Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Accidental Wonders: Loaves, Fishes and Holy Currencies

Photo by Aaron Wilson via Unsplash
It was January and we were traveling to and fro for a wedding. Two friends from seminary were marrying each other in Michigan. I was traveling by plane and car with Dave. Dave is the kind of person who always wants to drive. However, he had never seen snow before, and even though the sky never offered more than intense flurries,  I drove! After the wedding events were done, we gave a ride back to the airport to two other guests who were not seminarians or theologians or future ministers.

We arrived at the airport early enough for the first flight of our carload, And then there were three of us: Dave, George and I, sitting in an airport bar, for a few hours. George seems to have decided that this was his moment. He had two smart articulate theological types all to himself and he was going to ask every deep question he ever had. It was January in Detroit, and there was a hockey game on all the tv’s in the bar. And while the game was in action, most minds were locked on those screens. However, when the commercials rolled, something else happened. Most heads in that bar would turn to the three of us and watch and listen. It wasn’t a fancy sacred moment in the way such things are usually dramatized. The lights were bright and the food was lousy and the ambient noise was loud. Yet it was a wonder.

Sometimes I feel like nobody in the world is really all that interested in God and justice and hope I feel like no one cares about the kind of holy do-gooder life of service and philosophical things that are my calling. The wonder for me was the clear experience that people are hungry for transcendence and deep connection and soul flourishing, even if they have never crossed the threshold of a church or synagogue to find it.

If you think about the population of the Galilee area at the time of Jesus, if you consider how incredible it is that such a mass of humanity showed up at one time showed up without a paper invite or a holiday tradition or social media blast this wonder of loaves and fishes becomes even more amazing. It is the a wonder that gets repeated in all four gospels, sometimes more than once. And that kind of repetition leads me to trust That something outrageously grace-ful something transformative happened around the teaching and presence of Jesus with limited loaves and just a few fish.

And while I believe that something, something happened, I also believe that the crafty narrator of the gospel of John, the holy sage who shares this wonder today, whoever it was, this person was not counting human beings. They were too busy to be doing that! That number, it is just under a capacity crowd at a Trenton Thunder ball game. It is a large enough gathering to hint at an older sacred story. One of the primordial stories of ancient Jewish self-understanding: the Exodus. Think about it for a minute you have this wonderous meal occasion and thousands of people and then the next thing is that the missionary of God walks the through or over the uncontrollable danger of water. 

The episodes of the Gospel today are not about testing the limits of rational belief, but about focused unexpected real life liberation. It's about the promise of God to hear our cries, the promise to deliver, to be with us and for us, not by raining down food or magically solidifying water, but by partnering with fellow missionaries of Go, apostles and disciples and wonderers. Folks who know or merely hope that this fracturedness and scarcity is not all there is. 

The inarguable facet of this wonder is that the fish and the bread were there. Somebody had fish and bread. They had assets, treasures, blessings. So what does Grace Church already have, what asset, what loaf, what fish do have you already have in your pockets? I didn’t go into the airport that day intending to be a witness, to offer a treasure to anyone, much less to many strangers. But I have to believe, that we did. 

We know that there is dire need in this community. Need for connection and hope and calories and educational support. I suspect that there are people nearby Who believe that everyone despises them and Believe that there is no possibility of anything else. They have not known much good news. How does Jesus’ teaching ministry that is also a feeding ministry how can it show us the way To share the real deep true love of God? 

Today when you leave I invite you to take a cup of pretzel goldfish from the bowl in the baptismal font. Take that cup and the small sheet of stacked beside the font with you on your way home. When you get wherever you are going divide that treasure of loaf fishes Into three even groups. With the first group brainstorm some passions, skills, and knowledge that you or folks in this community have. Any of them, whether or not you think they can be used for the mission of God, as long as they are not actually evil skills or passions. With the second group list places where people gather or could gather in the greater Pemberton area. Don’t let practical concerns hold you back, this is a wonder, not a feasibility study. So no self-editing and no reality checks! 

