Sermons

Monday, February 28, 2011

Stormy Weather


We had a strong band of thunderstorms come through town early this evening, along with a wind advisory and tornado watch (as opposed to warning).  Nothing much happened in my neighborhood except that the internet got all wonky, but the timing was difficult because the storms came through during our rush hour (which lasts for several hours, actually).  I was already at home and didn't have to be out in it, fortunately.  But I gather from Facebook and other sources that some friends and neighbors spent some time in their basements, just in case.  Our basement is not fit to set foot in (it's a dirt basement), so I am glad that no basement was needed at our house.

There are storm clouds out there in all kinds of areas - the Arab world, for instance, which has seen a wave of revolutions with the latest one (in Libya) seeming to verge on civil war.   The kinds of peaceful demonstrations that brought about real change in some countries have been met in Libya with violence as the country's rather bizarre dictator (did you listen to any of his speeches?) has ordered the army to shoot at the demonstrators.  Blood has been shed, and so it is a different game now.  Lord have mercy. 

A segment of the religious world, too, seems to have gotten its knickers in a twist about a guy named Rob Bell who has written a book (that has not yet been published and so nobody has read it yet) which some people are bashing because it apparently advocates a theology of universalism (but see previous parenthetical statement).  Universalism is the heresy, if you're into delineating things into such categories, that says that everyone is able to be saved or is already saved.  Twitter was all aflame in the last day or so either denouncing or supporting Bell, whose book, I will remind you, has not come out yet.  The name of the book, though, is Love Wins, which suggests that Bell may champion the notion that love trumps doctrine every time (although one witty person has suggested that it actually is about the Georgia golfer, Davis Love III, who won the PGA championship in 1997).  

By far the best commentary I have seen about this tempest can be found on the British author and theologian Maggi Dawn's blog, which you can find here.  I hope that she will write another post based on this paragraph:

His opponents are assuming that he is going to give a Universalist answer; others are mistaking universalism for pluralism (not the same thing), but they are very bothered that Bell might be going to suggest that whatever you think or do, you’ll end up in heaven anyway. And they are hopping mad about it (and this makes me wonder why some people are so anxious to keep other people out of heaven… but that’s another can of worms).

I am glad that the local storms here passed over without damage.  Rob Bell, I think, can take care of himself.  But pray for the people of Libya.  








Morning Prayer: John Cassian







Holy and Mighty One, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ blessed the pure in heart: We give you thanks for the life and teachings of John Cassian that draw us to a discipline of holy living for the sake of your reign. Call us to turn the gaze of the eyes of our soul always toward you, that we may abide in your love, shown to us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit is one God, living and true, to the ages of ages. Amen.


(Holy Women, Holy Men)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do Not Worry about What You Will Eat, or Wear, or How You Will Live ....



Today is "no worries" Sunday.  Maybe that's not the official name, but it seems to be so, if you prayed the collect for the day (see previous post)  and read the readings for today (see them here).  Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells the Hebrew people - who have seen their land overrun by Babylonians, their temple burned, and suffered being hauled off to exile in Babylon by the soldiers of King Nebudchadnezzar - not to think that God has deserted them, for God loves them like a mother loves her child and has written them on the palm of God's hand.  Jesus, too, tells the people around him not to worry about what they will eat or wear, not to worry about their lives, for God will give the what they need.  The God who has created the world and clothed it in God's own beauty and mystery loves them and will not abandon them.

Of course we all still have our worries.  

One of the primal worries of human beings, a worry that we experience almost as soon as we are born, is that we will be abandoned.  Many therapists have spent their whole careers working with people who have "abandonment issues."  And that's just the people who are willing to get help.  Untold numbers of other people with abandonment issues are roaming around in the world every day, worrying that they will be left, that no one really loves them, that they will be left to their own devices to deal with absolutely everything that comes along.  

And even those who do get help need regular reinforcement or the worry slides right back in.  Does anybody love me?  Does anybody care whether I live or die, whether I flourish or languish, whether I thrive or wither away?  And if somebody does now, will they always, or will they discover all my flaws and my deep imperfection and then leave me?  Am I worthy to be loved?  

These are our deep seated worries.  That we are not worthy, that we will be alone to deal with everything the world dishes out, that nobody cares, that we will be thrown away when our weaknesses are discovered.  We may say that we are worried about other things, but this is the crux of the matter for so many of us.  We don't want to be abandoned.

I was thinking as I was listening to the Gospel being read in church today that we could listen to these words of Isaiah, these words of Jesus, this collect, every month and that wouldn't be too often.  To hear the comfort - God loves what God has made, God cares, God will not abandon us, we don't have to worry about our ultimate fate - over and over again until finally it sinks in.  I was glad to hear the sermon on that very topic.  We all have worries, but God is with us, and we although have to look for God, we do so with the certain knowledge that God is there somewhere; God has given us the eyes to see if we will but open them and see.  Because we are not alone, uncared for, even when it seems as if we are.

I heard, a few days ago, an interview on NPR with someone from Amnesty International (I came in late and didn't get all the details so I can't provide a link to the story) who told a story about a man who had been imprisoned.  His captors hauled him out one day to interrogate him about his friends in France.  The prisoner stated that he didn't know anybody in France.  And in fact he didn't.  But the captors shouted at him, yes you do!  What about all those postcards you get every week from those people in a village in France?  

The prisoner had never seen the postcards, but they were the work of many people who, through Amnesty International, had adopted this prisoner and kept sending him cards to let him know that they were thinking of him, that he was not forgotten.  When the prisoner heard about the cards and finally saw them, he later reported, it changed the way he lived in his cell.  His captors had told him:  You are forgotten.   Nobody cares about you.  You will not be missed.  Nobody is going to come and save you because nobody cares about you.  But it turns out that he was missed, many somebodies did care about him, even though they didn't know him, and wrote to him regularly to let him know that he was missed and he was cared about.  It meant the world to the prisoner, who was eventually released.

