Friday, December 25, 2015

Know Where You Are: Merry Christmas!

Old surplices and cotta’s make good angel costumes.  They can have burn holes and stains from years of use, they can have wax from candles dripping and or purple splotches from wine splashed. They can be yellowed with time or pink with mistaken washing, and yet they will still make excellent angel costumes.  Such common costuming of angels is honestly not Biblical,   but the light garment, tinsel halo and wings are hard to cast aside.  We can add biblical swords and even simulated fire, but we have to stay away from the kind of alien like costume that demands the first line the angels always sing, BE NOT AFRAID.

Holly was clever, inquisitive and outgoing.     That year she was so excited.  It was the first year she got to be an angel.  The wings and halos and fairy fluff of dreams.  Secondly, she was excited because she had managed to grab the most yellow old cottas.  Frankly I think this one was a laundry mistake.  It shone, it glowed lemon, much more than it shrank back in tones of aged parchment.  Holly rushed up to me and announced how she had secured the golden one, and it was the very best.

As we prepared for the pageant, I reminded every pageant critter that when they were ready in their costumes,they were to come and find me to receive their bell.  ‘Merry Christmas Holly!’ and I placed the bell over her head. I was giving out bells and finding shepherd headwear with frantic haste, like some of you may have experienced in the last few days.  This proud golden angel, asked me one question.  ‘Ms Jane, why do you give us bells?’  I was barely listening, busy and harried with preparations.  I offered a snarky and silly answer, ‘so I know where to find you.’  She nodded her head and she backed out of the pageant critter crowd. A few moments later she cleared her throat and said loudly,  ‘Alright everybody.’  At which point I lifted my head and listened to hear what she might declare. ‘Ms. Jane wants us to wear the bell so she knows where to find us!  So don’t lose your bell!’

If you dressed someone up in cardboard illustrations of a smart phone text message screen, you might come close to the definition of an angel. It is active living messaging.  Not just words on a screen or in the air,   but a shape and a light and a strange encounter with living communication.  We don’t really have an angelology in the Episcopal church. Important councils and creeds make no statements about angels.  If you turn to the small print Historical Documents section of the prayerbook you will not find the word anywhere.  Nor will you find it in the Catechism.  We sing of them, we name them in scripture, we dress children up as them,      but we have never seemed moved as a church to say anything definitive about them.  Which may be wise and suit you just fine.  Maybe strange goings on and incomprehensible things are         exactly the sort of thing you sincerely doubt, or would rather not think about.  Or maybe angels tickle that sense that there is more     than the objective observable universe, but have no words for it, so you just don’t try.  Or maybe you have never sensed anything mysterious and magical and spiritual, or maybe you simply hope that there really is more.

Augustine of Hippo instructs us that 'Angel' is the name of their duty and calling,    but it is not what they are. According to scripture their chores include praising God, watching God’s people,   and being instruments of judgement. However, primarily, they are mysterious heralds of God's desire.  A different order of being, and what they are according to Augustine, is more like shapes of God’s spirit. The angels are manifestations of God’s dreams, intention and energy.  So strange and other are they that it is difficult to say anything definitive at all.  Yet at two of the largest festivals of the church, there they are.  Standing at the Empty Tomb, and appearing to Mary, and to Joseph,and lowly shepherds near Bethlehem.

Angels are a powerful symbol for all the dimensions of God’s universe about which we have no real idea. The venerable Rowan Williams invites us to consider angels more seriously. He says ‘anything that puts our human destiny a bit more into perspective is not a waste of time.’ He continues, ‘the world we experience is complicated and in many ways seems dark and dangerous. These angels are a shorthand description of everything that is around the corner from our perception; everything that is beyond our understanding of the universe - including the universal song of praise that surrounds us always’. (Slightly paraphrased.  From Tokens of Faith)

You may have heard that sweet and trivial notion that every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings.  I wish that it were that easy. That we could multiply the messages of peace and goodwill, that we could increase the living words of justice, that we could make a festival of jubilee just by the ringing of bells.   We are surrounded by things we do not understand, but this dream of God isn’t so manipulate-able.  The actions of tyrants and the confusions of friends and family, these crush such fantasies. 

Yet, just around the corner from our limited senses, we are surrounded by choruses of Gods spirited communication, we are surrounded with living words that glow with God’s dream of peace. Peace from terrors and release from fears.  The truth that real peace comes     not from earthly things and governmental power nor spending sprees.  Peace comes through God in human heart and voice, comes through this boy, this child.  A living word, made flesh, not only a shape of word and spirit but truly made of everyday skin and bones and cries and muck.  Peace comes not by distance from every day and mysterious things, but through it.

We live in a universe that is vast and amazing and terrifying and we have only begun to comprehend it.  Where are we?  How does God know where we are?  Where we are is proclaimed in thought and word and deed, it is shown in the light of what our Christian practice is.  This is a song that is sung never alone, always surrounded by the communion of saints, always accompanied by the angel choruses that sing Comfort, Bravery and Peace.  We are called to sing with them, to glow with them, to be a living message of the gift realized in the life of Jesus the Christ.

Ms. Jane, why do you give us bells?  I give out bells so that you know where you are.  You are at the stable, you are one of the cast of millions, you are in second hand costumes and you are with a hopeful chorus singing the story of God’s people. Jesus is born, embodied holy Word of God throughout all ages.  Healing, justice, food for the hungry and shelter for the lost.  Where are we?  We are summoned to the cradle, and sent out again.  A message that stays with the messenger, is no message at all.

