Monday, May 31, 2010

Beach Time

I drove down to the Florida panhandle today to spend a few days at the beach. Naturally, I left my camera cable at home, so I can't post any real-time pictures, but this is a photo from my last trip here. White sand, emerald water, blue sky.

I'm glad for a few days during which to listen to the waves and feel the sun and the breeze, to walk along the water line and watch the pelicans and skimmers cruising in lines a few feet above the waves and the terns fishing dive-bomber style, to enjoy the little sanderlings running so quickly along the water's edge on their short little legs like little wind-up toys, to hear the laughing gulls making fun of everyone else as they wheel above the sand, looking for crabs and stuff kids leave behind. The beach is restorative to me in ways no other place is. I know the mountains do it for some people, but I need the crashing waves (or even not so crashing - the Gulf is pretty tame compared to many other beaches) and the sand and water and marine wildlife. I'm sitting here writing this with the sound of the waves in the background, letting the rhythm pushing stuff out of my head that needs to get swept clean. I have a fair amount of time at home to think about things, but it is good to think about things in a different environment, too.

It makes me sad to think about the places west of here that are threatened by the oil gusher. (I notice people keep calling it a "spill" but that doesn't seem to be quite right.) I love the marshes and marsh birds, the shrimp and crawfish, the function the wetlands and bayous and shores play in the coastal ecology and grieve for all the coastal environment that is already or will soon be devastated. And yet I drove down here in my car (I do get decent mileage, but still...) and am as guilty as the next person for expecting to have unlimited personal mobility. I can just hop in and drive off without making too much of the connection between my beach trip and the fact that oil companies are drilling in more and more fragile areas in order to slake the world's thirst for fuel.

At any rate, I am thankful for the opportunity to be in this place right now.

Prayer for Travelers

O God, our heavenly Father, whose glory fills the whole creation,
and whose presence we find wherever we go:
Preserve those who travel; surround them with your loving care;
protect thrm from every danger;
and bring them in safety to their journey's end;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 831)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Reading

First, here is an article from Episcopal Life Online about the murals in the Episcopal Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Haiti which were mostly destroyed in the January earthquake. A team of folks from the Smithsonian and other places is assessing both the murals that remain and those that crumbled into the rubble to determine how the art can be preserved and maybe even reconstructed. Read about the effort here.

And at NPR, several independent booksellers list their "sizzling summer picks" for your summer reading pleasure. Interestingly enough, a book called "The Lonely Polygamist" shows up twice. Check out the list with descriptive blurbs here.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, May 29, 2010


This mirror hung in my room during my childhood and teenage years. I spent a lot of time looking in it over the years, then and since when I visit my parents' home. Sometimes doing the "mirror, mirror, on the wall...." thing and many times doing the "look at this flaw, and that one, and here is another one" thing. It's one of those "good mirrors" - not cracked, doesn't seem to distort one's image.

Self-examination is hard. True self-examination, I mean. Some of us tend more toward the "mirror, mirror, who is the fairest and of course you mean me" outlook while others find nothing but fault and flaws. Some of us look into mirrors that are cracked with our psychological stuff and thus we simply cannot see ourselves as we are, much less as we are created to be.

Self-examination takes courage. It is daunting to even attempt to look at oneself with clear eyes and be willing to see both assets and flaws, potential and failure, things done well and things incomplete and things rushed through to a slap-dash conclusion and things mangled slightly or horribly, with or without good intentions.

Many of us secretly feel that we are being sized up by God every day and at all times. As if there were a celestial camera trained solely on us to catch every misstep (and even each success, although we don't worry about that quite as much). That we are being examined and judged constantly, with our "worthiness" meter wavering above and below the acceptable line all day, every day; we hope that when the end comes, we'll be in the black rather than in the red.

Even if we have delusions about ourselves when we look in the mirror, I think that God has no such delusions. God sees us with the eyes of love, with the eyes of the beloved; God sees us as we are unable to see ourselves, as worthy and made whole through love.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Going in Circles

I've been thinking about the difference between "cycles" and "going around in circles."

Life definitely has its cycles, its seasons. This is natural. We grow and change and yet certain seasons come again and again. A little different each time, but very recognizable. Summer is here (in the Southern US, anyway) and with it comes all the joys we remember from summers past. Sunshine, flowers, sand between the toes, fun in the water, staying up late because we don't have to get up early, planning a vacation. The smell of newly cut grass, of honeysuckle, that steamy hot and wet smell that rises from the streets after a brief rain shower. Popsicles. The pool with its wet towels, the sound of flip flops flip flopping around the pool deck. And the headaches, too - the air conditioning going on the fritz, tempers rising with the temperature, lightning strikes, fleas on the pets, mosquitoes and poison ivy. But we know that these will pass and that another season's joys and headaches will come 'round again. This is all reassuring. The sun keeps rising and setting; God is in heaven and all is right with the world.

And of course the other seasons return again as well, not only the "natural" seasons of spring and summer, winter and fall, but also the seasons of grieving, of growing, the excitement of new friends and new experiences and new relationships. These return to us, too, even if not on a predictable schedule, and we remember them. Oh yes, this is what that tickle in the pit of the stomach feels like. I remember. I remember that time when I thought I would die if I didn't get to see my camp girlfriends/[insert name here] ever again. I remember how long it took to get over that snub, that hurt, that failure. But I will get over it, as I did then. I have to remember that I got past the pain, that the fresh and beautiful comes round again.

There there's "going around in circles." Either because we're lost or because we're stuck. In this case, when we come back to the familiar, we are not happy to greet it. Wait, we already did this. We were already in this place, we're back where we started, we didn't get anywhere, we didn't go where we wanted or meant to go. Here we go again, and we don't have confidence that we'll get anywhere this time, either. Can we get off? Or will that just leave us standing still?