The man on the radio interview said, this is one of the important things we do at Amnesty International.  We work to keep people from being forgotten, left to languish and to die.  

And this is why there are so many people who visit and send cards and call and bring animals to mingle with elderly people who live in assisted living and nursing homes.  To remind those who are no longer able to go here and there, and maybe feel imprisoned by weak bodies and minds, that they are not forgotten.

Because we will languish and die if we think we are forgotten, unworthy of notice, abandoned.  But God has made us worthy, as we say in Eucharistic Prayer B in the Book of Common Prayer.  We are not forgotten, for God remembers us as God remembered Noah, and the promises made to Abraham, and the people enslaved in Egypt who cried out, and the people in Babylon living in captivity, and Jesus on the cross, and you, and me.





Morning Collect for the Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany




Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Collect for Saturday Evening



We give you thanks, O God,
for revealing your son Jesus Christ to us by the light of his resurrection:
Grant that as we sing your glory at the end of this day,
our joy may abound in the morning as we celebrate the Paschal mystery;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 134)

Lenten Roses

Hellebores, also called Lenten Roses, are not roses.  And they don't always bloom only during Lent.  Mine start blooming in February and usually go into May.  Lent only seems like it's that long.  But here is a glamour shot of my Lenten Roses, whose blooms have opened during this warm week.

It is said that the cultivation of hellebores signifies that one is a mature gardener.  Certainly I tried a number of other plants in the place where my hellebores now grow profusely - I tried and failed at at least four or five other ideas in this spot under a crepe myrtle tree on a slope.  Finally, without expecting much, I bought three Lenten Rose plants and within three or four years, they spread all the way down the slope and are in danger of taking over places I don't want them to be.  The blooming season is exceptionally long.  They are wonderful plants; I'm happy that I matured enough as a gardener to finally come around to them.

During this beautiful warm spell we've been having, it's hard to remember that Lent is coming.  I have done nothing to prepare for Lent.  But my lovely hellebores remember, and, unlike me, they are ready.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Afternoon Fountain Break


This lovely fountain is near the entrance to a winery in north Georgia.  Fish swim in the pool at the bottom of the steps, and the pool runs out and along under a little bridge that separates the parking lot from the winery.  It's lovely and the gentle noise of the falling water serves as a damper on the noise out in the parking lot.

On this Friday, imagine sitting by this pool with a glass of local wine and enjoy!


It Takes All Kinds

I think it was one of my grandfathers, or maybe a great-grandfather, who, according to my parents, used to frequently say, "It takes all kinds to make the world go 'round."

Which is a true statement.

Of course, as I look back, I realize that frequently a short version of this quote ("it takes all kinds") might be brought out by members of my family (including me) as a comment upon someone who looks or has done something "different."  It wouldn't be (exactly) a haughty dismissal or spoken (always) as an accompaniment to some eye-rolling, but it wouldn't be a compliment, either.  The eye-rolling might be implied; the dismissal might be just barely hinted at.  But still, it was an attempt to recognize that, "hey, you are really weird" or "what a crazy thing to say or do" or "just what is up with you and your purple polka dot house anyway?"are all a little judgmental and maybe we could just, by stating "it takes all kinds,"comment neutrally about people who are, indeed, different from us.

I think it's good to try to be at least neutral about differences if we can't be enthusiastic.  Deep down inside, however, we really don't like people who are different or things that are different from our things or from the way we do things.  We may say we just don't understand them.  Mostly, I suspect, it's because we are afraid they may be better than we are, and so we would rather not like them or like their preferences.  Or understand them.

Even worse, what if we are wrong and they are right?  This is scary; it causes anxiety.   So let's just dismiss those who are different and be done with it.

But my grandfather, or great-grandfather, was right.  It does take all kinds to make the world go around.  If we are made in the image of God, and we are introverts and extroverts and ectomorphs and mesomorphs and blonde, brunette, redhead, male and female, be-ers and do-ers, eaters of escargot and lovers of fish sticks, drinkers of Coke and drinkers of Pepsi, homebodies and adventurers, contemplatives and people who have trouble with contemplation ...... well, obviously we are all different and that's really ok because we are all part of the humanity that bears the image of God.

It also seems to be human nature, though, as different as all of our natures present themselves, to create dichotomies unnecessarily.  If this is right, than that is wrong.  If your way is the right way, then my way must be the wrong way.  If heaven is for Christians who profess Jesus to be their Lord and Savior then everybody else must be going to hell.

Why is this?  What is it about human nature that we can see with the naked eye that there are many different kinds of people, thoughts, philosophies, governments, religious practices and yet we act as if  only one of them is right and all the others wrong.  Only one recipe for spaghetti, only one way to pray, only one kind of marriage, only one way to heaven.  Why are we so determined that love is a zero sum game, that heaven has a limited capacity, that life must be lived according to one set of rules?  This damages other people when we insist that they have to go against their own natures to conform to some idea of what is right and what is wrong.  Think about all those kids whose parents and teachers forced them to learn to write and eat and do everything with their right hands when they were clearly left-handed.  Left handed people were, in the Middle Ages, branded evil and could be put to death!

What kind of God do we profess, when we say that we are all made in God's image, and then determine for ourselves that God will not accept those who don't act/believe/worship according to a particular standard (the same for everybody)?  We are the ones who seem so bent on excluding others and then claim that God wants us to do that.

 God made us in all kinds and it does take all kinds to make the world go 'round.