Do Not Be Afraid! The world is dark and dangerous, yet Do Not Become Your Fears!  Enter the mystery of the angelic throng, be astonished and be a living message of the Christmas wonder.  For I am bringing you Good News of great joy for all people!  To you is born this day in the city of David a savior, the Messiah, the Lord!  Merry Christmas!

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington
5.30pm Christmas Eve Liturgy
Christmas Lessons (form uno)

I did earnestly intend to record this, and it was good.  However the crucial step in recording, press record, didn't occur.  Blessings, see ya next time!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Weight of the World: Mary and Harry

The girl with the weight of the world in her hands, and the boy who lived.  Plenty of authors and preachers have outlined the parallels between Harry Potter and Jesus, which are fairly unavoidable.  Yet sometimes I think there is a lot more of Mary in Harry’s story, and certainly a whole lot of Moses.  He is just a boy, that Harry Potter.  With fractured glasses and pants many sizes too large.  He has no worldly power, no glory that might cause eyes might turn to him.  Hidden amongst us muggle-types, we with no knowledge of magical things, Harry has hints and inklings of his vocation.  Yet nothing in his life as he knows it has prepared him for the journey that he is called to.  The Chosen One, darling and amazing and burdened with a possibly heartbreaking fate.

Mary she is just a girl.  She is covered in shawls and scarves of legend and longing, covered in roses, in beads of prayers and in saccharine silliness to numb our discomfort.  What young person's life can possibly prepare him or her for the journey Gabriel announces?  She is just a girl.  A girl with the weight of the world in her hands.  Luke is telling us that in the birth of Jesus, we are part of a new Exodus.  The Magnificat, this song that Mary sings, it is a lyric that echoes the song of Hannah, the opening musical number in the Davidic epic.  And Hannah's song is rich with the tones and topics of the song of Miriam, a celebration of freedom, a thrilling voice ascending from the terrors that lurk behind them in Egypt,  and a pause before journeying into the unknown silent night that lays ahead.

I am having a harder and harder time believing that there isn’t a terrible magical spell running amok in the world.  In the novels, when something goes wrong in our world,  That we just cannot reasonably explain, it is actually due to the misdoings of the magical realm.  Now some data suggests that things here in our world are getting better.  I read the whole article yesterday.  The math seems accurate, the stories congruent.  Yet still, I scoff.  Because in the newsfeed I sense something beyond everyday wrong.  Every time another disaster scrolls across up my screen, every time the news seems gut wrenchingly terrible beyond reason, I wonder if there are giants on the loose, or if dark spells are being cast, and I wonder if the fictional world isnt’ such a fiction after all.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,     
            remembering his mercy,
 just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.

The song that Mary sings is not about some future age.  The salvation that is dawning at Christmas is already active.  The title of Savior is evidence of a human need that is deep and broad and heartbreaking.  It names a fearful desperation  that is greater than what our own resources can bear.  In Jesus the work of God as savior is made flesh, in the birth of Christ God transforms my childish confusion, in the incarnation of God compassion dissolves my cruel imaginings.  And as we await Christmas day, Mary sings to me courageously, sings that the gift of God's peace has always been being born.

Mary was young.  Anthropologists tell us that in Biblical times for women, first marriage was in their early teens.  Maybe you have to be young at heart to dare this.  The tradition tends to gild the wholehearted young Mary in clean skin and blue scarves. But I never see her that way.  I see the girl who embraces vulnerability, who will face shame and possible peril for this gift she bares.  The Greek orthodox title for Mary is Theotokos.  God bearer.  Glorious but also weighted.  A precious son, a wiggly boy, a compassionate adult, a systematic victim,  and yes a resurrected Lord.  What will be the scale to weigh the gift she will bear?

If I were God and considering my incarnation, I might start by asking experienced mothers.  Which makes me wonder if other women were asked.  What if more mature women heard this invitation     and were frozen by disasterizing; stopped by seeing the tragedy that could lay ahead?  What if we have to possess the brave dreaminess so natural to our young friends to trust like this?  Does it take the faith of a young person to believe the half-giant who says you are a wizard?  What if we have to cast aside all mature defensiveness to sing Mary’s song? 

What kept her safe may have been that Mary seems to go unnoticed, just another veiled and shamed woman in occupied territory.  If she were of more notice to the powers that be, this scandalous occasion would have brought more scrutiny, and perhaps retribution.  She whose body is home for the great and holy Creator of the universe,  she is awe inspiring, but she demands questions. Would we say yes?      How do we care for desperate people in difficult circumstances?  What is happening in her, what is be happening in us is regime change.  Are we ready to sing a song of liberation and mercy for all people?

If we take up her song, we cannot just name the promises of God,instead we have to dare greatly and enter into them. The good news that Christ is a gift for us, he wants us to sing her song, wants us to embrace his whole life in the center of our being.  He wants for us to discover the gift of vulnerability which shines bright enough to transform the evils we cannot comprehend. 

In a closet beneath the stairs is a boy, who has been counted for nothing.  A boy who is the stranger, the unusual neighbor, who is in every way an ‘other‘ who arrives at our door.  Like us he is confused and lonely, and what matters is not his will, but his bold trust, what matters is not our power, but God's.  

The girl with the weight of the world in her hands dared to trust in the holy unbelievable.   She bears for us the God made flesh, Christ our Lord, Savior, Redeemer, friend.  She also bears us to him, presents us to someone and something who has been with us all along, inviting us to sing this song, waiting to hear us answer yes.  In Jesus the work of God as savior is made flesh, in the birth of Christ God transforms my childish confusion, in the incarnation of God compassion dissolves my cruel imaginings.  And as we await Christmas day, Mary sings to us courageously, sings that the gift of God's peace is ready to be born in us.   

