Thursday, October 23, 2008

What really matters

I'm sensing our country is in election fatigue. Not just our candidates, but the whole of the American people. It seems like election cycles are longer and longer and by the time election day arrives, we all just want to get it over with.

It won't be much of a surprise for readers of this blog, but as "private citizen Scarborough," I'm backing Barack Obama. I joined Clergy for Obama and they published my latest post (check it out here). It is a bit strange being clergy. I now have to be very careful to be clear that who I back is not an endorsement of any church or congregation. I also am clear that I must be a pastor and priest to everyone regardless of political affiliation.

Too many times, including in this election, the rhetoric ramps up to be very negative and personally destructive. This troubles me greatly. I believe in passionately debating ideas, but I do not support the politics of personal destruction that attempts to demonize the opposition. I think part of our witness as Christians is to disagree without being disagreeable. Hate speach, ad hominem attacks, and self-righteous judgmentalism is not of God and we have to speak out against these tactics.

This election is very important, but there are things more important. I learned this morning as I was walking my daughter to the corner to meet her friends to walk to school that a neighbor of ours was killed last night. Mark Bremer lived down the street from me. He was a Frederick City police officer and was killed in a single car crash as he tried to pull over a vehicle who was evading him. He died as a result of his injuries. He leaves behind a wife and three small children. He was 39 years old ... and from the sign in his front yard, he was supporting John McCain.

Even though I barely knew him (we literally just met 2 weeks ago), I am heartbroken for his wife and family. Mark and I may have been on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but Mark was my brother in Christ and his death is a tragedy. Pray for the Bremer family.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Changing of the names

Well, with the new call to be the part-time interim rector at St. Luke's and a possible second call to be a part-time visitation pastor for a Methodist congregation, it looks like the Mercenary Presbyter moniker will have to be shelved. It's certainly more preferable to have a call than keep a blog name ... so here we go.

It's not original, but Reverend Mom seems to fit. The new pic is of me and our youngest daughter on the top (yes top) of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. My cousin, Maj. Gen. John Milne (ret.), is the Registrar of St. Paul's. He gave us the coolest tour of the Cathedral last summer. He had the girls undivided attention as we went up the "Harry Potter staircase," into the library, and the Grand Model (built by Sir Christopher Wren to show off what his cathedral would look like), the crypt, and finally the Whispering Gallery where he let us go up to the very top of the Cathedral. He promised a view that was "much better than the London Eye" and he was absolutely right.

Tomorrow I head down to St. Luke's again to preach on the King's Son's Wedding feast parable from Matthew 22. The Great Banquet in Luke is a much easier one of grace, but this one is full of judgment ... weeping and gnashing of teeth and stuff. It's not comfortable stuff. I have been reading Robert Farrar Capon's commentary Kingdom, Grace and Judgment: Paradox, Vindication and Outrage in the Parables of Jesus and his take on this parable. I find this to be one of the best commentaries as it isn't full of $100 theological terms and he is a pretty funny guy. His take is that judgment is always wrapped in grace in the parables. The judgment falls on those who reject the invitation to the banquet initially. The judgment of the guest without the wedding robe is another judgment of someone who got into the party, but still wanted to party on his own terms (he didn't want to put on the garment ... which was likely provided as all the riff-raff were pulled off the street just as they were). The party is on God's terms, not ours. Our only obligation is to say "yes" and join the bunch ... which includes people who we probably wouldn't like or who would be an embarrassment to us. We don't get into the party by our own merits ... only by God dragging us in by our earlobes. That's grace.

Monday, October 6, 2008


I get a kick out of how we in the church come up with obscure titles for people's positions. I mean, people understand "facilities maintenance" so why do we call that person a "sexton?" Huh? Or "rector" for the pastor or "curate" for the assisting pastor. I think we Episcopalians must have some underlying need to elevate the magnificence of things by giving them obscure names.

As of yesterday, I have been called to be the Interim Rector of St. Luke's on Carey Street in southwest Baltimore. As Interim Rector I'm there to keep the spiritual ship of state afloat, so to speak, as they seek a permanent rector. The plan is to have someone at St. Luke's 1/3 time and also be working as an urban missioner for the diocese 2/3 time.

I preached and presided at yesterday's Holy Eucharist. Speaking of obscure words for things ... Eucharist means "Thanksgiving" and I'm not sure why we call our service "Holy Eucharist" at all. Why not just "Holy Communion?" That's what most Christian churches call it. You could go with "Holy Thanksgiving" ... but that might imply we're serving turkey and the trimmings as part of the service. Hmmm ... there might be a truth in advertising issue with that option. "Holy Communion" works for me.

