Friday, December 31, 2010

High Card Draw to Select a Bishop?

     You know there is something that just feels right about living in a state like Nevada and knowing that one of the preferred methods in our constitution for deciding tied elections is high card draw.

     In one of our seventeen counties, Eureka, there was a tie in November for the position of County Clerk-Treasurer (Yes, we do have to double-up some of our positions in the small counties – what we refer to as the "cow" counties, even though Eureka is known more for mining.) This tie probably would not have occured had one of the candidates not asked for a recount. As a result, a couple ballots were added in and one ballot where both candidates were marked was allowed since the voter's intent was clear (He/she had written "Oops" next to one of the candidates.)

     Four new sealed decks were brought out on the day of the drawing. Jackie Berg, the incumbent, eliminated one deck and her opponent, Carrie Wright, eliminated another. A third deck was eliminated by a county commissioner, and then the remaining deck was ceremoniously shuffled and fanned by the manager of the Owl Club, a fine gaming establishment, in Eureka (Um, it's both the name of the county and the town, you see.) The incumbent ended up winning the draw with an eight of hearts; her GOP challenger drew only a three of hearts. Many Nevadans were delighted by the account in our newspapers here and here.

     Now, we are quite happy with our bishop, thank you very much, but I am curious, so I plan to look into Nevada's canons just to see how we handle a tie vote for bishop should it occur in the future. I mean we have a tradition of gambling to select representatives in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The high priest of Israel carried the "Urim and the Thummim" in his breastplate for tough decisions. Honestly, all they were was a pair of fancy dice (Ex. 28:30; Nu. 27:21). When selecting an apostle to replace Judas, the eleven apostles drew lots – who knows, a more careful look at the Koine Greek might reveal they actually did use a deck of cards to choose Matthias (Ac. 1:26). Instead of endless balloting for a bishop, and counting votes by order, we might as well welcome her/him to Nevada with a traditional high card draw. It's entertaining and, more importantly, it's biblical.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Simon's Cat in "Santa Claws"

     Of course my tree's not down. We're only on the sixth day of Christmas ("Geese alaying" for those of you keeping track.) I am, however, getting a little nervous about the outside Christmas lights since my pagan homeowner's association tends to send out notices threatening all sorts of draconian consequences unless lights are taken down – I kid you not. Don't these people realize it's not even Epiphany yet?! Besides... it's cold out... and the ladder's really high.

     My cats have thoroughly enjoyed the season! For you cat lovers out there, here's a wonderful little video that answers that age-old math problem: CT + C = ? (Christmas Tree + Cat = ?)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Digital Nativity

     If the Nativity took place with today's social media available! Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Time Change

     I always used to be amused by people who, in the fall, said they were late to church because of the time change. My thoughts always ran along the lines of, "Hmm... shouldn't you be here an hour early then?" What I have come to realize as I mellow (now doesn't that sound so much nicer than aging?) is that being late during the fall change and being late when the clocks jump forward in the spring, although the same result, have completely different root causes.

     Being late in the spring is explained easily enough. We go along living our normal routines when all of a sudden – BANG! Do everything you are used to doing, and be everywhere you're expected to be, but do it on an hour's less sleep. Yes, I know I should have gone to bed an hour earlier the night before, but try to convince either your kids or your cats they should do so. No wonder people come into church the day after we spring forward looking a bit dazed.

     Its autumnal equivalent has a completely different anatomy. In the fall, people aren't late because they've lost an hour, but precisely because they've gained an hour. In the spring, the sun has already been assaulting your retinas earlier and earlier each day, so you might as well get up anyway. I mean, what's the use of fighting it? If you have kids they probably have been bouncing on your bed since 5:17 AM begging to hunt for Easter eggs anyway.

     Ah, but in the fall, you're wrapped in your warm dark cocoon dreaming, secure in the knowledge this particular Sunday morning, of all the Sunday mornings in the year, you can hit that snooze button two, maybe even three times without guilt or consequence. It may be my imagination, but it also seems that particular morning every year my coffee tastes especially smooth, seducing me with its Arabica goodness into taking everything just a little bit slower. Why rush? Life is the journey, not the destination.

     You float along in this pleasant fugue until you happen glance at the clock you so joyfully turned back one hour last night. As it comes slowly into focus and you do the math, you realize you now have precisely seven-and-a-half minutes to get in the shower and get on the road or you’re going to be late to church!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Traditional Japanese Fishermen’s Dance

     For those of you who think that life in Reno consists mainly of gambling, it is time to introduce you to some of the fine arts in our community. Every year, the University of Nevada in Reno holds a Japanese Festival where native Japanese, Japanese-Americans, and we curious westerners gather for authentic food, Taiko drumming, detailed traditional costumes, and dancing.