I suppose like everything else we have to have some balance and some perspective. Sometimes we may have to try and just enjoy the ride even if it is circular - and yet know when it's time to get off or stop and ask directions or just strike out in another direction. And sometimes we have to "don't just do something, stand there!" (as Murray Bowen said). Like everything else this calls for discernment and patience. I think I need a refill.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Road Trips

Ever since I was sixteen years old and had my driver's license, the idea of a road trip, even the possibility of a road trip, was to me the essence of freedom. To just get in the car and go anywhere one wanted to go. OK, maybe not to England, but still. One could simply hop in and go just about anywhere, and on short notice, too.

I like driving. I am happy to roll down the windows, open the sunroof, play the radio (although now I can plug in my iPod and listen to a soundtrack of my road trip if I like) turned up loud, and watch (feel, even) the miles go by. Familiar routes have their own milestones - certain towns, signs, or places (South of the Border just over the state line in South Carolina along I-95; the Big Peach on I-85 in northern South Carolina; the peanut on I-75 South) let me know where I am and how far I have to go. Milestones - mostly silly ones but milestones nonetheless. I look for them and for others, noting the new pavement, any changes in the landscape, new by-passes, the absence of telephone poles. I like all the interesting small bridges crossing the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut and the big suspension bridge at Newport, Rhode Island, that spans the sparkling water dotted with sailboats.

On unfamiliar roads, I take it all in - the cows, the railroad tracks, unusual town names (gotta love Bat Cave in Western North Carolina and Two Egg, Florida), the fields and the houses. Visuals of these landmarks or milestones or curves in the road lodge themselves in my brain so that I'll remember them next time, if there is one.

There have been plenty of songs about being on the road. "Route 66," "On the Road Again," several James Taylor ballads testifying to the pull of the road. Being on the road is not usually synonymous with being in relationship, though. Often it is the symbol of not being in relationship, or at least not engaging relationship fully. The partner who travels a lot..... As I said before, the road symbolizes freedom to me.

I guess I just like knowing I can get in the car and hit the road, go somewhere else, experience a change of scenery; I like the excitement of the going, the anticipation of arriving in a different (even if very familiar) location, and checking off all the familiar and unfamiliar sights along the way. I never could read in the car, and so I always looked out the windows and soaked in the scenery. It makes me feel connected with the wider world to drive around in it, I suppose.

In a few days, I'm taking a road trip. So I'm getting excited. I am in need of some refreshment, I have a renewed interest in connecting with a the wider world. Maybe I feel the pull of the road, not for the road itself but as a vehicle (pun intended) to pull me out of my routine. I'm going to a familiar place, where I've been before, many times. I look forward to checking off the milestones, watching the scenery go by, feeling the anticipation of getting there even while enjoying the journey.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


This is a stone at Newgrange, the neolithic passage tomb complex in County Meath, Ireland. The carvings on this stone may seem to be simply decorative to us, but the symbols here surely had meaning for those who carved it and those who saw it. The people who carved these stones for this obviously important and meaningful site were not just "doodling" on rocks. Just as Egyptian tombs are covered in stories and messages about the dead person and his accomplishments and his expectations about the afterlife, so these stones must have conveyed something, even though we don't know what the carvings mean now.

Images of every type send out messages; the fact that we may not know what the message is does not diminish the power of the message for those who understood it. But it can be difficult for those who do not connect with the symbol to understand that power for those who do. One thinks about the debate over the Confederate flag, for example; that flag was a powerful symbol for people on both sides of the debate and yet the argument championed by many was that the flag ought to be considered more objectively, still a symbol, but a symbol emptied of its emotional meaning and reconstructed as an object of historical interest.

Then there is the issue of the cross erected in the Mojave National Park, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the cross should not be considered only a symbol of Christianity because it is also an object often used to mark or honor those who commit heroic acts that honor and build up our country. In other words, Justice Kennedy opined that the cross has been emptied of its symbolic explicitly Christian content and made into something more generic.

Symbols convey powerful messages that speak to us on multiple levels. We scrutinize images we see (often in this day and age this means photographs) and draw conclusions based on how we interpret the symbols. Who is the person, what is the person wearing, where are they, what's in the background, what are they promoting, who arranged the whole thing to begin with? We are constantly sending out messages by our demeanor, our dress, the people we associate with. Remember when Princess Diana touched a person infected with HIV/AIDS? That was a symbolic act; we were to see it and interpret that we ought to overcome our superstitions about that disease.

So it was with Jesus. Who did not own a home, who went about not only in his own Jewish country but also into Gentile territory (this when/in a place where the world was either Jew or Gentile), who hung out with the little people and touched women and lepers.

Sometimes we don't seem to realize how powerful symbols are. We argue against that power in public debate; we resort to "rational discourse" so as to be taken seriously. And while it is intellectually stimulating to uncover symbols and trace histories and to see how symbols are being used in different situations (often, sadly, to manipulate), the fact remains that we react to symbols not with our intellects but with our guts and in our hearts. It may make absolute rational sense to sell the old homeplace but at least someone in the family will be devastated at the loss of what symbolized something (ideal childhood, family, innocence, source of memories, whatever) to them and may well fight long and hard to do whatever it takes to preserve the place. A flower pressed in a book may have meaning to only one person; another may find it and throw it away without a second thought (the first thought being, ugh, a ratty dried up something). But that flower sent a powerful message to someone. The sight of that flower opened up an entire world to the person who could read the message even if it was a mystery or even simply a nothing to anyone else.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


"Summertime, and the livin' is easy" says the song.

