Thursday, December 3, 2009

Introspection and wallpaper

OK, I admit it, this is a totally random posting. I've found that boring repetitious activity is good for thinking ... and just for zoning out. I chose the latter when I decided to take the remainder of the Thanksgiving weekend and strip the wallpaper from our master bathroom. It took the help of our youngest daughter and my parents to finish the job in two days (it's a pretty big room).

I've made a pact with my beloved husband: if I ever get the "brilliant" idea to wallpaper a room again, he's to lock me in it until the feeling passes.

There ... it's in writing. All that's left is to notarize it!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What is Truth?

Christ the King Sunday is this coming Sunday. It's like New Year's Eve in the Church ... except we don't play Auld Lang Syne as the closing hymn. The following Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent and a new church year (Year C for those of you following the Lectionary's three-year cycle of Scripture readings).

Speaking of the Lectionary, there's something interesting in how the Sunday Gospel readings are structured from All Saints Day to Christ the King Sunday. We travel back to Holy Week for the Sundays between these two festivals. When we encounter Holy Week at the end of Lent in the spring, we focus intently for a seven day period on the events leading to the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's an intense seven day period and the readings focus on what happens to Jesus during this time. In the fall, we return to Holy Week but not to focus on what happens to Jesus, but rather to focus on what Jesus taught during that week. So we heard warnings about the Scribes who "devour widows" and the widow who gave her mite (her "whole being") and the fortelling of the destruction of the Temple. These are all things Jesus said during Holy Week ... the kinds of things that push the buttons of the establishment and can get a guy crucified.

On Christ the King Sunday, we hear a portion of the reading from John 18 where Jesus is being questioned by Pontius Pilate. Some call this a "trial" but it really wasn't one. It was an interrogation into a minor matter as far as the Roman Procurator was concerned. But it was far more than Pilate or Jesus' accusers had ever imagined.

The lectionary text ends just before Pilate utters the question, "What is truth?" I plan to extend the reading to include that question ... precisely because it is the wrong question. When we fall into the trap of asking Pilate's question, "What is truth?" we can begin to believe that truth is something we can grasp - a thing to be possessed. The real question is "Who is Truth?"** and the answer to that question stands in front of Pilate - Jesus Christ is Truth. Jesus is the embodiment of the Truth of God and John tells us this at the beginning of his Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1,14)
And what is the nature of this truth? It is found in the new commandment Jesus gives his disciples:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (John 13:34-35)
Loving one another requires Christians to be in relationship - not just with other Christians, but with the whole world. When we live in loving relationships, God gives us the grace to become more honest and authentic with ourselves and others. Through the grace of honesty in relationships we come to know the Truth of God's love.

**(N.B. In the Greek, Pilate's question to Jesus in verse 38 is actually a bit more ambiguous. The Greek phrase "Ti estin alhyeia," "ti" can be translated as either "what" or "who." English Bible translations have historically rendered this as "What is truth?" but suffice it to say we cannot know for certain what Pilate intended.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

For all the saints

One of the biggest misconceptions I run into on the subject of the saints of the church concerns why we catholics invoke the names of saints in our prayers.
Note: I did not capitalized the word "catholic." In this sense it means "universal." I use the term expansively to include Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, other "flavors" of Catholics, Anglicans/Episcopalians, and the various "flavors" of the Orthodox faith who are creedal rather than confessional expressions of Christianity.
I had some folks from more Protestant traditions tell me that we catholics are idolators for "praying to the saints and not God." Others tell me they believe in the communion of saints, but that means only the community of believers on earth and does not include the dead. Some have even implied that invoking the name of a long departed saint is somehow linked to occult behavior and necromancy. So, on the occasion of All Saints Day, I thought I'd set the record straight on this.

First, we don't "pray to the saints and not to God." We pray with the saints and that is a huge difference. Take for example the prayer often called the "Hail Mary." While it is a prayer to Mary, it is not asking for Mary to do anything which she did not do while she was on earth. Check it out:

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.
The opening words are the angelic greeting Gabriel gave to Mary when he announced she was pregnant (Luke 1:28). But notice what we ask Mary to do - "pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death." We are asking Mary to pray for us, nothing outside the realm of her abilities while she was among us on earth.

In the catholic faith, we believe we are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) which include the saints on earth and the saints in heaven. We believe the ultimate reality of God falls outside the realms of space, time, and physicality. If we believe in the resurrection of the dead, why would we not believe they are able to pray for us and with us?

I think of it more like an extension of how we think of prayer amongst our faith communities. Asking a saint to pray for you and with you is no different than asking the people at your church to hold you in prayer. It's not communicating with the dead in the occult sense and it isn't praying to the saints instead of God. It's joining the saints at all times and in all places in praising God and caring for each other.

Friday, October 30, 2009

St. Mark's Episcopal's New Web site

For those of you who wonder what I do as Assistant Rector at St. Mark's ... check it out:

St. Mark's Episcopal Church

We just posted our stewardship video and have launched an SMS service that will send emergency updates to subscribers' cell phones (thing like weather related closures and last minute changes).

Friday, October 2, 2009

What can Baptism Actually DO to Us? (Part 2)

You are a Minister of the Church

The Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer is a series of questions and answers about the Christian life of faith. There is a question: “Who are the ministers of the Church?” The answer is: “The ministers of the Church are the laity, bishops, priests and deacons.” That’s right – the laity is the first order of ministers of the Church. At baptism, you become a Minister of the Church.