With the third group name some of the dire needs of this place and time. Calories, connection, love, learning, and so on. Then randomly take one item from each column and imagine How the three could become a sacred story become a wonder in Jesus’ way. You don’t have to do it, but I dare you to try. It may not even be your thing to do, Sometimes we are vision casters for each other. Think like an outrageous artist in love with the crowd. It doesn’t have to be realistic or reasonable. Who would it hurt to try something that is good news? If it doesn’t work the way we want, but folks still get shelter or connection or love, then alleluia! 

Whoever offered up the loaves and fish didn’t know what to expect. They just did it. They were givers and receivers of mystery. People who perhaps had an inkling but no real comprehension of the wonder, the real big deep tasty love that God has for all the world. These divine daydreams and actions and wonders cannot wait until the new sheepdog comes. Nor can we expect that the needs will come to our door and express themselves clearly and concretely. My friends and I at the airport didn’t expect to be a gift. Nor did we sit in our seminary classrooms or dorm rooms and have deep thoughts together and hope they got out. It was an accidental adventure in this mission. 

Learn more about the roots of this
activty through the Kalidescope Institute
and the books titled HOLY CURRENCIES
by the Reverend Eric Law
We had smarts and the ability and willingness to share it.  We were at a place where people gather, And the sea of humanity that we encountered in that borderzone has a dire need for the sacred that we don’t even know how to express. That afternoon wasn’t a performance or a show or a contrived kind of a desperate thing. It was authentic. Truly full of real questions and real community. Not thousands exactly but three people at the table in a crowd. Full of something special that broke through some degree of worldly numbness and lostness. 

So dream brainstorm try wonder hope act. Let go of value judgments and trust the soul and the Spirit as much as the disciples in this loaves and fishes moment. It is outlandish and silly and crazy to go find the few fish and few loaves and get them into the hands of love and dare to trust that God can do good things outlandishly abundant things with so little. It only needs hands of disciples to follow, to try, to daydream of being the kind of companion for the lost the lonely the least and the last that Jesus is for you. It's not loud or showy it's simply coming up beside people in need, and using our blessings to be the way of Love, to be unexpected moments of transformational grace. I wonder, what wonders can you live?

July 29, 2018
Grace Church, Pemberton

Monday, July 23, 2018

Building a Legacy in our Lives: Marbles, Kings, and Steadfast Love

The Quiltmaker’s greedy King isn't trying to build a temple, he already has one in his palace full of gifts. He is trying to find peace and gladness from things that will never deliver either connection or gladness. And the people aren't flocking to this Quiltmaker King like they did to Jesus. This King has more than enough solitude. He needs to go out into the world he needs to find a way of love by leaving the security of his palace. However, the desires and motivations and answers of our Old Testament and Gospel lessons do blend with the Greedy King’s story. We often go looking for that one thing or potion that will finally bring us peace.

We build up bookshelves of helpful titles and a closet full of fitness equipment. We lock ourselves in our palaces and wonder why we are not at peace. Where these three stories come together is that what God desires for us is not the things that we can clutch and grab, but relationships and generosity and compassion. The Old Testament lesson says that it is this dynasty of David that is a holy dynasty. One that is built and filled and sewn through with a society rich with holy steadfast love for all God's people.

I don’t know if the author of the Quiltmaker's Gift was trying to write a Franciscan theology primer, But she did. Francis of Assisi was born into a world where the church was falling down. It was broken due in part to its tendency to wanting to be a worldly power and build palaces and hoard treasures. It isn’t a far-fetched argument to suggest that the church world we have known in the 20th century was much the same. There's a very present fussiness all over the church today that comes from realizing that in following Jesus as a way of life, we have to give up the kind of power that can be held and grasped.

Sometimes we comfort ourselves with an ideology that larger numbers will secure a future that we cannot begin to imagine. If you listen to the heart of the Old Testament lesson today it's clear message is that it is only by being God's people, by being a lineage of steadfast love, by becoming a just community that we have security. It is by being peace for all, it is by being people of deep demanding compassion that we build a home for God. 