Morning Prayer for Those in Trouble or Bereavement



O merciful Father, who has taught us in you holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of humanity:  Look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants for whom our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(BCP 831)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Big Pile of Rocks

I have a bunch of rocks in my yard that I need to do something with.  It's my own fault - I asked for them, when we had a stone wall built in the front to keep the yard from falling onto the sidewalk.  I asked for all the rocks that were doing an ineffective job of keeping the yard in place once they were removed to make way for the proper wall.  And so there they are, scattered about on the dirt which needs covering with mulch after the rocks are moved.

I have ideas - grand ideas.  But they involve hauling rocks and digging and shoveling and even before that, raking and designing.  We have the perfect weather in which to do this kind of work - warm, not too sunny and hot, no bugs out yet, pollen not bad.  And hauling rocks and digging is always therapeutic.

But the work will be hard.

So I'm in a fence-sitting place.  I can imagine the good result but I can see the current disarray.  And I have been around the block before, meaning that I know my plans will not take into account unforeseen but inevitable glitches/problems and that it will all take much longer and be more complicated than I think.

Unless it turns out to be a piece of cake.

Do you recognize this activity?  It's called "dithering."  Which reminds me of English novels.  Which reminds me that I just started "Damsel in Distress," one of those delightful comedies by Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.....

I'll go get my rake.

Morning Prayer about Loving our Enemies



O God, the Father of all,
whose Son commanded us to love our enemies:
Lead them and us from prejudice to truth;
deliver them and us from all hatred, cruelty and revenge;
and in your good time enable us all
to stand reconciled before you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(BCP 816)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eggs

I didn't watch the Lady Gaga egg thing on the Grammies the other night.  I have learned that one does not need to actually watch a lot of stuff that comes on TV at the time the program is originally aired.  The highlights show up on the replay shows - morning and evening news, E!, etc. - at the gym and Moe's and of course all over the internet the next day and often for days after that.

I did read a good post today referencing the Lady Gaga stunt at the Episcopal Church Foundation's Vital Practices blog (see it here), about how few of us have a problem talking about all sorts of things with our colleagues and friends except when it comes to church and faith.  Many Christians seem to have difficulty figuring out how to weave their faith lives into their everyday conversations.  And so we talk about just about everything else except for God, Jesus, faith, salvation.

Similarly, I remember the New Testament scholar Bart Erhman opening one of his Great Courses videos on the New Testament this way:  He asked his students (he teaches at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) if they believe that the Bible is in some way the Word of God.  Lots of people raise their hands.  Then he asks if they have actually read the Bible.  Few people raise their hands.  Then he asks if they have read The DaVinci Code.  Nearly all the students raise their hands.  He says, what is up with this?  You believe the Bible is the Word of God but you spent your time reading The Word of Dan Brown instead?

Well, you know, faith is private, we feel.  And mysterious, maybe too difficult to understand and absolutely too difficult to explain.  And, you know, what if people think we are weird, that we are just like those crazy TV Christians (or something)?  Or if they ask things we can't answer?  So let's just keep it private.

And in fact, we keep it so private that we are unable to bring ourselves to do the work Jesus commissioned us to do - to go and make disciples of all people, to spread the Gospel, the Good News, that God loves us and wants us to be reconciled to God and to each other.  That Jesus came to show us what God is like, to open up a new pathway to God for people who were and are groaning under the weight of the brokenness that permeates human existence.

The rest of the world is not going to know that Christians are not all crazy TV people but perfectly normal, nice, good people (like you) if you don't let people know that you are a Christian.  The rest of the world is not going to know that Christian behavior includes being responsible about the environment, equality, human rights, inclusion, loving neighbor through social justice and not "loving person hating sin" kinds of stuff if you don't show the world what Christians like you really believe and do.  That's what evangelism is.

Jesus said for us to bear fruit.  Figuring out how to be a public Christian is figuring out how your faith is not something external that you put on just on Sundays but is an integral part of who you are and how you live your life (that's part of what bearing fruit is).  One does not have to bore and/or irritate one's friends and neighbors and colleagues and family members with constant references to Jesus all day to do this.  One can be open about what motivates, inspires, frees, informs; one can invite dialogue without needing to know all the answers (it isn't dialogue if one side knows all the answers anyway); one can express one's faith through both words and deeds without needing to put on an Awards Show Extravaganza.




Morning Prayer in times of Conflict



O God, you have bound us together in a common life.
Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth,
to confront one another without hatred or bitterness,
and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(BCP 824)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Horizons

What's on the horizon for Egypt, for Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia . . . for Iraq, Afghanistan?  For Haiti?  For the people and government in Wisconsin?  For New Zealand?  For the United States?  For you and for me?

Change is happening everywhere, bidden and unbidden.  Just as the trees and shrubs are showing buds here, just as babies are growing and learning to walk and talk, just as spring follows winter, so change is part of life.  Birth, death, regrowth, new life, all part of the cycle.  We lament and decry destruction and violence, rejoice in the creation of new life, new paths, new ways of living.

Upheaval is not easy, whether it accompanies planned or unplanned change.  Studies show that moving is as stressful as divorce.  I remember when the kids were little and we moms would discuss our parental frustrations inherent in coping with what were actually good things - children learning to walk (and to wreak more havoc in less time), climbing out of bed and high chair, asserting independence.  Now we discuss adolescents, teens, empty nests, and turn attention to caring for elderly parents.  We have to constantly readjust to changing environment.  This takes a lot of energy, to receive all sorts of information (personal and public), sort and process it, give it time to settle into shape or settle into the rest of the tapestry of our lives.