Too often, when we think of “ministers” in the Church, we have an immediate mental image of an ordained minister. But the truth is the people of God, the laity, are the Ministers of the Church – bishops, priests and deacons are a small subset of the larger ministry of the laity.
When we are first baptized, it may seem strange to think of yourself as a Minister of the Church and you may wonder what that means. I think it means several things:
  1. Christ has called you to show the love of God to the world in words and actions
  2. God wants you to use your unique gifts and talents to serve others
  3. The Holy Spirit wants to draw you closer to God through a focused life of prayer, worship, and study of the Scriptures
A minister is defined by a call from God to live in a particular way and allow your relationship with God to shape your life. These three elements of being a Minister of the Church distinguishes ministry from volunteering.

Differences between Volunteering and Ministry

There are some qualitative differences that distinguish volunteers from ministers. Don’t get me wrong, volunteering is very important! But volunteering is something that is not unique to Christians – even atheists can volunteer. Being a Minister of the Church is qualitatively different from being a volunteer. The following table helps point out these differences:


Ministers of the Church

Being vs. Doing

What you do

Who you are

Commitment Level



Locus of Motivation



When we think of volunteering, we usually do so in terms of what we do. We volunteer for the PTA, the Red Cross, the local library, or the fire company. Volunteering is focused on what we do, but ministry is about who we are.

In terms of commitment levels, volunteering is discretionary. We can volunteer … or not. The choice is mine. When you are baptized, you become a Minister of the Church. This is not something discretionary – it happens … it’s required. It’s a part of your “Christian DNA.” So the question isn’t whether or not you will be a Minister of the Church; rather, the questions are: “To what kind of ministry is God calling me?” “How do I live into this ministry?” and “What will the quality of this ministry be?”

Volunteering and ministry are also different in their locus of motivation. When I choose to volunteer for something, the major motivator is internal to me and usually centered in my personal feelings about what I’m doing. When the motivation is internal, we tend to stay where things are comfortable. In ministry, the motivation is centered in God’s call to you. This may mean you will be called to step outside your personal comfort zone when you engage in ministry in order to be faithful to what God needs you to do and be for the world. It may seem daunting, but trust God to give you everything you need to meet these challenges!

What gets confusing is the overlap between volunteering and ministry. For example, just because you are a Minister of the Church does not mean you cannot be a volunteer firefighter. In fact, being a volunteer firefighter may very well be where God is calling you to serve on behalf of the Kingdom! Remember, you are called to use your unique talents and gifts to care for God’s people and all of creation which may include volunteer opportunities.

How Do I Know What My Ministry Is?

Our ministry is shaped by our vocation. Frederick Buechner once described vocation as that place where your deepest joy meets the world’s greatest needs. God is calling you to use your unique talents and gifts for the sake of the world’s great needs in a way that brings you deep joy.
God works with you in this whole ministry thing. God will not ask you to do anything outside of what you were created to do. I have never had a knack with advanced mathematics or hard sciences – they are very difficult for me and they don’t give me joy. It is clear God didn’t call me to be a nuclear physicist or a cardiologist! God doesn’t work against our nature … why would God do that? God created each of us with a unique set of gifts. Our task is to discern where those gifts can be used for ministry. Discernment begins with a few key questions:

  • “What brings me deep joy?”
  • “What kinds of activities can I do for hours and not be tired?”
  • “Where to I experience extreme aversion?” (Remember, ministry is not about God punishing you by making you do stuff you hate; joy is a big part of this!)
When you’ve come up with some ideas, lift them to God in prayer and ask God’s guidance for how to use your gifts for God’s glory in the world. Ask your clergy and friends at church about where you might be effective in ministry with these skills. Listen for opportunities in your community to use your unique gifts for God’s glory too.

Don’t Forget Yourself

When you are a Minister of the Church, you are called by the Holy Spirit into a closer relationship with God through regular prayer, worship and study of the Scripture. As Ministers, we all need to make sure we are centering our life in these spiritual practices in order to grow in the knowledge and love of God and be effective in our various ministries.
Ministers of the Church must attend to their physical needs too. You need rest! God knows that. You also may need a break from a ministry you’ve been doing in order to refresh yourself. Giving yourself to the point of exhaustion is not what God wants. You are not God – you can’t run on empty!

Attending to our spiritual needs involves having a regular prayer time each day when you can focus on what God is doing in your life. Regular worship brings us into the community of faith in order to be renewed to continue our ministries. Study of the Scriptures ideally takes both communal (group study) and individual forms. As Ministers, we need to know the “Big Story” of how God has connected with people and we learn this through the study of Scriptures.
Continuing to give of yourself without attending to your spiritual and physical needs will result in burn out. When we ignore our inner spiritual life, we lose the balance in our life. We neglect not only our own needs, but the needs of our families and friends too. This can have catastrophic consequences for the minister and their family and can result in anger and bitterness towards the Church.