Many of us grown-ups still secretly (or perhaps not so secretly!) wish that life included summer vacation as well as the winter and spring breaks like we had in school. Oh, to have the summer off, to know that two or three months of downtime are built into the system, that one is simply expected to lie in the grass and look at the clouds, or go crabbing off the dock every day, to read some books in a hammock or beach chair, to wear flip flops and beach coverups to lunch. To be on a schedule that doesn't include the alarm going off at 6:30 a.m. To go on long walks through the woods and days without phone and email or ride bikes to the store to get an ice cream to break up the long afternoon. To maybe even get a little bit bored.

Why do we go at it so hard all the time? Why do we punctuate our days with to-do lists and seasons with huge projects (clean out the garage!) and measure our productivity every night (I did this, I didn't get around to that, did you pick up the clothes at the cleaners like I asked you to?) and then feel bad about the gaps and lapses, sometimes to the point of not being able to give ourselves credit for the things we actually do accomplish.

I am terrible about this. I decide I must be productive, make my lists, think up all kinds of things that absolutely need to be done, and then don't do many of them. So I am neither regularly productive (except for when I get on a kind of manic productivity tear, but fortunately for everybody these don't tend to last too long and they're certainly not regular) nor easy-going (because I feel guilty or bad about being unproductive). Oh to be a little bit bored not by the mundane tasks that regularly face me but by being oblivious to all the stuff I could be/need to be doing.

My own way of escape is to take a day to read a novel, even though I have other stuff to do. I will declare (to myself) that I am taking a reading day, and I do it. But even then, I pronounce myself to have accomplished something by reading a book. I don't seem to be able to avoid sizing myself up on a daily basis. And often finding myself wanting.

As I write this, my page-long to-do list sits beside me, accusing me. (Daily writing is on the list, but since it's daily, I can't check it off.) Perhaps its time to go outside and look at the clouds.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Speed Bumps

On many residential streets in my neighborhood speed humps/bumps have been built at the request of the neighborhood association. This is part of the "traffic calming" efforts that neighborhoods everywhere seem to need to resort to as cars speed through neighborhoods where children and pets are at play. At first, it was the "cut through" streets that received the bumps, but now many streets on all sides of the "cut through" streets feature them. Even some of the "main drags." I am amused at the number of signs advertising not only that there are humps ahead but giving the number of sets as well. After one has passed the third of three sets, does one have permission to speed up? Or is it to prevent road rage by giving drivers the light at the end of the tunnel?

I am all for speed bumps on residential streets - I have children and pets, too - but at the same time, I don't enjoy driving over them. My Beetle does not have super fancy suspension and they are bumpy. Sometimes the center of a hump gets a hole in in it or at least a sunken down spot and nobody likes to hear that scraping noise when the car bottoms out. It's one thing to keep the traffic at a slow speed but another to cause one to have to practically stop every few hundred feet or so.

More to the point, though, I wish that when one came upon those metaphorical speed bumps in life, there was a sign attesting to the number ahead. It would be easier to hold on if there was some indication of how long this bumpy phase is going to last. It might not make the bumps more enjoyable, but at least it wouldn't seem as if they were never-ending.

I guess this is where an abiding prayer life comes in. A prayer life that reminds us to just let go of that hunched up, grasping desperately feeling and give oneself over to the peace that only God offers. Staying connected with God through quiet listening as well as the naming and then laying down our worries and anxieties may not make the bumps enjoyable, but in the end is for me the only way to get through the bumpy times the way I want to go through bumpy times: in peace, knowing that even now, God has plans for me that are better than I can ask or imagine.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost Sermon

Some years ago I went to the Theater in the Square in Marietta to see the one-man performance of The Gospel of John in which the actor Brad Sherrill dramatically recited the entire Gospel by himself. If you saw the play, you know that certain seats in the front rows were designated by the actor to be the place where he would go when Jesus interacted with certain characters in the story.

I happened to be sitting in the seat where he would be encountering Philip. I didn’t know this when I sat down, but I was rather pleased at the beginning of the performance when the actor stopped in front of me and said, “Follow me.” I glowed with a bit of pride, as if Jesus had come to me himself.

It was a little less exciting when he stood in front of me sometime later and asked me, “How are we going to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” I suddenly felt put on the spot. Thank goodness he walked away to deliver my answer that six months’ wages would not buy enough bread to feed the 5,000.

Then he got to Chapter 14 and stood in front of me and said, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” And I wanted to jump out of my seat and fall onto my knees and ask forgiveness. “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?”

Oh, I was convicted. It was as if Jesus himself stood in front of me, looking me in the eye and saying, Penny, have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?

This part of the story in John, despite its many layers of history, theology, and symbolism, its layers of past, present and future, of words working on multiple levels, is still fairly simple. Jesus, the Word made flesh, came to dwell among us, moved into our neighborhood as Eugene Peterson says, became one of us, to show us God. But the incarnation had to end; if Jesus was truly human, he would die, and he did die.

And he knew he was going to die, and he was trying to explain this to his followers, the small group that was left. He was leaving, he was going back to God from whom he came, and they were staying behind. But he would send another Advocate (Jesus having been the first Advocate, the first to be sent to us by God) so that the disciples and then those who came after them could continue the work Jesus began.

And that’s what happened - Jesus died, God raised him from the dead, Jesus breathed the Spirit onto the disciples, and he ascended to the Father (at least that’s how it works in John). The incarnation was over, the Son returned to the Father, but the age of the Spirit had begun. The Spirit would help them know how to continue the work Jesus began and empower them to do it.