     This year’s featured performance was of the traditional Japanese Fishermen’s dance called Sōran Bushi ( ソーラン節 ). It is said to have originated in the northern islands of Japan and imitates the movements of fishermen (fisherpersons?) as they gather in the catch. What you will see in the video is incredibly vibrant and athletic moves combined with an infectious, almost hard rock beat. It is probably a lot faster and more dynamic than the original Japanese folksong, but the audience loved it – and one doesn’t say that just because one’s daughter is one of the incredible dancers. All I know is if I started dancing the Sōran Bushi on a regular basis, I would be skinny as a rail… if I didn’t end up in traction first!

Monday, August 16, 2010

How to Be Alone

     "Almighty God, whose Son had nowhere to lay his head:
Grant that those who live alone may not be lonely in their
solitude, but that, following in his steps, they may find
fulfillment in loving you and their neighbors; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen."
— Book of Common Prayer, p. 829

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Learn From My Fail

“He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.’” – Luke 14:35
     Important Lawn Safety Tip: If you forget you went to the hardware store and bought four huge bags of manure compost for your lawn and leave them in the trunk of your car for a day during 90° weather, the next day when you remember to take them out, driving your car will still be like driving inside a giant steaming manure pile for the next week or so. You will be unable to use your air conditioning and have to drive with all windows down just so your breath doesn’t catch in your throat. You will also find your friends doubled up on the floor in laughter as you explain why they can’t go together with you in your car for pizza. Final tip: Using almost an entire bottle of Febreze air freshener on the inside of said car will only change it from a steaming manure scent to a steaming, vaguely floral, manure scent.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Having a Tough Nevada Cowboy Mentality

“…he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt;” – Job 28:26
     Most of my free time today was spent working in my backyard repairing a part of my sprinkler system. Deep in mud and rock, I was finally getting to the end of it, when the wind picked up. I didn’t think much of it; I was determined to finish the job today. Dark clouds moved in. I stopped for some refreshing iced tea made of black tea leaves combined with mint. I took my first sip, and the power went out – I heard distant thunder. I figured the power would come back on eventually; I wasn't worried. You can always tell when a storm is coming because the wind carries the distinct warm smell of wet sagebrush. I figured I had a little time yet, so undeterred, I went back to work. It began to rain. Now, rain in the desert isn’t like rain elsewhere; it usually stops after a few minutes hardly dampening the ground. I was getting wet, but it actually felt good after the long hot day in the sun. Suddenly, the thunder was much closer, and the rain began to come down hard. Am I one to be scared by a little thunder and rain, even the occasional flash of lightning? Not me. I’m made of tough Nevadan desert with a cowboy mentality to match. At least I wasn’t afraid… until the hail began. I gathered up everything and ran for the house. Part of having a tough Nevada cowboy mentality is also knowing when to get out of the way before you get toasted like a cheap marshmallow by a stray bolt of lightning.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Our Father

      “He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’ ” Luke 11:1

     There are a lot of different lists floating around the Internet. There’s this website called 365 Reasons to be an Episcopalian. Anyone can contribute ideas. Although its goal was 365, they’re now up to 545 reasons on the list. Here are ten of my favorites:
1. Episcopalians find debating decisions on the rules a lot more fun and interesting than the rules themselves.
2. “Episcopal” is an anagram of “Pepsi Cola.”
3. We laugh a lot.
4. God is not a boy's name.
5. Episcopalians believe in moderation in all things, including moderation.
6. Preaching is a small part of an Episcopal worship service. Pulpit is to the side; the altar is at the center, and everyone is invited.
7. In the Episcopal Church, it's perfectly okay to kneel at the communion rail and marvel at the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist while wearing jeans and cowboy boots.
8. We don't expect clergy to have all the answers.
9. We don't claim an exclusive franchise on God.
10. From Garrison Keillor: You can "know you are an Episcopalian when you watch a Star Wars movie and they say, 'May then Force be with you,' and you respond, 'and also with you.'"
     I'm really good at making lists; it allows me to sleep at night, to let go of stuff since I know I won’t forget. Sometimes it also allows me to pretend I'm working on something: "Hey, it's on the list."

     What works great for to-do's or chores or groceries, however, is terrible when it comes to churches, or godliness, or just plain living. People always seem to end up making lists so they can tell who is in the group and who isn't. It’s easier to divide ourselves up into visible groups, based on shared experiences or outward similarities. Sometimes that's good. Certain groups need special attention or have special interests, like a grief support group, or the youth group, or a group for folks who've lost their jobs.