There are concrete ways and methods to improve our ability at being the king out in the world. There are ways we can learn to get better at being a beloved community and to be better stewards of our treasures. There are ways to turn around and invite strangers to welcome newcomers into this treasure sharing adventure of Jesus. We can and should seek after such guidance.

Yet maybe an image is more useful for today. The people of God and the places they gather are intended to be more like a beating heart something through which all flows the good and the bad and beating with life and goes back out never completely resting but finding peace just the same. Yoda was right the future is hard to see, it is always in motion. And part of what the layers of centuries of hope and disappointment that are present in this Old Testament text, much of what they offer to us is that the things that we put our confidence in are not what God has confidence in. 

I serve as priest and pastor or ‘sheepdog’ because I trust that more of the world more of the crowds would know peace and wholeness ff they could let go of enough to begin to turn into life together in Christ. Life together that wholeheartedly incarnates God's steadfast love. I believe that God has called all of us to share the compassion and love we experience in the body of Christ. And if we don’t experience compassion or love in the body of Christ, then we have to let go and rebuild, just like Francis.

However, we cannot build the palace and expect our neighbors to inquire just by its being here. Build it and they will come only works in fantasy movies. Neither can we fill it with precious objects and expect the preciousness to convey itself to the world. Furthermore, we cannot escape from the neighborhood. We need rest, but so does the whole neighborhood. We come to this place and this time with a lovely palace and a world of natural treasures, and we are not to keep lists but to go to the crowds, go ladle love, carry compassion, turn over treasure.

Sometimes we come to the duties of faith, come to the way of love like the Greedy King looking for one thing to give away. We find something, something small and unremarkable. And we make the move, we give it away Not with hope or delight but with desperation or resignation. We don’t expect this to change us, but it does. What we started with meh becomes oh. What action of the Christian life, is your blue marble? I invite you to take a half marble. Easy to keep in your change pocket less likely to roll away. Take it and let it remind you of the king's marble. That one turning that one letting go that changes everything. What might be the one thing that you could start with to begin again in Jesus’ way? Is it learning or turning? Is it rest or forgiveness or listening? Or is it getting up out of your palace and connecting with the stranger?

It does not matter what your marble is, God can work with it and all we have to do is try. Yoda was wrong, God can work with try. We do not know what the future will bring there is no magic spell or treasure that will lock down your dreams into reality. Instead, it is by being people of steadfast love that we have a legacy. It is by being people of Jesus’ compassion that we have a dynasty. It is by being God’s people who are connected to the needs of the world and sharing the treasures of God’s palace that we build a home for God’s healing grace.


Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey
July 22, 2018

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Surprised by Holiness: Stonehenge, the Ark and the Eucharist

I didn’t intend to go to Stonehenge when I booked my trip to England. I had been to other WOWZA religious sites and thought, ‘meh’. On that same trip, I had found other stone circles fascinating, especially the one at Avebury, where the town had built itself overlapping the circles there. I do believe in thin places, that there are places where we can breathe more deeply and see more clearly and have the sense that we are more intimately connected with God. It isn’t that God is there more than other places, just that something in the interplay between earth and sky and the human heart becomes more open and soft to the presence of the divine. Yet there was something about Stonehenge, about the elaborate human project of the place that made me perhaps a bit more cynical of experiencing the holy there.

I didn’t find a Buddha-like moment of nirvana enlightenment. It wasn’t a sense of union with the whole universe either. However, there was something. Something that I felt there that was mysteriously deep and inviting and holy. I don’t have many words to put around it, except to acknowledge that there was something free of shame and fracturedness on that gentle hill around those tremendous pillars. Touching the one stone you are allowed to touch it wasn’t electrifying, but it wasn’t a bland feeling either. Perhaps the word to put with that experience was centered, with an outer ring of genuine surprise at having found anything sacred at all.