The Priesthood of All Believers

Being a Minister of the Church is often called the “Priesthood of All Believers.” You are a part of that priesthood by virtue of your baptism. So how will you live into your baptismal ministry? Where are you called to “seek and serve Christ in all persons?” Ask for guidance both from God and your Christian friends to help you discern where you are being called to minister to others.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What can baptism actually do TO us?**

I've been thinking about what happens when we get baptized. Those outside the Church might be really doubtful that dunking somebody in water would do anything but get them wet. In the Episcopal Church (as well as others), we see baptism as a rite of initiation into the Christian community. OK, but what happens after you've been "initiated" into the Christian community? So what?

I think our emphasis on intiation into the Christian community is important, but I think we've neglected to talk openly about the personal change that begins in baptism. It's that "C" word ... Conversion - and that's a scary thing for us. But what does conversion mean? I've been thinking about this and I believe that there are three personal changes that happen to us at our baptism:

  1. We become Ministers of the Church
  2. We become Stewards of God's good gifts
  3. We become Evangelists who tell others about the good news of God in Christ

These three things happen, whether we are aware of them or not. They are part of an ontological change in us. Ontology is one of those "hundred dollar theological terms" we use in seminary that describes the "being-ness" of each person. In other words, your core being is changed in baptism and you become a Minister, Steward and Evangelist. These three things are who you are, not what you do (althought they all will involve doing at various times).

We can think of these three ontological changes as the acquisition of a Christian DNA. Our baptism gives us the Christian DNA to become, through the power of the Spirit, an effective Minister, wise Steward, and enthusiastic Evangelist.

When we think of ourselves as Ministers, Stewards and Evangelists, we begin to see our lives in different terms and ask different questions. We no longer ask whether or not we will volunteer at church, but rather we ask "How can I minister to others?" "Where are my gifts best used for ministry?" and "What will be the quality of my ministry?" We no longer think about how we can buy that thing we want, instead we evaluate whether or not we need it and whether our resources are better spent helping others. We don't see creation as something which serves our wants, we think about how we can use our resources rightly and for the good of all. We let go of our fear about what others think of our faith and become comfortable speaking the gospel of our lives without the need to "win over" the other person (after all, God doesn't really need me as the "holy defense team" - God can handle that without me).

As I think about these three changes, I'll be posting more ... but this is enough to chew on for now.

P.S. I'm really stoked that an article I wrote and submitted to Alban Institute's Congregations Magazine is being published in the Fall. I don't normally tell people this kind of stuff 'cause it sounds like bragging and we Scandinavians consider that a mortal sin ... but I'll take my chances this time!

** I changed the title of this post based on comments through FaceBook from a fellow priest in our Mutual Ministry Program, Karen Crosby+. Thanks Karen+!

Friday, August 14, 2009

And in the end ...

I must admit I'm getting very frustrated with all the misinformation about health care reform going on right now. At the risk of being called a "socialist," I have always believed that there are certain things that should be treated as rights and not privileges. We seem to understand that when it comes to offering free public education to all young people from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Basic foundational education is not a privilege, it's a right and a literate populace is one of the preconditions to having a stable democracy.

Another thing I think is a right is basic health care for all people. There's a certain self-preservation logic to this. There are two major risks to not offering universal health care. The first is that those who do not have coverage will become an economic burden because they delay treatment of their illnesses and, when they finally do, they will use the most expensive means of procuring treatment (like showing up in the ER of the local hospital). The other major risk is a public health threat because those without access to health care can be infected with a communicable disease that can spread to the general population (think tuberculosis for one!).

The misinformation about end of life planning really galls me! These same senators who stuck their noses into the Terri Schiavo case back in 2005, now think the government should not be involved in end of life decisions. Give me a break! If Terri Schiavo had filled out an advanced directive, that whole legal battle would have never played out. You'd think our representatives would understand that reimbursing people for having a consult with their doctor on the options for end of life care would be a priority after that debacle. How sad that we have such sort memories!

As a Visitation Minister, I visit a lot of people at the end of their lives. I have had to have heart to heart talks with people about enrolling in hospice care and why they need to make the call rather than just sit in denial and wait for their adult children to do it for them. I have stacks of Five Wishes forms available for people to fill out and make their own personal beliefs and wishes known to their families. But in the end, I am not a doctor and cannot have the conversation about outcomes with respect to aggressive treatments at the end of life.

We are a death denying culture and any mention of death is used as the ultimate political weapon to strike fear into the hearts of people about any kind of health care reform. I pray that our people will see this fearmongering for what it is. I also pray for people to get real and know that, in the words of Jim Morrison, "No one here gets out alive."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

As good as it gets

There's a washing basin in front of every Buddhist temple and everyone washes their hands before entering. The one in front of Kinkaju temple in Kyoto is inscribed with the words of Buddha: "I strive for contentment."

Contentment is being at peace with yourself right where you are at this very moment. It's accepting that right where you are right now is as good as it gets. I struggle with this.

As the three of you who follow this blog know (ok, maybe there's only two of you, but you get the idea), I've been in an eight month long search process in Massachusetts. I entered other searches during the past eight months but the doors closed quickly on all the others while this one up north seemed to stay open. Well, it closed down last week when I received the news that they chose another candidate.