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington, USA
December 20, 2015
Advent 4C RCL

There is no doubt that Patty Griffin's song Mary, and the Indigo Girls song The Girl with the Weight of the World in Her Hands are all over this sermon and spontaneously quoted. And it is also properly tagged with the 'probably has buffy at it's heart' category.  DFTBA!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Acceptance of Imperfection: Advent 1.1

Acceptance.  Things you can change, those you cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Scripture ties acceptance to gifts and therefore also to sacrifices.  Time, effort, emotion, resources all go into these acceptable gifts.  So to do time, effort, emotion and resources go into acceptance.  Whether it be self-acceptance, circumstance-acceptance, or neighbor-acceptance, none of these happen without intention.  

The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. 
This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior. -GoI, B2

Perhaps acceptance is rooted in examination.  Looking at our time, our talents, our resources with plenty of love, and an abundance of truthfulness.  Accepting that our time is both abundant and limited, that our talents lie with some things and not others, accepting that we live in a time and place of unbelievable resources, but that we may utilize them unwisely.  Unless we take the time to examine our feelings and naming our boundaries we cannot begin to be wise or healthy.  

For most of my ministry career I have had ample time to focus on Advent and make the preparations needed to encourage congregations to practice it.  This year was turned upside-down, and between congregational transition and new demands and duties, I had hardly the time.  Furthermore, it being on the heels of Thanksgiving travel, I was even less prepared than usual.  And the full realization of it didn’t land until Sunday morning.  Jesus is coming, better look busy! 

There were surprises in the bulletins and boxes left unfound.  It was a imperfect advent of Advent; but it was good and holy and blessed.  Learning to accept imperfect Sundays and other days isn’t something that will come easy.  I have to live myself into the imperfections, discover that love and hope and truth still flow no matter the things that seem like errors.  Advent continues, Christ will come. Furthermore, I find myself repenting of the years and years of judgy-ness of folks who didn’t seem to do much to plant lifelong formation in the practices of the church year.  Compassion and forgiveness and acceptance are deeply bound to one another.  Go Blue!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Journey through Both.And: Gifts of Imperfection for Advent Introduction

The Wholehearted journey is not the path of least resistance. It’s a path of consciousness and choice. And, to be honest, it’s a little counterculture. The willingness to tell our stories, feel the pain of others, and stay genuinely connected in this disconnected world is not something we can do halfheartedly. To practice courage, compassion, and connection is to look at life and the people around us, and say, “I’m all in.” 
Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection

Advent is both.and time.  Dismay and promise. Confusion and safety.  Scarcity and satisfaction.  Fear and forgiveness.  It is dark and it is light, there is abundance and there is desperation.  Any day, any time, and it is especially right now, it is the season of Advent.  St. John of the Cross called this liturgical time a luminous darkness.  It is a night sky, electric with the glow of the universe and yet enough darkness to cause us to struggle to walk without harm. There is an approach to the liturgical advent that focuses on the tripping, the falling, the brokenness.  There is another approach that is awe and wonder at the justice that God in Christ is leading us into.  It is not a one or another thing, it is both.and.  We are to prepare to make Christ room by looking honestly at the absence of righteousness, and by bending our hearts toward holy abundance.

If you are just beginning an Advent journey through ‘the Gifts of Imperfection’ you deserve a few warnings. 
  • She will talk about uncomfortable things.  Like shame.  Real human shame that can lead to mountains of self-criticism and self-righteousness.  If you want to heal our personal and societal brokenness, then we must talk about shame and the numbing we use to ignore shame. 
  • This book is based in university level research, yet this research is shared in stories, and the invitation to journey more deeply through your own.  Every Advent journey calls on us “to tell our stories, feel the pain of others, and stay genuinely connected in this disconnected world.” 
  • Many of the personal stories in the book are focused on contemporary parenting and householding in a privileged setting.  Even when this is not our setting, we should find in her work and storytelling a more generous understanding of the social forces that are impacting all of us. 
  • She will occasionally use the dialect known as ‘Texan’.  This might include a few choice words, and you are invited to recall that forgiveness is an important spiritual practice. 
  • This is not an Advent, Christmas or Epiphany book, yet it is very much full of wide-eyed-compassion, it is very much full of holy gifts that you can use to better be Christ for the world, and it is awash in the whoa’s of Epiphany: enormous and intimate and impactful.  
Finally, it is a both.and book, it is both about our courage, connection and compassion on a personal level, and our courage, connection, and compassion in our congregations and wider community. Of all the gifts we discover this season, perhaps a new way of practicing love for our imperfect selves and neighbors is a holy gift of peace.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Brave Story: Christ the King

There are times when I skip to the last chapter of the book.  Perhaps, I have been slogging my way through, or maybe I am frustrated by the story or bored with the book, or even appalled.  So I skip ahead, I read the final chapter, and then I decide: Do I want to know the journey between here and there?  My life with novels is complicated.  If I have just read one that made my heart soar, I want another book, I want another delight, immediately. Yet I know, I cannot use any review or search engine to find that perfect new fictional journey.  There have also been times when I have read a book all the way through,  and I despise the ending.  I feel slighted.  I find myself resistant to starting a new book.  I grow growly and snarly and perfectionist and I think about taking a break.  

Yet we need story, we are created for story.  New research shows that our brains light up when we hear a story.  All the places in our minds that we need to bind together for meaning making: stories do it.  Hearing a story is like a meaning making wish come true. 