Contemporary people like us can struggle with the very idea of extraordinary holiness or divine presence. So the return of the Ark to the story of ancient Israel may find us inattentive. Despite years of Sunday School, Indiana Jones was my first notice of the Ark of the Covenant when I was young. Perhaps that is the image that comes to mind for you too. The Ark of the Covenant that David brings to Zion in our lesson today, it was incredibly central to Israelite religious practice and historical self-understanding, and also, occasionally nearly forgotten about and sometimes seemingly misplaced. The Ark is a multivalent symbol seen as a footstool for God’s presence, and a container for the most important elements of Israel's sacred history: the broken tablets of the Commandments, a jar of Manna from the wilderness, and Aaron’s staff, which in some versions is forever flowering. It is a human construction that centers God’s self-disclosure and presence. 

It is said that the Ark is where God’s presence dwells, and in the Hebrew dwell is a word of unresolved tension. It means both an ever after home, and a purpose to be always in motion. The Ark of the covenant, the rectangular container with its golden cover and carrying beams is trying to both honor the freedom of God to be always on the move and the human need for a regular and reliable connection.

King David, is for some, including his first wife, the bitter Michal, is a usurper of Saul’s throne. So his fetching of the Ark and bringing it to rest on Zion is making a public ritual of the divine alliance between God and David’s reign. He is also making a shrewd political move by bringing forth and honoring the most potent symbol of Israel's heritage the very container of God’s desire for human life together, a just society, food for all, liberation for the last and least and lost, David calms and brings into his influence factions he needs to govern effectively. It is a move that is pious and authentic that is also paraded in such a way as to have a strong undercurrent of political spin.

In the Ark, God sees our restlessness and need for reliable practices that help us make contact with God’s holy presence. When David brings the Ark to Zion, he calms the fears of those who are anxious about these changes and reaches into sacred history to centralize for the people disciplines and patterns of life that at their best live into the promises between God and humanity. Sometime around or before the Exile, the Ark disappears from history. It is generally believed to have been looted of its gold and treasures and then destroyed. However there are also other theories, and the plot that Indiana Jones follows, that a Pharaoh took it and hid it in the deserts of Egypt, is genuinely one of the most popular theories. Alternately there is an anciently rooted Ethiopian church that claims to possess it, but they won’t show it to anyone. In some streams of mystical Catholic theology, there is the idea that Mary, Mary the mother of Jesus, in some mysterious way was the Ark that became human. Which at first glance I dismissed as much as I dismissed expecting to find anything holy at Stonehenge.

However, the more I thought about it, theologically there is something amazing and beautiful and profound in that idea. If as we state, that Jesus was the very presence and witness of God’s self, and Mary was the bearer, the vessel that carried that presence, then the idea, not the physics, the idea is astonishingly compelling. The alliances between what we trust about Jesus and the theologies regarding the Ark are strong. Jesus and the Ark of the Covenant are experienced as a mediator of God’s presence and promises and a reliable way to connect with God. Very little that we say and believe and practice regarding Jesus and the sacrament of the Eucharist is very far at all from the intention and concepts around the Ark of the Covenant.

It even takes that matrix of eternal dwelling and portability to a whole new level. Eucharist is an offer of God’s fidelity to us, an offer of fidelity to anyone who is lost or isolated, which certainly abundantly expands the ancient practices regarding who was in and who was out around the socio-religious-political access to the Ark. Eucharist is an offer of connection with anyone who desires a larger sense of belonging in God. No matter what you believe or don’t understand about the Eucharist, it is lifegiving and connective and an encounter with holy presence, no matter what we think or believe about it. One of the things I love about the Episcopal Church is that people who celebrate and receive together comprehend it in vastly different ways. And God can handle it and be present and make it beautiful in a myriad of ways. Jesus gathers friends and foes around the table again and again and again. All of those moments are feasts full of wonder and brokenness, and each meal stretches the bounds of the real and the possible.