I'm looking forward to working with the folks there for however long I'm there. Our whole family went down to the service and our girls just jumped right into the activities with the Sunday School. It was lively ... very lively. The kids are awesome. Andre, the Senior Warden, showed me some pictures of the after school program and the poetry slams on the third Fridays in the Crypt. Andre's working to get access to the web site so they can upload the pictures and update the site. I'd like to get some high res pictures of the stained glass in the church and put a virtual tour on the web site too.
Yeah Andre, I know you're reading this and if I hadn't told you my past life as a "web geek," well now you know! :-D
Austin Jones, the Treasurer of St. Luke's (ok, fair enough - we at least call the treasurer a treasurer), gave my husband the copy of St. Luke's 100th anniversary history booklet. This congregation has a remarkable history as one of the first Oxford Movement Anglo-Catholic parishes in Maryland (back when more Puritan minded Bishops labeled the Catholic appointments in this church as "papal abominations"). One of the first communities of nuns, the Sisterhood of the Good Shepherd, was attached to St. Luke's back in 1863, and St. Luke's started four missions in the diocese: St. Mary the Virgin in Franklintown, Holy Cross on Frederick Road (the suburbs back then), Chapel of the Nativity on Pratt & Oregon Streets, and St. Stephen the Martyr at North and Warwick Avenues. St. Luke's has a long tradition of having parochial schools and supporting education - which is reflected in today's ministry of after school tutoring to the neighborhood children. There is a holy history of Christ's presence here and a challenge to bring it into the future for the community around the church.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Where do you place your trust?

I must say this election season is the weirdest one I've ever experienced ... evah! McCain runs out of money in the primaries ... then comes back ... then picks a total unknown for VP running mate ... then the banking crisis hits ... debates are off ... debates are on ... bailout in the works ... bailout tanks ... surreal interviews with a VP candidate.

Can I take a break, go down the rabbit hole and have some tea with the Mad Hatter and Alice? Please??

Unfortunately, the anxiety which was already present in our society has reached fever pitch. I just finished reading Edwin Friedman's last book, Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. I highly recommend it for anyone in a leadership position (hint, all parents are in a leadership role with kids ... get the book!). Friedman talks about the emotional processes and symptomatic behaviors of highly anxious systems. Whether it's an anxious family, an anxious congregation, or an anxious country ... behaviors in those anxious systems are very similar.

Anxious systems seek to avoid pain to the extent that their leaders will run from anything which may cause pain in the system. The leaders will also adapt their functioning to the most immature member in the group. Whether it's a parent who caves in to their overindulged child, a pastor who gives in to a member who threatens to cut their pledge if the pastor doesn't do what they want, or a president who tries to push through a quick fix to cover up the failed policies of his administration - they all exhibit highly anxious reactive behaviors.

The first thing we need to do to combat this whole financial crisis is to calm down. Yeah, sounds like an easy platitude. But I'm entirely serious - everyone needs to calm down. Take a breath and slow down to get some perspective. I'm personally glad to see the congress battling this back and forth rather than cave with a quick fix that could likely do more harm than good.

Will there be pain in the short run? Yes. But some short term pain to produces a long term solution that will work is worth it. While I think Phil Gramm's characterization of the American people as a "nation of whiners" is wrong, I do believe that we have become a nation paralyzed by fear of pain and the loss of security. Friedman says fear of pain and fears around our security have stifled the creative spirit.

Our early Christian brothers and sisters were not paralyzed by fears around security and pain. They lived in a very precarious time where starvation, disease and death were everyday occurrences. They spread the Gospel even in the face of persecution and possible death. Just imagine if Paul had been as worried about his own personal security as we are. Do you think he would have planted so many churches? Sure, he probably would have lived a longer life than he did (he was beheaded in Rome for being a Christian), but would you be a Christian if he had taken the safe route?

I think our fears and our worship of security are false idols. We worship them instead of God. We let our anxieties control our decisions rather than trusting God's plans and purposes. I have observed that some of the most anxious people are those who are living on the edge - maxed out on their credit cards, living in a home with a mortgage payment they really can't afford, trying to live way beyond their means, one paycheck away from disaster. Who do they trust? Who do you trust?

I think this financial crisis is a wake up call for people of faith. Where have I been placing my trust? Has it been in my ability to accumulate the stuff a consumerist society says I must have? Has it been in my ability to earn a lot of money? Has it been through buying a home I really can't afford but makes me look prestigious? All of these are forms of idolatry - a sin of misplaced trust.

It's time to reexamine our priorities and be honest about whether or not we have put our trust in the wrong things. The good news is Jesus Christ gives us a pathway to repent and return to the LORD.