Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Our Girl Friday: Another Christmas Story

Certainly not Friday, instead another angel who tried
our Nativity Photo Booth at St. Paul's Walla2
The office was closed for Thanksgiving, yet she went into the church office to take care of some paperwork.   The automatic phone answering system rang through to her office.  She glanced at the caller-id, which said ‘hospital’.  She picked up the handset.  “

Is, is this Pastor Wendy?” the caller asked.  “Yes, how can I help you?” she replied.   “My name is Charlotte, and I just had a baby, and I named her Friday.  And she, Friday is, well she is your granddaughter." 

"And um, she is fine, but when I was leaving the hospital my car, it was rear-ended.  And now, so we are back in the hospital.  I, I remembered that your son Max, he said you were a Pastor, and the nurse here at the hospital,  she remembered you,  and knew what church you are at.”

“And I am so glad I found you because, I have a new baby, and I don’t live here, and I cannot go home for a few days, and I don’t know anyone here, and I need help.” 

My bible commentaries for the birth narrative from Luke are a rainbow of highlight colors and littered with years upon years of scribbles.  I found myself coming to this sacred story wondering what more could be said?  How many more five dollar words could be spilled about this holy birth?  I have heard it dozens of time, so much so that I am hardly surprised at all.  This Nativity is much like the parables Jesus will tell when he is older. The meaning is deep and startling wrapped in a starry night.  

So I tell the story of our girl Friday to remind myself that this is a story about answering the call and loving the stranger.   I tell the story of my friend, I tell the story of that strange and life changing call, to remind myself of how demanding and surprising and marvelous this holy night is.  
Mary and Joseph and the shepherds had these astounding calls with dreams and choirs of angels.  The innkeeper all he had was a knock on the door.  All the cosmic fluff can be a diversion from the heart of this Christmas story.  The surprise is that the birth of Jesus invites us to forget about a God of shock and awe.  It invites us to instead listen for his subtle knocks at our doors.  In Jesus God puts on flesh and moves into the neighborhood.  God is knocking at the door, he is ringing a tiny bell and whispering in our ears. 

Christmas is a sign post about the present state of the universe.  It is about you and me and what we love and how far we are willing to bend that we might be made new.  My friend “Pastor” Wendy and her husband, they brought this stranger, this young mom and this baby home.  And the story, yes it checked out:  they do have a granddaughter Friday.  Can you be there with them in the startling strangeness of such surprise guests, who you had no idea about and one who turns out to be so precious?  Now, can you dive deeper still, to be there in that stable?  Can you find yourself as the innkeeper, or the manger or the hay or the stars or the donkey or anyone else in the gospel? 

In the first months of her life with her mom in recovery, baby Friday was often with us at the church.  I remember holding her snuggly as we gathered in a dim nave to walk through the Christmas eve service.  Much like the story of our savior’s birth, the tale is surprising and tender and comic, and so to, strung through with sadness and heartbreak.  If you are familiar with fragile families, it won’t surprise you that their journey isn’t easy.   What family’s journey is?  Each and every day it demands a faithful imagination and love, endless holy love.  

All stories of God’s faithful people, these stories we live are essentially remakes,   at once imitating the one true performance of God in Christ, yet also an creative reliving of that one defining performance.  “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O Come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!”  Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve, 2014
5.30pm Family Service
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington, USA

The story is true, however the names have been changed .

I did however forget to record the audio.  Sorry.

A big shoutout to an essay by Stanley Hauerwas in the essay collection Performing the Faith.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Locked Neither In nor Out

Have you ever been locked out?  Standing outside of some impenetrable space?  Perhaps you had bags in your hands.  Or maybe it was cold or foggy; or perhaps it was oppressively hot.  You are caught on the wrong side.  Perhaps you felt rage, Perhaps sadness or loneliness.  There was probably a moment, or an hour, when you felt resigned to your state.  You knew there was nothing to be done about it, all you could do was wait.