Grace and peace to you from the one who is and was and is coming, and from Jesus Christ—the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.   Look, he is coming with the clouds!  

Revelation was 3-d before there was a word for 3-d.    It is abstract storytelling art,  word pictures inviting us into God’s story.  The letter to the churches that we know as Revelation, it is written to be read aloud, written to be heard and written to be experienced. Revelation is surround sound, and it is absolutely not Morse code.  The main character in Revelation is Jesus Christ, The main plot is that God has made us agents in the story of his reign.  You could imagine this royal story following a route on a map, yet we know from our earliest days the route isn’t flat or straight. You could imagine God’s story as a Ferris wheel, or like the Godly Play circle of the church year, going around and around,  never ending.

To understand this message of God's reign made flesh in the life of Jesus we must see the world eschatologically, see things from the final perspective.  Of all the stories Jesus tells us about who he is, brother, friend, teacher, shepherd, gate, vine, bread, lamb, in the end we are called to know him as Christ the King.  We are called to enter the last chapter,  which is also the first chapter.  We are invited to experience the hope and heartbreak, invited to the truth that this is God’s story, and that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Yet the thing about this end, is that it is not the kind of end that you can pin down.  Our conclusion is off of the page, off of the map, our last stop will be beyond 3-d, beyond now and then.    That last moment, every first moment, these are all in God’s heart, in Christ’s reign.

The gospel writers didn’t begin with creedal statements.  They began with stories, because we are wired for stories. They began with telling of Jesus’ reign by telling us of his life helping us to make meaning of what the destination is and our place in it.  Jesus’ quest is a story where love is everything.  Love is the setting and plot and the actors of God’s story.  The kingdom of God isn’t about a place or a time, it is emotions and actions    and relationships and responsibilities.  This reign of God, our plot line within it, this is impossible without love.  Impossible without forgiveness, impossible without refusing to be separated from those ‘outside’. 

It is Christ the King Sunday, the New Years eve of the church year.  A time to look back at the year gone by, and a chance to wonder about the way that lies ahead.  It is a quiet type of New Years eve and I cannot help but look back at this year’s journey. If it was a book, I would tell you I barely remember the first chapter.  More importantly, however, it is a multi-dimensional story of stories, of surprise, hurt and confusion and rising to challenges.  The tender stories of friends and strangers in the kitchen serving soup,  an unbelievable story of teens in the ocean on a sunny San Francisco summer day.  Everyday chapters that tell of Bible studies and Renovare and Godly Play wondering.  The brave epic of whipping up a cooling center in a heartbeat.  There is not one single story that will tell of how we have lived the quest      for the reign of Christ this year.  We are living the tale of Christ’s love, even when it is hard, and messy and you are ready to close the book.

This isn’t a fairytale, the violence across the world is unavoidable, the fear, hard-heartedness and shame runs loose in the streets here at home.  The not-yet of God’s reign is too loud and too close.  Advent is dawning, and Jesus is coming.  It is the time for daring hearts to rumble with a trying journey.  Time for eyes open, minds alert, time for people brave enough, in love enough with the story,  to follow our Lord and Savior into mystery of it all. 

There was one book I really wanted to give up on. It was a startling, and strange, and non-linear novel.  Because of its premise, I knew that reading the last chapter wouldn’t help.  I kept texting the good friend who recommended the book. ‘Really?  Should I keep reading?  This makes no sense.’        ‘Yes,’ she replied.  And the next time, yes she said, and again.  I was over halfway through the book before I began to get it, I was deep in the story before I found myself in the beauty and awe of the story.  I had to rumble with the novel,  I had to go through the disorientation and frustration.  I could not skip the middle of the story.  I had to read it with a friend.

Christ has already told us what the brave ending of this story is.  Now and then, there is only a love story. Love your friends, love your enemies, learn to love the rumble with the hardest parts.  The brave beginning, middle and ending is a love story.  Our text comes from the life of our beloved who is the soon to be newborn King.  

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, WA

Monday, October 26, 2015

Brave Bartimaeus: Walls, Gates and Wholehearted Healing

Imagine for a moment, you are a wall.  Perhaps an English country wall, made of stacked and unhewn stones, some ancient, some new, no mortar, just the sheer force of gravity to hold you together.  Someone could leap right over you, but you do a good job of keeping the sheep where they need to be. 

Or perhaps you are an ancient west Asian wall.  You are thick.  So broad that people can live within you.  In the fragmented dirt around modern Jericho, archeologists have found remnants of the oldest known walls in west Asia.  9000 years old.   That is thousands of years older than the Egyptian pyramids.  Yet by the time when the blind Bartimaeus sits outside what must be a gate in the Jericho wall,  you have become fundamentally symbolic, you are a sign of social segregation.  The warfare innovations of Alexander the Great have left you an ineffective defensive mechanism. Now you serve as a social control, you keep the desirable in, and the undesirable out.

If you are in prison a wall is a torment. If you are an outfielder a wall is a danger zone. If you are a king it feels like a strength, If you are on the margins, it can mark the magnitude of your lowliness.

A few years ago I served in a diocese where the summer camp has a road RUNNING RIGHT THROUGH IT.  There were neighbors glittered, and comfortable and struggling. Which doesnt matter, because we had no control over who would come straight through camp.  They could pass through on foot or on wheels, and have an unobstructed view of our campers.  I desperately wanted a wall of some kind.  A dense line of pinon and cedar trees would do, but if I am honest, I wanted a 6-foot high adobe wall.  The openness felt like a dangerous vulnerability.  In that space, in that moment, walls feel priceless.

