Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Just Say No

That was Nancy Reagan's anti-drug slogan when I was in college, but I think we can recycling this for Christmas. Every time I watch the news, there's some sort of comment about the state of our Christmas shopping and its impact on our economy. I heard last week that consumer spending is responsible for 2/3 of our economy (I'm not sure what the reporter meant "economy" ... so it may be a questionable statistic). But if our economy is so reliant on consumer spending (as opposed to business or industrial spending), it could explain the obsession with how much we spend and the message of buy, buy, buy we incessantly hear.

The poster above comes from BuyNothingChristmas.org, a movement started by some Canadian Mennonites to urge us to focus on what is really important at Christmas - Jesus' birth. They have all sorts of ideas for alternative giving on their web site.

Performance artist Bill Talen's alter-ego, the Reverend Billy, leads a group called the Church of Stop Shopping (hmmm ... perhaps we could call Rev. Billy his 'altar-ego' ... ok stop groaning...). They just released a movie called What Would Jesus Buy? He preaches against the Shopocalypse. I love it.

Beloved Husband and I are the parents of a 'tweener and and a 'tweener wannabe (youngest is just 9, but wants to be cool like her older sister). We do our best to instill in them that Christmas is more than getting stuff and overall they understand (although they still want a Wii for Christmas). I remember the days when they were 3-4 and would see ads on TV and every one that came on provoked the same response, "I want that!" I'm glad we're past that phase.

But Beloved Husband and I are at a place in our lives where acquiring more stuff just isn't very attractive. We have everything we need and even many things we want (want is different than need but our consumerist society often blurs this line ... to sell you more stuff, of course). Now the focus of Christmas is giving to those who really do need something ... especially if they need the basics of life. Supporting the Millennium Development Goals is a huge part of alternative giving for us. One way is through the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund, but there are other organizations that help further these goals. Learn about the goals ... find groups that support them ... then donate. It isn't hard.

Giving to the MDGs truly is giving to those who lack the necessities of life. It reflects God's generosity in sending Jesus to meet our need to be reconciled back to God. We didn't deserve or earn this gift ... and God gave it anyway. Our poverty of spirit and brokenness was met in the gift of Jesus. Can't we reach out to others in their poverty to let them know God hasn't forgotten them too?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Playing the Friday Five - Rejoice!

Mother Laura writes:

Can you believe that in two days we'll be halfway through Advent? Gaudete Sunday: pink candle on the advent wreath, rose vestments for those who have them, concerts and pageants in many congregations. Time to rejoice!

Rejoice in the nearness of Christ's coming, yes, but also in the many gifts of the pregnant waiting time when the world (in the northern hemisphere, at least) spins ever deeper into sweet, fertile darkness.

What makes you rejoice about:

1. Waiting?
Waiting is hard for those who pray for patience ... right now!!! But it does force me to stop and be present in the moment while waiting. Appreciating the reality of God's presence even when we're "not there" yet.
2. Darkness?
That it cannot overcome light ... but it can make even the faintest light seem bright. Beloved husband has a Newtonian reflector telescope (big honkin' tube of the thing!). This time of year is the best time for observing the heavens because of the lack of humidity in the air. Unfortunately, ambient light from street lights causes problems, but the darker things are, the better we can see the smallest and faintest of light from distant galaxies and objects. Without darkness, we can't see the faintest of light.
3. Winter?
Snow ... when it doesn't cancel worship services and I don't have to shovel it. :-D
4. Advent?
Holding back the tide of secular commercialism to remember the rhythm and seasons of the Church (and yes, Christmas is a season, not a day!). I find a blessing in observing Advent because it keeps me from overindulging on Christmas to the point of being burnt out by December 24th!
5. Jesus' coming?
The annual remembrance of God's promise to come and save us. To remind us of Christ's presence in this "already but not yet" time we live in. Promise of hope for the future in the midst of a world full of violence and fear.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hurry up and wait!

OK ... time to confess ... I feel like a hypocrite. There ... it's out! Why? Well, it's all about how Advent is feeling this year for me. I've never been one of those folks who has all of their Christmas shopping done by September (unlike my mom who is past master of getting it all done very early - a gift of which I'm sorely bereft) and for the past two years I've completely missed the whole sending out Christmas cards thing (seminary schedules and internships have a way of crowding stuff out). So between the shopping and the Christmas cards (with the requisite note about why we dropped off the face of the earth for 2 years ...) and the planning of special liturgies for each Sunday in Advent and a Bible study on the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke ... we'll it's not exactly been a peaceful and introspective time of preparation. So as I preach about slowing down to take Advent in and concentrate on spiritual preparation, well ... I feel a bit hypocritical over the whole thing.

Perhaps I'm preaching this as much for me as anyone else (isn't that true more often than we'd like to admit?). Sometimes we ordained folks need to verbalize things for ourselves and maybe, just maybe, what we say for ourselves is helpful to others. And being honest about how we "collars" fall far short of the ideals too is important.

I really like Father Matthew Moretz's video on Anglican prayer (see the Vodpod link on the right of the screen and check it out). He talks about praying the Daily Office and he openly admits that while praying the offices in the morning and evening every day are an ideal, he doesn't always live up to it either. That's right, ordination doesn't magically turn you into the consummately spiritually disciplined person most folks might imagine. We use the tools, but imperfectly of course as we are human ... and we are only human. So I'm trying, by the grace of God, to slow down and take time for some focused spiritual disciplines in Advent to prepare, but it happens in fits and starts.

Advent is about waiting ... and not quite knowing what is going to emerge out of the waiting. The people of Israel had waited in expectation for the Messiah ... for 450 years since the return from Babylon. The first Christmas took place in the midst of the anxiety of living in an occupied land. Some had very clear expectations of exactly what Messiah would be - a warrior king who'd kick the Romans out and restore Israel to its former glory and power. Waiting and hoping ... and finding out that the earthly idea of what Messiah should be wasn't what God had in mind!

Perhaps Advent is just as much about letting go of our expectations of what "should be" and instead open our hearts and minds to the unexpected which God can bring. We all have preconceived ideas about things, just like the people living in Palestine 2,000 years ago. But when God breaks through, it often shatters our neatly packaged ideas of how things should be and should work. God's Holy Spirit often brings chaos precisely to shatter the false images we build up about God and our relationships (with each other and God). Our false images are idols - we create them, we hold onto them, and the Holy Spirit comes to smash them.

So I'll let the Holy Spirit smash my images about what my Advent spirituality "should" look like and be content to carve out a few quiet moments to reflect on letting go and letting God do something surprising and new.

Now playing: Sir Neville Marriner - Past Three a Clock
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Head lice

I've heard it said that God has a purpose for all things. Really? So what's up with head lice? You may wonder why this is on my mind. Well, technically it isn't on my mind as much as it is on our hair (and scalp too).

Actually, we've been on the front lines of battling head lice in our family. Youngest daughter came home with them a month ago (right after the first really cold weather when all their coats, hats and scarves come out and get hung up in the communal coat closet at the elementary school she attends). We tried the OTC shampoos which doused her in chemicals and didn't do anything to the lice. We went for the good old olive oil treatment and daily combing for 21 days. It worked and we checked everyone else and washed everything we could in hot, hot water (and into a hot, hot dryer), froze what we couldn't wash in hot and vacuumed everything.