There are times when we are really and truly locked out.  You forgot your key, nobody was home, and there you sat on the porch in the rain.  And there are times when we are systematically locked out.  Moments and lifetimes when the structures and biases and injustices make cages you can feel but barely see.  Holding us captive, devastating hopes and dreams, hindering generations.  There is another kind of locked out. The metaphysical, emotional and deep type of being locked out, or, as the case may be locked in.  Caught in the sins and fears that will not release us, bound by the mourning that can turn this season of glee into gloomy ruins.

For all its celebration,  todays Psalm is rooted in trauma and imperial oppression.  Can you hear it?  Can you hear that its desire for restoration comes from the place of weeping? Its fortunate hope, its dreamy consolation, this isn’t the song for those who are satisfied.  It is the is a song of a Blue Christmas, a song that can imagine the fullness,yet you know it is a long long way from here.  It is a song that starts from being locked out, or perhaps, locked in.

You might have noticed a tension in the tenses of the verbs. Verb tenses in Hebrew are not simply translated, and in poetry such as this, the path is not clear-cut.  If all of the tenses are future focused, those who go out weeping will come again with joy. A future tense makes it a prayer for help, a tension that starts from emptiness and burden.  If the lines are past tense…when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion then we were like those who dream. Then this past tense makes it a thanksgiving psalm, praising God for all that he has done.  You might notice that it is translated here, and almost always, in both future and past tenses. This unsettled timeliness invites us into the tension of the possible, draws us into a porous overlapping of God’s time.  This Psalm 126 demands that we not lock ourselves up in the past, or the present, or even in daydreams of the future. 

Here we are in the downslope, or upslope, of Advent, with this earth spinning toward the darkness of winter solstice, and with us preparing to welcome the Christ, the light of all people.  Perhaps you have noticed that the news of this fragile earth is not conforming to the rush of good cheer.  We are being shocked into paying attention to the complexities of inequality and discrimination and privilege and distrust.  It feels troubling.  Locked in, locked out, locked down.  Can you feel it?  Is our own captivity being exposed? It may be that we are all blind and captured by the pressures of politeness and platitudes.  What if all our niceness is just shiny wrapping paper?  What if we are as deeply selfish and unforgiving as we are portrayed to be?  Is that our story?

Our true story isn’t about reindeer noses.  Forgiveness is our true story. Our story is the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, our story is exile and return, our story is enslavement and exodus.  Forgiveness isn’t as simple as making a list or a one day suspension of disbelief, or a whitewash.  Believing in forgiveness means that even our worst failures and devastations: these cannot lock God out.  Our ruins are a place where God meets us.  Believing in forgiveness also means believing in repentance.  Repentance isn’t about feeling depraved, it is about freeing ourselves from the locks we have created for ourselves.

Yet this holy restoration and radical forgiveness, it is not a human project, it is God’s gift.  This gift is possible because he is one for us, because he became one of us: Emmanuel.  Affirming our faith in the forgiveness of sins is not to claim that injustice and oppression and hatred do not matter.  Nor is it to claim that the way forward is sweet and easy.  Believing in repentance and forgiveness,  is tough, and it is difficult, but it is freedom.  There is no grief or trial or devastation where God’s presence cannot bring liberty.

For all who feel that God has forgotten his promises, Christ comes.  For all who wonder if they have forgotten their promises, Christ comes.  Our readings today invite us to see the world as the prophets see it. To see past and present and future, bound together in the heart of God.  Are you a prophet?  John today, he says no, he is not.  Perhaps you are right there with him.  Are you a prophet? Most of you are thinking, heck no.  Yet that doesn’t stop John from seeing the world as a prophet sees it.  Prophets see the world as God dreams of it.  God dreams of a world that is not divided into locked in and locked out.

What would you see if you saw your life as God sees it?  What would you say and do, who would you be if you saw the world as God sees it?  From his Nazi prison cell theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers this.
Who am I? They often tell me I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, you know, O God, I am thine!

Advent 3b RCL
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla
Washington, USA

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tension: Glad Growling at the Acapella Accoutrements

Tension.  Out in traffic.Tension.  Out in traffic.  Tension in our exercises, Tension everywhere that I go.

I love the smells and sounds of the winter holiday season, however it all starts too soon and is too loud and too distracting.  Childlike wonder and Grinch-like Advent fundamentalism all at once.  Tension.