     A lot of times, though, it's not healthy. Sometimes those obvious, tangible dividing lines can be tempting as people try to discern which group deserves more respect or attention. Congregations often tend to divide into visible groups like male or female, young or old, married or not, Republican or Democrat, longtime member or newcomer, gay or straight, hipster or normie? (I just learned those last two words.)

     Our identity, says Paul, comes from the One who created us. In Colossians 2:9, 10 – (Speaking of Jesus) “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him...”

     Too often the wrong issues unite us. It is so easy to get caught up in defending traditions or align and divide over silly arguments. The greatest arguments I have ever seen in the church have not been over whether we can help the poor, or if Christians should seek peace and an end to violence in our neighborhoods, or whether we should rejoice together when a baby is born, or mourn together when one of our own passes. No, we don't argue over these momentous things. Instead the greatest arguments and hurt feelings I have ever seen have been over silly stuff like the decision between carpeting or tile in the sanctuary. Then, if carpeting is decided on, the choice of the color of carpeting becomes the new battleground. Heaven help your church if the carpet is dirty and worn out, and yet was a memorial given on behalf of someone's great grandmother.

     In Colossians 2:11, 14, it says we have put off the flesh and the legal demands. The “legal demands” Paul speaks of is that way of thinking that if you keep a good enough laundry list it gets you into heaven. You know, like if you do the following things you're guaranteed heaven:
1. Never get angry
2. Give all your money away.
3. Become a monk.
4. Read at least one entire book of the Bible every day.
5. Never have a lustful thought.
6. Always listen attentively to the priest's sermon (and compliment him afterwards!)
7. Never cuss.
8. Never have doubts.
9. Attend every service the church offers. (Even though for a lot of people, going to church makes them a Christian like going to a garage makes you a car.)
     Why are we told not to make these kinds of lists? The simple answer is because they don’t work. Israel, as a nation, tried it over a period of a couple thousand years. It's why 92% of New Year's Resolutions Fail – 45% of them by the end of January.

     Jesus pointed to a different way. The disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. I doubt they had never prayed in their devout Jewish lives, but they could see something different about how Jesus prayed. They could see it was deeper, more intimate than they had ever seen or experienced. Jesus does not give them magic words or a list of things that are OK to say. Instead, Jesus teaches them about the nature of the One to whom they pray.

     When we gather today, we still pray, "Our Father...," but even when you pray this prayer in the privacy of your own home the words remain the same: "Our Father..." So, Jesus tells us about God, but also by saying "Our Father," we acknowledge who we are. By admitting God is my Father, I am saying I am a son of God. I know priests aren't supposed to admit this, but sometimes that's hard for me to understand. You don't get to be fifty-three years old like me without a lot of broken parts clanking around inside you. I'm aware of things that are my good traits. I'm aware I have strengths and talents – I'm not being falsely modest. But, oh God, am I also aware of my broken bits; times I've failed, stupid things I say, opportunities missed. I don't know about you, but I'm my own worst critic. Yet God doesn't just put up with me, God loves me unconditionally. When I unclench my fist that's holding onto all my shortcomings and just rest in God, faith allows me to believe again that I am a child of God.

     We don’t say "My Father," but "Our Father..." – everyone's father. He is the God of men and the God of women. He is the God of the old and the young. God is a Republican God and a Democratic God. He is the God of those who find life partners, and of those who live alone. He is the God of well-scrubbed Episcopalians, and the God of the homeless who often sleep on our doorstep. He is the God of straight people; He is the God of gay people. He is the God of people just like us, and also of people we don't like. They are equally children of God, equally destined to Christ's likeness.

     But then comes the most dangerous part of the entire Lord's prayer. I'm convinced if people knew what it meant, most of us would not pray it: “Thy kingdom come.” We're praying that this kingdom break out not just in Reno, not just in Nevada, not just in the United States, not just in the Western Hemisphere – we're also praying that the kingdom break out in our hearts. We are actually praying for a kingdom that is both boundless and without boundaries to be established, not just on earth, but in my own backyard.

     When we say, "Our Father..." we are asking that we will go beyond accepting that we are children of God and be translated into a world where we look up for once, and look outside ourselves and realize that others are equally children of God.

     That bleeding heart liberal you can't stand is equally a child of God;
     And so is that cranky conservative who you're convinced is still living in the 1950's;
     And so is that homeless guy who is dirty and smells funny;
     And so that person whose skin looks like mine;
     And so is that person whose skin is different;
     And so is that family that looks like mine;
     And so is that family that is configured completely differently from mine.;
     And so is that group that shares my religion;
     And so is that group whose religion is nothing like mine.