Good to go, right? Nope. Eldest daughter came down with a full blown case yesterday. Of course, as soon as I play the "good parent" and report it to the middle school she attends, they report back to the elementary school the youngest attends ... and the 18 year old "health tech" swears our youngest daughter has nits in her hair! More olive oil, more combing ... only to find our youngest just has a wicked case of dandruff and the tech didn't know what she was looking at. Oy! I'm convinced our oldest caught this from another classmate at her school since her sister was free and clear (of course, they are now both on the 21 day oil and comb regiment). I can't wait to see my water bill this month with all the washing of linens! Ugh. The only really foolproof way to make sure you don't get them is to shave your head and neither of my daughters are going to go for the Vin Diesel look anytime soon.

So what in the world was God thinking when he created head lice? I honestly don't have a clue. Perhaps it was to remind us that we are part of the whole food web in a less dramatic (and less deadly) way than getting eaten by a great white shark or a grizzly bear. Maybe it's a humility thing. Maybe not. Things don't always make sense.

But as frustrating as head lice are, I am thankful that our girls are healthy overall. Even more so, I'm thankful they are here. Not everyone is that fortunate. There was a terrible case of domestic violence in the community near our congregation this weekend. A man killed his estranged wife, his three children, and himself on Thanksgiving in Damascus MD. The wife was a coworker of one of the folks who worships with us on Sundays. It was senseless and heartbreaking. I'm convinced that God does not cause this nor does God want us to live in fear and violence. God does allow us the free will to make decisions, at times with tragic results. I believe God grieves when such violence happens. It still doesn't completely make sense.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Five - Think about these things edition

It's the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five for Thanksgiving! Songbird posts the following:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
(Philippians 4:8, NRSV)

Friends, it's nearly Thanksgiving in the U.S. and it's the time of year when we are pressed to name things for which we are thankful. I want to offer a twist on the usual lists and use Paul's letter to the church at Philippi as a model. Name five things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent or worthy of praise. These could be people, organizations, acts, ideas, works of art, pieces of music--whatever comes to mind for you.

  1. One person and organization dear to my heart is Dr. Catherine Hamlin and the Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. The women they help are resurrected from lives of being social outcasts because of birth injuries.
  2. Heartly House in Frederick our local shelter for domestic abuse victims. They also run the rape crisis hotline and work to end child abuse.
  3. My friend Anne Weatherholt+, who's like a big sister to me and has mentored me through an ordination process that more often resembled "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" than anything having to do with Church. :-D
  4. The good folks up at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg who welcomed the Episcopal sojourner among them (even if we didn't always see eye to eye on everything).
  5. Last, but not least, my family - beloved husband, our daughters and my parents. All of them believed in me and are very much responsible for "keepin' me real."

Monday, November 12, 2007


There are just times in ministry when all you can do is stand there with a dumb look on your face and say "Wow!" That was about a week ago for me and it's taken me this long to wipe the dumb look off my face and type. ;-)

I had a call from one of our members, Marta, who left me a voice mail about a donation to the Wounded Soldiers Project. If you've been reading this blog awhile, you know about this project. We've adopted the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad and are sending out sweatpants, t-shirts, socks, and other items to our wounded vets to make their hospital stays and rehab more comfortable. And a bit shout out goes to Scott Corbitt from the USAF in Baghdad who sent an e-mail to his wife, who is the daughter of one of our members ... and that's how it all started.

Anyway, back to Marta. She works at Fort Detrick and she put up some notices about the Wounded Soldiers Project. Well ... it worked ... and then some! Fort Detrick adopted this project for their "Make a Difference Day" and donated over 850 pieces of clothing.


People ask me if I really believe the stories in the Bible. Of course I do - and then some. When you see something like this take off, how can you not believe this is a modern version of the feeding of the 5,000? God has taken the efforts of a small group and multiplied them beyond our own imaginations to send relief to the wounded veterans in Iraq. Amazing. We've now shipped over 150 lbs. of clothing - and Marta still has a whole garage full of clothing we need to pack and ship.

Wow! God is good.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Gott hilfe mir...

I woke up this morning to an e-mail from the Episcopal News Service announcing that Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh has moved forward in their diocesan convention to approve constitutional changes which would basically remove the whole diocese from the Episcopal Church.

Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori sent +Bob a letter urging him to seek reconciliation and not lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Duncan refused and sent a curt three sentence response saying:
Here I stand. I can do no other. I will neither compromise the Faith once delivered to the saints, nor will I abandon the sheep who elected me to protect them.
Pax et bonum in Christ Jesus our Lord,
+Bob Pittsburgh
When I was ordained, I had to take a vow to "conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church." +Bob had to take that very same vow when he was made deacon, priest and bishop (see pages 513, 526, and 538 of the Book of Common Prayer). Three times he took this vow and now he feels his interpretation of "the Faith" trumps his prior vows made before God and the community.

I know that Bishop Duncan and I would not see eye to eye on many issues; however, it does not help the Church to take polarized, intransigent positions which serve to break communion rather than foster it. I am not a better Christian when those who disagree with me on something walk away - I am poorer for it. Likewise, Bishop Duncan and those who support leaving the Episcopal Church will be poorer for the severing of relationship.

Bishop Duncan's first two sentences are a direct quote from Martin Luther's closing testimony at the Diet of Worms where he is supposed to have said, "Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders!" (there is some dispute as to whether he uttered this line or not ... but that's another post). Yet, Luther concluded with one final sentence: Gott helfe mir, Amen! ... God help me, Amen!

I, for one, am waiting for Bishop Bob to complete the quote.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Playing the Friday Five - Pumpkin/Apple

1. How did you celebrate this time of year when you were a child?

Dad's favorite pie is apple ... my sister's is pumpkin ... I'll take all of the above! My mom was an avid canner when we were children, so summers and into the fall were times to "put up" veggies, fruits and jams to enjoy. I think this was as much Mom's South Dakota roots as it was anything else - we lived in San Diego and pretty much had fresh fruits and veggies all year. And, of course, we trick-or-treated on Hallowe'en and made the obligatory jack-o-lanterns.

2. Do you and/or your family “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? And if you do, has it changed from what you used to do?

Sure! It's the "Hallows Even" - the eve of All Saints day. Episcopalians generally don't really have a problem with it (although a few do). It really hasn't changed much for us, but I do notice how some of my neighbors really go overboard with the decorations - I don't remember decorating for Hallowe'en growing up (of course, my Dad hated putting up Christmas lights on the house too ... so we were a little off-beat).

2. Candy apples: Do you prefer red cinnamon or caramel covered? Or something else?

Carmel - definitely!

3. Pumpkins: Do you make Jack O’ Lanterns? Any ideas of what else to do with them?

Cook 'em! Cut them down and cook them - a pressure cooker works really well. Then you can make fresh pumpkin pie or pumpkin soup (which is really good!).