But if Jesus walked with them all this time and they still did not know him, which is a pretty universal message in all the Gospels, not just for John, then might that also be true for the Spirit? Has the Spirit been working in and around us all this time and yet we still have not known it?

Later in John, just before Jesus was arrested, Jesus says one last thing about the Spirit. Jesus says that he has many more things to say but that the disciples cannot bear them now. But, he says, the Spirit will help them when these things become known, when these things are manifested in the world. The Spirit will lead them into all truth.

In other words, life goes on, the world changes, we mature into people and lives that were unthinkable to us when we were younger. And the work of the Spirit will be ongoing forever as well. New things are going to come up. Things that the disciples could not imagine. Things that we cannot imagine. The world has changed and is going to change - as Cardinal Newman said, “to live is to change.”

Nostalgia for the past is not what Jesus is preparing the disciples for. Life in a locked up room is not what Jesus is preparing the disciples for. Jesus is preparing the disciples for life without his physical presence by promising to send them the Spirit to walk with them into that new life and to empower them to carry on his work. The Spirit will be present to interpret what Jesus has already said into new situations, in this new life. The resurrection, of course, was only the first thing that the disciples could not imagine.

We have to have the eyes to see the Spirit at work, though, just as Philip had to have the eyes to see God through Jesus. We have to allow the Spirit to teach us again and again. And so on Pentecost, we don’t just commemorate the gift of the Spirit in the past, we are not to be nostalgic for the time when the church began to come together in a burst of fire and ecstatic speech, but we are to ask ourselves, where do we see the work of the Spirit now? What is God doing in the world now - is God doing something now that people before would not have been able to bear? Is God doing a new thing? Is the Spirit showing us that there are new ways of knowing and seeing God and the things of God? Is the spirit showing us new ways of being community? Were there things that we could not bear before that the Spirit can teach us and interpret to us now? Has the Spirit been with us all this time and we did not know it?

It is understandable if we do not always recognize the work of the Spirit right away. A poet-friend and member of St Bartholomew’s, Kendall Lockerman, wrote a poem a couple of years ago about Pentecost, and in it he ventures that “Pentecost... is the day when the Holy Spirit came down to roost on the heads of the apostles and the Holy Spirit set their hair on fire. The apostles appeared to know from the very beginning that dealing with the Holy Spirit was going to be weird....The Holy Spirit is as weird now as she ever was. Rock on, that.”

Life accompanied by the Spirit is often unsettling. Jesus’ work itself was unsettling - eating with sinners and outcasts, touching women and lepers, doing unauthorized things on the Sabbath, preaching love and forgiveness, turning things upside down, relentlessly providing abundance through ridiculous amounts of wine and bread and fish. First century weirdness, that.

The Spirit empowers us to continue Jesus’ work - what benefit to the world is the incarnation if when it was over, the work was finished? Only part of the work was finished, the part that only Jesus could do. For if the work was finished, then there would have been no need for him to send the Spirit to interpret and empower. Jesus’ work was about showing the world what God is like, who God is, and what God means for the world to be like. The Spirit comes among us to remind us about the abundance of life in God - the wine at Cana, the loaves and fishes upon the mountain, the raising of the dead at Bethany, the forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery, the breakfast on the beach at which Peter is redeemed and we are all given to understand that Jesus needs us to feed his sheep and tend his lambs. Those things are not over.

And so Pentecost is not just about rejoicing that the gift of the Spirit was given in the first place but also about rejoicing that the work goes on, understanding that it is up to us now to recognize and celebrate the Spirit at work and to ourselves continue the work that Jesus began. Work that was unsettling and weird and upset the establishment and was costly to everyone engaged in it as it will be for us as well.

But it was and is work for healing, work about abundance, work to make love known - to be love - in a world that is hurting and degraded and lonely and hungry.

That work does go on and it can be just as unsettling now as it was back then. It might look weird. It might be costly. It might be something we could not have borne before or think we cannot bear now. We may not always recognize it even when we are in the midst of it.

It might look like worshipping with homeless people, it might look like sharing dinner with mentally ill folks, it might look like caring for children, it might look like befriending strangers. It might look like giving more than we are comfortable giving and stepping outside into God’s world to work for healing and providing abundance so that everyone, even we, can see and know that the Spirit has been among us all this time.

Collect for Pentecost

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 227)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Life is Either a Daring Adventure, or Nothing

I was privileged to address the senior class of The Walker School at their Baccalaureate service this year. This is the text of my address.


So, graduates, I understand that you all are ready to move on, to get on with your lives, maybe make a fresh start somewhere else - at big schools like Auburn and Georgia and medium sized schools like Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt and even fun-sized campuses like Agnes Scott.

Some of you want to continue to participate in the athletic or theatrical or musical endeavors that you honed here at The Walker School. Some of you are looking forward to making new friends and discovering new fields of study and taking up some new activities.

I bet most of you can hardly wait to go to orientation and move into your new living space and start your new life. I won’t venture a guess about how your much your parents and siblings are looking forward to that day as well.

But I imagine everyone is pretty excited about the future, your future - not only you but your parents and teachers and the school administration who have supported you throughout your years at Walker, being there for you, challenging you guiding you, cheering you on.

And I’m betting that all of you are just a little bit nervous, too, about the future - your future. And if you’re not, you should be......Because as Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

You have surely been treated to many quotes during your journey through high school. Graduates of a school such as yours no doubt have heard that both the Bible and John F. Kennedy proclaimed that “those to whom much has been given, much is expected.” You’ve probably been advised to heed Joseph Campbell’s advice to “follow your bliss” or reminded that Confucius says “wherever you go, go with all your heart,” or encouraged to heed Emerson’s advice “not to follow the path but blaze a trail” and to “hitch your wagon to a star.” All of which are great things to remember.

