Today is the Feast Day of Saints Simon and Jude - of whom little is written within, or outside of the Bible. The end of the reading for today gave me pause. Jude ecourages those within the faith to, "have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies."
The first exhortation goes along with the book I have been reading with United Methodists in New England - Brian McLaren's Faith After Doubt. Doubting or wavering in one's faith, McLaren kindly observes, is not only highly prevelent in our present culture, it is a stage of faith. It is something we can pass through and come out stronger.
In the Compassion Course taught by Thom Bond, we have just engaged with a less on on the "protective use of force." Snatching people "out of the fire" is a protective use of force. While many commentaries like to interpret the fire as eternal punishement for all time, I find it far more helpful to think of the present "fires" that torment us. The trick here is what to do about agency. When a toddler virges from the yard to a busy street, we wouldn't hesitate to snatch them out and place them inside a fenced in place where they can be safe, and we who are supervising can have peace of mind. But other situations make it harder to decide when and how to use protective force. I have an addiction to sugar and flour. Yesterday I had not planned out our supper before the end of the day and found myself with my daughter in the store picking out food that had both - orange chicken, spring rolls and a tub of gingersnaps. My actions of buying, heating up and serving these foods to myself and my children are keeping us bound to these addictive substances. They do damage to our bodies and reinforce the addictive habit tracks in our brains. While this might not seem to be "fire" I know that continuing these actions is keeping me bound to practices that can lead to early dementia, diabetes and many other health problems. But right now, if a friend or family member tried to use protective use of force it very likely would backfire. Likewise, it is questionable if protective use of force really works with other addictions. It certainly backfired with Prohibition. How might we use protective force to protect people from fentanyl? Addictions require one's agency as a key ingredient to salvation.
The last admonition is the most troubling to me. How am I to relate to some people with mercy and fear together? And is it really their bodies which defile their clothing? How does that measure up with my belief that every human being is made in the image of God, and is of sacred worth? Isn't it our clothing, our habits that belong to the practices of the wrath, that defile us? I need to do some more word study - the little exploration I made with my limited understanding of Greek indicates that there may be other ways understand what Jude is telling us.
Here is a prayer for today by Br. Daniel Benedict:
God of all hopeless cases and lost causes,
as we commemorate Simon and, jude, cause us to trust you
in all that overwhelms
with all that risks obscurity,
for all the disregarded. Amen.
On Thursday October 14 I was at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery here in Pittsburgh wrapping up a four-day annual retreat of our dispersed Order of Saint Luke. This one was extra special for us because it was the 75th anniversary of OSL, and the first one we could have together since the COVID pandemic began. Over 50 Members came from across the US, and Br. Scot offered his services to transmit worship and presentations through the internet.
The speakers included Brother Don Sailers (Indigo Girl Emily Sailers’ Dad!) from Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Brother Mark Stamm from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and Sister Kimberly Greway, the prior of my local Chapter (named for Br. Hoyt Hickman), who has just completed ten years of working as chaplain at the Pittsburgh jail, and a doctorate about her work with incarcerated people. Br. Mark has become OSL’s chief historian and presented our history, noting some very intriguing questions that are drawing me to help gather more oral history. Br. Don presented some of his reflections as he has been working on a book about lament and praise in the Psalms. Sr. Kimberly revealed to us the hidden truth that most of the New Testament was written about, and often by people who had been incarcerated. She invited us to use that to think and act differently about the place of prison ministry in OSL, the Church and the world.
This retreat was extra special for me because at our last worship service together on Thursday morning I professed the vows of OSL for life, along with my very dear friend from my years in Greater Boston, Sr. Cherlyn, and two other siblings I have come to treasure. Br. Brendan (Dwight) Vogel tied a knot in the new red cincture I purchased for this occasion and Br. David of the Hickman Chapter surprised me with my very own OSL scapular. As this was such a significant retreat I decided not to commute from home as I had done the past two times. Instead, I slept in a monastic cell, ate each meal with my siblings, was present for all the morning, midday, evening prayer and compline services and helped support my husband through a small crisis via my phone. I am so grateful to Joe for organizing his life and work to tend to Grace and Salem for a whole week!
While on retreat, existing friendships were strengthened and new ones were forged (one is silver and the other is gold). After the service of profession of vows and lunch I had the privilege to transport Br. Don and Br. Mark to the airport, park my car and begin my own journey to Hartford. In the process I failed to transport a third sibling – one of my new friends – and didn’t even realize it until well after we had bumped into each other in a terminal, and some other siblings at my terminal whose gentle inquiry of whether I had seen him eventually jogged my memory. I quietly sat in a flood of shame that I had failed to engrave the promise I made to Br. David a few minutes before taking the life vows upon my heart. Please forgive me Brother David. I’m so glad Divine Providence took care of you when I did not.
Sarah Mount Elewononi is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. A member of the New England Annual Conference for over 20 years, Sarah now resides with her family in greater Pittsburgh. Sarah completed the requirements for her doctorate from Boston University on Christmas Eve 2014. She worked with Dr. Karen Westerfield Tucker and Dr. Nancy Ammerman to better understand worship and change - both how repeated acts of worship change us, and how and why worship changes whether we want it too or not, and why we can be resistant to that change. Her dissertation was focused on Methodist worship at New England camp meetings in the 19th Century. Sarah is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, the Order of St. Luke and the Girl Scouts. Currently she leads her daughters' Girl Scout troop and serves as a substitute teacher. She also teaches a variety of United Methodist Course of Study offerings in worship, theology and Biblical studies.