4. Do you decorate your home for fall or Halloween? If so, what do you do? Bonus points for pictures.

Uhhh ... no. October is a crazy time with school and church activities, so I must admit decorating for Hallowe'en beyond the jack-o-lantern is not really on my radar.

5. Do you like pretending to be something different? Does a costume bring our an alternate personality?

Sure ... I'd like to pretend I'm Julia Roberts ... hahahaha! But seriously, it's fun to play and it gets you out of your own head for awhile.

Bonus: Share your favorite recipe for an autumn food, particularly apple or pumpkin ones.

Executive Inn Pumpkin Cheesecake (makes 10" cheesecake)
Prepare crust and press into 10" springform pan (bottom ONLY)
1 tsp. soft butter (brush on bottom of pan)
1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 lbs pumpkin
1 TBS pumpkin pie spice
1 cup whipping cream
Blend and pour filling into pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Remove and let rest 10 minutes, then pour sour cream topping over cake.

Sour Cream Topping:
1 lb. sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
Cool thoroughly and then chill.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Church really is like a sewer ...

Why? Because what you get out of it depends on what you put into it! True for the septic tank, true for the Church ... and with apologies to Tom Lehrer for the co-opting of his famous sewer quote.

So why am I going down this rather bizarre road? Well, I've been thinking about what people think church should be. I've been amazed by the variety of images people carry about "Church." Even if they understand that "Church" is the people of God gathered together (as opposed to a building somewhere), they still have some interesting ideas of what to expect from the Church.

I live in the United States, which has to be the preeminent consumerist, capitalistic culture in the world. We worship stuff in the US - all kinds of stuff! My first degree was in Marketing, so I know how to write the liturgy of advertising to pull and tug at every insecurity you might have so as to conflate your personal wants into desperate needs you can't live without! Now that's something really scary, but most people don't really know how much they are being manipulated by the consumerist messages of buy, buy, buy and more, more, more every day of their lives. Insatiable wants are the engine that has kept our economy going, regardless of the damage to the planet (say "global warming"), damage to relationships (how 'bout those maxed out credit cards??), and damage to God's image in us. When we enter the Church for one hour a week on Sunday, after spending the remaining 111 hours this past week being bombarded by consumerist messages, is it any wonder that we begin to treat the Church as some sort of purveyor of "religious goods and services?"

OK, you're probably saying, "What's up with this rant, Vicar?" Well, it's really to raise the awareness that the Church isn't the local grocery store or big box outlet selling you programs and feel good stuff. I run into folks who complain about how our congregation doesn't have this program or that program, or the service times are inconvenient for their kids' sports schedules, or they don't like the worship style, or any of a hundred other comments. It's as if the attitude is they are here to shop for their own needs and the heck with becoming a contributing member of a faith community. If there's nothing handed to them on a platter, they're outta here!

Here's an idea ... if you don't find it ... found it! This is true everywhere, but critically important in the small congregation. Now if you're intent on being a "taker of services" and not a "contributor towards the Body of Christ," you'll blow off this advice and I can just feel you clicking away from this page. (Yeah ... I was given superpowers to feel those clicks at ordination ... ok, not really, but it would be cool wouldn't it?).

BUT, if you're looking to make a difference somewhere, then you're still with me and it's time to read on. Small congregations have some real advantages for people who want to be a part of something more organic and less structured than larger churches. Pastor Dave Fitch sings the praises of small congregations here. But if you're looking at a small missional church, Pastor Dave has these words of advice on what to expect and not expect from a missional church (my personal favorite is point #1 which influenced my musings today).

I do find the energy and flexibility of the small congregation exciting. When members hear about mission or outreach opportunities in our congregation, we bring it to the community and then we do it. We don't have tons of committees who have to "approve" things and lots of hoops to jump through ... if it makes sense, we do it. So we started shipping t-shirts, socks and sweatpants to the wounded soldiers at the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad (50 pounds of clothes last month and another 50+ for this month), and we're joining the local CROP Walk for hunger relief, and we did a Blessing of the Pets service yesterday (check out the pictures here), and we're planning an intergenerational Advent party ... among other things.

So if you want something better out of the sewer, put something better into it! Same goes for your church.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The necessity of the Wilderness

Yep, you read that right ... the Wilderness is necessary to our faith life. Whatever wilderness you find yourself in (even if it's just figuring out where the paper clips are), it's the time in the wilderness which reminds us we are not completely in control. If we didn't have wilderness experiences, we'd get into a "Master of the Universe" mentality (with apologies to Tom Wolfe for this shameless rip off from his novel Bonfire of the Vanities). Some of us have a "Master of the Universe" mentality anyway, but that's another subject (maybe I'll write about perfectionist control freaks next ... hmmm ... maybe not...).

The Wilderness reminds us who we are and Whose we are. The Wilderness tests our ability to trust God even when everything seems to be falling apart at the seams. The Wilderness tests our ability to manage our fears and lean into trusting God. That's scary stuff.

The Wilderness also teaches us to put our own problems into a grander perspective. I may be thinking I'm dealing with a whole lot of confusing and disturbing stuff, but compared to the Sudanese refugee, or the AIDS orphan in Uganda, or the democracy protesters being gunned down in Myanmar, I am so blessed and fortunate.

The Israelites in the Wilderness were fearful second guessers who didn't want to trust God. Heck, they didn't even want to trust Moses ... and they could SEE him! But time in the Wilderness was where God met them in the tent (no matter where you go, there God is!). They had to work through their collective fear and anxiety and trust God ... and each other.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Shameless church promotion for a good cause

OK ... I admit, this is a shameless church promotion, but I have to do it. EpiScope (with a little nudge from my e-mail) picked up the story which ran in our local paper about our congregation's outreach to the wounded soldiers at the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq. Check it out here.

Even if I am in a liturgical wilderness, the heart this congregation has to reach out is amazing and it humbles me to be with them. It snaps me out of my self-indulgent $%)**&# and gets me back on terra firma again ... and I'm grateful.

This started with one of our parishioners, Nolie, whose son-in-law is a Major in the Air Force serving at the 28th Combat Support Hospital. He asked for some t-shirts, socks and sweat pants to help give these recovering soldiers something more comfortable than just flimsy hospital gowns to wear. If you've ever worn a hospital gown, you know that doing physical therapy when your behind is mooning the whole room isn't fun. So a little dignity seemed like a good idea.

Nolie spearheaded it and we promoted it ... and people responded! No matter how you feel about this terribly war and the politics that got us there, you can support the injured vets who have had to pay the price of this conflict.

Check out the story through the link to EpiScope and for more information, see the congregation's web site at www.gatheredbychrist.org (use the menu and go to Seeking More? then Ministries, then Outreach and you'll see the link to the Wounded Soldiers Project).

Pilgrimage ... Part III

The thing I found hardest on our trip to England wasn't the trip - it was the return. I had a rough time coming home and getting back into the new day-to-day routine as the part-time deacon-in-charge of a mission reboot. It was a return home ... but to a spiritual wilderness.