From my own childhood I remember occasions of asking to do this or to do that and receiving an answer of "no" from a harried parent.  I remember finally asking/complaining, "Then, what CAN I do?"  I remember my own children asking me the same thing when I was too busy with other things to cope with adding another item to the schedule - a trip to the store or park, a play date, another activity on top of everything else that I was trying to balance and juggle and manage and master.  It was often a matter of available energy, physical and emotional.

So I find myself these days, as I try to stay current with the rapidly changing landscapes in so many areas of my life and all over the world, thinking about how much energy it takes to keep up with everything.  And figuring that others feel the same way.  And wanting us all to be gentle with ourselves and with each other along the way and allow ourselves the rest and rejuvenation we need when our batteries run down.

My prayer for today is that we all can recognize that we have temporary limits to our ability to absorb and stay on top of things during times of change (and especially times of upheaval).  I send out my prayers on behalf of all who are coping with death and destruction, for those who are working for democracy and human rights, for those who are afraid, for those who are elated.  And I send out my prayers for those of us who are watching, caring about our world, caring about our families, and also trying to stay afloat in the midst of our own places and processes of growth and change.

God is with us in our joy and in our sorrow, on the journey and at all the rest stops along the way.   Rest assured that God is our final destination.

Morning Prayer for New Zealand



God of all consolation,
grant to those in sorrow
the spirit of faith and courage,
that they may have the strength to meet the days to come
with steadfastness and patience;
not sorrowing without hope,
but trusting in your goodness;
through him who is the resurrection and the life,
Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen.

(NZP 815)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Slow and Steady



I am reading Mary Karr's book LIT, which is a memoir, as were her two previous books of nonfiction, Liars Club and Cherry.  (I read and loved Liars Club but didn't read Cherry; I think it helpful to have read the first, yet not necessary to read the second, to appreciate this third one.)  Mary Karr is one of those people who lived a childhood that is so foreign to most of our experience that we can only look on in horror at the train wreck of her "upbringing" and marvel that she got out alive.  It is no wonder that much of her own life, as she became a young adult and married and had a child, continued on a destructive, careening "path" and that it has taken her perhaps most of her life to scrape off the residue, one tiny bit at a time.  

The writing is really excellent (Karr is a poet) and, oddly enough to anyone who has been or seen family dysfunction up close, her story is quite believable, if sad and frustrating.  It is simply too much to ask severely scarred children (and by this I mean people under the age of 25 or so) who grew up in families laced with mental illness and addictions to be able to recognize and hold on to those who would help them heal.  And so one watches with signs too deep for words as they run away, again and again, from choices that would allow them to lay down their burdens and their guilt and most of all their self-loathing.  

Reprogramming oneself from dysfunction to health is slow work, even if occasional epiphanies come suddenly, like Paul's experience on the Damascus Road, blasting through all the built-up junk and the skewed vision of self and world and sending one sprawling and repentant.  The epiphanies are glorious (and scary) but the work afterwards is hard and slow.  

Reading Karr's book reminds me how hard it is for those looking on to understand how difficult to make are the choices that would bring wholeness for so many people in our broken world, even those who haven't been nearly as scarred by their childhoods as Karr evidently was.   It is slow and painful work for them, and our frustration with their slowness about it all makes it even harder for them to shed the self-loathing.  It is hard for us to recognize that even their healing comes at a cost to them, the pain of ripping off a bandage writ large.  And that their healing is not our work, but theirs.

Our work is to be kind.  To them and to ourselves.  Life is hard.




Sunday, February 20, 2011

Even More Cuteness

Today I went to three church services, a jazz piano summit, and had a glass of sweet tea with my lunch.  What a great day!

Continuing my thoughts from yesterday, the cutest thing I saw today was at the baptism this morning, at the end of which all the children were paraded through the nave and chapel while we all sang "We Receive You Into the Household of God."  One little girl, well aware of the fact that everyone was looking at her, began to wave at the crowd as she passed.  She was just at the age when babies begin waving.  I saw her as she came through the chancel, waving away, and many began to wave back to her.  Smiles and outright holy laughter rippled through those assembled to witness the baptism, i.e., all of us in the church, as she came to "stand" (in the arms of her daddy) in front of the church to receive our applause.  What joy!


Collect for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany



O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing:  Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.  Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

(BCP 216)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cuteness Everywhere

Although I don't really enjoy running errands on Saturdays when everyone seems to be out on the streets both in their cars and on foot, and it takes twice or three times as long to do anything, it was such a beautiful day outside today, and I've spent a lot of time in front of a book or a screen lately, I decided to go ahead and do those errands this afternoon instead of looking at more pictures from and reading more tweets about Bahrain and Libya.

First stop was the pet store to buy bunny food.  Turns out that today was a pet adoption day.  We already have two pets, each of which is a rescue animal who doesn't really get along with other animals, and so going to the store on pet adoption days requires me to run the gauntlet just to get inside.  So many cute puppies and kittens, needing homes.  My heart melts, but I try to focus on the people who are there truly in search of a pet to take home.  It helps if there are cute couples or cute children among the cute animals, and today, thank goodness, there was an abundance of cute at the store.  Happy kids, happy couples, happy pups with tongues hanging out this warm day, except for the ones piled upon each other, asleep (but still cute, of course).  Inside the store, there were dogs everywhere, too, several of which were getting warm-weather haircuts.  I thought of Kitty and Bunny at home, happy the way things are with no sloppy dogs or other scary animals around (which for them means any animals, even each other), and succeeded in getting out of there with only the bunny food in my bag.