I love following the #adventword devotional from the Society of St. John the Evangelist, yet I find myself flinching at the endless photos of empty naves and acapella accoutrements.  Who and what are we proclaiming with these?  Church and faith are people words, are active words, alive and moving and God willing, breathing.  Yet there they are.  Lovely shots of windows and pews and thuribles, saying so much by what is not in the image.  Tension.

know there is anxiety regarding what images we can use.  These phone shots of furnishings are free of charge and hassle, and I do it too.    I know we are material people who find that the tactile memory of old books and worn kneelers keep us nourished on our journey with Christ.  Yet they #proclaim a poor gospel.  They are focused on ashes when we are called to strive for the stars.  

my tweet post...with a stole i made once for a friend.  tension.

Our practice is not about the stuff, and all about the stuff.  What we do with the gifts we have been given, where we place our love and trust, how we use our resources:  all of this matter matters. Our proclamation of good news includes the hard truth that our worship of stuff is a place of divine judgment.  This worldwide Advent calendar should invite a bit of anxiety and tension.  I am #encouraged that as the days process on there are only so many furniture images for us to share.  Tension.

These advent word hashtags are a beautiful blessing.  The #EpiscopalAdvent and the #Radvent and the #Adventword, these lead me to think and pray and to laugh throughout the day.  Perhaps it is fitting afterall.  This social media interplay of life and image are focusing on my Advent tensions about what is here and what I #wait for.   

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Surprised by Surprise: Grace, Hope and Karaoke

A large box arrived a few days before my birthday.  Taking the box back to my dorm room it seemed to swamp the space before I even opened it.  Inside were an assortment of birthday things; however most of the box contained an Eeyore pillow pal.  If you don't recall these things they were bed pillow sized renditions of various creatures in polar fleece.

This grey and pink darling donkey, I could not #abide it's place in my tiny dorm room.  Yet being a donkey, he would have a place at my church office.  I thought he would be hauled out from time to time when a donkey was appropriate.  I thought the little children would like him.  Yet within days this Eeyore pillow pal was being hauled around the church by the teenagers.  They carried him around until even they couldn't abide his adolescent odor.

I was completely surprised and completely surprised that I was surprised.  There is a piece of adolescence that is trying to hold on to childhood, and another piece that is attached to the joy of the ridiculous.  A pillow pal mascot was a gift that could help them surrender to these forces and let it still be an act of love, #hope and comfort.  Still, there was something counter-intuitive about the gift of that donkey.

A few weeks ago a friend and elder parishioner asked if my ministry would like his karaoke machine.  Truth be told I have never been an enthusiast and I couldn't imagine our teenagers would be very interested.  If they want to do such things there are Wii disks or the multitude of offerings on youtube (death metal karoke with the sing along bouncing ball!)  However, I thought I might find a use for it and accepted the gift.  It sat in my crowded office for a few weeks.  We giggled at the song compilations on the disks: who puts Madonna and Mr. Rogers on the same collection!  Yet there it sat, a bit in the way and gathering dust.

Eventually, one evening when the original plan fell through, I decided to invite some of my more technically inclined teens to figure the contraption out.  Generous and cooperative they went to work, and it took longer than I expected.  I also expected that they would get it working and walk away to the youth room video games or a group game of Zombies.  However, that didn't happen at all.  Much to my surprise I had to chase the darlings off of the machine long after 'youth group' had ended.

If we can offer space for authenticity even the strangest and random notions can open doorways for young people to find themselves. The #grace of pillow-pals and karaoke machines are not in any youth ministry bag of tricks.  What made them a gift to the community was the community that was already there, ready and waiting to be more in union with one another in Christ.  All of this is a mystery and I can never be sure ahead of time what will rise and what will fall flat.  More than gimmicks however is the commitment to food, fellowship and welcome for all teens.

What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself. Well here is the wonderful surprise: God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves. The irony is that we find ourselves, and now in a whole new field of meaning. This happens on a lesser level in every great love in our lifetime, but it is always a leap of faith ahead of time. We are never sure it will be true beforehand. It is surely counter-intuitive, but it is the promise that came into the world on this Christmas Day, “full of grace and of truth.” Jesus is the gift totally given, free for the taking, once and for all, to everybody and all of creation.  
Richard Rohr: Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Imagine, Beware and Give: Can We Conceive How Much We Squander?

