Friday, December 23, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Invitational: #4 Audible

Everybody knows not to make a huge pre-Christmas to-do list.  Yet I did just that.  I think this series of 12 ways for 12 days of Christmas invitational shall only make it to six posts, but so be it.  This day is another audio option: four suggestions for audio books.  Each of these is short, divided by 12 the longest would require 24 minutes a day during the season of Christmas that follows Christmas day.  Why audio books?  Because we can listen while we do other things, and because some of us may come more alive when we listen than when we read.  These are transportable and a simple addition to a holy life that seeks to grow the light of Christ.

It has been a season of prophets and angels speaking to God's people,
an invitation in many forms and many ways, repeating the refrain and calling us back to our essential nature as God's people.We are called to remind one another what we are here for: to open our doors, to offer compassion, to be hearts of healing presence.  In this Christmas season of anxiety, the wisdom of the ages and the divine imperative is a quiet persistent recalling of each other back to the beginning.  

Here are four short audio books that are a chance to listen again to what we are called to be.  All the links go to Audible, however, they may be available from your local library or other downloadable sources.  

12 Minutes a Day

An amazingly inspiring and comprehendible little book by one of the finest theologians of our era. We read this as a congregation a year or so ago, and I know it set in because none of the copies have come back.  Plant seeds of inspiration and insight into your practice through 12 minutes a day with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

"the new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depths of chaos, to be touched by the hand of God." 
— Rowan Williams (Being Christian)

15 Minutes a Day

Crossing the supposed divides between science, business, psychology and theology (the theology is implicit) her work seeks fresh ways to address the anxiety and chaos that frightens us.  Dive into new analogies and understandings of who we are and who we could be with consultant, speaker and co-founder and President of The Berkana Institute Margaret Wheatley.

"In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions." 
— Margaret J. Wheatley

22 Minutes a Day

Fresh words for prayer and contemplation is a gift that many of us need these days. This book is a collection of poems and meditations and perhaps even prayers on a wide array of life's encounters.   Poet, priest and 'Hegelian' philosopher John o'Donohue invites us to become more awake to the power of blessing we already possess.  

"As silence smiles on the other side of what's said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.

As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”

24 Minutes a Day

If you have not read her books or heard her talks, you are missing out on a life-changing perspective. A sociologist who stumbled through research and a 'spiritual-breakdown' to bring to the surface crucial topics of shame, vulnerability, and whole-hearted living.  Following a season thick with perfectionism, try the gift of imperfection with writer, storyteller and researcher Brene Brown.  Whose first name has a thing over the last e, but since I don't even know what to call that thing, I don't know how to make the keyboard type it.  This is also a text that we read as a congregation and I haven't gotten any copies back.  

"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light." 
— BrenĂ© Brown

So what are some short audio books that you would suggest for 12 days of audio inspiration?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Invitational #3: A Whole Lot of Giving Tuesday

The song.  The song.

Maybe it was a rebellious conspiracy, maybe a lover with no sense of scale.  Still we have the song the 12 Days of Christmas, which perhaps could be retitled 12 Days of Giving.  Many of these days will fall within the 2016 calendar year, so if you are a tax-write-off-seeker, this might be the discipline for you.  If you don't already know, the 12 days of Christmas are the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6).  So this crazy gift giving song is about a whole season of giving, day by day.

So here are 4 calling birds ideas about how to make the journey from Christmas to Epiphany a holy giving season.  All of them require some research, and perhaps even making a phone call or two.

There is that notion that a small percent of the population get the work done.  If you are one of those people, those 10-20%, and if you are one of those do everything over-extended kinds of givers, then perhaps one of the greatest gifts would be to focus.  You cannot do everything.  Few of us can personally hold back the gates of hell.  Really focusing, being fully on time and present in a few places may be more valuable than spreading yourself thin, being frustrated with an organization, or being unreliable.  So yes, letting go of some commitments may be how you re-frame your giving during this season.
  1. There are big charitable organizations (BCO) that get a good deal of attention, and many of them do significant good.  Yet I wonder how much more common good gets done through the smaller local charities.  The food pantries and tutoring programs and shelters and soup kitchens that meet human need face to face.  What if you did some research about your neighborhood and found out about 12 groups, including congregations of all religions and political groups, that are seeking the common good right where you live?  
  2. Speaking of BCO...some of you may be of the habit to do some cleaning out in the post holiday season.  All that gluttony causes a response of emptying.  Which is a fine thing to do, especially if you struggle with even minor forms of 'hoarding'.  Do you really need 8 pairs of flats?  I like jackets and coats, and I don't need quite so many.  So I am going to use this challenge in my Epiphany with the equation of keep 2 give 1.  Now getting back to the big charitable organization BCO topic...where to give that 1 (or more)??  There is a BCO whose leader has been reported to have a several million dollar salary, but it turns out to only be around $700,000.  Which still doesn't seem to be the most servant leadership style number.  So, instead of the BCO's, what if you figured out where a local thrift shop is, and how to donate, or even how to give your time? Shops that are run by churches and synagogues local service agencies.  The ones that run simply and lovingly, like where I live Yeehaw Aloha which sends vulnerable teens to camp and is opening a youth center in our small town.  Or make contacts with shelters and other organizations that might not desire to sell items, but can use them for clients (such as Tabitha's Closet).  HOWEVER...if you do that, ask good questions.  Small operations need your contributions, however if you just drop off a bag, like you might at a BCO, it may take time away from meeting the needs they are committed to addressing.
  3. The scriptural stories of these 12 days include the slaughter of the children by Herod in his furious search for that newborn king, and the escape of the Holy family into Egypt.  Refugees fleeing genocide.  It may be that every year since then there has been horrible terrible war and war crimes occurring during these same 12 days, yet we do know for sure that there is terror in Syria.  Does your community have recent refugees?  What groups helps serve and care for them, help make the shift into this culture?  If not your immediate town, then perhaps the next city.  Or perhaps, you could learn about The White Helmets.  