Next I went to the grocery store.  There were lots of people there, not a lot of cute ones if truth be told, but people pushing carts and leaving carts in aisles and generally not looking all that happy about grocery shopping, but I was able to get my provisions and check out in a reasonable amount of time.  As I wheeled my cart over to my car to load the groceries in the trunk, a little boy and his mother walked by, having just left their cart-with-a-car-for-the-kids-to-"drive" in the cart return.  Seeing my yellow Beetle, he squealed, "Mommy!  There's a Bee Car!"  I loved it - a Bee Car!  What a nice change from the kids who punch each other in the arm when they see me come by.

As I got into my (Bee) car, I saw, parked in front of me, the thing I may have to give up coveting for Lent - a red convertible Smart Car.  Oh, it was so cute, and the top was down, and yes I realize that cuteness is in the eye of the beholder.  My car is way cuter, really, anyway, because now I know that it is a Bee Car.

In the midst of revolution, there is cuteness.  Thanks be to God.

Morning Collect for Social Service


Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served but to serve:  Bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom, patience, and courage, they may minister in his Name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

(BCP 260)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Afternoon Fountain Break



A funny fountain tucked away in a little courtyard in Savannah -
several tall cylinders spouting water.
And then the water cascades down each cylinder
into a small pool below.
Refreshing, no?

All Fall Down



It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the news.  Protests and revolution are sweeping through the Middle Eastern countries like a line of dominoes, and suddenly Wisconsin (Wisconsin!) is in the spotlight as a battle between the new governor and labor leaders over spending and jobs and state workers' rights escalates and becomes part of a national debate.  Everyone is worried about debt - national debt, state debt, personal debt - at a time when many are still out of work and proposed budget cuts could add millions to the ranks of the unemployed.

And the words of Qoheleth, the preacher, the voice of the Book of Ecclesiastes, come to mind.  All is vanity.  All is a breath, a puff of wind.

And then Dame Julian of Norwich.  "All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well," which is what Jesus says to her in a vision, just after he says, "Sin is necessary."

I sometimes find it difficult to navigate between the worlds of the New York Times, CNN, and these days Al Jazeera, and Julian of Norwich.  This is always a struggle - being involved, informed, invested in our world and at the same time being confident that all shall be well because in the end God will make everything right.

I believe it, I believe that at the last God will wipe away every tear, but the tears are so real now.  The Friday prayer from the BCP (see previous post) is real for us as it was real for Jesus.   Suffering is real now but joy will come.  And so in the meantime, let us pray for peace and for God's presence and mercy for all who are suffering, that they may have hope that all shall be well.


Morning Collect for Friday




Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified:  Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Respect

Our baptismal covenant calls upon us to respect the dignity of every human being.  I am glad that we say this out loud in front of God and everybody several times a year; I know I need the reminder that this is part of my job description as a Christian.

But I am not sure that I always fully appreciate what that ought to look like in my regular life.

I am reading a truly wonderful book called Horizons of Mission by Titus Presler.  It's part of the New (Episcopal) Church's Teaching Series and nearly every page has me whipping out the highlighter and making notes in the margins - remember this!  yes!  stars * and exclamation points!  While I am not going to review the book here (I may later, after I've finished it), I will just say that Presler's overarching theme is that mission is what we do in witness to our faith and that everything we do is mission because as Anglicans, we primarily understand our faith as incarnational, embodied.  Therefore, we are all missioners everywhere because we are all embodying our faith every day.  The book unpacks what that means in all sorts of venues, from the local neighborhood to other continents in the midst of other religions.  It's fascinating.

But back to the respecting the dignity part - in one of the historical chapters, Presler acknowledges that for a long time, missionaries were thought to be transmitting not just Christianity but also Western culture to the people they lived and worked among.  One can find in the church archives writings from institutional higher-ups that clearly denigrate not only the religions but also the cultures of people in Asia, South America, Africa, Oceana, as well as North American indigenous peoples.  Presler says that there was an impulse for Victorian missionaries to put clothes on South American people or to teach wood carvers to make European musical instruments instead of their own.   The implicit message was that these people did not already have a meaningful culture and that Westerners had to enlighten them to the one true religion and the one true culture, which was White European (male dominated) Culture.  And that there were two parties:  givers and receivers.  One always gives (the White Europeans) and the other always receives (unenlightened heathen types).  No sense of mutual relationship and appreciation.

As I was reading, I recalled a conversation from years ago about the best way to help children who live in poverty.  I mentioned reading somewhere the bald statement that if one wants to help children, one needs to help the mothers of the children, that babies and children can't be treated as if they are not embedded in families of some sort.  The other person stopped and blinked at me and then said something like, "Thank you for saying that.  I guess I don't like the idea of helping the mothers because I disapprove of their lifestyles, having babies out of wedlock you know, and so I just want to help the babies because they can't help what their mothers did.  But I guess I didn't think about the fact that what I'm advocating, really, is to step in and effectively take over the providing and parenting myself.  You are reminding me that these are not my babies, that these babies already have mothers."

Respecting the dignity of every human being is not only about seeing everyone as a child of God but about respecting the dignity of human endeavors and cultures and practices, even when they feel foreign to us.  Every human being is embedded in a family and a culture of some sort, and it is to our detriment when we cannot open ourselves to appreciate other cultures even in our own increasingly diverse communities.  I recognize that I need to work on that over and over again, to see other ways of doing and being not as competition but as complement.  That respecting the dignity of the person and the culture in which the person is embedded means I might learn something from that person and their ways of being and doing.


Morning Prayer

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen.

(Prayer attributed to St Francis, BCP 833)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yellow boat on emerald water

We're having one of those warm, sunny spells we sometimes have after mid-winter.  Abundant sunshine, high blue sky, no humidity and the mosquitoes are not out yet.  Daffodils are poking up green shoots; the lenten roses sport fat purple buds.  Spring is not here yet - we'll have more cold weather before long - but it is a beautiful day.  A day to both love for itself and also for the reminder that warmer, more colorful days are coming again.