As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  In another Gospel we hear Jesus say I AM the Gate. I AM the space of grace in the middle of the walls of false security.  I AM the opening of hope in the middle of the walls of perfectionistic shame.  Jesus says, I AM the very transformation of those walls.  From the Benedictine tradition we hear this echo. Christ the word I hear, Christ the way I follow, Christ the gate I journey through.

We know not why Bartimaeus is blind.  And it simply does not matter. What we do know is that he sits by Have mercy on me.   One of the hard things about this Jesus wonder worker passage is that most healings are not so quick and simple.  Some of our brokenness will take more than a leap and a shout to be healed.  Other times,  the healing will look quite different than we had imagined.  Yet the heart of the wonder remains, none of what Jesus calls us to be could be done all by ourselves.  Without Jesus unconditional forgiveness, without the life, the cross and Jesus resurrection, without these we could never hope to see the depth and breadth of our defensiveness.  Without Jesus we could not hear the depth and breadth of Gods compassion.  Christ the word I hear, Christ the way I follow, Christ the gate I journey through.

We know not why Bartimaeus is blind.  And it simply does not matter. What we do know is that he sits by the road, and since this is Jericho, presumably he sits by a city wall and its gate.  Blind Bartimaeus sits at the clear sign of comfort and exclusion and he waits.  Waits for forgiveness, hope, and spare coins. When he hears Jesus and his crowd approaching Bartimaeus shouts. Not just once.  Again and again.

I like my walls, material and immaterial.  I imagine that they keep things I dont want from blowing in my yard.  Yet time and time again, the wind still blows and society finds new and inventive ways to transcend my precious walls. If I stay inside, someday it will just be me and the strewn packaging and useless trivia and broken dreams, all the crud that finds its way in will suffocate me.  I have to find some other way.  I need a gate.  How about you?  What are your walls, how do they separate you? Blind you?  Dr. Brene Brown states that our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted. Healthy boundaries will never be greater than our willingness to serve others from a place of daring vulnerability.   

This whole Gospel scene bears a striking resemblance to one of the earliest known baptismal rites.  In those earliest days of the church the person who is being baptized declares, "Have mercy on me!" The Deacon says to the congregation: "Call him." or "Call her." What the congregation replies to their friend is this: "Be brave, get up, he's calling you.Christ the word we heard, Christ the way we followed, Christ the gate we journey through.   Be brave. Get up. He is calling.

St. Paul's, Walla Walla 

*shout out to Bishop Doyles Hitchhiking the Word

*see also a subtext of the childrens book The Quiltmakers Gift

Monday, September 21, 2015

Inside Out Healing for Us All

I received a page to go to the ER. It was one month into my summer chaplaincy at Children’s Hospital, and my pager had hardly ever buzzed.  I was the first summer chaplain assigned to the ER and we were still learning what that meant.  The page said ER 3.  Not a trauma room, but not a patient room either.  

What I found were four gurneys and four awake young people.  Their family had been in a horrendous car accident.   The oldest, he might have been 15, he had a broken arm, the next oldest, a girl she had a large cut on her head.   The next boy had a bunch of cuts and abrasions, and the youngest a boy about 3, he had no outward scars, at all.  The oldest children clearly understood the terribleness of what had happened.  Three of them, they sat in their beds, silent with pain and grief.  

All I could offer was a hand to hold, yet I couldn’t do much of that.  You see, the youngest boy, the one who was outwardly unscathed, his reaction to the trauma was not still and silent.  He told me how his Batman underwear, and the hospital gown he had turned around and into a cape, these he assured me, gave him the power to fly.  There he was up on his precious feet, standing on the gurney, trying to take flight, trying to leap right off that hospital bed.

This is one of the most famous passages regarding children, and it’s not actually about children.  It is a teaching metaphor.  What are the signs?  First, Jesus sits to speak; the classic posture of the ancient teacher.  Secondly, in the time and place of Jesus’ ministry, children were creatures barely mentionable in polite company,  considered to be like fleas on rats.  The third sign is the argument that leads into Jesus’ instruction.  The disciples are arguing about who will be first and who will be last.  Who gets which seat in the car, who does Mom love most?  There it is, right there in the text: that awkward maddening pause.

Jesus’ teaching is comedic and moral genius.  A harsh critique with such shocking imagery that they had to pay attention.  It repeats in no uncertain terms that the disciples are focused on childish things and not the reign of God.  Wherein the absolute lowliest and unwelcome neighbor is to be welcomed as holy guest.  The amazing thing is this starts as metaphor, but the Christian tradition, we have jumped into the image, made it real.  We leapt into the metaphor and the world has been changed by it.  I am sure you saw those terrible photos of a dead refugee children on a beach, a few of hundreds of victims of the refugee crisis in Eurasia.  That photo hit us in the middle of all that precious love for childhood and children; that emotional soft spot that Jesus’ life and witness, (and the creative reinterpretation of this teaching) created. 

The welcomed children of this text are not children, they are instead the whole congregation of Christ’s disciples.  Who are at all times like children, imperfect and naughty and playful and darling    and sometimes completely at the mercy of forces much more powerful than we.  The church, maybe we are a kind of children’s hospital.  We exist because we are fractured and misled and yet still full of life and seeking healing.  Hospitals exist and churches exist because the Disciples of Christ heard the call to heal the sick and tend to the needy, to welcome, welcome, welcome.