All of these ideas should also be wrapped in prayer.

Except that all things will be- yet again - made new.
Make new by your spirit; make new the church where we live;
make new the public reality of justice among us;
make new the practice of compassion in our neighborhood;
make new the surge of peace in our violent world;

From Walter Bruggemann, 
Prayers for a Privileged People (A Habitat of Newness and Goodness [p145])

Sunday, December 18, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Invitational #2: On Being Episodes

In my continuing series of 12 ways to practice a simple but faith shaping 12 days of Christmas, I offer 6 On Being episodes. On Being it is a radio show that is broadcast across the country on public radio.  The host, Krista Tippett has many accolades, yet none quite outline how the work of this show is a holy gift to our common conversation.  Dancing in the intersection of faith, art, culture and science On Being finds truthful and heartfelt reflections on who we are and who we could be.  We have a hard time listening across our categories and arenas of thought, yet we reside here on earth together.  What can we learn from each other when we take the time to listen?

The treasure trove of 40+ minute episodes are available for online listening (at the links below), or for download through any podcast service.  Truly even a random selection might be an Epiphanal experience.   On Being is as if the most amazing sages and artists showed up at your door, and you invited them in for dinner.  These conversations and wonderings with her outstanding guests span the whole spectrum of spiritualities (and un-religiousness).  There are plenty more, however here are 6 to get you started (in no particular order) that leap out for me as special gifts to the season of Christmas.  If you haven't been here before, you may find yourself getting both beautifully lost and inspired.

Old Testament Scholar Walter Bruggemann, December 2013
"It's a very much-used passage. "Do not remember the former things nor consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" And apparently, what he's telling his people is just forget about the Exodus, forget about all the ancient miracles, and pay attention to the new miracles of rebirth and new creation that God is enacting before your very eyes. I often wonder when I read that, what was it like the day the poet got those words and what did it feel like and how did he share that? Of course, we don't know any of that, so it just keeps ringing in our ears."

Poet Mary Oliver, October 2015
"You go back and you’re these little bits of energy and pretty soon you’re something else. Now that’s a continuance. It’s not the one we think of when we’re talking about the golden streets and the angels with how many wings and whatever, the hierarchy of angels. Even angels have a hierarchy. But it’s something quite wonderful.
The world is pretty much — everything is mortal. It dies. But its parts don’t die. Its parts become something else. And we know that when we bury a dog in the garden. And with a rose bush on top of it. We know that there is replenishment. And that’s pretty amazing."
"Each one of us is a walking encyclopedia of all the sounds we’ve ever heard in our lives. And it takes color, or a representational object, or an occurrence, or remembering the first love, all those things. What they call forth, the kind of communication they call forth is music. Trying to get them in words is loads of fun. It’s a marvelous game trying to pin these things down. And the lovely thing with the music is that we don’t have to be limited by the way that words are limited by our rational minds.

StoryCorpss founder David Isay, May 2016
"That's how memory works. You hold onto these images of people. And I guess there’s something about the way these interviews, the 40-minute StoryCorps interviews are structured that it’s almost — in some ways, we think of it as if you had 40 minutes left to live, what would you want to say to someone else? 
What would you want to learn about them? And in some ways, I think it’s maybe the best way to sum up who someone is in 40 minutes, although that’s a very difficult thing to do. But we have everything going for us, because it’s the voice, and it’s intimate, and it’s honest. I think of it as the opposite of reality TV. No one comes to get rich, no one comes to get famous, it’s just about generosity and love."

"So you really have this huge problem of diversity. And you then go back and read the Bible and something hits you, which is, we’re very familiar with the two great commands of love: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might; love your neighbor as yourself. But the one command reiterated more than any other in the mosaic box — 36 times, said the rabbis — is love the stranger. For you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Or, to put it in a contemporary way, love the stranger because, to him, you’re a stranger. This sense that we are enlarged by the people who are different from us — we are not threatened by them — that needs cultivating, can be cultivated, and would lead us to see the 21st century as full of blessing, not full of fear."

" Certainly, whoever's responsible for this universe has a great sense of humor, because whenever you're expecting something, you get what you expect, but from a very, very different angle than the way you were expecting it. You know, the center of all humor. We are constantly being surprised and delighted by the surprise. Also, a creator who loves beauty. It's not enough that the universe makes sense and we can come up with equations for them, but the equations themselves are beautiful."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Invitational: Day 1

I am an Advent advocate and a full 12 days of Christmas devotee.  Advent is that season that crosses over the secular holiday season, a rhythm of wonder, simplicity and humility that undergirds the sounds of the season.

The worldly festival of Christmas is one day, maybe two, and then the letting go and dieting greatest hits start playing till the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day sales specials begin.  Which seems to leave something of an older wisdom in the heap.

However in the tradition of the church, Christmas is 12 days, hence the song.  Christmas doesn't wrap up until Epiphany, on the 6th of January.  Yet this season of Christmas gets lost and trampled under school breaks and travel and probably sheer confusion; and too often Epiphany gets overlooked (when it is all about looking and finding!).

