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Dear Friends,


If you honestly read any text from the New Testament you have to admit that there is much confusion, many things that are not easily if at all understood, and a good deal of ambiguity, I think all intended, but we have been trained to accept the piecemeal authority of selected texts by the authority doing the training.


It is hard work to make sense of the Gospel texts, it is hard work to study them and think about them and try to glean the wisdom and meaning that the authors tried to capture, it is easy to bring our prejudices and biases and cultural and political opinions and claim that Jesus supported or endorsed them but that is a slippery slope if you actually take the texts seriously.


John Dominic Crossan was one of the greatest of modern students of the New Testament, a founding member of a very significant but short lived movement called, The Jesus Seminar, and John Dominic said that if you want to understand the meanings of the Gospels and the Jesus characters therein, you need to work with the poetry of Theodore Roethke (1908-1963).


Theodore Roethke born in Saginaw, Michigan, into a family that owned greenhouses and raised flowers year-round in Saginaw climate, Theodore Roethke was a poet that found in those greenhouses and the complexities of flower growing in them, and the fields and lakes and weather of that part of Michigan, hints of the Divine that came into being through that Word we learn of in the Gospel of John.


One of his first collection of poems is called, Words for the Wind.


Years ago when I read what John Dominic Crossan said about Roethke, I thought it was the nuttiest thing I had ever read but I bought a used paperback copy of Roethke’s poetry at a used book store near the Fine Arts Theater on Michigan Avenue that used to be a showroom for Studebaker farm implements.


The bookstore, the Fine Arts, and the Studebaker store are all long gone now but I still have that book.


The world of the poet and the musician and the writer of fiction, the mystic and the playwright and the architect and the dancer and the cartoon drawer, that is the world of the Gospel. That is why children are the ones to whom the kingdom belongs and why it is revealed to them because at the beginning, at least, before ISTEP, they are all of the above.


You know, on this day we are getting a new bishop, February 11, it might be good to remember that there was a time in France and a few other places where a good bishop had to be a good dancer not a lawyer but a dancer to choreograph the people with rhythm and movement to that Kingdom of Heaven that he found at hand.


At other times in other places a good bishop was one who could tell the Jesus story spontaneously, one to give shape and meaning to that one day in that one place with people gathered to hear the Good News and give thanks.


There were no books on altars just living traditions of real people because people like the Real Presence were living and true, not rehearsed and predetermined.


Our actual dogma claims that Jesus Christ is a Real Presence and not just a literary/historical character, but we have for all practical purposes tried to confine that Real Presence to the tabernacles in our churches and the consecrated bread and wine at Mass but, again, our doctrine, our stated belief is that Jesus Christ is a real presence in all baptized people, for sure, the person of the priest, the people of God assembled for Mass, and if we take the Gospel of John seriously, actually, in everything because “nothing has come into being except through the Word.




Years and years ago at the same time that men, virtually no women, were creating their world-wide organization, as some men are so inclined to do, in the name of Jesus Christ, other men and women were just contemplating the whole, and I mean the whole, of it, in the mountains and caves and deserts of North Africa, the Mediterranean shorelands, Italy and Greece, and the incredibly complex lands that today we call the Middle East.


Then as time unfolded Benedict and Scholastica thought the mountains of central/southern Italy were a good place to try and figure out what it all meant and their monasteries were built around a garden filled with the sounds of water, the smell of flowers, trees heavy with fruit, herbs, birds, butterflies, all things beautiful and true.


A bit later the great cathedrals began in the minds and hearts of men and women modelled on the forests and trees in them scraping the skies like pillars topped with leaves cut from stone, Reims is said to have leaves from every tree growing in France at the turn of the first millennium.


The sun came next, right into those great spaces built with human hands and human ingenuity all in the search for God, the sun came filtered through glass that told all kinds of stories about the Christ and his people while the lawyers were inside often trying to make life less pleasurable and more painful by the day detailing sins and more sins and more sins not smelling the roses or seeing the sun.


I don’t think that the Jesus of the Gospels is the moral teacher that conventional Christianity has made him out to be, yes, as in the Gospel story this weekend, there is clearly moral teaching, but that moral teaching is in a context of an entire piece of literature that we call, Saint Matthew’s Gospel.


The context is not incidental but essential to the content of what was written inspired by what Jesus said and did as composed by “Matthew” who “saw” differently than Mark, Luke, and John.


Conventional Christianity especially Roman Catholicism has made Jesus and his Good News to be all about morality by extracting phrases and sentences out of context presuming to believe that everything else Jesus said and did was irrelevant and superfluous.


Conventional Christianity’s wide swing into the moral life of individual persons with the absolute certainty that is has developed began the long process of dulling the imagination and stilling, or at least, trying to still the spirit.


The artists and the poets, musicians, and the real dreamers of architecture turned and went away beginning with the elders, churches became quiet, generic, and boring with plaster mass produced sentimental art that inspired nothing but guilt, decorated with stencils not brushes and palettes, the ceilings were an end in themselves, they did not point beyond, music became performance and then just perfunctory, people were just props in clerical drama, assumptions, not the images and likenesses of God in all of that possibility and variety.


Christian morality as it has been formulated has focused on individual human acts and avoided the values and goals embedded in corporate human acts found in the systems that human beings have devised and developed.


Additionally, trees and animals and mountains and earth and water and air and sea creatures were never mentioned in official Christian moral texts or teachings until very, very recently. I come late to this issue like most of us, but it is an issue that is implied in all of the Biblical texts by virtue of simply being created.


The whole story remember begins and, in some instances, ends in a garden and the beginning story repeatedly confirms that what has been created in that garden is “good” but beyond that human concern for or responsibility for that garden and what else was in it gets short shrift.


The Law that Jesus talks about this weekend that is to be fulfilled included this one, “if you are planting a tree and the Messiah arrives, finish planting the tree before you do homage to the Lord.”


I do not know why Jesus has little or no mention of the other components of that garden, I am not sure why that is, but Jesus was a man of his times as well as being the Son of God, but he did let the animals go free saving them from sacrificial killing, he did like good wine apparently and bread and fish, so maybe he just assumed that common sense would prevail and humans would know to care for the non-sentient, non-human fellow creatures.


Admittedly, our record of taking seriously the human to human moral teachings of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel is not too good, so it is not likely that even if Jesus had included non-human, non-feeling/thinking reality it would have made much difference, but it is not too late.



Father Niblick


Child On Top Of A Greenhouse


The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,
My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,
The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers, Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,
A few white clouds all rushing eastward,
A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses,
And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting!




This urge, wrestle, resurrection of dry sticks, Cut stems struggling to put down feet,
What saint strained so much,
Rose on such lopped limbs to a new life?

I can hear, underground, that sucking and sobbing, In my veins, in my bones I feel it --
The small waters seeping upward,
The tight grains parting at last.

When sprouts break out,
Slippery as fish,
I quail, lean to beginnings, sheath-wet.



Theodore Roethke