My list of wretched and terrible settings in which to minister does not include a children’s hospital.  Because for me that is a place of joy, of an abundant desire to play, and a steady refusal to let the tragedy get in the way of the living.  Jesus’ teaching in our gospel today started as an insult, but his life, death and resurrection turned it inside out.  Called us to think of all people, even the odd or villainous or miserable or childish as one to whom Jesus is brother and God is father.   Jesus hears our absurdities and mistakes and he sits.  Sits with us by our hospital beds, whatever form they take.  And there is silence. And there is welcome, welcome, welcome, until the healing is all in all.

Like that youngest boy, with his Batman underwear and hospital gown cape, even when we may be surrounded by grief, Christ has given you a base layer of strength and a cape of courage.  And we will meet whatever madness this broken world offers next.  Jesus is calling us childish, but he is calling us his children. He is taking us in his wide open arms, holding fast to us, offering a most healing embrace.  

St. Paul's Episcopal Church'
Walla Walla, Washington

Monday, August 24, 2015

Broken Bread and Temple: Austen, Solomon, and Turning Back To God

“My idea of good company the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation;  that is what I call good company.'  So said the sensible Anne Elliott to her haughty cousin Mr. Elliott in one of the most quoted sections of the novel Persuasion by Jane Austen.  

I do not know if  I would find Solomon to be good company, even though his common reputation is quite polished.   I do not know if he was actually clever, wise or well informed, I do know that he seems to have had the best public relations experts in history.  Whoever he was, whatever he was really like, open any children’s Bible and you will likely learn that Solomon was clever and well informed, writing an array of proverbs.  In the ancient world the biggest and best nations, such as Greece and Egypt, had considerable learning, knowledge and wisdom traditions.  A nation of any regard needed to measure up.  Perhaps he was a poet of endless brilliance, yet nothing in his biography would suggest a reason to be trained in such arts. 

You may have heard that Solomon raised the reputation of early Ancient Israel through treaties and building projects, like the Temple.  (Young people of the congregation were concurrently marking off the dimensions of the temple (10mx30m) inside the nave.  Which happens to be almost the exact same dimensions.  Hmm.)  This Temple our friends are helping to outline, this was only a small fraction of the massive building projects.  This Temple is a side building for the palace, only about 20% of the total palace complex.  All these projects were built through a gigantic tax burden and forced labor.  Two factors that increase social stratification and angst.

You may have also heard that Solomon was good company, he was a romantic, having a multitude of spouses.  These women, these princesses were traded as collateral in treaties.  Women whose very lives were considered currency.  They came to the palace and they installed the idols of their homeland right in the Temple of the one true God.    If by some impossible occurrence I were to meet Solomon, maybe I would enjoy the splendor of his palace, or even his jokes, maybe I might detest his policies but find him warm and generous.  We shall never know, because our only real source of information about Solomon is scripture.  A text of multiple voices across time, a mix tape framed by a final editor who does want us to regard the reputation of Solomon, and at the same time be very clear about his betrayal of the allegiance with God.  His reign is offered as a lesson in opulent selfishness and social brokenness that ends in the harsh destruction of Exile. 

Our reading today is in the middle of this regal ceremony, imagine something like the hero’s celebration at the end of Star Wars. Pomp and royal psalms and promises loudly recited.  Except in this scene, the outline of the how the Empire will betray its commitments to God are put right on Solomon’s lips.   ‘If only your children look to their way, to walk before me...’ . If you care for the well-being of the whole people of God, if you teach your children’s children, If you tend the poor, the immigrant and the widow; then this precious Temple and dynasty will live on.  If you read the whole chapter,   it is a really quite clever, reading like precise foreshadowing.  This chapter is a series of promises that turn out to be confessions.  You know this by the petition that God hear and forgive.  Solomon and all those worldly passions he is so known for, these flung open the doors to devastation and decay, these turns away from the Lord God of the Universe, and it is the judgment of the prophets that these sins will tear the Temple down.

The Temple, for all its grand place in the imagination of our hearts, was really not much bigger than
our sanctuary.  This is a surprise to some of us.  And the other surprise may be that God isn’t contained there. Never was.  The Ark that rests in the middle, the wings that are the footstool of God; there is nothing above them.  A clear sign that while the Ark and the Temple may point to God’s presence, they are not the presence itself.  Did you notice that it said God’s name is in the Temple?  God’s name is a vibrant living sign of God, but it is not God.  Did you see that God’s vision is turned toward the Temple, did you catch that God’s hearing is tuned toward the Temple?  This is not a place of magic presence but dynamic attentiveness. God’s attention is turned toward the Temple, and our devotion is drawn toward this same holy love. 

It is a place of communication between human and God, a meeting place of heaven and earth.  The Temple is supposed to be a meeting place, a good conversation, true and challenging, a dialog that can bring renewed faithful practices.  A destroyed Temple and an Empty Tomb   do not signify the absence of God.  Instead they are signs that point to God’s presence leading us on the road ahead.  These signs show us that God is ahead of us with our friends who contain fires, God is on the front lines healing in destruction, and God is drawing us out of our shame to care for the lost, the lonely and the stranger.  Jesus says, "Destroy this temple and in three days I'll raise it up."  Then he tells us that the temple he was talking about was his body, and then in today’s lesson uses a provocative material sign to demand that we turn toward him and seek union with his body, this is all coming back around to the practices of allegiance with God’s reign.  The temple has been trampled, broken and transformed into a living presence.  The meeting place, the words of conversation between heaven and earth have been made flesh in Jesus. 