Yes, I can accept (at least academically) that God has a plan and it will all work out, but it doesn't feel like that right now. Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful to the folks at Calvary UMC and St. Mark's in Lappans for the opportunity to be in ministry with them! But I know my limits and trying to keep two part-time positions straight in my head and to function well with a "split life" ... well, I'm not feeling very effective at it. I spend at least a day a week playing "catch up" to try and figure out what I missed during the days I was away working at the other church. I can't keep it all straight and I've just given up trying. Maybe I could have pulled it off better back when I was 25, but I'm 45 juggling two part-time positions and trying to be a wife and mother too. It's like trying to outrun an avalanche!

My spiritual director asked me, "What if this is as good as it gets?" He knows I'm trying to find a full-time position that would have decent pay and benefits. I aspire to earn more than what I can legitimately write off as housing allowance, have full funding on my pension, health insurance, and vacation ... but it isn't happening for me (or for several other priests in our diocese who are under or unemployed).

What if this is as good as it gets? Frankly, I don't know. I know I can't hang on with multiple part-time positions indefinitely ... it's exhausting! Maybe God's trying to close doors to send me in a different direction and I'm really not called to parish ministry. Who knows? I don't, but in the meantime I'll keep praying and plugging along where I am ... and listening for options.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rainbow Camp

After a week away in MA, I've returned to the "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" of a Maryland summer. This morning, I'm heading down to Claggett Center (where Beloved Husband works) to do the morning chapel service for the kids at Rainbow Camp.

Rainbow Camp is for children and middle school youth who are either infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS. A few of the kids are HIV positive, but most have family members who have HIV/AIDS. Some know about it, and some do not. They all come up from inner-city Baltimore for a week at camp where they swim, hike, do the ropes challenge course ... everything a kid can possibly do at camp to have fun.

HIV/AIDS is not on our collective radar scope the way it was 20 years ago when it was discovered and named. Pharmaceutical companies have developed powerful anti-retroviral drugs to improve the lifespan of HIV patients and their quality of life. Some even believe that getting HIV is no big deal because of these drugs. But not so ... they are expensive drugs and the side effects are pretty severe.

The best treatment for HIV/AIDS is still prevention. Get smart - know the facts - take precautions. It's a stewardship issue - the stewardship of your body and health.

And while you're at it, say a prayer for these kids this week. They are remarkable and resilient young people!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Alban Institute - 2009-07-13 A Place that Offers Life

"Here's the hard truth. If you're a layperson in a congregation that's experiencing decline, whether the congregation thrives is ultimately up to you and the other members."

I've served in congregations where the prevailing opinion is, "We called you to be our pastor to reverse our decline in numbers." Well ... no, that's just not how it works. This article reiterates that the driving forced behind church renewal does not come from the collars, but from the people who belong to the congregation.

Look it up in the Catechism ... BCP page 855:

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops,
priests, and deacons.

Notice that "lay persons" is listed first - there's a reason!

The Alban Institute - 2009-07-13 A Place that Offers Life

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On hold

I feel like I'm living my life "on hold" right now. Back in April, I accepted a temporary (9 month) call to return to my home congregation to help them with evangelism and communications. My big project is getting a new web site created, documented and the web master trained to maintain it. It's getting there ... in pieces! In the meantime, I'm still doing the visitation work at Calvary UMC where I'll be preaching this Sunday because our senior pastor is on a mission trip starting Saturday and going all the way through next week.

I'm thankful for having the work in both of these places, but I am finding that holding down two part-time positions is far more exhausting than working one full-time position. I'm constantly shifting gears and having to reorient myself from one place to the other - sometimes on a daily basis. Like yesterday when I was at staff meeting at Calvary, then a lunch meeting, followed by an afternoon with one of our Calvary shut-ins who is in hospice care actively dying, then a brief pause to get my daughter to swimming lessons, then to Washington County hospital to check on a St. Mark's member ... dinner at 9:00PM ... at home. I'm finding I use my GPS even more because I can't keep where I'm going straight in my head anymore! At least a little screen with a voice tells me where to go (not that others aren't telling me where to go, but you get the idea!).

I'm still in search for a full-time position. I'm in the final stretch of one process in Massachusetts and will be headed up there in July to interview. I'm excited about this but I also know we can get right to the end and I don't get the call. That's the nature of this whole process, so I'm a bit guarded in my enthusiasm. I've also submitted my name to two searches in a neighboring diocese. They are just starting out, so they are at least 6-9 months out on extending a call.

I guess the hardest thing for me is how slow the process is and, when you are actively in a search and one of the final candidates, your whole life seems to be put on hold indefinitely. Don't get me wrong, the folks I've worked with in Massachusetts have been fantastic in communicating with me throughout the process; however, it is just a long drawn out affair that requires you to be open and flexible. The process makes it difficult to plan your life - everything goes "on hold" as you wait for contact to find out if you've made it to the next round. If so, you plan the "next step" and then wait again.

This is especially hard with our girls each going to a different school this fall. Our youngest will head to middle school and the oldest to high school. There's a lot to plan for if we stay right here, but we don't know if we'll be staying right here or not. If we do move, it will be even more hectic than if we stay (which will be hectic enough).

So it's all on hold ... for now ... at least there's no Muzak playing in the background!

Friday, May 22, 2009

The god I don't believe in

Theologian Paul Tillich defined God as that in which you put your ultimate trust. As such, everyone has a god ... even the atheist who still puts their ultimate trust in something. It's been said that humans have a natural inclination to believe in God, some have even speculated we have a "God gene." That could very well be, but what kind of God do we believe in?