Beware of squandering our gifts.  

We do this in so many ways: we squander time, we waste materials, and we consume the lives of our children.  We live in a world of unbelievable abundance and unconscionable squandering.  You gave your people water in greater abundance than they could possibly #imagine. (Wisdom of Solomon 11.7)  The volume of this statement is staggering: we have been given so much that it is more than we can possibly #imagine.  

This unbounded waste...we will be held to account.  Can we imagine that?  As we await the birth of Christ we must examine the world into which we welcome him.  Do we imagine it to be as precious as he is?  Advent isn't just hitting the breaks before the fra la la la; it is paying deep and holy attention to the world we have been given.  

To beware is to practice weariness.  It is to step cautiously, eye carefully.  It is to study, to pause, to consider.  We have so much to be weary of: how can an Advent of beware enliven our souls and connect our communities?   Perhaps we can begin by considering the ways in which “squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives. As it turns out, it’s not merely benign or “too bad” if we don’t use the gifts that we’ve been given; we pay for it with our emotional and physical well-being. When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and even grief.” (Brown, 2010)   

At first this #episcopaladvent word #beware seemed out of place.  The sugar plum fairy dust has gotten in my eyes and ears and wonders why this doesn’t say ‘be not afraid’ instead.  Beware is the opposite of being not afraid; the being not afraid is a blessing, it is a holy faith.  However it has a time and a place.  And we should be very much afraid of the squandering that we do everyday.  We should ‘beware’, we should practice a weary attentiveness when it comes to the distress that our sleepwalking through life causes.  We should beware, at all times in Jesus name, angels appearing or not.   Yet inside these two, this #beware and this be not afraid is an Advent call to pay attention.  

#Beware  #Imagine  #Give.  

(Three different # Advent word calendars are feeding into my imagination this Advent.  From the Society of St. John the Evangelist ( is #adventword a world wide gathering of images each day.  I love watching the time zones cross over, as at this moment it is both the 2nd and the 3rd of December).  From my pal's at St. Michaels and All Angels, Dallas, comes #radvent2014.  And last but not least from the Episcopal Church Center we have #episcopaladvent.)   

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent in the Outfield

Not a Rockies game.  
Already, but also, not yet.

I was a baseball fan and so I was signed up to play tball.  Already a fan, but also, not athletic.

I was most frequently placed in the outfield.  A small girl in a big field of grass.

In true baseball the outfield requires lots of waiting,  punctuated by bursts of running and death defying catches.

In tball the outfield meant you waited through each inning.  I would eventually sit in the grass.  Pluck dandelions.

Advent is a bit like playing the outfield.

Many years later I was in the front row of the upper deck of Coors Field.  Perched high above homeplate on a windy summers night, we were offered two shows.

There was the one we paid for, the one on the field. The one with bats and bases and innings and plans and 'no crying'.

From our seats we could also see the Rocky Mountains to the west.  And across the front range of the mountains rolled a marvelous lightening storm.  Much to far away to cause a delay of a game, but close enough to offer the second show.  The crowd was ooing and ahhing for both games.

However the men on the field couldn't see the second show.  They had no idea that just beyond them was a creative light display.  You could see the outfielders looking around confused.  When the crowd oohs and ahhs and nothing just happened on the field, it would cause you to turn your head around too.

There are two shows right now.  One of the sugar plum fairy type and one of the stand in the outfield and wait type.  Advent is the second show and it is one of patience and remembering; one of staying awake and standing at rest.

It is strange how much work it can take to just stand still for a while.  To pay attention to the game and to let the other shows remain beyond your field of vision.  Or to find a way to experience both without denying the other.  I choose  muted sugar plum, always struggling to not be a 'but we are here to watch the ball game' fundamentalist.  Which is hard.  Folks who read newspapers at games irk me; folks who hang up their holiday stuff before St. Nicholas Tag make me shiver.  But like lightening that makes me jump, I have to recall that it is far away.  It is a choice, and I can think the lightening is beautiful and watch the game at the same time.

Advent.  Come Lord Jesus.