I believe that the church is called to be Jesus’ grace made visible and tangible, that our mission is to be a compelling witness of God's’ desire for connection with us. Eucharist makes what is always going on in the big picture tangible in the small picture, universal love small enough to place in our hands, abundant enough to never run out. God’s presence can be reliably connected to like stone henges raised high and standing year after year after year. Encountering God’s presence may not always be an electrifying moment. Instead, I find that God’s presence is found most often as humble and often surprising encounters moments of life and of earth that reveal the deepest truth that the entire creation belongs to God is never far from God and is ceaselessly called to the holy promises of liberation and wholeness.

So I wonder, have you ever felt a thin place or been deeply moved by a holy moment or sacred object? And I wonder how is this place, Grace Episcopal Church, all these lovely acres and buildings in Pemberton, New Jersey, how is it a testimony of divine blessing and peace for you and people in decades past, and how can it continue to be raised up as a holy place for this neighborhood?

God has offered a myriad of ways to dwell with us and journey with us throughout the ages. Jesus offers us a way of life together with a way of love in the church and the sacraments where there is a real and transforming presence, wherever the journey takes us.


Pemberton, New Jersey

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Letters from Pemberley #2

Dear Kitty,

I made my way into Bath-adelphia yesterday (supposing of course that due to relative size the nearest metropolis is such and the further and larger one is New-London-town). My cause was to discover a few essentials, such as fresh window coverings at the shop of Mr. Ikea. In the same neighborhood, I discovered the most wonderful ale peddler. So many varieties from all across the land that it made me quite faint with joy. You might desire to know that I have pledged to only enjoy the craft of American Atlantic Coastal state establishments at least until the fall. Quite the adventure in acclamation I dare say.

In all my journeys I am never truly at home until all the walls have their accessories and all the beds are properly made up, and that threshold has been met thank goodness. So to do I feel this way about engaging in learning and well-being occasions, such as finding a Yoga Hike through a lovely wooded area nearby. This week I also secured for myself both a library card and an EZpass. Jersey-shire is the type of place with roads and bridges that demand a toll if you want to travel hence. The pass is a little device that helps you from having to slow down quite so much and exchange coins with either a person or a contraption. I hear it is a ‘lifesaver.’  I am still of strong notice that the speeds with which a common person travels are much faster than in our dear home, and not just that of the enthusiastic.  The lawful posted 'limit' is much more than a similar lane would be in Longbor-alla (or Longborn-qurque or Fayett-borne). 

To the North and East there is what they call a Mega-base where all branches of the militia are stationed, along with several other federal endeavors. When I was very young I flew to-and-fro at this very same base, and to this day many immense and loud flying vehicles soar overhead nearly constantly. I know you regularly are impatient with the delays that occur when you find the baroche behind the large and slow equipment of a local farmer, and you would find no freedom from that vexation here. It is now a season of harvest and some days such frightsome machinery passes directly in front of our lodgings.

The chapel on the Grace estate is of a delightful size and smells beautifully of wax(!) candles and the cedar woods from which much of it and made. These pews have not many cushions and with floors of both wood and brick, there is to my mind absolutely no need of amplification. Truly I tell you that the sound of the natural voice proclaiming the Good News can be much louder than anyone might expect. It is a change of style for me to be both presider and preacher, and at two services, back to back. I am finding that I need to make an adjustment in my attention to hydration and care for my voice. I also am reminded of how blessed I have been to have multiple clergy persons serving in a liturgy; here I am the only one and must remember to do all the tasks all by myself. Soon I am sure I will recall each one on each occasion.

Young Liberty is on the mend, and while she does not enjoy her twice daily dose, I do feel that she realizes she is much more herself (much talking and leaping and suggesting that I arise at 3 in the morning), so her struggle against the foul concoction is lessening.  Elder Glory seems to be mostly well, enjoying her spot on an ancient quilt by the window of the sitting room.  Stairs such as these are difficult, however, she does come and go when she feels I need to be offered one of her precious toys. 