     Trying to live our lives by making long lists of all our shortcomings and the changes we're going to make just doesn't work. Trying to live our lives by making long lists of people who are in and people who are out doesn't work. Jesus teaches what works is to stop rushing around and beating ourselves and others up. What works is to recognize that I am a child of God. What works is to then recognize that others are equally children of God; equally destined to Christ's image.

     And when we drop all the rushing around and should's and shouldn't's and lists and just sit quietly in the presence of God in prayer recognizing who we are and who others are with the words, "Our Father...," then and only then, deep, tectonic shifts begin in our hearts. Then, the world begins to change. Then, the kingdom comes.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Secret Vice

     Surreptitious, embarrassing, scandalous – all words that could describe the secret vice I engage in at least once a week, sometimes two or three times a week when I am stressed. Thank God, I don’t think any of my parishioners suspect.

     Yes, you guessed it: I like to look at LOL Cats on the Internet. I feel so much better just having said that out loud. There is so much stigma attached to this, that it has taken me years to be able to come out of the closet (or in that too cute broken English called LOL Cat Speak: “Come out ov teh closets”). I love cats and have two of my own – Garfield and Casey – who rule my household with firm yet gentle paws. It was an accident years ago that I stumbled upon the premier LOL Cat website I CAN HAS CHEESEBURGER. In no time, I was hooked.

     Today, I came across another website that will translate regular English into LOL Cat English. Perhaps Episcopalians’ dour reputation would be lightened up a bit if we translated some of our scriptures into LOL Cat English? Here are some well-known passages:
Furst dis: Gawd creatd teh heavens an earth - all u c, all u doan c.
Gawd, mah sheferd! I doan ned ting. He makez me lie down in de green grass; he leadz me beside still waters;u has beddd me down in lush meadows, u find me quiet pools 2 drink frum.
Noah an all his whole pplz boardd teh ship 2 escape teh floods. Clean an unclean animals (liek dawgs), birdz (yay!), an all teh crawlin creaturez came in pairs 2 Noah an 2 teh ship, jus as gawd had commandd Noah.
     Add a few pictures of cute cats, and we’ve got Gospel!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

NOM Pastor Speaks Against Gay Marriage… um… I think.

     While I understand fear of change – everyone feels that sometime or another – I’ve never quite understood the overwhelming fear that somehow traditional marriage is threatened by recognizing there are others who wish to take their relationships seriously, make lifetime commitments, and celebrate with their loved ones and faith communities. Even harder to understand, is the denial of basic rights like hospital visitation, equal opportunity in employment, inheritance, and protection against discrimination also opposed by the National Organization for Marriage (by that, they mean straight marriage only.)

     NOM is currently touring the United States trying to spread their message of hatred and bigotry conservative religious values. At a recent rally, one anti-gay preacher got pretty worked up and began speaking in tongues. Really, his ranting would be enough to frighten decent gay people anywhere. I think he probably wanted to say that gays should not be allowed to get married and we are all going to H-E-double-hockey-sticks, but if this is really the Spirit at work, he may very well be saying something like, “This NOM tour is complete rubbish! Love is the only law that Christ would give!” I don’t know… watch the video and see what you think.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Abstract Poor and Their Abstract Children

     “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” – Matthew 26:11

     Every week, Trinity Episcopal Church hands out between 300 and 450 sack lunches to the hungry and homeless in downtown Reno. We supplement that with fresh oranges congregants donate and day-old baked goods our local Starbucks gives us. In rotation with other downtown churches we host one or more homeless families every couple months.

     In Sparks, our neighboring city, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church feeds about a thousand families a month out of their food pantry.

     I am haunted by the faces that line up sometimes hours before our doors open. Jesus said we would always have the poor with us, but I’m not sure that is because we can’t eradicate poverty given the wealth of our nation, or if Jesus foresaw flawed humanity and imperfect human governments would never care enough to do so.