For many years I have been pondering how to invite friends and neighbors into practicing a full Christmas season.  It seems to me that the ways must be simple and faithful, transportable, and focused on practices that grow discipleship and connectedness.   This year I wonder how a Christmas practice could help us to listen more truly, care more honestly, and advocate compassionately.

For 12 days in the past I have tried to re-read a small book each day,  and another year I have tried an Epiphany or Christmas food from 12 different cultures.  Sometimes I have tried lenten-type practices that seemed harder in their 40-day form, and so too I have tried Advent practices that I heard of in the middle of the season.  It would be lovely to see an 'everybody' does this practice take root, however, I suspect that is unlikely.  So today, and for the next 12 days (which will overlap into the 12 Days of Christmas) I will be sharing 12 ideas for a holy season of Christmas practice.  12 days may be busy, but they may also be unbound to your ordinary time.  It a boundary time and holiness can be found in the boundary times.

The first idea is to keep #Adventword going into #Christmasword! If you were trying #rendtheheavens, maybe you are ready to shift into a more hopeful gear.
Here is an image of the words offered by the amazing brothers of SSJE for Advent, and then the ones I added to make the season complete.

What can you do with a word a day devotion?  The options are endless, however here are 12.

  • Take photos and post them online.  
  • Research quotes and copy them, and maybe post them in social media.  
  • Draw the word, 
  • Color the word.  
  • Look the word up in the dictionary and thesaurus.  
  • Write a poem, 
  • Create a dance.
  • Compose a song. 
  • Use the word as a centering prayer 'mantra'.
  • Hum the word while you knit or sew or craft or work.
  • Go to a favorite and trustworthy media source and search the word and read or listen to a result.
  • Seek a local charity that the word connects to, and find a way to offer your time or talent or treasure. 
So what other ways have you tried a word a day devotion?  
How would you make a word a day practice lean more toward the light of Epiphany?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Nick and Lucy, Once More!

Saintly treats that highlight the Celebration of Nick and Lucy
Saints Nick and Lucy lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries, he in modern day Turkey and she on the island you and I know as Sicily. As far as we know they never met. Nick and Lucy sounds like the title of a children’s book. Two unlikely friends and their holy adventures in late antiquity!  Rescue sailors, aid the poor! Defy common sense by wearing lit candles on top of your head! 

The church remembers Nicholas on the 6th and Lucia on the 13th of December, and this Sunday is nestled right in the middle, and both are connected to traditions of festivity and generosity.  Cold weather solstice celebrations are nearly universal across cultures and time. It is frigid and dark, we need a party.  Therefore the church created a bright tradition, they bonded the growing light of Christ to the darkest days of their winter solstice. It is nonverbal proclamation, that in the darkness, Jesus brings light and life.  God was born in human flesh to a family who lived in desperate times and still he lived the light that was in his words: LOVE, WELCOME, SHARE. 

These brilliant lights can be hard to believe in the darkness of clutch and grab.  John the Baptist is in prison for freely giving away the forgiveness of sin. No purchase, no transaction, just hope and welcome.  John spoke truth to power, offered gifts of direction in a time of confusion. For this and other challenges, he finds himself shackled.  The outrageous holy promise we push toward in Advent is hard to believe some of the time, perhaps much of the time.  John asks of Jesus what we all ask at some point, are you really the One?  Jesus, you come in simplicity and poverty, the times are confusing and lonely and cruel.  Are you really the light in the darkness?  You are not what we expected. Is this what the everlasting light looks like, feels like, acts like?

Lucia visits the party
The historical record for Lucia is thin, and rather contradictory. The historical record for Nicholas is much thicker, he was after all, a bishop.  However, his legend is also contradictory, and if you include the latter-day appearances, well his story is rather mystifying.  By the way, our guests today (Nicholas and Lucy) will be/have been transported via a ‘time machine’.  They know nothing of any rumors of red noses or Nordic migrations.  

Lucy, or Lucia as she is better known, was young and faithful and blessed with a name that means light.  In times of crushing injustice, she would go out into the night with a wreath of candles on her head.  She would duck into the dark tunnels where the fearful and lonely hid, She would bring plates of food, giving from her heart and her abundance.  Lucy lets the light of Christ shine bright.

And Nicholas.  Faithful shepherd of his community, who was not described as cheerful.  There are many stories about Nicholas, but here is the one that connects the dots. Hearing of a family in dire straits he goes out silently 3 nights in a row. At the home of the family in need, he pauses and tosses a bag of gold through an open window.  3 daughters. 3 bags.  Security for all.  No forms to fill out, no accountability assessments.  Just giving freely.  It may have been a gift of currency, but it set a family free, for them it was like waters broke forth in the wilderness, and streams rushed in the desert.

Jesus’ mission of sight for the blinded and release for the imprisoned are not fantasy.  We are called to make God’s vision our reality. Not only when it is easy and comfortable, but when it is more frightening than wearing candles on your head.  We don’t know if Nick or Lucy wondered about Jesus, wondered if he was the One.  All we know is like the Rilke quote, they lived their way into the answers.  So why do I, and therefore we, offer this encounter with Nick and Lucy?   This is something I have offered for ten years now at several congregations.  Why bring together two winter saints who each have their very own days? They are similar, both are remembered for discipleship that was above and beyond the demand of rank or role.  Furthermore, this pairing offers a wonderful balance: male and female, lay and ordained.  However, here is the best reason why. 