Give my warm regards to all, 
and I hope each one of you is blessed with cool rains and deep peace.

Jane, now of PemberTON in South Jersey-shire

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Learn: Church Life is an Upside-down Classroom

Introducing myself to a new massage therapist I told him I was a pastor.  His response was, I don't know sh*t about that!   My guess is that there are plenty of 'adherents' and 'members' for whom the same reply might be appropriate.  For many adult Christians, the ways to even begin the LEARN part of the WAY OF LOVE are a big oh crud question without an obvious answer. Like a young person being given the tools to make dinner instead of just receive it, some help and directions may be needed.  

My first instinct is a list of fabulous books to read, however, apparently,  not everyone loves to read and read and read (the world is not made of Hermione's). Therefore, everything on this list is either a podcast or a video or audio method of lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning and formation should be a balance of the communal and personal. We need the community to ask questions and discern, but we also need a time of personal study. The way of LEARN is in part an upside-down classroom where some of the absorption is done independently and in the middle of your lives. 

In search of more LEARN in your WAY OF LOVE,  here are six ways to get a quick start on your personal lifelong learning and formation.

1. Bible for Normal People Podcast Coordinated and usually hosted by Peter Enns, a professor of Biblical Studies and author who loves inviting people into informed, creative, and reasonable engagement with the Bible. His guests are frequently excellent fellow scholars, and the hour-ish podcast is both conversational and instructional.

2. The Bible Project An impressive teaching project that is striving to offer animated videos that not only help us quickly learn about parts of the Bible but also to learn more about some of the bigger themes and methods and literature types in the library we know as the Bible. "We simply desire to help others understand the scriptures and all their complex themes in a way that is engaging, approachable, and transformative.

3. Crash Courses  My love and excitement about the Crash Course project (which just keeps growing) is enormous.  Smart and funny and hosted mostly by the legendary Green brothers.  John Green is also a bestselling author (the Fault in our Stars, for example), and his brother is a musician and the creative genius behind The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  There is so much to learn within the Crash Course universe, however for getting started in your lifelong Christian learning there are two paths to begin with.  The first is the World History series; especially starting with #3 to learn more about the world in which the Biblical and our religious history began.  Almost all of that series is valuable learning, however, you may want to pick and choose a bit.  The World History 2 set has some valuable big themes of history videos, and you might want to look at some of the World Mythology series.  Secondly, do take a look at the Philosophy series, especially starting with #9, to get a bit more of a sense of some of the philosophical issues that are woven throughout religion.

4. Great Courses  This organization focuses on getting world-class teachers and scholars into formats that are easily accessible by people like us.  They have a wide array of DVD courses, all of which are pricey, but some of which can be found at your local library.  I truly appreciate their audio courses, some of which may be available through your library, but many of which are available for purchase and download through Audible (my search says 56).  I have found some of the philosophy of language and sociology titles to be quite relevant as well.

5. On Being   An NPR show that I have never managed to happen upon being broadcast, I find her interviews with a wide array of scientists, artists, religionists, and public figures to be deep and valuable.  I download several episodes at at a time, but sometimes am deeply surprised by the offering of the week.  Dive into the deep library of interviews and find the ones with Brene Brown, David Steindal-Rast, John O'Donahoe,  and Walter Brueggemann, and the one on How to Be a Christian Citizen. The project says that it seeks to look behind and beyond the news cycle, attending to the human change that makes social transformation possible across generational time.  

6.  Pray as You Go  This amazing project is a prayer practice, however, the Ignatian Bible Study methods are a critical part of the daily offering.  While this isn't going to instruct you in Ignatian (Jesuit) practices explicitly, regular use of this prayer app will help you to understand the kinds of questions that can help us 'get into' the texts of our faith.  You can find the daily prayer as a podcast download, on their website, and as an app. 