I guess the high choral evensong at York Minster put me over the top. It was really hard to go from that back to this mission church where the preferred music style is praise music and I'm the only "musician" in the congregation (and yes, the quotation marks are intentional). I was reared on Anglican chant and classical choral music, so the "happy-clappy" praise music we do wears thin on me. I'm really not a musical snob, but it's like eating cheeseburgers and only cheeseburgers ... it gets boring. I'd feel the same way if it was "all plainsong all the time" - it just gets boring. I'll admit it, I'm envious of the churches who are large enough to offer more than one kind of worship experience. You know, mix it up a little bit.

So I went from sublime, classical Anglican worship that imparted a mystical sense of the transcendent God - the wholly and holy Other - back to the praise music of this congregation's worship and their desire to be "different" from the Episcopal Church. Talk about a spiritual crash. I was not fit to live with for about two weeks. Uber grumpy. Beloved husband said, "Everyone ends up in the wilderness sometime. Hopefully it won't be 40 years for you." Yeah.

So what's a deacon to do? Well ... in short ... suck it up and get over myself. Guess there was a little "Father Murphy" in me after all (for that reference, watch the 1963 classic film Lilies of the Field ... or read the book). I don't see myself in a cathedral ... just a church where we can sing something besides Shine Jesus Shine for a change ... and where I don't have to be the musician, celebrant, preacher, gospeller, acolyte, and sacristan.

"Welcome to the wilderness ... My name is Anjel and I'll be your server this evening ... manna anyone?"

Now playing: Keb' Mo' - More Than One Way Home
via FoxyTunes

Now playing: Keb' Mo' - Just Like You
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pilgrimage ... Part II

Well, it's "Back to School" time this week. Our girls are back in school - one in 4th grade and one in 7th. Hard to believe it's only been 2 weeks since we were in England.

I confess I do miss the worship in England. I guess partly because I could sit back and enjoy it instead of having to do it all myself. But partly because I do like traditional worship and my environment right now is anything but traditional. I miss the music most of all. Me and my guitar just don't hold a candle to the men and boys choir of St. Thomas the Apostle in Leicester!

Which reminds me of the "thinnest" place on our trip. We spent the last 3 days in England up in York. The spirituality of York is more Celtic than Roman (even though the Roman Basilica's northwest corner is under the York Minster's tower!). Roman ruins are everywhere, but the ecclesiology of this part of England was shaped by the Celtic spirituality of people like St. Cuthbert, St. William, James the Deacon and Hilda of Whitby (the last of whom is depicted on the covering to the font at York Minster carrying a crozier!). Anyway, there's a more mystical spirit in York than I found anywhere else.

The night before we left England, we went to Evensong at York Minster. The choir of St. Thomas the Apostle were singing the service and it was August 15 - the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary ... so it was "smells and bells" all the way! The procession entered the quire where we were seated and the choir was vested in classic Anglican style - ruffled collars, red cassocks and white cottas. When the cantor intoned, "O LORD, open thou our lips," the choir responded in exquisite harmony "And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise!" Our youngest daughter's eyes were like saucers. She poked me in the side and whispered, "Whoa!" Whoa is right!

The service was gorgeous and our girls were caught up in it. Our 12 year old was blase (but that's all part of the "being 12" thing), but our 8 year old said afterwards, "I so TOTALLY felt God there!" That's the point ... worship is supposed to transport you outside yourself and connect you with the divine.

I guess that's why I can't really be a full-throttle Protestant. Of course, a true Protestant would point to my need for this kind of worship as proof of my weak faith - after all, such "popish" things are only spiritual crutches. Perhaps that's true, but my experience of Protestant worship is that it spends more time intellectualizing about God than experiencing God. Now that's just one woman's opinion, but that's how I feel. There's a heavy emphasis on Scripture and preaching, but the sacraments and liturgy are more spartan. In fairness, my Protestant brothers and sisters do have some great preaching ... but after the sermon, then what? Don't get me wrong, preaching is important, but it cannot stand alone for me.

The whole of the liturgy stands outside time and space in a way that preaching alone doesn't. It transcends me and my milieu. It connects me with those who have gone before ... and those who will come after I'm long gone. It shapes me, even if I'm not aware of it.

Someone once said of the Anglican liturgy, "You work the words and the words work you." It's an experiential spirituality rather than a dogmatic one. It's a thin place for me ... and my family too.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pilgrimage ... Part 1

I've been offline for a couple of weeks now as beloved husband and I took our two daughters to England for a long overdue vacation. Of course, to go to England as an Episcopalian is more than a vacation ... it's a pilgrimage of sorts back to your Anglican roots.

As for me, I would have been in every cathedral and church I could find. Of course, that wasn't going to fly with our 12 and 8 year old daughters. So we negotiated ... some cathedrals ... some "fun stuff" ... and I think we found a balance. Even in going to the cathedrals, we found the tours to be pretty "kid friendly" overall. Of course, the cathedrals and abbeys with Roman connections or ties to Harry Potter in any way made these buildings more "cool" to our kids than we had anticipated. So places like Lacock Abbey (below) where the classroom scenes from Hogwarts were filmed suddenly became interesting!

I'm really not an "ecclesiastical geek" per se, but I have found through my travels that if you want to know a people, go to where they feed their spiritual lives. Going to historic sites grounded in nationalistic history (castles, manor houses, monuments and the like) are all well and fine and will teach you much about the people. But to really know them, visit their worship sites. Granted, I've only really tested this theory of mine in churches; however, I suspect if I visit a place where another faith is in the majority, I would find a similar phenomenon. I sense this is because where people worship speaks to the deeper needs and desires of the people, needs which transcend familial or nationalistic ties. It doesn't mean the familial and nationalistic bonds aren't in churches (just look at family names on stained glass windows or memorial plaques honoring war dead), but there's more going on in churches beyond those ties.

The architecture and decor of worship sites encompass a greater scope of the human experience. It feels like the whole of humanity laid before God ... the famous and the heroic, the unknown and the anonymous. I think the writer of Sirach (44.3 - 9) sums it up well:
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor; those who gave counsel because they were intelligent; those who spoke in prophetic oracles; those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people's lore; they were wise in their words of instruction; those who composed musical tunes, or put verses in writing; rich men endowed with resources, living peacefully in their homes-- all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times. Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them.
These places I've found are what the Celtic people describe as "thin places," places where God's presence is palpable. Sometimes a "thin place" is an internal experience based on a person's spiritual state ... sometimes it's a physical location like the ford of the Jabbok when Jacob wrestles with the angel in Genesis 32.

I found several "thin places" for me on this trip and often in unexpected places. And places which had felt "thin" on my last trip 20 years ago, really didn't feel that way this time. Westminster Abbey was one of those places where I had felt much awe and beauty 20 years ago, but this time it felt more like a museum than a spiritual space. St. Paul's was another story. More on that later ...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Parable of the Good Samaritan

I must confess I have a “love/hate” relationship with the parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable is unique to the Gospel of Luke and falls in the section called the “traveling narrative” which takes Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem where he will be crucified. I took a class on the parables in seminary and I love the simplicity of the story and the surprise element of the outsider being the one who is commended for his appropriate and merciful response. What I hate about this story is how we tend to warp and twist it into an unrealistic image of what appropriate care for the neighbor is. The “Good Samaritan” becomes a guilt trip for many who feel they just haven’t done enough to render aid to someone in trouble. But look again at the story and see what it says, and what it doesn't say.