But those quotes are telling you about you yourself and what people think you ought to do. I’m asking you to think about what life actually is, first and foremost, and how it ought to be lived. What is life, and how ought you to live it?

If your driving principle is about figuring out what you you are supposed to do so you can do it, then you are narrowing your scope to focus on your own goals and your own activities and your own self. And that, my friends, is a narcissistic life that in the end is nothing. The world has plenty of that already.

No, life is a either a daring adventure, or nothing.

Do you think Sergey Brin and Larry Page (the guys who started Google) think of life as an exercise in caution? Does the first American woman and youngest astronaut to go into space Sally Ride think of life as a series of movements around her comfort zone? Is the great jazz and classical trumpeter and composerWynton Marsalis concerned with plotting out a careerand then climbing the corporate ladder?

These people live adventurous lives, they are willing to take risks, to learn from anybody, not just certain authorized people; they are willing to imagine and wonder what could be and not be satisfied to take the safe route. They are always curious, always ready to start something new, to reinvent their worldview, always ready to expand their universe.

Sergey Brin is a Russian born Jew, and his parents emigrated to the United States when he was six in the midst of a wave of anti-semitism in the USSR. His college days at Stanford were not only focused on computer science but there he learned to ski and rollerblade, and he then took up gymnastics and trapeze; when his dad (who mostly wanted to know if Sergey was going to get a PhD) asked if he was taking any advanced courses, he replied that he had just signed up for advanced swimming.

The other Google Guy, Larry Page, likes to tell students about a signature Google phrase:“Maintain a healthy disregard for the impossible.” And by the way, the Google company provides free meals to its employees, including home delivery to those on parental leave, as well as onsite healthcare and yet has a phenomenal bottom line.

Sally Ride says about herself in the Astronaut Hall of Fame page: “I have been a bit of a risk taker all my life.” Her parents explain that while they encouraged Sally in her activities, what they mostly gave her was permission to explore. She began her career as an astronaut by answering a newspaper ad seeking applicants for NASA’s space program, an ad to which 8,000 other people also replied. She has since created programs to support young school girls who are interested in science.

From the time he was eight Wynton Marsalils joined every band or musical group that asked him to play with them, regardless of musical style; and started his own band at 19. After winning Grammy awards in both jazz and classical genres, he continues to play in a dizzying variety of venues and collaborates with other artists all over the world. He personally funds scholarships for aspiring young musicians and is a patron of hundreds of charities of all types.

Or consider the story of Australian Jessica Watson, who last Saturday, at age 16, sailed her 30-foot pink yacht back into the Sydney harbor 210 days after she sailed out of that same harbor to circle the globe, nonstop, all by herself.

Or John Wood, who left his important and lucrative job as Director of Business Development for Microsoft’s Greater China Region to collect books for kids in Nepal and deliver them in boxes strapped to the backs of yaks. His non-profit Room to Read has now opened 1100 schools and 10,000 libraries in Asia and Africa.

But you certainly don’t have to find a cure for cancer or jump out of airplanes to live life as a daring adventure. Although I hope some of you will - the world needs adventurers of all kinds to be examples and encouragers of others as well as a cure for cancer. But as I said, what I’m advocating is an attitude about how you think about and thus strive to live your life.

Becoming rich or famous or important is not at all the point. The point is to perceive life as a either daring adventure or nothing, because the way you perceive something determines how you will treat it. That last statement bears repeating: The way you perceive something determines how you will treat it. Your life is a great gift from the Holy One, and to live it shallowly is to treat it as nothing.

As with many things, including religion, there are practices that help bring us to and keep us connected to the way we want to be. So here are some suggestions for practices of someone who sees life as a daring adventure: These suggestions are not about “what to do” but more about “how to be.”

Be curious. Seek out the holy. Try new things, not to build a resume but to exercise your curiosity muscles and stretch your imagination and feed your soul. Be willing to take risks. Explore and expand your world. Be interested in everything and keep an open mind. Try the trapeze, learn to fish. Travel widely, not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim and citizen of the world; learn other languages - read a whole book in another language. Cook, and invite people to eat with you. Change your mind. Talk with all kinds of people and expect to learn from everyone you meet. Dream big and, think different. Love unconditionally. Make friends with people from other races, countries, creeds, political views, socio-economic statuses, and learn to see the world through their eyes. Expect to fail sometimes; after all, Edison did thousands of experiments before finally producing a light bulb that didn’t quickly burn out. Failure is a great teacher. Let the words “imagine” and “curious” “generous” and “explore” be your daily companions. And when you have children of your own, teach them these things, too. Teach them that life is too precious to be spent being focused on other people’s efforts to label, channel and contain them, for that is a nothing life.

And whenever and wherever you can, give back. Give things away. Give away money so that it doesn’t become your God and rule you. Give away your time. Give away your expertise in anything from medical treatment to unicycle lessons. Believe me, living a life dedicated to giving things away in our materialistic-amassing-of-money-and-stuff culture is absolutely positively daring.

And it will absolutely positively make the world a better place. You will want to do this- to make the world a better place - when you perceive - through taking life seriously enough to explore it thoroughly - that the world is both beautiful and broken. And which you will need to do, because the world is not going to become a better place all on its own.