There are a lot of folks who believe in what I call a "lucky rabbit's foot god." This is the god they call on when some crisis hits but who is otherwise either taken for granted or largely ignored at other times. This "lucky rabbit's foot god" is an interventionist deity that waves a finger and poof things happen.

Outside of a crisis, this god is fairly benign - this god definitely does not demand we transform our lives and priorities. But when a crisis hits, those who believe in this god will pull him out like a lucky rabbit's foot and pray for deliverance from the crisis at hand. If their prayers are answered the way they want them to be, it's proof in the power of the lucky rabbit's foot god to deliver the goods. If the prayers are not answered in the manner desired, either it's written off as "god's will" or belief in any deity runs the risk of being rejected outright as irrelevant. I think this god is the one being largely rejected by those who describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious," agnostic or atheist.

Christianity is often perceived as a faith which promulgates belief in an interventionist god. Well, I'm a Christian and I don't believe in a "lucky rabbit's foot" interventionist god. I believe in a relational God who is over, under, in and through all things ... ALL things. I believe we encounter God through our relationships with each other and with creation. This God cannot just be pulled out at our convenience and put away when we're done. Instead, this God lives in an ongoing relationship with each of us and makes demands that we reorient our lives and priorities to live in harmony as God intends. This God demands we live in harmony which requires us to "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God." This God demands we be reconciling people who forgive those who harm us and seek oneness with each other and all creation.

Prayers to this God do not take the form of bargaining or cajoling. Prayers to this God serve to open us to live more authentically in our relationships - to be fully free and honest about who we are. These prayers are always answered in the affirmative because becoming more real is what God wants for us. These prayers bring peace and harmony regardless of the outer circumstances of our lives.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Things that make you say "Huh??"

I had a great trip to Devon PA last week for the Interim Ministry Network's Fundamentals of Transitional Ministry course. It was a three-day course, so I was up in the Pennsylvania Dutch country for a bit.

I had pass through this area in 1986 when the main east-west route (Route 30) was not much more than a two lane road. It still is in spots, but the closer you get to Philly, the more like a freeway it gets. As I approached Lancaster, the heart of Amish country, I found myself on a six-lane freeway buzzing along at 55 mph ... much too fast for horse drawn buggies!

But just east of Lancaster, Route 30 went back to being a four lane country road, albeit dotted with the big box stores and name brand restaurants that are generally ubiquitous but were unknown in the region 20+ years ago.

At one point, the line of traffic veered just a little to the left to get around a horse drawn Amish buggy replete with flashing lights and red reflective triangle on the back of it. Just as I came upon the 19th century carriage and overtook it ... in front of a Chili's restaurant! If only I had my camera ...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Going home again

American novelist Tom Wolfe once said, "You can't go home again." Insofar as going home is the fantasized return to the way things were at some time in the past, he's absolutely right. You can return to a place or people, but it's not the same. You're not the same and neither are they.

I'm thinking about this as I've accepted a call to return to my home congregation, St. Mark's Episcopal in Lappans MD, as a temporary (9 month) part-time Assistant Rector with the charge of working on evangelism and communications. Some may wonder about the first part of that charge as many think Episcopalians don't "do evangelism." Somehow that "e-word" has become a loaded one and strikes fear into the hearts of many mainline Christians who immediately conjure up images of street preachers haranguing passers by. If that's the image your thinking of when you think of "evangelism," that's not what I'm talking about either.

I was listening to Marcus Borg being interviewed yesterday on NPR (don't ask me the program name, I didn't catch it!). I read his book The Heart of Christianity and I highly recommend it - especially to those for whom a literal Biblical interpretation leaves them cold. He made the comment that the decline we have witnessed in the church (attendance and people who identify themselves as Christian) has much to to with Biblical literalism. He feels that many have fallen away because the paradigm of only taking the Bible as literally, factually acurate has not worked for those of us living in the age of scientific discovery and technological progress.

I saw this with my father-in-law. In many ways, he was post-modern ... before there was a word coined for it! He was raised by a mother who was a Southern Baptist and took the Bible as the absolutely factual and literal word of God. When he went to Japan in WWII, he was part of General MacArthur's occupation force. What he saw there marked him. He never talked about it, but we got a glimpse of it when we went through his personal effects after he died. He was in Hiroshima three months after the atomic bomb - we have pictures of the devastation. He encountered people who did not know about Christianity, but who were genuine and good people. He saw the worst of war. He then returned to his family of origin whose Biblical literalism and black and white thinking just didn't square with what he'd been through. After his mother died, he stopped going to church completely.

I can't say for sure, but I think he came to a place where he thought that if being a Christian meant having to take the Bible literally as inerrant fact, he didn't want any part of it. The idea that there was another way to interpret the Bible (as metaphor and image) just didn't occur to him. We had some good conversations about other interpretations when he was alive. It usually began with him saying, "Well, you know I don't believe that crap, but do you think ..." and what followed would be a very interesting question on faith. Whether it was the literalism of the creation stories in Genesis (yes, stories ... Genesis 1 and 2 are different accounts!), or whether or not Jonah really did get swallowed by a great fish, or why did God choose the Jews, he had lots of interesting questions about the faith.