So friends, what not-a-book sources of lifelong Christian learning and formation feed your regular practices of 'continuing in the Apostle's teaching'?  Leave your suggestions and lifegiving liberating streams of knowledge in the comments section!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fortune Teller Blessings: Letting Go with Love

The sending out of the Jesus’ companions happens in every synoptic gospel - Matthew and Mark and Luke. Sometimes it happens more than once in the same gospel, and sometimes the numbers are different, and sometimes the rules of the road are different, yet its repeatedness, the constant reminder suggests it is rooted in very real memories of what Jesus taught and what early communities did. Yet every time we hear it, I'm pretty sure that a lot of us are struck sharply. We feel anxiety and panic. Jesus, you want us to do what? You want us to go out on the road as light as air, trusting in the spirit of God to provide? We are caught in the piles of our stuff and the heaps of our distractedness we hope that all the piles and boxes and heaps can keep us from falling down, when what it's really doing is weighing us down so that we can't move or create like we are made to.

On the journey with Jesus, we are told to not worry about things, because God clothes the fields and cares for the birds, and so to cares for us with the opposite of scarcity, which is enough. On the journey with Jesus, we are shown a way to let go of systems of buy and sell and instead hold fast to the grace of God as more of an everything than the system of stuff. Which is hard as heck, because one I can hold, and the other I have to believe. Jesus instructed them, and he instructs us, to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick —no bread, no bags, and no money in their wallets. He told them, and us, to wear sandals, but not a coat. I'm not sure this instruction is entirely about material things. Some of our things are offenses and evaluations, protectionisms. Some of our things are burdens of prejudice and pride we find evil comfort in. Some of our things are shames that we are woe to acknowledge even in prayer.

This weekend at General Convention (#gc79) Presiding Bishop Curry invited all of us, even those who only sorta lean Episcopal, he invited all of us into a rule of life for everybody. It's rooted in the baptismal life we share, which is rooted in Jesus. It is titled the 'Way of Love'. When Jesus tells us to be like little children, when the letters of John speak of the followers of Jesus as little children, it was radical rhetoric in that day and age. Childhood as a hallmark moment is only an idea in the last couple of hundred years. Bearing children, being a child was, and remains, incredibly vulnerable. In Jesus's era referring to someone as a child was a little better than referring to someone as a pigeon or a rat. 

It is a jarring image when you know that, but what I believe he meant for them to hear, and what he says to us, is that we are to follow his way as people who are not burdened by all of our stuff and all of our pressures of adulthood. Children have burdens and precious stuff, but it is also quite different than the things that weigh adulthood down. Jesus calls us to be people for whom relationships and little things really matter, for whom exploring and trying new things is how we live. Jesus calls us to be as little children, and how we learn as children is how we always learn in our deepest selves. 

So, like Jesus, I am sending you home with a childish game on a sheet of paper. The Way of Love that can be made into a fortune teller (or as I knew them as a cootie catcher). It's a tangible reminder to you of the freedom and intention we can find when we follow the way of Jesus: which is the way of love. You don't have to make it into the fortune teller, you don’t have to color it, but you can: and maybe you should. Regardless, I want you to take this Way of Love page home and I want you to put it somewhere where you're going to look at it and not only consider it, but do the actions it suggests. You have in me someone who is your Interim Rector, who also has had a long career supporting and nurturing lifelong learning and formation. And everything in this Way of Love meshes with the mission of lifelong learning in our discipleship which is part of the interim mission. Interim time isn’t just about the corporate stuff, but also about personal, about your formation and discipleship. 

Over the last few weeks in my quiet advocacy for lifelong formation priorities at the churchwide level, I was trying to make the word #constantreevangelization a buzzword, that's been unsuccessful so far. Mostly because it's too big but also because that center e part of the word can give some of us twitches. What the e word means is good newsing. Your mobile device has a primary task, and that is messengering and that's pretty much what the word angel means too. Evangelism really is good news messenger-ring and the point I'm trying to get at is that the work of lifelong learning as people who hear Jesus and try to follow him, is a constant messengering of the way, it is the work of a lifetime, the continual reevangelization in the ways of love. We're always being turned and changed and coming into the presence of the good news again. 