This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Bishop Charles Todd Quintard





Mighty God, we bless your Name for the example of your bishop Charles Todd Quintard, who opposed the segregation of African Americans in separate congregations and condemned the exclusion of the poor; and we pray that your Church may be a refuge for all, for the honor of your Name; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Read about him here.

Prayer for the Unemployed



Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth in all that may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 824)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Faith

Sunday afternoon was one of those exquisitely beautiful days here in Atlanta.  Nearly seventy degrees, sunny, the ground still soft from all winter precipitation but not muddy, birds and cats and kids and dogs and runners out en masse to enjoy the day. 

I spent the afternoon drastically cutting back my rosebushes.  

The bushes attacked me as they always do, snagging my jacket, my shirt, my pants as I tried to squeeze by, clippers in hand.   The roses are glorious in bloom, but they are overgrown, and there were dead canes in several shrubs that will be impossible to remove once they leaf out.  The thorns worked through my gloves, too - not the big ones (they are easy to avoid) but the little ones that just slip in through the seam to tear at the skin.  It is clearly time this year to do the serious surgery I have avoided for the last six or so - old garden roses do not need to be pruned the way hybrid teas must be every year.   I even cut one bush back to the ground, even though it is a lovely shrub, because it is now nearly completely overshadowed by the bushes on either side of it.  To leave it is to invite disease to all three.  If it leafs out, I'll dig it up and find a new spot for it.  If the shock was too much, I'll pull out the roots and that will be that.

This is an act of faith.  Even though I am a knowledgeable enough gardener, and I know that pruning stimulates plants to put out new branches and blooms and that old and dead canes need to be thinned out to allow for air to circulate and all that, I still hate cutting off the canes that I see are already full of tiny red leaf buds.  I hate cutting off the leaves that are already on the bush (most of them having hung on throughout the winter) even though I know that they are old and need to go.  I hate the look of the bare canes poking up like match sticks stuck in a pot.  It is hard to imagine that in six weeks, they all will be in full leaf and in eight weeks the yard will be in full bloom.  But it will.  It always does.

Most of us would prefer to keep our protective outer layer on, intact, even when it is old and tattered and not going to produce much in the future.  We probably find ways to fight back, too, when someone comes too close with the shears.  We think - we beg:  "Let me keep my three ragged, yellowing leaves at least until a new glossy green one sprouts forth; don't leave me naked to the elements even though a wonderful mystery is happening inside me.  Because I'm afraid it won't sprout and I'll be left a group of chopped off sticks, my deficits out there for everyone to see while my potential growth is somehow trapped inside."

It's hard to have faith.  But that mysterious quickening happens again and again, just as it always does.




Morning Collect



Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory
and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the earth:
Deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone,
that we may do the work which you give us to do in truth and beauty
and for the common good;
for the sake of him who came among us as one that serves,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

(BCP 261)





Monday, February 14, 2011

Sports

On Saturday, I watched a bunch of eight or nine year old girls playing a church league basketball game.  I sat on the side that had a lovely, low-key, very smiley coach who completely understood how when a player got an elbow in the head, she needed to run up the bleachers to sit with her mom until she was ready to go back in.  Who was only a little frustrated, but not angry, when a player got called for traveling because she caught a pass (one of those high, arcing ones that look like a softball pitch) on the run and because of her cute (but not basketball) shoes just kept sliding for a yard or so.  Someone would heave the ball up and if it went in, everyone went nuts, from both teams.  The final score was 10 - 8, I think.

It also reminded me, however, of my days as a young athlete.  Actually, athlete is hardly the word one would use to describe me at any age.  I could ride a bike and a horse, hit a golf ball, swim and dive and do yoga, but when it came to team sports, I was a fish out of water.  As in, completely disoriented, gasping, and feeling as if I were dying.

When I was in the 9th grade, (oh that time of extreme self-consciousness!) I spent the year at a boarding school where all girls were expected to play all kinds of sports in the mandatory p.e. class.  I actually had never heard of field hockey before.  Sadly, we only had a short week or two hitting golf balls, and there were no bikes, horses, or pools.  The other weeks were concerned with basketball and field hockey.  We probably did other things, but what I remember is basketball and field hockey.  Would that I could have sat with my mom when things went wrong.  The gym teacher apparently had never met a girl who didn't just love to play team sports in which she got banged up all the time because really didn't know what she was doing... at least that's what her comments on my report card suggested.  She was appalled that I didn't get in there and scrap and be aggressive.  How did I expect to be good at basketball and field hockey?  It never occurred to her that I had no desire to be good at basketball and field hockey. I loathed basketball and field hockey.  And I loathed feeling stupid about not knowing what to do when I was playing.  I loathed the gym teacher, too.

So I loved watching this coach on Saturday.  He never stopped smiling, never yelled at the kids, cheered for any goal that was scored by either team, and seemed just happy that the girls were there to play, whether or not they were wearing the right shoes or pants or whether they forgot to pull their hair back so that they were shooting free throws with hair in their mouths.  They could figure out that stuff on their own, if they wanted to.



Morning Collect



O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved,
in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength:
By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence,
where we may be still and know that you are God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(BCP 832)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Elizabeth's Sermon

I did not preach today.  Instead, I was privileged to hear my friend Elizabeth preach.  This is one of the things I like about my current work, that I am able to attend different churches and hear my colleagues' sermons.