It is because Lucy’s simple story shines light on the life and ministry of Nick.  Her story gives back to him his flesh, his heart, his bones.  She gives to Nick his true self, his ordinary, Christ-like humility.  And it is his grand presence - both earned and embellished – Nick’s larger than life persona can raise Lucy up, bring her witness into our sights, it can raise the volume of her gentle service with sleigh bells in the snow.  The communion of saint’s means that Lucia and Nicholas and hundreds and thousands more light the way where they have gone before us.  This is what the everlasting light looks like and feels like.  LOVE, WELCOME, SHARE, SHINE.  

Bishop Nicholas makes his visitation.
Most of us, like our friends Nick and Lucy, are blessed with a multitude of privileges.  And like Nick and Lucy we are ordinary people who are drawn into Christ’s way, who have chosen to follow him, or lean toward him, for reasons we know well, or reasons we may not be able to name.  I invite you to find yourself in their story, fill in the gaps with your own passions, enlighten your soul with their courage.  Believe that your faithfulness to Christ need not be restrained by anything, not even gravity or common sense. 
Be Nick. Be Lucy.  

December 11, 2016
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington

Advent 3A RCL, and the Celebration of Nicholas of Myra and Lucia of Syracuse

link to audio if widget doesn't work

At some point I will write up the ideal and outline of the Celebration of Nick and Lucy.  (A Year it is!)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mystery Trip: Gathered Community, Trust and Truth

Two vehicles, two chaperones, a minivan packed with teenagers, and a truck that was full to the brim.  We got on the road later than I had planned, and the storms were more constant than predicted. This was the bi-annual Mystery Trip.  The adults and the parents knew where these middle schoolers were going, but the young teenage guests did not.  I must confess that the adults would enjoy ourselves by making ‘accidental’ mentions of an incorrect destination, and offer packing lists with items they wouldn’t need.  
Great Sand Dunes NP in Colorado, not NM

There was a beloved trust involved in making that Mystery Trip work.  Healthy relationships and the clear understanding that we were going somewhere.  They were so convinced of their well-being, that these smart, well-traveled New Mexico teens were not paying much attention to our direction.  When asked, I would claim that we were going to White Sands National Monument, far to the south of Albuquerque where we began.  My guests didn’t read the road signs that said so many miles to Pueblo or Denver.  Or look at the directional light on the rear-view mirror with its big green N.  Nor did they notice the hills getting steeper and the trees getting taller.  We were well into Colorado before any of our guests began to question my White Sands fibs.

I was the opposite of a prophet.  I knew exactly where we were going, prophets don’t know exact details.  Prophets strive to speak truths, and I was deliberately misleading.  In Hebrew the common word for a prophet is transliterated nabi.  It signifies that a person is called to a boundary duty. The responsibility of the prophet is to speak across the divide to name divine truth to earthly power.  What boundary speakers like Isaiah communicate is that God sees the people, sees that we have not done what we promised.  We have chosen self-satisfaction over our pledge to be good neighbors.  We have chosen a glittery sheen of happiness  that barely shrouds the fear and jealousy we share.  We have chosen to keep our heads down and our sources narrow.  The beautiful thing about that mystery trip was the love and the trust; the scary thing was the inattentiveness, and self-centeredness, and numbness to everything beyond our tiny caravan.

In the mass of wrongs and untruths that surround us, the word of God through the prophets such as Isaiah, is pointing to the ultimate healing and hope of what we know in later Christian theology as the promised reign of God.  There is a dark storm of meanness and uncaring that makes that promised reign seem distant.  I know this storm it isn’t new, and I believe that it isn’t all hype and distractions.  That disturbing highway pullover of an interracial family of two priests last summer, those are my friends.  Cruel graffiti on churches, racist yelling on the commute, hateful notes left on windshields: these things are happening to your families, my friends, our neighbors. I have had a hard time breathing when I read the news. I turn the radio off more quickly than I used to. The promise of a peaceful forever gathering in Zion seems a long long way from here.  How do I learn to breathe God’s promise?  I gather and I pray and I study.  And the judgment I am slowly hearing is this,  I believe I have been like my teenage guests on that mystery trip.  So carefully tucked in a comfy space with people I know, that I have become blind to the heartache and the storm and the misdirection right beside me.
#adventword plus #christmasword

This is the first day of the fresh season of Advent, and I began my morning with the first word of the word a day devotion #shine.  I needed that word today, and I was pleased to find that Brother Almquist of SSJE shared this shining glimmer of hope today:

Rather than experiencing the sorrows of our world as a source of desolation,
hear the news as a clarification for what we are to be about as followers of Jesus Christ:
to bear the beams of God’s love and light and life, especially to those who wouldn’t otherwise know it.

The promise of God’s love is of a holy mother hen gathering her children under her wings, the promise of a refugee rescued to a safe boat on a stormy ocean.  Advent is oriented to the final times and the final things, how we are called to gather for others and not ourselves, and to be gathered now as then: all all all.  We practice Advent prayers and studies and hymns because God’s reign is already, and oh so obviously also not yet. We have a long way to go on this journey with Christ, many miles to watch and listen to the road before us, behind us, beside us, all around us.  We watch with and for Christ, so that we may learn his ways of peace with justice. 

Scattered all around the nave are new paper stars.  I am sure if you dig in books and under pew cushions you might find a few old ones from Epiphanies past.  Here today are new stars, a symbol of the first Sunday of Advent.  A symbol for the prophets, like Isaiah.  Those holy people who stand between heaven and earth, who point to a twinkle in the sky and say look, there, is something important we can barely imagine.  From here a star is just a pin prick of light, but if you could travel to it you would find a bright blazing sun.  What prayer or teaching or judgment do these boundary dwelling prophets bring to light in you?  At communion find a star and carry it with you to the altar, and then after receiving communion as a gathered community, carry it back to the baptismal font with your whispered prayer for the hurt and numbness, and dissolving the meanness and whatever questions you bring to God’s enlightenment this Advent.  