I’ve already mentioned some famous people who live life as a daring adventure. Now let me tell you about a man you may have never heard of: Robert Sperry grew up during the Depression years. He was attending college in Maine when the United States entered World War II. Sperry was a college swimmer and because he had been trained as a swimming instructor, it became his job to teach Army and Navy pilots and engineers not only how to swim but to swim through water covered in burning oil. He realized that not only did he want them to learn how to make path through flaming water but he wanted to help them stay calm when faced with crisis.

Later, at a summer job at a boatyard, he was 60 feet in the air working on a mast when his boss’s young daughter fell off the dock and drowned before he could get to her. He discovered that many of the people working at the yard didn’t know how to swim. So he gave swimming lessons to both the children and the adults in the community. He was just a summer laborer in hard economic times, but he saw an opportunity to give back to the community, not only teaching people who lived in coastal Maine how to be safe in the water, but also to introduce them to the joy of swimming.

After college, Mr. Sperry became a school guidance counselor, a career choice born of his passion for the welfare of others and his realization that he could actually help people save their own lives. In the early 1970s, he became interested in Heifer International, the nonprofit organization whose goal is to help end world hunger and poverty through self-reliance and sustainability via animal husbandry and farming. His grandfather owned a small farm on which he raised a few cows. When his grandfather died, Mr. Sperry inherited the farm. He began to raise goats on it and he donated one to Heifer. He travelled to Africa and the Dominican Republic to see Heifer’s work firsthand. And now in his late 80’s, he is still raising goats, and has donated nearly 100 of his goat kids for Heifer to send to families in Latin America.

Mr. Sperry’s life has not been glamorous but it has been a daring adventure, especially for someone who said that when he was your age his only goals were to come back from the War alive and get a steady job.

Graduates, each of your lives is stretched out before you. The way you perceive your life determines how you will live it. So, as you go forth into the world, be curious. Imagine. Explore. Be generous and make the world a better place. Because life - your life that you have been graciously given by the Holy One - is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

Saturday Morning Prayer

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 99)

Friday, May 21, 2010


I wonder about a lot of things. I wonder how electricity actually works as well as how I can have such good intentions and end up with such poor follow through. I wonder why we aren't nicer to one another and how someone ever thought of the remote control, much less television. I wonder why when I have a bad day I want to crawl into a hot bubble bath with a novel, sometimes more than once.

I also often wonder about what goes on with other people. I saw a prayer once in a community newspaper that was a reminder (and I am riffing on this because I don't have the text any more): God, help me remember that the guy who cut me off in traffic may be racing to the hospital to see about his wife... and more petitions of that sort. I would like to always wonder if the things that others do to disappoint, frustrate, and anger me might be because of what's going on in their lives. And sometimes I do this. I imagine that there is a reason why someone says what they say or act the way they do. And, of course, sometimes I just take it personally, violating my own hopes for the way I am in the world.

I love being around people who are just naturally curious. They don't seem to work at it at all - they want to know all about you, your job, your family, your opinions, your hobbies and your rosebush pruning tips. Naturally, I love being around them partly because they give me a chance to talk about me and my job and family and opinions and rosebushes. But also because they just seem to be joyful sorts who are unafraid of encountering something alien, learning something they didn't know, hearing about something they might like to try. They aren't afraid to ask questions because they aren't afraid of what you will say back to them.

I think that bears repeating: curious people are not afraid to ask questions because they are not afraid of what the answer might be. They seem to imagine that the exchange of information will broaden and enhance their lives. They seem to imagine that listening to others is a pleasure. They seem secure in a belief that knowledge about the things that are going on with other people does not diminish their own beliefs, ideas, history, or future.

Curiosity without defensiveness, without ulterior motive. Just curiosity without fear.

Morning Collect

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to your never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that you are doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(For those we love, BCP 831)

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I grew up in a time and place in which education was highly valued both in my family and by society. I was the first of my generation (in my family) to graduate college. Young people were going to college in record numbers, which was a matter of pride for many families and communities. And although there was an assumption that college might not be for everyone, there was also an understanding that the world was changing (this was the Space Age, after all) and education was Very Important for the whole society.

At the same time, however, "education" was not something that seemed to be particularly valued when it came to church. Oh yes, there was plenty of "education" at church, but it consisted of memorizing the books of the Bible and particular Bible verses, and coming to Sunday School and church in order to listen to the minister talk about morality and sin and how Jesus saves us. Although not actually how Jesus saves us so much as that Jesus saves us if we will accept him as our Lord and Savior. So, although one might go to college and study comparative literature in order to become a teacher or professor of literature, studying comparative literature in terms of the Bible was frowned upon. After all, treating the Bible as literature would be to treat the Bible as if it were any old book, not Sacred Scripture. The Bible was not to be examined like that - such would be disrespectful. It would be the same as saying that one doesn't believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Scholarship was for secular education, which of course was highly prized. But the Bible was to be read on its face, without the aid of scholarship of any kind. Questioning was not OK. (I always wanted to know: HOW does Jesus save us? But asking it was impertinent. It suggested I didn't have faith.)

So, at some point, I decided that if questioning said I didn't have faith, then maybe I didn't. If our relationship with God is so important and yet we are not able to enter into it with all our God-given faculties and gifts, then maybe a life of faith wasn't for me, a person to whom education and scholarship were Very Important, as I had always been taught. Add to that some really bad behavior on the part of the church in the Civil Rights era South and I headed for the wilderness for a long, long time.

When I came to the Episcopal Church, I remember in the inquirer's class someone said, "I like the Episcopal Church because here we don't have to check our brains at the door." I've heard it said many time since. God gave us brains. Let's use them on our walk with God!