I think one of the things I value about the Episcopal Church is that it is a place where questions are honored and even celebrated. To me, that's part of evangelism. Evangelism comes from the Greek (yes, the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding would be at home here). Euangelion means to tell good news. That's what being an evangelist is - someone who tells good news. I think it's good news that you can come to an Episcopal church with all your doubts, questions and even unbelief and not be judged or condemned - we think God loves you right where you are and will love you and be patient with you as you wrestle with your faith!

So I am going home again, in a way, but in a different role to help tell (and teach others to tell) the good news of what God is up to in our area.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Facebook Haggadah

As we wind our way towards Holy Week in the Christian faith, I wish a blessed Pesach to all my Jewish friends. And for a little humor on that front, here's the Facebook Haggadah.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Form and substance

I'm preaching on Sunday and thinking about how to approach the text from Jeremiah since "God's Promises" is the theme we've been doing at my home congregation during Lent. It's the first reading we've had in the Hebrew scriptures from the Prophets (the rest were "historical" accounts ... note the quotes as I believe the historicity isn't a literal one).

I took a class on Amos and Hosea at LTSG from Dr. Jack Lundbom. Dr. Lundbom wrote the Anchor Bible Commentary on Jeremiah ... so he knows a few things about this guy. Jeremiah is the prophetic voice of the fall of Judah, the deportations and exile in Babylon. He's the voice crying out for God in the midst of national disaster. In a way, Jeremiah's prophecies and preaching are a roll up of Amos' prophecies crying for social justice, Hosea's speaking God's yearning for renewed relationship with Israel (and the social justice thing too), and Isaiah's condemnations of Israelite apostasy and yearning for restoration. In Jeremiah, you get the whole thing ... and even some of his own frustrations at God for putting him up to this task of prophecy (which gets Jeremiah into a whole lot of hot water with the authorities).

On Wednesday, the reading from the Daily Office was from Jeremiah 18:1-11 where he is told by God to go down to the potter's house. Jeremiah does this and watches the potter fashion a vessel that does not work out the first time he makes it. So the potter gathers up the clay, smushes it back into a ball and starts over - this time creating a vessel that is good and pleasing. God tells Jeremiah that Israel is like the clay in the potter's hands. Morover, all nations are like the clay and can be refashioned at anytime to something pleasing to God.

This gets me thinking about form and substance. The potter works the substance of clay into a form - a pot, or bowl or some other vessel. When the throwing of the pot doesn't work out, the potter destroys the form but not the substance. The clay itself (the substance) is not destroyed when the form it takes (the vessel) is.

When we experience destruction in our lives, is it destruction of form or substance? There is a significant difference. The form something may be destroyed only to be reworked into something better and more enduring. The substance of what is being worked retains its essence.

Richard Rohr (one of my favorite spiritual teachers) talked about the destruction of the false self in his meditations this week. The false self is like the vessel - it is a form we create about ourselves, but it isn't the real substance of who we are. Our Christian faith is grounded in our becoming more real and that doesn't happen without the destruction of the false self. Our false self is the vessel that needs smushing so that something more real of the substance created by God can take its place.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What the ... ??

Just about the point where you think you've seen it all, God surprises you with something. Today's surprise could be filed under, "You gotta be kidding me!"

My sister-in-law contacted us about some family matters and told Beloved Husband that their father had been called up for jury duty. On the surface, this isn't very remarkable as people get called up for jury duty all the time, right? Well, yes ... but they usually don't get called up AFTER they die!

That's right people, the State of Maryland wants a dead man to serve on a jury! I wouldn't have believed it ... but it happened.

So we suggested that if my sister-in-law can free her schedule to report for duty with Dad's ashes in hand, maybe they'll let him off this time. :-D

Friday, February 27, 2009

Remember you are dust

Ash Wednesday was this week which marks the first day of Lent. When I was a kid, I really didn't get the whole Lent thing. There was always the thing about giving something up for Lent. I tried giving up homework, but that didn't get me very far.

When I was really young, we were LCA (Lutheran Church in America) and we didn't do this kind of stuff on Ash Wednesday. Oh sure, we changed all the pulpit hangings to purple, but that was about it as far as I remember. Getting smudged with ashes wasn't part of it. When I started going to the Episcopal Church in 1975, we definitely did the ash smudging thing and I thought it was interesting, but I still didn't really get into the whole feeling of Lent.

I think it all hit home for me in 2004 - the year I turned 40. Not that turning 40 made me suddenly get all penitential or anything. It was Ash Wednesday in 2004 when I opened up my e-mail in the morning to the news that a childhood friend had died. She was the daughter of the pastor who baptized my younger sister ... and she was 40 too. She died of a heart attack. I was shocked and the reality that a peer of mine had succumbed to what I thought of as an "age related" illness was sobering. It was in that moment I realized that I was going to start losing friends more to illnesses than accidents ... a moment of facing my own mortality.

Shortly after receiving this news, my father called with more bad news: my sister had been fired from her job. She'd had an incident which should have resulted in a notice to her personnel file, but instead she was fired. Her boss was looking for a reason to fire her, and one came up. My sister appealed it and we heard the appeals board was in favor of her reinstatement; however, at the last minute, the board had it's empowerment rescinded and the management upheld her dismissal. It was unjust.