You might recall that our Mystery Trip got off to a late start.  We should have been to our destination before dusk,  but we were running behind.  And then there was a storm.  A strange and otherworldly Rocky Mountain summer thunderstorm.  Breathtakingly beautiful and white knuckled frightening at the same time.  As we drove around curvy roads in heavy rain, a calm voice came from the back of the van.  ‘Jane, just tell us where we are going.  Tell us that we are not going camping and we are not sleeping on the ground out here in the middle of who knows where in this storm.’  I knew we were close to our destination, but in the storm and in the dark I knew the time for truth had come.  ‘Well, I need you to hear me. We are going on a camping trip. We are almost there. All your gear, everything we need, your parents snuck it to me, and is in the truck that Mary is driving in front of us.  So yes, we are going camping, and we are sleeping on the ground in tents that we must set up in the dark and in the rain.’ 
The tents, on the next day.  At a state park near Lake Isabel.

If this were cheap fiction the response would have been weeping and cursing. However, it was not.  That vessel held a beloved community on a journey together.  So, instead of bitterness and doubt the response was ‘Oh!  Ok.  That sounds like fun! I just wanted to know.’  We practice Advent because the night is stormy and our knuckles are white, and we need to be brought out of our dull numbness and narrow vision.  Christ is coming, do you see what he sees?

I invite you to consider, how is God inviting us to gather?  
How is Christ keeping us awake on the journey? 
And how is the Holy Spirit challenging you to strive for our destination?  

Recalling the desire of God to gather us in peace with justice, please repeat after me.   Be still and know that I am God.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington
November 27, 2016

The link for the audio, in case the widget doesn't work...

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Sacred Circle: Pi, Communion of Saints and Jesus on the Plain

What a strange universe it would be if we had no circles.  Would it even be creation as we know it if there were no circles?  A drop of water falls and it splashes in a circle. Everything from the planets and the shape of your iris.  A universe with no circles would seem to be, at least I what I know of what we know of the universe, impossible.  Impossible is one of those words that perhaps should only be uttered by God. Circles are symbols of unity and timelessness and potential.  A circle is a never-ending sequence of points, if it is large enough, it can seem like a line from your limited point of view. But instead it just goes around and around, never-ending.  Never-ending is also one of those words that perhaps should only be uttered by God, like every, and full, and forever, and ALL.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, ‘God has put all things under Jesus’ feet, made Christ the head of all things, that the fullness of God fills all in all.  In the ancient Greek the letter was written in, this word for all is pas.  Pi alpha sigma.  All begins with PI.  Not the edible one, but the mathematical concept.  The symbol that looks like a shelter.  That never-ending number that is the ratio of the measurement of every circle.  It is in mathematical terms both irrational, as in we don’t understand it, and transcendent, as in it seems to be everywhere.  Every unbroken circle, everywhere we know of.  All in all, there PI is.  Pi is a constant.  It is in the shape of bread as it rises and the rim of the chalice.  Pi is as profound as the most holiest ideas we can hold and as mundane as something we encounter each and every day.

Which is rather like the communion of saints.  That irrational transcendent idea, of how faithful people everywhere,  across time,  dwell together somehow.  We who walk the earth now, those who walked with Jesus, the descendants we can barely imagine, and every lover of God in between.  ALL somehow here in the prayer of the faithful, and the mystery of the sacraments, we are somehow ALL living together in the body of Christ.  Perhaps it is like a SACRED CIRCLE. Shoulder to shoulder, with one constant: the shape of Christ in our lives.  Jesus is clear on this one.  This constant is how we are bread for neighbors, how we pursue clean water for the thirsty, how we listen to the abused.  How we ask hard questions and how we live into hard answers.  Theologian Stanley Hauerwas speaks of this hard-pressed saintliness this way,  “Only by growing into Jesus’ story do I learn how much brokenness I have stored in my soul, a fragmentation which is not about to vanish overnight, but which I must continually work to recognize and lay down.”  

If the constant shape of God is roundedness, then we have to make an effort to grow a square watermelon, or bake square bread.  Those are not wrong per say, but where in your life do you resist holy roundedness, constrain God’s wholeness with a box?  Where do I deny the neighbor who stands by my shoulder?  It is my resistance to God’s way that scrolls past the suffering of the world.  Lately it has been harder and harder to pay attention.  The darkness and chaos seems absurd and terrifying.  But the word from Jesus isn’t to step aside.  It is to tread with the saints, to live through tough times, and strive with whole hearts.

Here in this sermon on the plain, Jesus makes his mission and our shape plain.  God's path and shape and redemptive work will be recognized in its fullness from the underside.  We can spiritualize the beatitudes, we can be poor in spirit, but the more we do spiritualize Jesus demand, the poorer in spirit we become.  We may find ourselves in deep sad darkness, but God demands that we never ignore that we have neighbors whose darkness is as concrete as the circles that fill the universe.  We have promised in baptism to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for human dignity.  Engaging with the suffering of the world is not a new promise, it is the fulfillment of the first one.  There is hardship and bloodshed in the company of the faithful.  Facing our challenges head on is taking our stand within the sacred circle.  

So today we celebrate the feast of All Saints.  We remember the circle of witnesses, the daring superstars and the mundane folks that fill God’s loop.  We are a part of a story that is like PI, both unique and ever repeating.  Our version may be needy and at times unjust, fearful and lost; it may also be hopeful and brave and true.  Yet it is in God’s completeness that we are being drawn back into the HOLY and sacred circle.  Jesus’ direction is ALL: it is inclusiveness and equality, both of which are symbolized a by a circle.

