywhere, at any time.
But thankfully we don't live all our lives in moments of extreme crisis. What about day-to-day praying? We need to come closer to God, to experience His love for us and to try to make sense of where we are in the world. Prayer is the way we do this.

HOW TO START

USE YOUR HAND
Your fingers can be used to bring to mind different things to pray for.

THUMB

This is the strongest digit on your hand. Give thanks for all the strong things in your life, like home and family, relationships that support and sustain you.

INDEX FINGER

This is the pointing finger. Pray for all those people and things in your life who guide and help you. Friends, teachers, doctors, nurses, emergency services and so on.

MIDDLE FINGER

This is the tallest finger. Pray for all the important people who have power in the world, like world leaders and their governments, members of Congress and local city council members, our President and Vice President, the governor of California other world leaders and their governments.

RING FINGER

This is the weakest finger on your hand. It cannot do much by itself. Remember the poor, the weak, the helpless, the hungry, the sick, the ill and the bereaved.

LITTLE FINGER

This is the smallest and the last finger on your hand. Pray for yourself.

WHEN SHOULD I PRAY?

Traditionally, prayer times have been morning and evening, but you can choose a time which is best for you. It helps to be somewhere quiet, where you can have some time for yourself.

DO I HAVE TO KNEEL?

Kneeling is the traditional posture for penitence and standing for praise, but you can pray anywhere - walking, standing, sitting, whatever feels comfortable.

WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO KNOW?

Be creative - use music, a stone, a feather, a flower, or a candle to help you focus - if you are very young, or elderly, be careful with candles!
Prayer activity is a discipline - it can be difficult at times, just like keeping fit, being on a diet, or keeping weeds down in the garden! Little and often is best, but don't give up! No prayer, however inadequate you may feel it to be, is ever wasted or of no value.


WHAT’S NEXT?

Build up a collection of favorite prayers and sayings -anything that speaks to you. You can find them in The Book of Common Prayer, Online at different sites, greeting cards, cuttings in the press or bookmarks and prayer cards. You could make a scrapbook for them.

WHAT PRAYERS DO YOU ALREADY KNOW BY HEART?

Make a list of these prayers. Even if you don’t know them perfectly, write each prayer out and put it in your scrapbook. You may want to put photographs or draw a picture that reminds you of what the prayer means to you.

WRITE YOUR OWN PRAYERS

See if you can write your own prayer.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

A SNAPSHOT OF OUR SOUL



I am going to write about our Gospel for this week by sharing another story that took place at the wedding of Nathan and Ariana Blumenfeld-James that involved their Moms, three candles, and a lighter that would not work.

In this week's Gospel, Jesus tells another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven. The story is about a bridegroom who goes off to negotiate the dowry with his bride's father and is delayed in returning to his home where members of his family have been given the responsibility to light the way for he and his bride when they come to the wedding feast.

Jesus' story is really a snapshot of our corporate soul as we make our way through history. The human soul is often referred to in the feminine, whether a person is a male or a female. So Jesus’ story of two sorts of young women might just be a tale of the human soul divided and seeking to be united. In the land of souls and dreams such images of division are common.

In this story, the division is between the wise and the unwise. The wise young women are the members of the bridegroom’s family who anticipate that his return with his bride may be delayed and so they prepare for the long wait by bringing along supplies of oil so that when the bride and groom do return, they will be able to fulfill their responsibility of lighting their way to the wedding feast.

The unwise young women, on the other hand, fail to plan for a long delay and do not bring extra oil with them. So, when the bridegroom finally appears, these two groups fly into action. The wise young women begin to trim their wicks and fill their lamps so that they can quickly go out and meet their family member and his new bride while the unwise young women have to go in search of oil at midnight and do not make it back to fulfill their duties.

My sympathies are with the unwise young women who did not plan. On October 15, 2011, our daughter got married and part of the ceremony included a ceremonial lighting of three candles by the mothers of the bride and groom. Since it was an outdoor wedding and we were concerned that there might be a breeze that would make it hard for most tapers to be used for the purpose of lighting the candles, I bought two butane lighters shaped and colored like large matches (really large). On the day of the wedding, my wife called me to tell me that one of these lighters was not working and probably needed to be filled with butane.