A certain unnamed man went down to Jericho from Jerusalem. This man is attacked and robbed – he was mugged and left to die. A priest of the temple and a Levite, one who assists in the temple, come upon this unfortunate victim, but pass him by. They are on the way to Jerusalem, most likely to work in the temple offering sacrifice. Then we hear a Samaritan (an outsider, a despised one) comes upon the man and is moved with compassion. In the Greek, it literally says “moved in his bowels” or “moved in his gut.” The Greek speaking peoples believed that thinking was done in the heart, and emotions and feelings were in the gut. Personally, I think they have this right. I don’t know about you, but when I’m upset or stressed out, it goes straight to my gut! So the Samaritan was moved in his guts with compassion. He then binds up the man’s wounds and uses oil and wine to clean them. Ironically, oil and wine are also offered in the temple as part of the sacrificial ritual – the priest and the Levite would handle the same substances when they arrived in Jerusalem. Yet the Samaritan uses the oil and wine as a compassionate offering of care for a wounded man. The Samaritan then takes the man to an inn, a safe place, and stays the night with him. The next morning, the Samaritan leaves and agrees with the innkeeper to settle up the remaining bill when he returned.

So did the Samaritan do anything extraordinary? Anything outside the bounds of what a reasonable person could do? Not really. He saw an injured person, had compassion on him, rendered the aid he could (not above and beyond his ability), and then he moved on. Was he mildly inconvenienced? Perhaps. He might not have planned on an extra night in an inn. He obviously had the ability to pay for the man’s care, and did so as a generous gesture. But what he did was not super-human in any way. In fact, it was incredibly human because he recognized the humanity of the other in the wounded man.

This past week, I have made several pastoral calls – both in person and on the phone. I’ve noticed that some of the members of the congregation are really suffering from “compassion fatigue.” We have some amazingly compassionate people, but some of them have been pulled into situations that are literally sucking the life out of them. Many times, “compassion fatigue” is the result of treating a condition as if it were a problem, and there's a difference between them. A problem has one or more possible solutions which, when applied to the problem, make the problem go away. Problems have an ending. If I get an ear infection, that’s a problem. With the proper application of antibiotics, the problem goes away. Savvy?

Conditions, on the other hand, do not have an ending. They are just what “is.” As my grandmother used to say, “What cannot be cured, must be endured.” Conditions can be things like addiction, poverty, chronic illness, or mental illness. Conditions can look like problems. In fact, people with conditions seem to have an endless array of problems. They often have a pattern of living from crisis to crisis. The problems they encounter are not really problems; instead, they are symptoms of an underlying condition. You’ll know if you’re dealing with a condition if, once you “solve” one problem for these folks, another “problem” seems to crop up. When we work with people who have an underlying condition which precipitates these recurrent problems, and we fail to see the underlying condition, we get pulled into their cycle of endless neediness. In fact, in many cases, rendering continuous aid to folks with conditions we cannot “fix” steps across the boundary of rendering aid and becomes enabling behavior. This leads to compassion fatigue, burn-out, resentment, anger, and frustration on the part of the care givers.

This is where I think the Good Samaritan’s pattern of behavior can be a healthy model of ministry for us. He was moved with compassion, he did what he could, and then he moved on. I think that last step is the key – he moved on. He did not stick around to get caught up in more than he could reasonably handle. He didn’t get sucked into being the man’s confessor or therapist – he did what he could do and moved on.

God does not call us to do more than we can. It is easy to mistake a condition for a problem – it’s happened to me on more than one occasion. Many times, treating conditions is way beyond our abilities. Treating conditions requires that those who have the condition are willing to be healed. It’s a human tragedy that not everyone wants to get well, but it is a fact of our broken world. Ultimately, only God can heal. When we try to step beyond our abilities and refuse to move on, we are stepping into God's role and have forgotten that God is God, and we are not.

God does not call us to exhaust every ounce of compassionate energy on situations which are spiritual “black holes” of neediness. When we do, we become compassion fatigued and we then do not have the energy or ability to render aid to another who needs it and will benefit from it. Sometimes, the most compassionate thing we can do is say, “No, I’m sorry, I cannot help.” Some folks call that “tough love,” but it’s really ending enabling behavior. God doesn’t want us to be enablers – God wants us to be healers. Saying “No” to someone may actually be the catalyst for them to seek healing for their underlying condition.

Doing what we can and then moving on is the healthy pattern for ministry shown to us by the Good Samaritan. When we find ourselves pulled into another’s condition and its endless problems, it is up to us to draw the boundary line of what is an appropriate response. Do what you can, and then move on. The Good Samaritan knows his limits and stays within them. We are called to “go and do likewise.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Original Sin

I often find myself in conversation with people who think that not only is Church is irrelevant, but that Sin is just some guilt trip being foisted on "mindless" people by the Church. Their argument continues along the lines of the "human potential for enlightenment" being the key answer to all of our social "problems" (i.e. Sin). As humanity moves towards a more enlightened state, we will naturally evolve our way into being a better society. Sounds good, in theory.

But I wonder why humanity seems to be unable or incapable of evolving this enlightened state? Based on our society's propensity for repeating the same mistakes, you would have thought we might have learned something by now - at least to evolve just a little.

Consider the eerie parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. In both conflicts, our government leaders selectively heard what they wanted to hear and, when facts didn't support their claims, they resorted to outright lies to justify war. In Vietnam it was the fabrication of the Gulf of Tonkin affair, in Iraq it was WMDs. Sins of violence and war can be traced all the way back to the Bible and beyond. How ironic is it that we who are created in the image of God are the only ones who make war? If we can evolve our way to enlightenment, wouldn't the self-interest of our own self-preservation have made that happen by now??!!

Original Sin is our self-centered, narcissistic desire to be god rather than humbling ourselves to the one true God. We would rather call the shots and do our own thing. Our inherent selfish narcissism doesn't want our motives or reasons called into question because any questioning we perceive as a personal attack on us. Our natural tendency is to justify ourselves any way we can rather than admit we are wrong because admitting we are wrong is admitting we are not god.

The Church (note the capital "C" - the universal Church not a particular congregation) was given the "antidote" to Original Sin. It is confession (rooted in the divine gift of humility), repentance (the means to turn back to God) and absolution (the assurance of God's complete forgiveness). This "antidote" isn't permanent, but it is available to us whenever we need it - and we need it regularly.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

What a long strange trip it's been ...

Well, it's official - I'm no longer "Almost Reverend" ... "the reverend is in the house!" I was ordained along with two other amazing gentlemen, Tim Grayson and Dion Thompson, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore today.

What an amazing service! It was classic Anglican "smells, bells and yells" - and an awesome site it was. Our daughters were torchbearers and our oldest got to ring the sanctus bell during the prayer of consecration. They handled the incense during the Gospel procession like old pros, even though it was their first exposure "up close and personal" to the smoke.