The communion of saints is a sacred circle across the ages, hand and hand or shoulder to shoulder.  It is you and me and stories we can barely imagine. Jesus’ life and teachings they outline possibilities that ARE defined as impossible by human insecurity.  But we are wrong because impossible isn’t our word to use, it is Gods.     Our wholeness, like the story of every saint of every age, it is outlined by the way in which it is filled and stretched to be God’s story in our story. So I offer two questions to ponder: What shall we change so that we can to live into the sacred circle?  And, how shall we make Jesus’ story our ‘pi’?  

November 6, 2016
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Echoes of Whoa! Singalong Make Your Own Epiphany Pageant 2016

We look up on a cloudless night and we see the twinkling of glitter strewn across a deep blue firmament.  We do not see the skies as the ancients saw them.  The ancients they saw something different.  A ceiling that is dark but with paintbrush strokes of tiny glimmering and moving lights. 

When you look up at night, do you imagine the ages and ages of time that are pouring down on us? Do you wonder where it is all going? 
It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold;

Before the beginning began, Christ was with God, he is God.  In him is light and life and the darkness cannot extinguish the bold brilliance of this light.
  God is Love; let heaven adore him; God is Love, let earth rejoice; let creation sing before him and exalt him with one voice.  God who laid the earth’s foundation, God who spread the heavens above, God who breathes through all creation: God is Love, eternal Love.  

In the fullness of time the love of God, the word of God became flesh.  The word of God would become one with his beloved.    Angels came to Joseph, and to Mary, and whispered in their hearts, “he who laid the earth’s foundation…he will be born in love.”  You my friends, will give him shelter and comfort.  You will name him Jesus.  He will be a gift to us, the One for us, and you can be a gift to him.
  Peace on the earth good will to men, from heaven’s all gracious King.  The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing. 

They were on the road when Christ was born, led to the city of Bethlehem.  This one gracious ruler of all was born to a young woman, this one Love became humble, was made of bone and blood, breath and imagination.  Somehow it did happen that shepherds were summoned to his cradle, and they came close to gaze. 
Who were these strangers? Why did they follow?  What gifts did they bring?  Is there a gift that is truly needed these days?  Take a moment and write it on the star in your program.   In a few moments our angel host will gather these starry gifts together.  What gift would you bring to Christ our King?
 To Thee, great One in Three, the highest praises be, hence evermore; thy sovereign majesty may we in glory see, and to eternity love and adore. 

What happened next is a great mystery.  Regardless of our desire to summon ancient sages to the cradle,  we can only imagine what happened next.  Joseph was from the city of David.  If you heard your cousin was in town with a newborn, what would you do? 
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human heats the blessings of his heaven.  No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.  

Scripture tells us that they found themselves in a house, in a home.  This young and scared family, Mary, Joseph and Jesus were taken in.  Given the gift of warmth, shelter, food and water.  And yet the strangeness of the Epiphany was set in motion well before that holy night in Bethlehem.  An assortment of wise ones, prophets, sages, maybe even minor kings; they discerned a star at its rising. 

We know not how many wise ones, we know not their status or education or even hometowns.  Did their contemplations occur independently or together?  Did they just meet by chance on the road?  Whoever they were, wherever they came from they knew by a glimmer in the heavens and the writings of prophets that the new reign was to be born. 
Sages, leave your contemplations; brighter visions beam afar; seek the great Desire of nations ye have seen his natal star; come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King, 

As logic might suggest, when seeking the new ruler, you might start at the palace.  These sages, these wise ones they went to visit Herod the King.  A man for whom history offers few kind words.  A newborn king was a threat.  He met these visitors with leading questions, and our wise friends knew something was askew.  Quickly the Magi found their way out of Herod’s court, and they continued on their way to the house where the young family stayed. 
So bring him incense, gold and myrrh, come, peasant, king, to own him; the King of kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone him.  This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.  

Epiphany could be translated as ‘whoa’!  Have you ever been startled by finding exactly what you were looking for, but it not being anything like what you planned to find?  Being quite wise these friends they learned their lesson, listened to their intuition and having found the young Prince, they did not return to Herod’s court, instead they went home by another way.
  In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth. 

The story doesn’t end there.  The boy he takes on flesh, he becomes a child and then a teenager and then an adult.  Much of his life isn’t recorded, from which we might gather that it was rather ordinary.  Learning to tie his sandals, testing his boundaries, playing with his family and friends.  Yet beyond the ordinariness of his incarnation, beyond the giftedness of each being, this boy is an astonishing gift.  He is to be an Epiphany,  an echo of God’s first and most amazing gift, creation itself.  He who stretched the heavens is one with us, one for us, and it astonishes us still.  Whoa.

This is your story, the hope and the messiness.  This is your story, you have been called to be one with him.  This is our story, so we had best act like it is the most amazing story ever told.  In him we are the new creation, we are wise ones and sages, in him we are princes of God’s reign. 

A new creation comes to life and grows, as Christ’s new body takes on flesh and blood.  The universe restored and whole will sing: Alleluia!  Amen! 

At St. Paul's we offer a pageant on a Sunday close to the feast of the Epiphany. Anyone can be whatever they want to be, and the whole congregation participates by singing as the pageant crew move around the nave.  

January 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Little Books For Momentary Formation

Little books with little readings are like mustard seeds.  They can sprout large homes for multi-dimensional faith.  Here are 4 little books that I find to be a blessing day in and day out.