Today's Gospel text is Matthew 5:21-37.  Read it here.  This is a text that is part of the Sermon on the Mount, after the Beatitudes.  If Matthew's goal is to show Jesus as the true interpreter of the Torah (and not creating a new set of laws), then these statements of Jesus are intended to be his interpretation of some of the most difficult issues of the day - murder, anger, lust, adultery, divorce, and, perhaps curiously, proper speech.   He points out that anger lies at the root of murder, that lust at the root of adultery and divorce and also says stuff about how you might end up in hell for saying "you fool" and that you ought to pluck out your eye rather than go to hell for lusting after women.  This is a long passage and it's full of the kinds of things that make people really nervous and anxious.  When Jesus talks about people going to hell, we sit up and listen with great trepidation.

As the gospel was read, one could feel the anxiety rising.  Here's that passage that condemns all of us.  Don't even get angry?  Pluck out your eye?  Divorced women are actually committing adultery if they remarry?  Lust - even Jimmy Carter admitted to this one in front of God and everybody.  How are any of us to escape the hell of fire?  Because there's a lot of going to hell in this passage.

And then the preacher mounts the pulpit.  I've been this preacher on other occasions and I was wondering what Elizabeth would choose to say today.  And she said this:

"So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift."

She preached about reconciliation.  She talked about a woman who, after significant struggle, decided to meet and get to know and eventually advocate for the man who killed her young adult son.  She talked about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, the work of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  She talked about how hard this is: how the woman was criticized by other family members for "dishonoring her son's death;" how hard it was for murderers to tell the stories of what they had done; how hard it was for victims and their families to listen.  How hard it was and it is to decide to forgive, to let go of victimhood, of anger and rage that eats us up, to be reconciled with those who have injured us.  She called Mandela and Tutu and the woman Superheroes for what they were able to do in the face of horrible wrong-doing, violence, oppression, death.  Elizabeth wondered whether she would even be able to do such a thing herself.

As I listened to Elizabeth's sermon, I thought, "Oh, how I wish that this was the way we did theology in the public square."  I'm not sure what "we" I mean exactly, but it seems that so much "Christian talk" (both in and out of church) puts so much focus on hell, and on sexual behavior that condemns (other people) to hell, almost constantly.  Almost never is the focus is on reconciliation.  Elizabeth read through that daunting list and had many things to choose from, many things she could have talked about, things that lots of people talk about over and over, but she chose to talk about reconciliation.

Because Jesus is all about reconciliation, that's the big picture in the Gospels.  Yet Christians so often choose to spend much more time and energy on whether or not people are going to hell because of this or that behavior.  (And a close reading of this passage from Matthew makes it clear that we all are guilty of these behaviors.  No one is exempt, although we try to find loopholes so that we can say we are not guilty of the things we condemn others of doing or being.)  Occasionally I hear a Christian leader just say matter of factly that certain people are condemned - that's what the Bible says, and really there's nothing much else to say.  Sorry.  And I get furious.  Because there is a lot more to say.

People are hurting.  The world is broken.  People are lost, they are bereft, they wonder if there is any meaning to this life at all, they are nearly overcome with worry, questions, hurt, grief, meaninglessness.  Jesus was about reconciliation.  The church is supposed to be the sign of reconciliation in the world.  We ought to be in the business of reconciliation rather than condemnation.

And so, I am grateful to my friend Elizabeth for reading through those many verses in Matthew today and choosing to lift up the part about reconciliation.  Well done, good and faithful servant.






Collect for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you:  Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

(BCP 216)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Grace

I just read this lovely little essay by Giles Fraser, a CofE priest and writer, in The Guardian, about being called upon to say grace before meals at official functions of various sorts.  He quotes a bit from another, much older essay by the formidable Charles Lamb, suggesting that saying grace before a huge fancy meal is something like blessing an orgy.  Fraser disagrees (as I do), believing that since prayer forms us, it is meet and right, as they say, to stop before meals and remember that all we have is a gift from God, whatever the purpose or form of the meal in front of us.  Because the point is remembering and recognizing that (and what) God provides.

When I was a little Sunbeam in Sunday school, we memorized (among many other things) a table blessing, which we basically chanted to an internal, sing-song beat.  It goes like this:

God is great, God is good.  Let us thank him for our food.  By his hands we all are fed; give us Lord our daily bread.  A-men.

You can get the beat right if you tilt your head from side to side on the 1 and the 3 and the amen has to be two strong beats.   That's old school, I know.  Post Elvis, we're all about the 2 and the 4.  But I digress.

Occasionally, I would be called upon to recite this blessing before a meal at home, but not often.  It was understood that my dad, as the head of the household, would be blessing all meals, and in his absence my mother.  I never quite memorized the one they said, although it seems remarkably similar to one of the blessings before meals in our prayer book (Bless, O Lord, thy gifts to our use and us to thy service; for Christ's sake.  Amen.  [BCP 835]).  He had a longer one that he used for larger (perhaps holiday) gatherings around the table, but mostly he used the everyday prayer, which I must have felt was a grown-up prayer for which I was not old enough to say yet.


When it became known that I was preparing for the priesthood, I was frequently called upon to say grace at various gatherings.  I remember being told by discernment mentors to expect that to happen.  For some reason, people seem to feel that the food is blessed more properly by someone "holy."  I have never felt that I am more holy than anyone else, and in fact often feel that others are surely more holy than I, but I know that there is some feeling by friends and acquaintances of wishing to recognize and respect an office.  Or something like that.  And I would say grace if asked (I never ask to do the honors); and often I would cast about in my mind what I should say, what should be MY prayer before meals.  But when I went home, it would be my dad saying grace as head of the family, and then after he died, my mom.

We are formed by our prayers, both the words, the form, the simple saying of prayers in certain situations.  The fact of saying grace before meals gets into our bodies, as do the words of thanks and praise.  I haven't said that child's grace in 40 years but it came right to me, head tilts and all.  Because I was formed by saying grace before meals.