It really struck me how much our daughters prepared me for this day. Not just from their support and patience as I sweated out the many exegetical papers and the dreaded General Ordination Exams. It was more than that. It was the reality that being a parent taught me the meaning of being a "servant to all." Parenthood taught me to put myself aside for the sake and welfare of another. It hasn't been easy and I can't say I've always been "super mom" who suppresses all her identity for the sake of her children (and I'm not sure that's healthy anyway). But there is something in learning how to move at a different rhythm when your life revolves around having a baby, then a toddler, then a pre-schooler, then an elementary schooler, and now (for our oldest) a middle-schooler.

It's learning to be present rather than rushing to whatever comes next. It's learning that now is the most real and precious thing God gives us. It's getting outside my own head to give myself to something outside myself and not knowing quite how it will all turn out, but placing my trust in God that it will turn out ok.

I learned this from our children and I'll be a better deacon (and eventually priest) for it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sin of War

Our family watched the annual Memorial Day concert in Washington DC last night on TV. Each year since the beginning of the Iraq War, it has become harder and harder for me to watch this. I now cry through most of it, and so does Beloved Husband. Our girls watched it with us this year and our 12 year old daughter cried too. Too many young lives maimed and killed in a war which is eerily reminiscent of my childhood.

In 1965, satirist and mathematician Tom Lehrer released his album That Was The Year That Was with a song entitled Send the Marines. He introduced the song as follows:

"What with President Johnson practicing 'escalatio' on the Vietnamese and then the Dominican crisis on top of that it has been a nervous year and people have begun to feel like a Christian Scientist with an appendicitis. Fortunately in times of crisis just like this, America always has this number one instrument of diplomacy to fall back on."
Sadly, things haven't changed much, have they? Once again, our military is paying the awful price for our national diplomatic policy failures. Our volunteer military, a specialized fighting machine drawn from a limited population, keeps most of America from having to feel the sting of losing sons and daughters in battle.

As a nation, we have not universally sacrificed anything for this war. We whine about $3 a gallon gasoline but still fill up our SUVs at the pump. Compared to the rationing of food and goods in WWII which affected every American, we are sacrificing nothing. A few families have tragically sacrificed their sons and daughters and it is for them that I grieve.

In his book People of the Lie, Dr. M. Scott Peck talks about the evil of groups in his examination of the MyLai Massacre during the Vietnam War. It's a great book and I highly recommend it for people who argue that evil is some abstract idea. This book was written in 1983, and he prophetically wrote about the dangers of an all volunteer military as follows (my emphasis added):

Abandoning the concept of the citizen soldier in favor of the mercenary, we have placed ourselves in great jeopardy. Twenty years from now, when Vietnam has been largely forgotten, how easy it will be, with volunteers, to once again become involved in little foreign adventures. Such adventures will keep our military on its toes, provide it will real-life war games to test its prowess, and need not hurt or involve the average American citizen at all until it is too late.
1983 + 20 years = 2003 ... the year we attacked Iraq based on lies told to us by our president and government. In the same way, President Johnson lied to the American people about the attack on the Gulf of Tonkin (which never happened) justifying his "escalatio" on the Vietnamese and costing our country over 58,000 lives.

Things haven't changed.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The hard ones

There are always parts of ministry that are just plain ol' hard. For me, preaching, teaching, and liturgy are where I live and move and find my being. God gave me gifts and I hope, by God's grace, I'm using them to God's glory and the benefit of God's creation.

But sometimes it's just plain hard. Yesterday, I officiated at my first "solo" memorial service. One of my husband's former co-workers lost his wife to breast cancer last week. Bob and Cheryl were one of the first couples I met when I moved to Maryland 19 years ago. In the days BC (before children), the four of us would get together pretty regularly. Informal "get togethers" just seemed to happen with them. We'd get there ... then some neighbors would stop by ... then some food and wine came out ... and next thing ya know we'd have a party going on. Cheryl loved life and lived it fully.

Our lives together grew apart over time. Bob retired from the company where he and Beloved Husband worked together. We moved a bit farther away and had children which consumed our free time. We stayed in touch at Christmas with cards and newsletters.

Three weeks ago, after having some breathing difficulty, Cheryl was diagnosed with stage 4 metasticized breast cancer which had invaded her lungs. She went to the hospital immediately and spent the last 17 days of her life on a ventilator. She was upbeat and positive right up to the end. She went to sleep on Tuesday night in the ICU and did not wake up. She was 58 years old.

As a gift to an old friend, I officiated at her memorial service. I've done funerals before, but this was personal ... and very hard. Only by grace and the prayers of many who knew where I was in that moment did I not break down and lose it. My heart was racing ... I think God cranked the adrenaline to keep me going. Afterwards, to help Bob with logistics, I took possession of Cheryl's cremains, the legal documents, the guest book and the cards. I'll take them to Bob tomorrow. But just for today, Cheryl is with me at our house.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Life really is like a box of chocolates...

I never really understood the hoopla about the movie Forrest Gump. It seemed like a Tom Hanks rehash of Peter Sellers in Being There to me. But that "Life is like a box of chocolates" phrase has some traction. God always has something in the box to surprise you.

I just graduated last Friday from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg with my Masters of Divinity degree. I guess the reason I'm blogging right now is because I feel like I should be writing a paper or something ... I'm sure I'll get over that. The graduation was great, the best part of it was having my husband, children, parents and two of my close dear clergy friends there. When I opened up the program, though, I saw my name listed under Senior Honors for New Testament studies. That totally caught me off guard! It certainly was a surprise to learn that our faculty nominated me for this honor ... quite humbling in fact! Guess I'll have to keep up with the Greek now to walk the talk!

Yesterday, my husband and I spent the day at the America's Cup polo match in Leesburg VA. Now I grew up in California and the areas I lived in weren't known for horses or horse events, so this isn't part of my history. But, beloved husband's company cosponsored the America's Cup, so off we went to the polo match. We had a good time and I had the chance to not only see beloved's boss, who is from England and helped me understand all this polo stuff, but also got to meet the boss's "mum" who was over for a visit. Turns out, boss is from Canterbury - the closest thing we Anglican's have to Rome. Mum insisted that we visit her in Canterbury and we told her we wanted to go there. She quite "matter-of-factly" told my husband, "Splendid! And when you come I'll introduce you to the Archbishop." HUH?! Seems she works with the Archbishop of Canterbury and, if he's in town, she'd like to introduce us. Stay tuned ... could be a Forrest Gump moment ...

And now it's Mother's Day and I spent the morning worshiping with the mission congregation I've been appointed to serve. It was good, they are a very caring group, and I'm so blessed to be going there. God is good ... all the time. We're off to go visit my mom and dad in a few minutes, not only to celebrate Mother's Day, but also to celebrate Dad's 70th birthday. Carpe diem.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Goading the rhino

I had the great fortune of sitting next to Chip Lee+ at our diocesan convention this weekend. I can't speculate on whether he feels the same about sitting next to me or not, but that's not my issue. Chip+ has been in Western Maryland's Garrett County for many years and is one of our more technical clerics. He designed the web page for the county (see Episcopal Church in Garrett County) and has a sound studio in his home where he records both Morning and Evening Prayer (available through aforementioned web site). He's a true "idoloclast" - smashing the vestiges of idols where 'ere he goes. Oh yeah, and he won the Bishop's Award for Outstanding Clergy Leadership.