It is not surprising that I start my list with a book by this Old Testament scholar, as my fandom of his work is well known.  Many of us encounter the Psalms in weekly liturgy and the daily office, but we may not know much about the Psalms.  We also might desire some guidance in finding our life and our prayer life within this library of ancient prose.

Here is a beloved quote from another book of Dr. Brueggemann, that applies to psalmody as well.

“Here we are, practitioners of memos:     We send e-mail and we receive it,     We copy it and forward it and save it and delete it.     We write to move the data, and                 organize the program,                 and keep people informed—     and know and control and manage.   We write and receive one-dimensional memos,         that are, at best, clear and unambiguous.     And then—in breathtaking ways—you summon us to song.” 
― Walter BrueggemannPrayers for a Privileged People


Folks who have been around me for a while also know that I am a fan of these 'a year with' books.  Whether it be L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, Bonhoeffer or Rilke: these brief snippets can feed daily pondering.  If you don't know much about the poet Rumi, he was a 13th century Sufi Muslim, and is widely regarded as a holy mystic.  Within Islam the people of the Hebrew Bible and Christian scriptures remained vital, interacting with Islamic principles in storytelling and poetry.  So while parts of Rumi's world are 'otherwise', many of the images and motifs in his spiritual poetry are familiar.  His works have been translated into many many languages, and he may be one of the most widely read poets of this era.

“Knock, And He'll open the door
Vanish, And He'll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He'll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He'll turn you into everything.” 
― Jalaluddin Rumi


These simple and short reflections on the Benedictine way of life can drive right to the heart of our everyday struggles to live a compassionate Christian life.  Esther de Waal is a historical scholar who specializes in interpreting and sharing Benedictine and Celtic practices for everyday use.  In this book she offers insights for living in a fractured world, for encountering dark moments and the grief that is a part of every life on earth.  My experience with this text is that I will pick it up and just choose a page, and almost always discover something I needed to hear at that exact moment.

“There is no once and for all moment when we can say that at last we are whole, the past is buried and over, the hurts forgotten, the wounds healed. Instead we find that it is to be a search that we must expect to continue throughout our lives.” 
― Esther de WaalLiving With Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality


This book of single page readings is designed to poke, prod, and nurture a more connected, whole and balanced community and world.  Margaret Wheatley is the leader of the Berkana Institute, which incorporates research with organizational principles and the metaphors of contemporary science.  She is a mentor and consultant for organizations as different as a small town church and the US Army.  PERSEVERANCE is a breath of hope and a challenge of truth in the chaos of our lives.

"Determination, energy, and courage appear spontaneously when we care deeply about something. We take risks that are unimaginable in any other context." 

So what are the little books that give sustenance to your daily formation?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

5 Digital Ways to Grow in Your Lifelong Formation

If you are going to reach a little bit further in your lifelong formation you may be wondering how to do so.  There is so much out there and many of us are rather busy.  Here are five simple additions to your lifelong journey that you can make this week.  All of them are available online, free of charge.

  • If you like watching a wide array of short videos that are more inspirational than teach-y, it can be hard to wade through all the ridiculous online.  My friend Randall Curtis curates a collection called Videos for Your Soul.  He focuses the work around Ash Wednesday through Easter, however after several years of this collecting, you could watch one everyday for a long long while.  Here is a video from the folks at Soul Pancake, and my favorite sage, Kid President.

  • I don't like mornings.  I can barely function until I get some caffeine and some calories.  Thank goodness for the people who offer daily audio morning prayer.  I can pray and not even use much brain power.  Usually I intentionally draw or color while listening, and find myself much more ready for the day at the end.  The first suggestion is Morning Prayer from Garrett County.  A priest named Chip Lee serves a community in Maryland, and has a wonderful digital mission.  It is Morning Prayer II, with the daily Epistle and Gospel readings, and lasts less than 20 minutes.   Any podcast app should be able to find it!  

  • Perhaps one of the most amazing contributions to ongoing spiritual exploration is the show you might hear on public radio called 'On Being'.  Krista Tippett interviews a wide array of people who are contributing to our sense of connectedness and meaning in the world.  I try to listen to one of her broadcasts once a week.  Sometimes it is the fresh program, other times I reach into the archives and find new gems.  You can listen to these online, or as a downloadable podcast, or even when it is broadcast.  Most broadcasts are about 40 minutes long.  This year they released a short form of some of her interviews, called Becoming Wise.  

  • d365 is a short meditation and reflection program that is available through links online or as a downloadable app for your mobile device.  Simple and thoughtful this is a lovely way to practice prayer daily. 

  • As for knowledge building free videos, I love CRASH COURSE.  These are not 'spiritual or religious' videos; but because they are about humanity, religious and spiritual and ethical issues are everpresent.  Originally aimed at young people, these productions are sassy and fast moving, but also insightful and worth your viewing time.  About 15 minutes each, I recommend you start with World History (One) and keep growing from there.  

Aspire to Climb: Zacchaeus Leaps

I once had a job where my most important asset was not my friendliness, or attention to detail.  My most valuable skill was my willingness to climb.  The back room at the toy store was very narrow, and filled with three sets of floor to ceiling industrial shelving.  When a shipment would arrive it would fill the two of the narrow aisles, with 6-foot-high stacks of boxes.  I would climb up the shelves and brace myself in varying configurations, and as quickly as possible relocate all the contents from the boxes to the shelves. 

