Meditating on prayer

Pieter Bruegel, “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent” (1559)

(Update: bizarre duplication of text now fixed!)

A few weeks ago, I was going to post here that I was giving up not-blogging for Lent.  Instead, I continued to not-blog.  Such is my Lenten discipline.  But a few folks have encouraged me to post a sermon I recently gave at my home congregation, and after much hemming and hawing, I’ve decided to do so.  I’ve given a handful of sermons at my church over the last few years, but haven’t felt comfortable circulating them much further than the 20 or so who heard them in church.  Now that I’ve let the Left at the Altar audience shrink to a similar size, it feels safe enough. 😉  But my hemming and hawing was also due to a couple of things that were different about this sermon, compared to my previous efforts: first, it’s a lot more “autobiographical” than any other I’ve done, and second, it had nothing to do with the lectionary for the week (well, nothing, and yet everything!).  I won’t make a habit of the autobiographical component.  For that matter, I won’t make a habit of writing sermons!  (Although, every time I say I won’t do another, I find myself doing another.)  I’ll post a few others on my “Publications” page.  For now, here’s the last sermon I plan to write for awhile.  To my dad, uncle, and many dear friends who wrote or write sermons every week, my hat is off to you!  I don’t know how you do it!  And to the Left at the Altar friends who have stuck around, hey!, nice to see you again!

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Meditating on prayer – a sermon by Marilyn Matevia (Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Vallejo, CA, 3/16/14)

I have a confession to make.  I’m not very good about praying.  Continue reading “Meditating on prayer”


Signs of life

I know, you’ve heard it before.  I declare that I am trying to get this blog back up and running, sputter along for awhile, and then stall again.  Now I’m attempting the seemingly impossible: keeping this one going, and getting another one started. When appropriate, I’ll cross-post.  When not, I might just let you know that something is up over there.  Like this.  See you here again, shortly.

Reflections on Newtown

On last Friday, the day of the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I was two days into a visit to my son and daughter-in-law in Nashville, Tennessee.  It was to have been a pre-Christmas celebration, fitted in before the celebration of the actual day that Karen B. and I will have with our dear friend Karen S, who arrives in California on December 25th to stay with us for a few days.  Now the shadow of all those deaths falls on us, on those we hold dear and on those whose loss brings unimaginable pain.  Eugene Peterson says that silence is sometimes the only response:  our silent presence with those who mourn, the only blessing we can offer.
When I am in Nashville, which is often, it is my custom to go to Saturday morning Mass with my friend Kathy.  It is a simple daily Mass at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Sylvan Park.  On a good morning there might be 20 parishioners present.  As I enter the sanctuary and take a seat, I notice that there is less visiting and more praying than usual, perhaps honoring the dead in their silence.  In the few minutes before the liturgy begins, I raise my eyes to the representation of Jesus on the cross that hangs on the front wall.  I think of the people of Newtown who have flocked to the St. Rose of Lima Church for the prayer vigil that began within just hours of the news.  No doubt there is also a crucifix image like this above their altar. 
Out of the depths of memory I hear the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was imprisoned and finally executed during the Nazi regime.  While in prison, and reflecting on how God might be present in the circumstances of the Third Reich (I don’t have my usual library available here, so forgive me if I’m misrepresenting DB’s context), he wrote in a letter to his best friend, “Only the suffering God can help.”
I also remember what one of my mentors, William Sloane Coffin, wrote ( in a sermon delivered ten days after his 24-year-old son, Alex, died in a car accident.  In intense grief, he gave us all these words I can never forget:  “My own consolation lies in knowing that…when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first  of all our hearts to break.”
Maybe we want to think of God as all-powerful and all-knowing, totally in control of everything and with a plan for each of us.  God the micro-manager!  And maybe that’s an idea of God that’s adequate for the everyday-ness of our lives, although (for me at least) that’s at best a debatable proposition.  How anyone could think that anything about the events of last Friday in Newtown are in any way a reflection of God’s will, or part of some divine plan, is just beyond my comprehension.  (Mike Huckabee, I’m talkin’ to you….)
From where I stand, the God who comforts is the God who enters into our human suffering, fully incarnate in our human life and our death.  God’s broken heart is somehow, in the great mystery of the Incarnation, joined with our own broken hearts.  And so, somehow, the crucified Christ on the wall of St. Ann’s in Nashville is oddly comforting to me, and I hope he is the same to all those who have that image before them in these days.

Hi, blog… remember me?

comeinwereopenI almost forgot my password.  That’s how long it’s been since I posted on this blog.  I’m so grateful my good friend Cristina stayed around to knock down the cobwebs and freshen things up every once in awhile, even as she gets her own blog humming along.  Thanks to her, it doesn’t look completely abandoned when new visitors drop by.  Yesterday and today, a whole flock of them came at once.  Turns out my Mark Twain posts were getting picked up in Google searches prompted by his 177th birthday.  Funnily enough, I didn’t know that until I logged in on a lark – to update links and bios, crack my knuckles, and start blogging again!  I clicked on my blog stats report, prepared to see a flat line where visitors are recorded, and was pleasantly surprised at the signs of life.