Chip+ gave me the gift of laughter this weekend and a great saying, which he claims is overused, but I beg to differ. I'd like to think it's ubiquitous ... kinda like the "right hand of God" ... but not that reverent. His saying is an observation about the Church:
Challenging the Church is like goading a Rhino. Getting it pissed off is the easy part. Getting it to change direction once it's charging is another thing altogether.
As I learned this weekend, goading a rhino doesn't even take any special talents. Any pastor or priest can goad the rhino without even knowing they are doing it. I haven't even arrived at my first call yet and it seems I've already done it ... even though I didn't know it. After many phone calls later to sooth raw nerves and calm down the flurry of e-mails which have made it look like World War III is about to erupt in cyberspace, I think the rhino stopped charging ... I think ... maybe ... maybe it's just turning around to see where I'm hiding. Oy!

Friday, April 27, 2007

St. Something-Or-Other

It's now official (except I'm still waiting for paperwork to sign), that my first call assignment is to be the new vicar of a mission church in Frederick County, MD! The congregation is known as The Gathering and was launched about 8 years ago in Walkersville, MD. They've been through some huge changes in the past year and have been without a priest since last August. They are restarting the mission in the Buckeystown/Urbana area and worshiping at the Bishop Claggett Center in Buckeystown MD.

So I'm very excited about the future prospects for this mission "reboot" and we have a lot of work to do, but it's good stuff with great people. St. Francis of Assisi said, "God gave me brothers and sisters" and this community is truly a gift from God.

But it's also with a heavy heart that I leave my internship site this Sunday. St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in Hancock MD has been my spiritual home for the past two academic years. Beautiful and caring community with a really amazing rector who trusted me to do things that a lot of clergy might not have. Of course, Allan+ has impeccable taste too - he's married to my dear friend and mentor, Anne+ who is the rector of my home congregation, St. Mark's Episcopal in Lappans, MD. I'll return to St. Mark's for just a few weeks before going to The Gathering. Two farewells in the same month ... I'm buying a stockpile of Kleenex.

My youngest daughter (who according to her grandfather has the "explainer gene") explained how all of this change will work out for me, even if she couldn't remember the name of the new congregation. She said, "Now you belong to three churches Mom." When I asked her what she meant, she replied, "Well, some of you belongs to St. Thomas' and some of you belongs to St. Mark's and now some of you belongs to ... um ... St. Something-Or-Other."

Let's hear it for "St. Something-Or-Other!" God knows who she meant.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wisdom in the face of tragedy

I'm a Hokie wife. It's been a hard week. There is no way to "make sense" of the senseless tragedy that happened at Virginia Tech this week. God is not absent. God grieves with us - the one who lost His only Son knows our grief and suffering. God is not absent - God is in the community that comes together to care for each other.

Poet and priest John Donne, eloquently addressed this in his Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris in 1623. Most know this meditation for it's famous line "send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." But there is more to his meditation, and it is fitting to quote the substance of it.

"Now, this bell tolling softly for another, says to me: Thou must die."

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all.

When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member.

And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest.

If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is.

The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours.

Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it.

Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

From "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" (1623), XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming ...

It does seem like the first full week of the Easter season is like going back to our regularly scheduled programming, doesn't it? For those of us who are highly involved in the church, whether lay or ordained, Holy Week seems to put us in a form of "suspended animation" where the rhythm of our lives is disrupted - even if only for a brief intense few days.

But now we're back. Back to the regular routine of school and work, back to household chores (and boy did that laundry pile get out of control last week!), back to writing papers to finish up that pesky M.Div. so I can get ordained.

St. Paul says, "So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away– look, what is new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5.17). But what happens when Easter feels like a resurrection back to the same life rather than something totally different?

For me, this is the trap of looking for some miraculous mountaintop or lightening bolt kind of experience to affirm my faith in Christ. I don't know of a time when I wasn't a Christian. Sure, I've had conversions (note that's plural!) along my journey, but the vast majority of the time, my call is to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I'll admit, finding God's presence in the pile of dirty laundry is a challenge; however, I learned a lot from an obscure monk named Brother Lawrence. In a little book entitled, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence was interviewed by Joseph de Beaufort, a counsel to the Archbishop of Paris. These conversations were recorded and published in this small book in 1691 (you can print a copy from the link above).

Brother Lawrence's aim was to live a life in constant conversation with God and that God's presence is in and through all things - even the most mundane tasks. Lawrence is my kind of guy - he really didn't like being assigned to work in the kitchen (cooking's not my gift either). But by setting his heart on doing everything for God, even the tasks he didn't like became a joy instead of a burden.

So I'm looking for God in the laundry room. I've no doubt God is there.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Stations of the Cross - Lent 2007

I've just finished the most amazing Lenten project with the youth of St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in Hancock, MD. The youth created a set of Stations of the Cross to be used by the church during Holy Week. Click the image below and you'll see them on Picasa!
Stations of the Cross - Lent 2007

These Stations are based on those celebrated by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday 1991. They are presented here as an alternative to the traditional stations and as a way of reflecting more deeply on the Scriptural accounts of Christ's passion. To get the prayers and readings, visit the USCCB web site.

Playing the Friday Five - Holy Week, Batman!

ReverendMother at RevGalBlogPals writes:

Well, the Clergy Superbowl is almost upon us, and so, I offer up this Friday Five (with apologies for the irreverent title):

1. Will this Sunday be Palms only, Passion only, or hyphenated?
At St. Thomas' Episcopal Parish, Hancock, MD
Blessing of the Palms and Holy Eucharist Rite I at 7:30 am
The Liturgy of the Palm Sunday and Holy Eucharist Rite II at 10:00 am with Dramatic Reading of the Passion According to St. Luke.

We can't just do anything without a sufficiently long title in the Episcopal Church! I've been assigned the role of Jesus for the dramatic reading - pretty out-of-the-box for rural Western Maryland!
2. Maundy Thursday Footwashing: Discuss.
Yes, we do it in a limited way at my internship site. The clergy (and "almost clergy") will wash the feet of two members of the congregation.