The gospel reading today tells us that Zacchaeus was a petite fella, and I find nothing unusual at all about his tree climbing strategy.  Even if it is ‘undignified’, now and then.  There are a few things we know about Zacchaeus and volumes that we do not.  We are given his name, and a place: Jericho.  This episode is situated in time and can be found on a map, being one of the last encounters of Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.  Not only do we know his name, we also know he was a wealthy tax collector.  We know that in Jesus’ society wealth would bring respect, but collusion with the occupying empire would not.

We can tell that Zacchaeus was a notorious person, you can see it by the way the crowds do not let him through.  As a tax collector he interacted with all zones of society and was therefore considered unclean, a rich outcast.  It is fair to say that Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus, and the Jesus movement. The Jesus movement is what scholars today sometimes use to name the earliest phases of community and discipleship around Jesus.  I wonder what it was, what sent this derided and privileged man out into the streets, pushed him into a crowd of people who didn’t like him at all.  What part of Jesus’ life, what part of his word and welcome draws anyone out of their comfy home and into the streets, and then, daring to scamper up sticky lumpy tree?  There is something about that climb, that striving to do something, anything, to get a glimpse of this movement that calls to him, there is something unmistakably aspirational about it.  

We don’t know if he had any friends or family, but I assume he had servants.  I imagine him heading out, and telling a household servant something like,  ‘well, I am going to go check this out.  It is important for me to know about people like this Jesus.  I had better go see what all the fuss is about.’ I imagine that because that is my place in this story.  I did something like that once upon a time.  Early in my young adult encounter with this Jesus Movement, soon after I went from open agnosticism to participating in a church community, when it was still new to me, well, I claimed to other people in my life that I was doing sociological research.  ‘Because religion and the Bible are important influences on society and I should know more about them.’  I actually said that, and I might have even believed it.  So I stepped out into my crowded street and I climbed my tree, and sought to see Jesus.  And he saw me in there, and drew me out of the tree, and invited himself into my life. 

What sent you into your ‘tree’ to seek Jesus?  Perhaps you have no idea why you keep climbing these trees or this tree in particular.  What hunger sent Zacchaeus up that sycamore tree?  Was it a desire for wholeness?  Refuge?  Was he seeking a group of outsiders with which he could possibly no longer be an outsider?  Or was it a hollowness that needed to be filled with a more wonder-full way of living?  Zacchaeus had been on a spiritual journey his whole life.  He may not have known it, but he was, just as I believe that everyone is.  We are all on a lifelong journey of faith formation, even in the parts where we say there is no road, or cannot see the forest for the trees.  Somedays we see the vistas and the rainbows and feel the unity of the forest, and sometimes we are just trying to sludge through the inches of decomposing muck on the floor. 

Tree climbing is a lovely metaphor for faith formation.  Trees are symbols of nourishment, refuge, transformation, and holy insight. We have been blessed with a home that has a solid trunk made of living words and a living heritage, with branches that lead us up and into the edges of God’s longing for this world.  The FIG SYCAMORE that Zacchaeus climbs is a specifically a symbol of regeneration and rebirth.  Our tree should be like that tree, a way of continual reawakening, lifelong striving and wondering,  and a practical tool for when we are brought up short. 

I assess formation in my life and the places I serve by the promises of the baptismal covenant. CONTINUE, RETURN, PROCLAIM, SERVE, STRIVE.  Aspirational formation should continue in learning, worship and prayer.  It keeps studying the branches of the tree and wonders where it can climb to next.  It puts up tire swings and helps neighbors to enjoy the ride.  CONTINUE.  When we fall into sin we are a people who return, confess and forgive, like the arms of a tree as welcoming as Jesus’: limbs of understanding seeking wholeness.  How am I returning?  I also look for proclaiming Good news in word and action. Is this a community that SERVES with Jesus, that learns and grows through serving neighbors and seeking the common good? We certainly SERVE, but is it a limited few and could it be more of us?  And I look for striving.  Aspiring from the roots.  roots are there for trees to live and grow.  Their energy is upward and their being is intertwined.  Roots pull in nutrients and send them up for sharing in courage and daring to live for others.  Roots strive to offer strength to breathe God’s dream in our leaves.    How will we STRIVE this year,  and how will we prepare ourselves to always STRIVE?

You climbed a tree, I can tell because you are here.  Jesus is calling to you to examine your place in his movement, this dream, this hope, this way.  How can this gospel today lead you to renew a promise for lifelong formation for all, including yourself? CONTINUE RETURN PROCLAIM SERVE STRIVE.  Remember how Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore tree?  This isn’t an American type of sycamore, like the one that was planted around here and produces those yellowish seed balls that are easily crushed underfoot.  This West Asian sycamore tree is a fig tree, and its name in Hebrew shik-ma seems to be rooted from the same place as words such as restore and regenerate.  When the wind exposes this sycamores roots, this tree will stretch its roots deeper into the earth.  When the sand covers its low-lying branches, they transform into roots, which give rise to new trees.  

The trees we dwell in together are made of strong sycamore wood and can bear our brokenness and support our questions and renew our hearts.  Jesus sees us in this restoration tree.  Maybe you don’t like heights,  yet here we are and God’s people are looking up at us.  Dare we welcome them up into this holy tree?  Aspirational Membership is the heart of our stewardship campaign and one of the pillars is a commitment to lifelong formation.  We are a lifelong tree climbing, baptismal living, wholeness seeking Jesus Movement group of people.  Can we dig deeper, letting branches become roots?  Can we sprout new trees, and absurdly strive for renewal? How will we reach to do this all the way back to the heart of God? Let us sit in that tree for a moment and ponder psalm 46.  Be Still And Know that I am God.

October 30, 2016
St. Paul's Episcopal Church