Collect for Saturday: Charles Freer Andrews


 Gracious God, you called Charles Freer Andrews to empty himself, after the example of our Savior, so that he might proclaim your salvation to the peoples of India and the Pacific Islands: By your Holy Spirit inspire us with like zeal to bring together people of every race and class, that there may be one Body and one Spirit in Jesus Christ, our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Afternoon Fountain Break - Let Justice Roll Down Like the Waters



On this historic day, here's a fountain that is the centerpiece of the beautiful Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia that trumpets life and good news.  As freedom comes to Egypt, now let us heed the Prophet Amos:

Let justice roll down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amen.

Freedom, Revolution, Death, Life, Women


The last couple of days I've been, among other things, bouncing back and forth between watching history continue to unfold in Egypt and reading a novel by Kate Walbert called A Short History of Women (see New York Times review here).

You probably have been keeping at least minimal tabs on the situation in Egypt (and indeed throughout the Middle East) via your favorite news sources.  I switch around and between the New York Times, Twitter, Al Jazeera English newsfeed, and listened to part of Mubarak's speech last evening on NPR.  There are reports coming from CNN tweets that the tanks around the presidential palace have turned away from the crowds.  Today, Twitter is flooded with news, so that I can hardly write more than a sentence before a new alert comes by.  By the time you read this, what news I have will be outdated.  [Actually, during the time I wrote this post, Mubarak's stepping down from office and leaving Cairo has been announced.]  History writ large - the people have brought down a dictator with very little violence.

In contrast, Walbert's novel begins rather pastorally, in green England, with one woman dying for a cause in a sterile hospital room, mostly alone.  Against the backdrop of World War I, she starves herself for women's suffrage.  And then the novel goes on, back and forth in time, to offer glimpses of not only that woman's life but the lives of the women who come after her:  daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughters...we even see a great-great granddaughter's Facebook page and some blog posts from the granddaughter in her 78th year.

The overarching struggle through the generations is the same, though, in the novel.  Who am I personally in a world dominated by large issues and causes?  War - World Wars I and II; September 11, 2001; the Iraq war.  Academia - may women be granted degrees; may they become professors; are they to be the subject of literary and academic inquiry (what do women want and do they have a history at all)?  Marriage and motherhood - how does that confine one to a too-small world, impeding self-actualization; why can't we really know our mothers and our daughters or our husbands?  Who am I, and do I have any bearing on the history of the world or even my family?  Must a woman simply choose between sacrificing self for family or for a cause?  Why is one expected and the other a scandal?  Is that still even true?

History, causes, sacrifice, relationship.  Causes and sacrifice run through history, personal histories and corporate history, like veins carrying blood back to the heart and lungs for re-oxygenation and recirculation.  In the case of Walbert's novel, themes and events and even names appear and reappear (recirculate) throughout the story, throughout the history of this family of women, of the family of women, passed down knowingly and unknowingly, and they are wrenching.  Wrenching because they seem so necessary to the women who live these lives and yet so unnecessary.

As Christians we believe both that Jesus sacrificed himself for us and that we are called to take up our crosses and follow him.  And yet we also hear Jesus say, I came so that [you] might have life abundant.  And we (I, at least) cling to that verse with heart and mind and soul.  Walbert's novel may not ask this question directly, but I do after reading her novel:  Where is the abundance in the sacrifice of a woman's self in a world that doesn't even notice?  Or is any sacrifice, as Jesus says, the way to cause something new to grow tall and green out of what appears to be old and moribund?  (One thinks, too, of the self-immolations that have sparked revolution throughout North Africa.)

Is this old-fashioned?  Do women still feel the need, the pressure, the expectation to "die," in the metaphorical sense, for their families?  Time has marched on and women have broken through so many barriers.  And yet, Walbert may perhaps be asking, have they/we gained life abundant?  Can we, have we, learned to live differently so that relationships and commitments do not restrict but mutually support and enable partners to be all that they can be?  Or have we really only traded one set of anxieties for another as the world rages on with its wars?

I will continue to ponder these ideas in light of Walbert's beautifully written novel.  There are many questions and they deserve more than pat, reflexive answers.  Indeed, in much of life we find no answers but simply live the questions.

But today what seems obvious to me is this question:  Who are we and what do we want?

The people of Egypt have given their answer in these last two weeks.  We want to be free.

Morning Prayer: Holy Angels



Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals:  Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

(BCP 251)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I'm Not Dead Yet

For various reasons, I've not had a chance to write any substantive posts these last days.  

In the meantime, this is a photo one of the mausoleums in the Colonial Cemetery in Savannah, about which I wrote in this post a couple of weeks ago.  All of the mausoleums in the cemetery look like this, although there are a couple of fancy stone memorials to certain celebrity citizens.  Even though Savannah is coastal, there are still below-ground graves as well.

I hope to resume writing in earnest in a day or so.

Morning Collect for the Human Family

 O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son:  Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(BCP 815)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What Feeds You?


So, I am thinking about church and church growth and church community and about the discussions I am seeing here and there about what people want and whether or not that has anything to do with what people are being offered by/in/vis-a-vis church.

What I see in tension is a combination of self-directed ownership of one's spirituality and a wondering about what is a shepherd/pastor/priest's role in directing those in his/her care.

Any thoughts about this?

Morning Prayer: For the Sick


Heavenly Father, giver of life and health:  Comfort and relieve your sick servants, and give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, that those for whom our prayers are offered may be strengthened in their weakness and have confidence in your loving care; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

(BCP 260)




You are welcome to leave your prayer requests in the comments.

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