Sadly, this anti-intellectualism is still with us. Not as much as it was back in the 1950's, but it is still part of the fabric of religious life and conversation today. In some circles still, even some Episcopal ones, using one's brains when it comes to faith and religion are tantamount to denying God and Jesus and becoming Christopher Hitchens or Charles Darwin or some other ungodly person. (Note: I do not think either of the above are ungodly persons. I don't keep a list.)

People are hungry. Not just for food, not just for spiritual refreshment, not just for connection, but also people are hungry for substantial, meaningful religious education. It may be that most of us need to go off into the wilderness and stomp around about how disappointed we are in "church" at some point in our lives (usually as teenagers/young adults), but I believe we need to invest in education about our faith and how we practice it (and how rich it is!) to everyone. Especially those teenagers and young adults in whom we have inculcated the Importance and Value of Education. Life in God is a life that demands our all - our brains, our bodies, our spirits, our imaginations, our wonder and our awe. The use of our brains and the life of faith are not mutually exclusive.

Here ends the rant.

Morning Collect

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people
is governed and sanctified:
Receive our supplications and prayers,
which we offer before you
for all members of your holy Church,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may truly and devoutly serve you;
through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

(BCP 256)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Occasionally one comes across evidence of geologic upheaval. Along the Maine coast, one sees these layers of rock that are tilted up sideways, made up of stripes of different kinds of rock - igneous and metamorphic, basalt and gneiss with thin stripes of quartz here and there - that were formed deep within the earth and then pushed up during geologic upheaval and are now being eroded by the weather and waves. It's hard to walk on these rocks, even when they are dry. Gaining one's footing can be difficult and finding a place to sit usually means finding a large glacial boulder that has been sanded down smooth. But it is beautiful and interesting scenery.

Upheaval happens, often suddenly, and often seemingly out of nowhere, although certainly in the case of geologic upheaval and I believe the upheaval that shows up in our lives as well there have been forces underground working towards the sudden breaking through for some time. Upheaval is distressing - the landscape changes, and things look sort of like they used to except they're sideways or there are big gaps, and it is hard to get one's footing. And only after time does it begin to look interesting rather than dangerous.

I think this is why we look for unchangeableness. Many of us want our spouses or partners to be unchangeable - to stay the person we fell in love with. We particularly want God to be unchangeable and many of us want church to be unchangeable, too. Because we want a haven in the midst of all the upheaval. We want to be able to count on something enduring. No matter what else is happening out there, we want something to be the same. The Egyptians built massive monuments that have certainly endured, although they have surely changed. Everything changes. But we can take the slow erosion more easily than the sudden upheaval, if for no other reason than the hope that we won't be around to see it.

But the slow erosion is destructive, too. It may take a lot longer, but it's just as destructive. If one visits Clonmacnoise in Ireland (County Offaly, on the River Shannon), some of the old Celtic high crosses and gravestones have been removed indoors and replicas put in their places outside to protect the originals from further erosion.

I am of two minds about this. I lament the erosion of beautiful monuments as much as anyone. I understand the urge to take something away from its original location in order to preserve it in a museum or visitor's center. Putting up facsimiles in the original location is a kind of restoration. I get that, too. And I want to see the ancient originals somewhere. But at the same time, everything has its season and natural forces mean that things change. Rocks change, communities change, people change. My great-great-great grandfather's tombstone is now almost unreadable. Recognition of the change is so hard to become comfortable with. Perhaps we are fooling ourselves. We just want things to stay the same even in the face of the inevitable.

But even if one can ignore erosion, at least for a while, upheaval is "in your face." The landscape changes dramatically and there is no way to fool oneself about that. Footing is hard, there is no resting place, things seem sideways or upside down.

But there are sure things. It's just that they are the bedrock, not the top layer. Our focus is usually on that top layer. It may be that the mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord; that God's footprints will split the Mount of Olives and cause a rift valley; that the earth shall shake and the mountains will smoke at the presence of the Lord. But it is also written that there is a place to hide, that we should seek protection under the shadow of God's wings, in the shelter of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty. Where we are kept as God's own forever because we are loved.

God's love for us and God's desire for the salvation of the world are the things that do not change. All the rest is subject to upheaval.

Morning Canticle: Te Deum

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you;
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not shun the Virgin's womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God's right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come and be our jdge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
brought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.

(BCP, 96)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I am juggling a bunch of stuff this week in preparation for both Pentecost and a baccalaureate address this weekend in addition to the usual weekly fare. I have thus decided that this would be a good time to recycle some of my previous posts, so for the next few days, I'll be posting new prayers and recycled reflections. Enjoy!

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Sermon for Easter 7C

(Texts: Acts 16:16-34 and John 17:20-26)

The scene in Phillipi is quite exciting, isn’t it? Unlike the previous events in Acts, this story is told as an eyewitness report - “WE came with Paul and Silas to Phillipi, a Roman colony.” And as a Roman colony, meaning it was founded by Roman soldiers, there is a well-organized government complete with plenty of laws and customs. People are coming and going in the marketplace, there in the center of town, engaged in all sorts of business, from the dyed cloth trade of Lydia to the fortune-telling trade of the slave girl and her masters. This is a thriving Roman hotspot.

Paul and Silas and the rest of the gang are like tourists in any foreign capital, staying for a few days in this vibrant European city, going about looking at all there is to see in a Roman colony outside Palestine, and spending time in the marketplace.

Of course we know that wherever Paul goes, trouble soon ensues, and so it does here. Paul becomes annoyed that this fortune-telling girl keeps telling everyone that these men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to all a way of salvation. Which is odd, really, because of course this is true. Paul often describes himself in his letters as a slave, a prisoner of God, and the Gospel Paul proclaims is in fact the way of salvation. She is telling the truth, she has divined correctly. Various scholars have tried to explain Paul’s peevishness away, but there it is. She annoyed him, and finally he had enough and called the spirit of divination out of her.