I know… You would have thought I’d have plenty to say during the last few months – Left at the Altar did start out in part as a political commentary, after all.  But my new job places some restrictions on the extent of political opining I can do in a public sphere, so I had to keep fairly quiet about the election.  Now I can safely say — whew!  And I’ll figure out ways to say more, when necessary!  But I’m also looking forward to writing more about the other stuff in my tagline: philosophy, science, theology… and of course, the occasional oud player, turkey vulture, or grandmother story.  Variety is the spice of life.

Thanks for sticking around, if you have.  And if you’re new, come back again!

(Gratuitous Mark Twain image.)
(Gratuitous Mark Twain image.)

Thank you for blogging

No, the dog didn’t eat my homework. But there is a nearly endless list of reasons why I haven’t shown up here since November—the holidays, car mishaps, freak floods, and several creative endeavor deadlines, to name a few. If I were young and hooked up to my iDevice, I would have blogged all about the stuff I just told you kept me from blogging. I’m not young and I don’t have an iDevice; I feel lucky just to have gotten through it all and still be here to tell you why I didn’t blog about it.

In the midst of all those events, however, there were many times I yelled at the TV machine, shook my fist at the heavens (or the ceiling when it was raining too hard to confront the heavens directly), or just pounded the nearest hard surface. What is going on all around us and in spite of the best efforts of intelligent, fair-minded people is phenomenal and incredible and downright stupefying: the outrageous lies from the right, the billions of dollars swamping our elections, and the prodigious efforts of Republicans to return us to the Middle Ages. This is only a partial and very brief list of the goings-on going on that make me want to gnash my teeth.

One of the main reasons I signed on to become a contributor to this blog was to have a place where I could rant. Instead of pounding the nearest hard surface, I told myself, I could pound the keyboard. But since I wasn’t managing to make my way to the keyboard (at least not to blog), I took note when someone else—a writer and fellow film lover named Paul Turner—said he couldn’t take anymore of the rhetoric he’d been hearing and had to blog about it.

Paul is one of my favorite people in Corvallis, Oregon, where he runs the Darkside Cinema. Thanks to him, Corvallis has independent films, art films, documentaries, and all sorts of odd cinematic offerings not normally available (as in: almost never) at the multiplex. His ironic sense of humor enlivens conversation and is evident even in the name of  his cinema (It was across the street from the Whiteside Theatre, and what’s the opposite of the Whiteside? The Darkside, of course.).

Patrons who sign onto the mailing list get an email from Paul once a week in which he tells us all about the current slate of films showing at the Darkside. Sometimes at the end he’ll include “Other Stuff” (which is the name of his blog). Last week he said “….occasionally, I get a little annoyed. Lately, I’ve been trying to keep my peace about some of the rhetoric being bandied about on the various media. Well now I’m failing. Since this rant had nothing to do with the theater, I put it on my blog.” I followed the link to Other Stuff, and read his post about his “….most hated aphorism,  “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

“My sensitivity to this phrase comes in no small part from raising a lesbian stepdaughter. When she was in her early teens I noticed she was not developing emotionally like her two sisters. She wasn’t ahead or behind—more like she was developing parallel to them….What became obvious to me was that my step-kid was not “choosing” to be different. She desperately wanted to know why she was somewhat off-off center compared to the other kids in her adolescent experiences. Most gay people with whom I’ve spoken about their sexuality have said that they, too, had wondered why they were so different—until they discovered others who were different like they were….This child who I raised is….one of the kindest people I have ever known, is often funnier than is prudent, has an esthetic sense that would make anyone smile, and happens to be a lesbian. So to “hate the sin” that is the homosexuality with which my stepdaughter identifies, is to hate my stepdaughter. My child, who has done nothing in this life to be hated for and has grown into a fine young woman, is targeted by this phrase.
“Hate the sin, love the sinner” is passive-aggressive camouflage, providing a cozy, thought-free place to hide rather than coming right out and saying your belief system chooses to hate people like my kid. I write “chooses” because the references used to back up hating my daughter’s sin are surgically excised from scripture—conveniently ignorning the surrounding “sins” that are inconvenient to avoid in everyday life.

….Most of those who have risen above the self-loathing that “Hate the sin, love the sinner” perpetuates will not let on that you are doing the equivalent of getting right up in their face and telling them to die in a fire. Most will show you the grace and courtesy you are not affording them—because they know you do not understand that homosexuals are your sons and daughters, and fathers and mothers—that some of those who preach intolerance the loudest are supressing their own homosexuality….I find their presence centering because they have lived through everything from attempts on their lives to the constant soft-core pornography, of which “hate the sin, love the sinner” is no small part. And they have done it without needing to tell those who hate them to die in a fire.”

All I can say is: Thank you for blogging, Paul.

You can read the whole post here. It’s well worth your time.

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