So in pursuit of the way of love and pursuit of our learning and growth in this interim process I'm inviting you into Open Book gatherings. It is a series focused on a book of the month. There will be multiple chances to get together to hopefully meet different schedules and demands of work and family. At least one of them will happen not on this property, but somewhere else, in public! These Open Book gatherings will include teaching regarding the book of the month and conversation around some of the topics. But I want to emphasize even if you don't engage the book, come to the Open Book gatherings. You can not do the homework and still come to class! Reversibly, but less encouragingly you can engage the book and not come to any of the groups. I don’t like that one, but I accept it as part of the adult learning process. 

Almost all of the titles are available both in print and by audio because I know that some of you may engage or text more if you can listen to it while you run or do chores or drive around and some of you may also struggle of that with your eyesight. Books will also be findable in hard copy and in digital copies. Our first book will be in August and it is the Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brene Brown. I believe this book is crucial for laying the groundwork for work of interim time, and as followers of Jesus who are called to let go of the things that burden us to heal from the shames we carry, and inviting us into the blessing of vulnerabilities that are the source of courage and creativity. 

All of us need to constantly relearn the good news, and Jesus invites us to be unburdened disciples that we may be free to live by grace, here in this life and in the life to come.  The Way of Love is a fortune teller message, but it is not a fortune of things and stuff. It is a fortune message to live lightly and daring so that we might truly be messages of good news, trusting in the abundance of God.

 Let us pray. 
Gentle us, holy one, into an unclenched moment, a deep breath, a letting go of heavy experiences, of shriveling anxieties, of dead certainties, that, softened by the silence, surrounded by the light, and open to the mystery, we may be found by wholeness, upheld by the unfathomable, entranced by the simple, and filled with the joy that is you. 

Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

Prayer adapted from Ted Loder

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Letters from Pemberley

Dear Kitty (because dear Jane would be strange),

It has been three weeks since I arrived here at Pemberley.  Also known to the local residents as Pemberton, but that is neither here nor there.  The first week of weather was quite cool, the second soaringly hot, and now this day is the most pleasant.  Clear blue skies with the occasional cloud and slight breezes.  I must tell you how very thoroughly green this part of the world is, and how much everyone is astonished to learn that most of Washington state is a high desert. 

I thought that I would share with you some things I have discovered since coming here.   While postal inquiries are made to New Jersey, that apparently is just a formal name.  Every local I have encountered has only called it Jersey, and more specifically South Jersey.  Which I am assured is the 'best Jersey'.  Such a relief!  One of the noticeable differences is that the construction of roads frequently follows a unique pattern.  I recall reading once that traffic would flow more smoothly if it were to follow this 'go right to go left' method.  However, I do believe that that data relied upon the computer bits knowing where they were going, and many humans seem not to.  There are very many people here.  Not precisely in this borough, but in every direction and passing through.  I was at a public house in my first week, it was not very crowded, but was still more populated than anything I have encountered in recent years.  The best local practice is very much like that of the great state of Oregon, wherein I do not have to leave my car to have it refilled with fuel.  So delightful.

The local cuisine highly favors the flavors of dear Rome and Verona, and they are quite proud of all the fresh corn and seafood, neither of which suit my stomach.  I will have to make a bit of a jaunt to savor some of my favorite Asian foods.  However, there is very much cheese and blueberries are everywhere - and the marvelous trader Joseph has a stall only a bit out of the everyday passage.  I have not begun to find such things as a physician, but I did need to find a vet.  Young Liberty traveled so well but after the truckload of my belongings were maneuvered into the house she was unwell.  My suspicion of a repeat was not correct, but it turns out she does have a thyroid disorder.  Woe is young Liberty, but we will have her treated (as soon as the pharmacy returns my inquiry).   Glory is not so adoring of the home with steep stairs, but is rather delighted that I am easily accessible almost all the time. 

My love to all and I hope to hear from you soon.
Jane of PemberTON.