He has compassionately called us to turn to God, to seek forgiveness, to rise from any devastation and live with him.   When Jesus surrenders the promises of God into the passive forms of bread and wine, he forgives all of our turning away from God.   Bread and wine become reconciliation and attentiveness, a meeting place of heaven and earth.  It is a meal that forgives people like Solomon and like you and like me.  This bread of life transforms us from selfish betrayers into beloved guests.  Solomon’s reign turns out to not have been the success story you may have been led to believe. It was a foolhardy tragedy with devastating results.  Yet he is much like us, selfish, stumbling, believing and easily distracted by worldly passions.  He is an faltering believer, whose offenses are both judged, and forgiven, in the breaking of the bread.

The measure of our courage is the measure of our willingness to embrace disappointment, to turn towards it rather than away, the understanding that every real conversation of life involves having our hearts broken somewhere along the way and that there is no sincere path we can follow where we will not be fully and immeasurably let down and brought to earth, and where what initially looks like a betrayal, eventually puts real ground under our feet.  
–David Whyte, Consolations

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan.” 
 –Jane Austen, Persuasion

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sad Slice of Cherry Pie: Are we Scapegoating MYP & Lifelong Formation

Cherries.  Gorgeous, lovely, yummy and really quite good for you. Camp Cross has several fine cherry trees that produce amazing fresh fruit.  You can just walk along and grab a cherry and eat it.  Some of them we need ladders to harvest, and some are so far out on high branches that they will be food for the birds.

A friend suggested that the disturbing cuts to the 2nd Mark of Mission in the Episcopal Church's triennial draft budget were just a puppet show.  He thinks that we would never cut down the cherry tree; that this is all just showmanship.  Yet we were here last time around too.  I know that time after time the Christian education parish staff are the first to go when budgets fail to ripen.

If he is right, if this is just a show, it is a sour cherry.  This is the area where trees are planted and watered and debugged, and their fruit harvested so it can feed the rest of the mission.  This is the area with the people who have the least voice, even when we suddenly take offense that someone might insult their voice and service.

The thing about that showmanship theory is that it needs to draw a crowd.  And I don't see it.  I see a flurry of slogan-ing (and some listening and forgiveness) regarding the sloppy commentary of a grouchy tweeter.  I don't see nearly enough people, nearly enough delegates or bishops storming the gates about the massive cuts to the budget of the 2nd Mark of Mission.  That puppet show isn't a very good one if it is one.

Instead I feel that Girardian thing.  Scapegoat the precious.  We don't know what to do about reimagining or restructuring or Pew studies or Jesus word counts or any of the myriad of issues that make the people of the church anxious.  So we cut the one who is like us, but not like us.  We love them but we don't really get them.  We scapegoat those who we are called to teach, love and nurture.

I want to agree with the friend who thinks we would never cut down the cherry trees; but I lack that boyband glee.  I think this is a real thing; I think this is a scapegoat thing.  I wonder if that tweet was the short version of the scapegoat story that the budget tells in digits.  Demanding a song and dance for a good sized cherry is grouchy and grumpy and deeply sad.

#fundformation #gc78 #pb&f
#scapegoat?  #dontjustclap

Learn more about the cuts to lifelong formation at

Monday, June 22, 2015

Let the Special BE Special: A075 #fundformation

Virtual Elevator Speech for A075: Develop Awareness of Online Christian Formation Resources

Approve the creation and curation of a central digital hub of Christian formation and education resources through DFMS/Episcopal Church Website.  This action will
  • serve the questions and needs of the local mission of the church in all dioceses,
  • cease needless and wasteful repetition of identical cataloging,
  • empower and share the best resources for the Episcopal Church’s mission of discipleship.

For a more interesting exploration of the topic, keep reading.  This might make more sense if you have seen the Lego Movie.  Which if you are interested enough in the Trinity and formation to read this, then you should SEE THE LEGO MOVIE.  And #fundformation.

Subsidiarity.  Let the local folks do what they do best, and let the judicatory levels do what they do best is the Unikitty definition. One could characterize it as anti-federalist.  In its more prophetic construction, you could interpret it as grassroots organizing.  Subsidiarity came up frequently in the Anglican Covenant episode, which also suggests it has shades of' keep your hands on your side of the car!'  

“Matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority”. What does smallest mean here?  Can it mean most efficient?  What is not always mentioned when discussing subsidiarity is that the concept does have a role for a central organizing body.  This central organization should handle missions that are the same everywhere, and particularly those that support the local mission yet are broadly neglected by the grassroots level.

The internet is about as close as we come to something that is the same everywhere.  I realize there is a dark-net thing that I know nothing about; and I realize that not everyone has equal access to these resources (nor translation capabilities), however this is evolving rapidly.   The resources cataloged by Ogden in Bluebonnet diocese will be basically the same as those curated by Harper in Peanutville province.  The central organization is best equipped to organize things that are (or we want to be) the same everywhere, and those that are crucial but frequently left lying in the things left undone pile.

Right now there is an empty website framework for formation and education resources for my diocese. It is just sitting there in cyberspace, like the housing division where the roads were paved but the houses have yet to be built.  I already keep a measly assortment of Pinterest pages of interesting resources I find for curriculum and seasons.  Yet it barely skims the surface of what is available.  Every week an interesting and usable 'curriculum' floats past my line of sight. Sometimes I manage to pin it; usually I do not.   10 years ago the pickings were slim and it was hard to learn about the options that were effective, cost efficient and didn't activate my progressive orthodoxy gag reflex.  Right now there are amazing new offerings all the time, many of which are inexpensive and downloadable.  For example the day when a holy geek posted that the Messy Church book was free on Kindle that day only.  Awesome.  Where there is yummy wild fruit there is also just as much free and downloadable chaff.  Yet there it sits in the pile of things left unsorted.