Death and injustice crashed into me that Ash Wednesday morning and that's when I got it. We are not God and we will die ... period. Unjust things will happen to us in our lives. Jesus knew this: he was set up too. But in both cases, death and injustice, God gets the last word. It's a word of life and of righteousness.

Friday, February 13, 2009

You just can't make this stuff up!

If there's anything I've learned in my years of serving the church, it's that all sorts of weird and wacky things happen there. Now I'm not talking about your average run of the mill funny stuff that makes you chuckle. No, I'm talking about the belly laugh, "No way! You gotta be kidding me!!" kind of stuff.

Like when I went to visit one of our shut ins this week at Calvary and he told me about the time the head usher's pants fell down ... as he was standing at the front of the church! And he told me about the time he knocked over a whole row of folding chairs just as the choir finished singing their anthem. Talk about a bang up finish!

Then there was the time our senior pastor first visited Calvary as a guest speaker many years ago. When he got up to the pulpit and started to speak, a stream of obscenities came out over the sound system. He stopped talking and it stopped ... but when he began to talk the obscenities started up again. Five men jumped up and ran to the sound system to change the wireless channel to another one. Turns out, the sound system had picked up a local trucker who was saying some rather colorful things over his CB radio. I told him he should have claimed he was speaking in tongues with a bad dubbing job.

Then there was the time many years ago when a friend of mine was a teenager and was practicing with the thurible at the Cathedral and the chain let go. (For those of you who don't know what a thurible is, it's the metal container on a chain in which you burn incense and sling the smoke around the church) Imagine the thurible, flying hot coals and incense shooting through the air like a comet and he's just praying it doesn't land on a car! When it landed on the sidewalk, he thought he had stomped out all the coals and cinders ... but no, the mulch caught fire and Baltimore's fire department responded to put out the fire.

Or the acolyte who, back in the days before air conditioning, just wore a surplice to stay cool in a hot humid church. But when he bent over to pick something up, the fans which were running blew up the surplice and all he had on were his boxers! A sight the visiting bishop will not soon forget.

Now I'm not saying that every Sunday is this entertaining, but I do believe God lets funny stuff happen in church and I think it serves a purpose. We need to laugh ... it's just that simple. These kinds of crazy things remind us that we are not as self-important as we think we are and there are times we just need to lighten up.

And yes, all of these things really happened in real churches ... you can't just make this stuff up!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The top five

Mitch Albom wrote a novel (which I have yet to read) called The Five People You Meet in Heaven. In it, the protagonist character Eddie dies suddenly and meets the five people who had the most impact on his life, whether he knew it or not.

I was thinking about that today along with the fact that there are people with whom we all struggle (clergy are no different than anyone else on this). What if the five you meet in heaven are the five you would have rather not been with here on earth? You know, those folks that you somehow end up in relationship with but ones you wouldn't have chosen if it were up to you: maybe it's a family member, or an in-law, or a coworker, or a member of your faith community, or someone in the neighborhood.

I have a personal prayer list of people I'm intentionally praying for each day. I realized this morning that the folks with whom I struggle most need to be at the top of my prayer list. Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I wouldn't say I have enemies (that seems a bit strong), but there are folks I with whom I have difficulty. It would be easier to ignore them and not pray for them. But that isn't what Jesus told us to do.

So I'm changing my prayer routine. When I open my list up, I'll start with the folks I'm struggling with ... they are my new "top five." That way, if they are the ones I'm going to end up meeting, I won't have to apologize for ignoring them!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Miss Myrtle

One of the most remarkable people I've ever met died yesterday. Myrtle Rice succumbed to cancer at the age of 102. Yes, you read that right ... 102! And up until about one week ago, she was living on her own in a senior citizen's apartment complex.

She was a really neat lady who lived most of her life on a dairy farm in Urbana MD ... which is now a planned housing development. She attributed her long life to hard work. She took care of her brothers and her parents - both of whom died in her arms. She has two surviving daughters, but outlived her only son and her husband. She was a devoted member of Calvary United Methodist Church and had a strong faith.

She didn't like doctors much, especially when they wanted to put her in the hospital. She loved the Orioles and going out to Red Lobster (she even had her 102 birthday dinner there!). Myrtle had a sense of humor and could see the absurdity in life.

Even in the end when her cancer was quite painful, she told me she was grateful to God for everything God had given her. She was just curious as to why God let her live so long. She asked God to just let her go to sleep and not wake up because she'd done everything she wanted to do.

God answered her prayer. I'm sure she heard Jesus say, "Well done good and faithful servant."

I went out to scrape the ice off my sidewalk this afternoon. It was hard work to crack the ice and shovel it into my yard. I broke of large thin slabs and flung them onto my ice covered lawn. They shattered and the pieces scattered and slid all over the yard. There was something really fun and childlike about doing this. As I did it, I could sense Miss Myrtle watching this and laughing. As my back got sore, I could hear her say, "Come on, you know hard work won't kill you."

It's been a privilege ... thanks Miss Myrtle!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I can relate to Jonah. I don't think I'm as cranky as he was (Beloved Husband might disagree), but I do understand his reaction when he was told to go to Nineveh. "I don't want to go to Nineveh! Hmmm ... Tarshish is nice this time of year."