And then, off we go. Paul’s action causes an uproar in the city. The slave girl may have been freed, but now she has no way to make money, and her masters are more than annoyed. They are incensed.

They seize Paul and Silas and drag them into the marketplace, hauling them before the judges to accuse them of disturbing the peace of the city by bringing their Middle Eastern Jewish customs into this Roman European culture. This event has been a symbolic battle of the gods as well - for Apollo was the patron of divinization - and Paul, in the name of the Most High God, defeats Apollo in this exchange. According to the slave owners, these Jewish foreigners are outside agitators, to use a phrase often employed here in the South back in the 1960’s, and the crowd responded to the rabble rousing as rabble will, joining in the attack on the Jewish foreigners who dare to come in and try to shake things up, to do things that will have social and economic consequences, that will change the established culture. How dare they?!

So, the judges, without any deliberation, order Paul and Silas to be flogged and thrown into jail and locked into the stocks in the innermost cell.

And then there is another uproar - during the night, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns in the jail, perhaps witnessing in some way to the other residents of the prison, a violent earthquake shakes everything so much that the prison door bursts open and the chains fall off of all the prisoners.

The jailer, who wakes during the violent earthquake realizes his honor will have been lost if his prisoners have escaped under his watch, and he prepares to throw himself upon his sword, but Paul calls out to him that all is well, they have not run away. Because this is a story about the Gospel, not an adventure tale with a daring escape scene.

And so the trembling jailer throws himself at the feet of Paul and Silas and says, “What must I do to be saved?”

I really resonate with the jailer. He’s just a guy trying to do his job, and he is in the crossfire, between two great but opposing powers - the power of the city magistrates on one side and the power of a violent apparently God-caused earthquake on the other. His question is absolutely understandable. In the face of all these shows of power over which I have absolutely no control but which I am clearly at the mercy of,

where is my sanctuary? Where is my shelter in the midst of all this upheaval?

And the answer? Believe. Believe the story, believe the witness we bring. Believe that God wants you to be saved.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Just believe. That’s all.

But of course the jailer does more than just believe - he binds up the wounds of Paul and Silas - remember they were flogged - he washes their wounds, and he feeds them in his own home. Not so that he can deserve salvation, but in response to the wonderful, nearly unbelievable proclamation of the Gospel: Believe that God wants you to be saved.

I think many of us don’t really believe that God wants people to be saved. I think many of us really believe that God has a checklist and is just waiting to punish people for their sins. Some of us may believe that God will find us wanting and is just waiting to give us our just desserts.

Others of us may believe that somehow we ourselves will come up on the right side of the column but that other people won’t. And some us us have our own lists of people we just know God wants to punish. Or at least we know that we want God to punish.

We just have a hard time believing that God is that good, that God is not sitting up there on a cloud waiting to pounce on those who do not measure up. We fear that God wants, and even needs, to be separated from us because we’re not good enough, we’re not pure enough, we’re not worthy.

And frankly, the mostly secular world out there thinks that this is what Christianity is about. They see the church fighting over who is in and who is out, who is worthy and who is not worthy, and they get the message loud and clear that being Christian has got something to do with purity and exclusion and punishment.

But what does Jesus say?

The Gospel reading today allows us the rare privilege of overhearing Jesus at prayer. In previous verses, Jesus has prayed for his disciples and now he goes on to pray for us, too - those who will believe because of the witness of the Gospel, meaning us. Jesus prays for us.

And what Jesus prays is that we will be caught up in the life of God the way Jesus is. That we will be close to the father’s heart as Jesus is. That we will participate in the life of God that Jesus has made possible by coming to live among us for a time in order that we might have life abundant.

And that life in God is shown through love. Jesus came into the world to show God’s love, to BE God’s love in the world, and after Jesus is gone, after he has ascended to the Father as he said he would, the disciples - and by extension we - will be the love in the world that Jesus showed us how to be. Jesus does not pray that we will be pure or that we will be worthy. Jesus does not petition God to punish people. Jesus did not come to set up a system of privilege and exclusion.

Jesus prays that we will have the love in us that God has for Jesus. That we will love, that we will BE love.

The Gentile, Roman jailer showed that love to Paul and Silas - those Jews from Palestine, those who were considered outside agitators by the local leaders, those who were jailed without a hearing, those foreigners who were both influencing the economic system and messing with cultural practices. The jailer showed love by opening his heart to them, by washing their wounds, and by feeding them in his own home.

We live in exciting times and places, too. Sometimes too exciting. There’s much in the news that reminds us that we too are powerless in the face of earthquakes and volcanoes, oil gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, bombings and attempted bombings at home and abroad, plane crashes, and tragic attacks on children in China.

We live in a country where people lash out at foreigners and spit on their political opponents. It’s not hard to ask the same question that the jailer did: in the midst of all this stuff over which I really have no power, where is a safe haven? Where is my sanctuary in the midst of all this upheaval? What must I do to be saved?

And the answer is love.

List to what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said on the radio program “Speaking of Faith” last month: He said, “There’s no question about the reality of evil, of injustice, of suffering, but... at the center of this existence is a heart beating with love. You and I and all of us are incredible; we are remarkable things. We are, as a matter of fact, made for goodness.”

Believe that God wants you to be saved, believe that God wants the world to be saved. Believe that God loves you, believe that God loves the world. Believe that God is good and you were made for goodness.

And then act accordingly. Befriend and stand up for the stranger. Bind up people’s wounds. Feed them. Be love.

Be love.


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