That incomplete subdivision of a formation site, there is plenty to fill it.  And my plan is that once I find the time,  I am going to digitally cut and paste from a Bluebonnet diocese and a Yankee diocese and the Peanut Ministry Center and the Master Builder vault.  My plan is to spend a significant amount of time making digital Xerox copies.  My plan is to be an unmodern monk, wandering the digital highway and hand copying a missal when 3-d printers are a thing!! DIY! (Blech emoticon!) This is time and talent that could be spent visiting and calling (and driving) and offering in-person support and guidance.  Time that hasn't been found because I am engaged in the local part of our church-wide ministry, the serving and visiting and human part.

78th General Convention Resolution A075 directs the communication office and formation office to create a central resource and information hub at the DFMS level to curate and freely share the wide array of resources that can help congregations teach, tend, and transform.  Approve this.  Fund this.  It is not something to cement and make permanent, it is a foundation to build and will need ongoing leadership to maintain.  This is an example of one of the best ways that the DFMS Formation office is most valuable.  

The local level is best equipped with a legion of disciples seeking the reign of God.  The central level leadership is the most efficient site for a digital resource hub.  Because the internet is basically the same everywhere.  Furthermore, the DFMS leadership is particularly called to keep the weakest and smallest among us equipped for our common mission.  The churchwide level office for lifelong formation, properly funded,  is the best zone from which to curate resources and offer this central hub. Multiple dioceses repeating the same material and posting the same material on their various sites that are accessible to everyone is wasteful when, as I have already suggested, the internet is basically the same everywhere.  A075 needs to be passed because it is a wise and efficient use of our talents and resources.  It offers these resources to the whole church, regardless of the wealth or shoestrings of the diocese you serve in.  

Approve A075 to direct the building and continual nurture of a central digital hub of Christian formation and education resources through DFMS/Episcopal Church Website.  This action will
  • serve the questions and needs of the local mission of the church in all dioceses,
  • cease the talent wasteful repetition of identical online cataloging,
  • empower and share the most amazing resources for the Episcopal Church’s mission of awesome discipleship.

FORMA advocacy group member
Digital resource part-time curator
Local lifelong minister
Diocesan missioner
Provincial connector
Computer literate, and ok master builder, since 1979

Church of Baseball and Why Affirm Confirmation as Formation #gc78 A080

Elevator Speech on A080: Confirm the Call to Confirmation as Formation

Affirm Confirmation as an Adult Affirmation of faith promised in Baptism: 

  • Maintain the call to continue the theological and practical work we have done regarding Baptism with similar exploration of Confirmation.
  • Support the call to gather a broad spectrum of experts and practitioners to prepare materials that can strengthen our best practices of preparing for and leading out of the sacrament of Confirmation.

And for something more interesting...
Walla Walla Sweets (Summer College League)

Why affirm Confirmation as Formation?  It is a hard question to even start writing on.  It isn't quite like asking why I like baseball, something so of habit and life drenching daily-ness (most of the year) that I cannot quite conceive of the fine people who say wretched things like 'I don't get why people like baseball'.  I once had a professional scout and former MLB player say that to me.  Now replay that statement in the context of the church/confirmation.  Oh goodness.

Confirmation is to some expert minds a sacrament without a theology.  For the parents of young people it can be a balm for anxious hearts, but it isn't really intended to be a balm.  It can also function as a weak rite of passage, once again that bit of balm that this is not.  Rites of passage have a particular sociology and anthropology that this secondary sacrament is not really intended to meet.  The roots of confirmation are a bit like a due diligence check after the fact.  Reverend Rogers baptized Daniel Tiger, and now King Friday is going to affirm that he has no other knowledge of this person being of ill repute.  The first sacrament, the primary sacrament, baptism was crossing home plate.  You scored the home run, and umpires in New York are confirming the call.  

I have led hundreds of folks, younger and older, through Confirmation/Reception/Reaffirmation classes.  Some games have been a bit of going through the rule book motions, others have been like wandering into the field of dreams.  We, the Episcopal Church,  have spent most of my lifetime affirming that Baptism is full and complete membership in the body of Christ. Game over.  Champagne celebration in the locker room.
ABQ Isotopes mascot chasing down a fan.

Yet we still have a valid need to continually learn and play and act in faith.  We need to follow up the time we spent on Baptism with a season of discernment regarding Confirmation.  We need to think and pray and learn about how important it is to us, how we use this gift and how it is a sacrament that unveils God's reign in our life together.  We need resources and guidance so that the journies toward confirmation have formative shape that lead all persons into Christian discipleship, prayer and service.

I support the standing commission on Ministry Developments's call for us to examine how confirmation is a distinct and valuable piece of lifelong formation.  We need a season and a gathering of experts and practitioners to explore how we actually practice this process and sacrament, and to share with the church best practices for the Christian religious education and formation that can culminate in an 'adult affirmation of faith' confirmed by a bishop.  Let's find that field of dreams.

Affirm Confirmation as an Adult Affirmation of faith promised in Baptism: 

  • Maintain the call to continue the theological and practical work we have done regarding Baptism with similar exploration of Confirmation.
  • Support the call to gather a broad spectrum of experts and practitioners to prepare materials that can strengthen our best practices of preparing for and leading out of the sacrament of Confirmation.
The FORMA position paper on A080 is here. 

Baseball fan.
FORMA member.
Avid Confirmer.