Everybody has a "Nineveh." For a long time, becoming a priest was my "Nineveh." I had a lot of great excuses, but God kept coming back when I least expected it and stayed on me about it until I gave in. Fortunately, no big fish were involved, but it was my "Nineveh" nonetheless.

A big part of it was fear of the kinds of things priests have to face. The thing that scared me most was being with someone facing a tragedy like a sudden death, death of a child or a terminal diagnosis. Once I was ordained, I knew at some point I'd have to face this. Clinical pastoral education helped me face some of this and learn how to cope, but you never master it.

Last week, I had to go to "Nineveh" with the folks at Calvary United Methodist Church. On Monday, we had a huge 50 car accident on South Mountain just west of our house. Two people were killed - one was a prominent member of Calvary. Lori Shipley had been the church council president, sang in the Gospel Choir, taught the middle school youth ... she and her husband been involved in everything. The next morning, retired Judge Herbert Rollins died after battling cancer. Two huge funerals back to back on Friday and Saturday. Later that week, we had another member die ... she'll be buried on Monday afternoon. In addition, two other Calvary members lost close family members last week.

Nobody wants to go to their personal "Nineveh" - whatever it is. But I've learned from Jonah and last week that God gives us what we need to get in and out of our "Ninevehs" alive. Jonah had good reason to fear going into that great city ... the people had a violent reputation and he was bearing some bad news from God. I know I haven't mastered this whole pastor thing in times of crisis ... but God will make sure I get out of it alive.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Endings ... again

I just learned yesterday that our bishops have called a new priest who will be serving both St. Luke's Carey Street and Holy Nativity, Pimlico. The Reverend Glenna Reed is a young African American woman from Atlanta and I'm sure she will be a splendid pastor for these two congregations. St. Luke's has been yoked before, but this is a new experience for Holy Nativity. They are a yoking of equal partners, so this bodes well for the long term sustainability of the relationship. They are going to be a new inner-city mutual ministry model for our diocese - so that means no roadmaps or "tried and true" methodologies.

This is a lot like God's call to Abram:
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
Genesis 12:1-4
The LORD did not say, "Hi Abram, it's me ... you know God. Listen, I have an idea I want to pitch to you and see what you think about it." Nope. God said "Go." No introduction, just a command and a promise. Abram went, and "believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6)

Believing in the LORD is to trust in God. Abram trusted fully and went, even though the roadmap was not given to him. God didn't give him the full plan, just go to a "land that I will show you." He didn't get the Google driving directions to Canaan! He didn't even get a hint that he should head westward ... just go to a land I will show you. It's as if God said, "Just start walking Abram, and I'll reveal it as you go."

Ministry is that way. We are all called to a land that God will show us. That land is the place of possibilities that do not exist right now, but will emerge as we take each step on faith. Just start moving ... God will reveal the possibilities as you trust God enough to take the steps.

I think God did it this way to make sure that Abram's ego didn't get in the way. Let's be honest, don't we all really just want God to write out the whole plan in the sky so we can get the "big picture?" The problem is, if we had the whole "big picture," we'd get our egos involved and wrest control from God to make it happen on our terms. Instead, God doesn't give us the whole picture ... just the next step. The challenge is to trust enough to take the first step, not worrying about where it goes, and trusting it will land where God wants it to land. That's a tall order.

This is true for St. Luke's and Holy Nativity, and for me too. It will be hard to say good-bye to St. Luke's. Honestly, I won't miss the haul down I-70, but I will miss the people, especially the kids. I have a few more weeks there (I think ... still waiting for final instructions on that), but it makes me start thinking about my future.

I was at Fresh Start today (our new call support group) and all this was announced. I told them the "Mercenary Presbyter" was back in the house! I'm keeping my Reverend Mom blog moniker this time though. Beloved Husband and I are opening ourselves to options which, like Abram, may ask us to get up and go to another place. If God wants us here in Maryland, a viable full-time call will open up here. But, sitting around waiting for that to happen isn't showing a lot of trust either. I need to make myself available to any possibility and see if God may be up to something unexpected.

Then again, isn't God always up to something unexpected?

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year, New Blog ... yadda yadda yadda!

A big shout out to everyone reading this blog (all three of you) for a very blessed New Year! Last year was certainly a roller coaster for me. January - May: Vicar of Gathered by Christ. May - October: Mercenary Presbyter preaching for the highest bidder (crass as it may sound, it's better than "unemployed"). October: Interim Rector of St. Luke's, Franklin Square. November: Minister of Visitation at Calvary United Methodist Church. Now? Still in search for a full-time call to a significantly extended interim rector's position (when I say "extended interim," it's with the existential understanding that all rector's positions are interims ... some are just longer than others!).

OK, so what's with the "new blog" thing? I've started another one this weekend where I'm posting my sermons and homilies. It's found here.

I just found that posting sermons with all the flotsam and jetsam in my brain was a bit too confusing. And, considering that I am currently in a search for a new and ... drum roll please ... full-time call, it made sense to put the sermons and homilies in a separate space.

So check out Proclaiming by Word and Example and leave me some feedback on what you find there. Homiletics is an interactive sport and I welcome anyone visiting to "lay it on me" and let me know what you think.