My mind flashed back to the day I bought these two lighters. One of them seemed to have difficulties lighting and so the clerk filled it up with butane and it finally did light. I left the store with one of those feelings in the pit of my stomach that said, “Go back and exchange that lighter for one that works better,” but I, like the unwise five young women, shook off this feeling with the thought that it would work out just fine.

So, the call from Madelyn sent a message of distress through me. I had not acted with wisdom and my gut feeling and instincts and now the consequences were playing out. Like one of those unwise maidens, I set out to find a can of butane to fill that one troublesome lighter. I went to several places, but finally found a can of butane and gladly bought it and headed to the wedding sight well before the wedding was to start. I filled both of the lighters, but that pesky one was still not lighting very well.

Madelyn, my wife, and Katherine, the groom’s mother, according to my understanding of the ceremony, needed separate lighters so that both could separately light a candle representing each of the bride and groom’s families and then the mothers were going to raise both lighters from their separate flames and light the center candle representing the new family that the bride and groom were starting.

Katherine came up to me as I was fussing with the dysfunctional lighter and I told her that we were having technical difficulties with one of the lighters. She did not hesitate, but quickly offered a solution to the problem. They would use the one good lighter. Madelyn would light the candle representing her family and then Katherine would light the candle representing her family and then they would both hold the lighter to light the third candle together.

When Madelyn arrived on the scene, we explained to her the problem and the offered solution. She loved and joyfully embraced the solution and the ceremony went off without a hitch. In a very small, but profound way, this little story that came from Nathan and Ariana’s wedding day was a snapshot of the human soul that invites the Kingdom of Heaven and lights its way into human experience.

Consider how this story might have had a different ending.

1. Katherine could have said, “Well, I was here first, so let Madelyn figure out what she is going to do about her defective lighter.

2. I could have blamed the clerk for selling me this defective lighter and in self-protecting –righteousness spent the time before the wedding trying to call the hardware store to give them a piece of my mind. I could have also blamed Madelyn for causing the lighter to dysfunction and thrown a real fit right then and there on the stage. Since I was the “unwise” servant in this episode, I could have done all manner of things to cover my failure to properly prepare for this most important ceremony.

3. Madelyn could have said, “It’s not my fault the lighter is not working, lets flip a coin to see who gets to have the one good lighter and the loser will have to just deal with the consequences.”

Notice that these three choices could have jeopardized not only the whole ceremony, but the ongoing relationships between the two families. But it would most certainly further divided our souls and the soul of the world. What I experienced in this brief little episode that preceded the wedding was grace and the outbreak of the Kingdom of Heaven and a sign that within the souls of Katherine and Madelyn, the Spirit of God was present and at work in a most powerful way. It was Katherine’s gracious solution that may have just turned me away from some of the other ways I might have gone. Such grace eliminates the anxiety of trying to defend yourself.

I watched as the lighter passed from Madelyn to Katherine and then both of their hands wrapped around the lighter and both of their hands guided that light to the center candle where they lit that larger candle. This was soul work. This was the stuff of which the Kingdom of Heaven is made. This was a wisdom that transcended the selfish, egocentric needs of individuals and resulted in the glorious “We” that is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some may say that this was really not that big a deal for these two moms to do what they did together, but I would suggest that it is just such small and powerful choices that can make the difference between a world of love and grace and one of selfishness and self-centeredness.

So, what are we to make of Jesus’ story? What if the “Wise Five” had shown the same sort of compassion and concern for the “Less-Wise Five” and shared their oil with them?” What if the bridegroom had welcomed his less prepared family members into the party? Is the Kingdom Heaven about fulfilling roles or about finding compassion in the midst of the disappointments and failures of life?

Jesus’ story is a snapshot of the human soul he found on earth during his lifetime and even today. It is a snapshot of how people view God—if you don’t do what you are supposed to do, God will not invite you into the party. It is a snapshot of a world soul struggling to discern what God would have us do to be acceptable to him or her and trying to separate the human family into those who follow the rules and duties expected of them and those who need more than just a clearly defined list of rules and duties.

Both the “wise” and the “unwise” need one another to discover the Kingdom of Heaven and the love and grace for which both groups hunger and thirst.

Perhaps you have a story or two like the one I shared about our recent wedding that lights up that moment called the Kingdom of Heaven when grace and love overcame our human need to be right, in charge, or important. The Kingdom of Heaven is ushered in by the light of love and grace in small, but powerful ways.