I remember the first time my children did this, though, at another church. Our oldest daughter was 8 and the youngest 4. They insisted on washing each other's feet. The "mom" in me gave them the short "talk" about how this was serious and not to mess around up there. Well, they didn't ... and took it very serious and reverently - brought tears to my eyes.
3. Share a particularly meaningful Good Friday worship experience.
Veneration of the Cross has always been a very powerful thing for me. Yes, that pegs me as an Anglo-Catholic type - guilty as charged!
4. Easter Sunrise Services--choose one:
a) "Resurrection tradition par excellence!"
b) "Eh. As long as it's sunrise with coffee, I can live with it."
c) "[Yawn] Can't Jesus stay in the tomb just five more minutes, Mom?!?"
I'd vote (b) if we did sunrise services - but we don't. We follow the regular Sunday schedule ... but for me that means getting up and on the road at 6:30 am anyway to make it to Hancock MD by 7:30!
5. Complete this sentence: It just isn't Easter without...
Alleluias! all over the place ...
Bonus: Any Easter Vigil aficionados out there? Please share.
Most definitely! Easter Vigil was reintroduced in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and I love it!! Last year, I went to the Easter Vigil at Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church (which last year was one week later). I got there at 9 pm ... and the place was PACKED. At 11:55, all the candles were extinguished and the nave was in total darkness - until the curtain over the Royal Gates was pulled back to show the light on the altar from which everyone's candles would be lit. With candles lit, we processed out chanting "Christ has risen from the dead!" (in Greek, of course ... so thankful that I learned this from the Lutherans!). We went out on the front lawn for a short reading of the resurrection Gospel narrative - and then they rang the bells and we chanted some more. Then back into the church for the Eucharist. I didn't get home until 3 am. Because of that awesome and mystery filled experience, I have little patience for Episcopalians who whine about how loooooong the Easter Vigil services is! When they do, I usually respond, "Really? You ought to join me for the Orthodox Vigil ... it lasts all night with a party until dawn!" I don't usually get any takers on that.

On Easter Tuesday, our diocesan bishop will retire, and his last Easter Vigil will be at St. John's Episcopal in Hagerstown. I get to be subdeacon (woo hoo!) ... for the last time before I'm ordained in June.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Archbishop Venables and works righteousness

I was sent this article from Episcopal Life this morning:

SOUTHERN CONE: Archbishop Venables responds to House of Bishops resolutions

For those of you who don't know Archbishop Venables, it will be quite clear from reading his response to the HOB resolutions that he is very conservative and has a literalist hermeneutic of Biblical interpretation. He has also been involved with the group of African bishops, led by Archbishop Peter Akinola, who have continued to violate diocesan boundaries under the guise of providing "pastoral oversight" to Episcopal congregations who disagree with our national church (which, I might add, is also a violation of the recommendations of the Windsor Report).

What caught my eye in his response was the following quote:
"We are concerned because the Church has always taught and understood that the content of belief and behaviour impacts salvation."
So the "content of belief and behaviour [emphasis added]" impacts salvation? Perhaps I've been studying at a Lutheran seminary too long or perhaps because I have always understood the Anglican Church as being of a reformed tradition, but doesn't this talk of our behaviour impacting our salvation smack of works righteousness theology? What happened to Jesus dying "once for all" as a "full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world?" (BCP, p. 334)

We are called as Christians to repentance and amendment of life, but not as a precondition to our salvation! "For all sinned and lack the glory of God" (Rom. 3.23) - including Archbishop Venables. If he can show me exactly where the Holy Scriptures list a hierarchy of which sins are worse than others in the eyes of God and which are going to impede my salvation, I'd love to see it.

Last time I read our Holy Eucharist Rite I service, it said:
"by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we, and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins ..." (BCP, p. 335)
Hmmm, no mention of our "behaviour" there.

Monday, March 26, 2007

War and faith

Seems like a weird combination doesn't it? I'm taking a course called "Religion in America" at Gettysburg Seminary this semester. Today we took a "field trip" ... literally ... out to the Virginia monument on the Gettysburg Battlefield. I must admit, as a Californian the whole Civil War thing seemed really remote to me growing up - just a bunch of names I had to memorize for my American History class in high school so I could pass the test.

But now, here I am, going to seminary in the middle of this Civil War battlefield. Tour buses literally drive right through the campus (which means we have to be on our best behavior when trying to parse Greek verbs when we're sitting outside!).

So our class went out to the Virginia monument on Seminary Ridge today - just south of the campus (that's General Robert E. Lee on his horse Traveler on the top of the monument). The whole of Seminary Ridge is the former Confederate line. Driving down it, you come upon monument after monument to the various Confederate Army units. When you look out over the battlefield facing the direction Gen. Lee is facing, you can see Cemetery Ridge and all of the monuments to the Union Army's units.

Stanley Hauerwas was our guest lecturer this year at the Luther Colloquy. He spoke about war and offered his observations that the Civil War was a theological war insofar as the deaths of so many soldiers were wrapped in sacrificial imagery for a glorious cause. Ever since the Civil War, the U.S. has cast every conflict in the language and imagery of glorious sacrifice. Instead of trusting in the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice, once for all, we repeatedly sacrifice our youth on the altar of war.

It's a strange irony that it was the Confederacy who lined up along Seminary Ridge (they actually took over the seminary and used the cupola on our library as a command center). The losing side of the War and this battle were lined up with a seminary which prepares ministers for Christ's church. The slaughtered alongside the Crucified. Something to ponder going into Holy Week.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The collective sigh of relief

After wrestling with God for 24 years, 2 years of discernment and 3 years of seminary training, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Maryland gave me their collective "thumbs up" to be ordained in June. I'm soooooo excited to finally get to this point, but there is some trepidation about stepping through that doorway. What will lie beyond it? I'm not sure. I'm in conversation with my bishop and a congregation about a call, but I can't say anything until we have a contract in place (so it's "shhhhhh" for now).

I do have mixed feelings about moving on. I was online yesterday with our interns from LTSG and they were talking about how it will be hard to leave their internship sites, but they are looking forward to coming back to seminary and seeing everyone again. It then became very real to me that these wonderful people I entered seminary with (and struggled through Greek with!) are going back next year ... but I won't be there with them. The reality that I won't be there is sinking in ... and I'm sad about that.

How do you say "good-bye" when you don't get a chance to? Saying "good-bye" is the part of ministry that is necessary ... but it's not easy. How do you do it gracefully?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sie spracht die HOB

The House of Bishops has finished their meeting at Camp Allen and I, for one, salute them. After months of hand wringing over what our church would do post-Windsor, post-General Convention '06, post-Dromantine, post-Dar Es Salaam, we now have a statement that clearly says we are not willing to sacrifice the freedom of the generous orthodoxy which has characterized the Anglican way for some 500 years. Requiring the Episcopal Church to enact a "Primatial Pastoral Scheme" which would put our Church under the authority of a board made up dominantly of foreign bishops is absurd. No other church has ever been asked to submit to this kind of foreign oversight before and it is not the Anglican way.

Most certainly, the more conservative members of our Church need alternate pastoral oversight; however, we can, and should, work this through internally. I do not believe our PB is unreasonable and she is aware that there are those who cannot accept her leadership either because of her theology or her gender. We do not need the incursion of foreign bishops deciding what we should or should not do in the American context. What might that look like if we demanded a "Primatial Pastoral Scheme" be put into place for the GLBT community persecuted in the Church of Nigeria? Can you imagine Archbishop Akinola accepting that for the Nigerian church? How about we nominate +Gene Robinson to chair that "Pastoral Scheme?" Wouldn't that be received well!

We continue to pray for our church and its leaders. Thankfully, there is a line in the sand they are not willing to cross.