     I suspect the loudest voices in the political world who defend the wealthy and privileged of our country and reluctantly open their clenched fists to hand the poor even the smallest aid, have never really seen their faces. The poor are an abstract. You can’t feel compassion for an abstract. If an abstract is hungry, it’s hard to care about them or their abstract children. I invite them to spend time handing out lunches with us in Reno. Go to Sparks and pack the cardboard boxes and bags for the families, but be sure to hand them to the poor yourself. Volunteer at a local shelter or serve food at the downtown mission. See the faces. Look in their eyes. They will never be an abstract again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Parishioner Carjacked and Beaten on Way to Church

     It has not yet made the national news, but we had a parishioner from our church carjacked coming down the Mt. Rose highway on her way to church last Sunday and brutally beaten. She was left unconscious and bleeding. We found out about it first because one of our priests drove past and saw the scene, and reported it when he arrived for the 7:45 AM service. A bit later, one of our vestry members was driving down the same road and saw it too. Luckily, after she had passed by, a member of the Hell's Angels motorcycle club was passing and saw her beaten and bleeding. He stopped and made a tourniquet from the greasy bandana he was wearing. Doctors later said that probably saved her life, stopping the blood loss. He got to St. Mary’s hospital in Reno and shockingly even paid two months of the bills in advance. The Hell’s Angels are holding a chopper rally next Friday in downtown Reno to raise funds to pay the rest of her hospital bills.

     OK, by now you've realized it's just a story, but maybe you feel a bit of the shock Jesus' audience felt when he talked about the good Samaritan (Although I’ve always wondered if the title of the story wouldn’t be better as “The Bad Priest”.)

     My adaptation is really not so far off. The highway down from Lake Tahoe to Reno is very similar to the one from Jerusalem down to Jericho. It is 36 miles from Incline Village at the Lake to Reno, and only 18 miles from Jerusalem down to Jericho, but it is about the same drop in elevation. So, we could easily say, it's half as far, but twice as steep. And as far as the Hell’s Angels goes… who would you least expect to come to your aid if you were the one lying in a ditch on the side of the road?

     We could be any of the people in this story. Every last one of us has been that person in the ditch. We are the victim on the road, robbed of our innocence. Some pass by us like the priest or the Levite. Even worse, some come along and give us one last kick to be sure we’re really bleeding by telling us things like, “You deserved it,” or, “It was your own stupid fault,” or, “You should help yourself,” or the worst lie of all, “You are not worthy of being loved or helped.”

     Sometimes, to my shame, I realize I have been the robber, beating and inflicting wounds on others… even those whom I love. Sometimes, at the best of times we are the Samaritan. We become the good Samaritan when we realize we don't come across those who are hurting and in need by chance. It is a divine appointment we are keeping.

     If we continue working on radical love – Jesus' kind, that saw no boundaries, no limits between people, then, there comes a time when we understand there are no Samaritans – or Jews, or priests, or conservatives, or liberals, or Whites, or Hispanics, or Blacks, or gays, or straights. There are only four kinds of people in the world:
  • Those who attack and rob others
  • Those who lie beaten and bleeding,
  • Those who pass by, and…
  • Those who hearts are touched with compassion.
     We are all bleeding to death, dying of the need of both treating and being treated the way people who are fully human – who see no boundaries to love – treat one another. Christianity is not so much about the individual "getting to heaven” – Jesus has promised we’re going to get there. In a very real sense, Christianity is mostly about how many of our fellow travelers we touch along the way.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Death Penalty

     His crimes were horrifying; the sentence just. Still with last night's midnight execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner in Utah by firing squad, I am appalled at the sheer brutality of it. There are so many deserving people struggling with illness and disaster for whom I have have prayed they will be allowed to live. I prayed for my father's life, but he was taken from us four years ago. I am not the giver of life. I tremble to put myself in the place of God by taking a life.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Weeds According to Pickles

     My sentiments exactly!

     Pickles is done by Brian Crane, a local comic strip artist of whom my little city is very proud - hometown boy makes good! You can see more of his humor at "Go Comics". If your local newspaper does not carry Pickles ask them to start.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Trinity Can Also Give You Healthy Gums & Fresh Breath!

     At an earlier service I teased my rector Stefani about her upcoming sermon for this morning, Trinity Sunday: “I’m looking forward to having this whole Trinity business explained to me.”

     With a coy smile she replied, “All will be revealed.”

     During her excellent sermon, she gave a number of wonderful illustrations, including historical ones. There were two new ones I had not heard before that especially stuck with me.

     The first used the toothpaste Aquafresh. She mentioned she had picked this illustration up elsewhere, but it is delightful to think of a representation of the Trinity being right in your medicine cabinet.

     The other explanation came from Roman Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson who compares God with DNA. The shape of DNA is a double helix: two strands of genetic material woven together to form the building block of all biological life. Now imagine DNA with an extra strand, Johnson says – a triple helix that’s the greatest source of life ever! The sheer immensity of God the Trinity woven into every aspect of our lives like DNA spoke to me personally.

     The most delightful explanation of God, although Order In God's Name at Amazon!not explicitly Trinitarian, came this morning during the children’s service from another of our priests, Kathy, who read a wonderful children’s book entitled In God’s Name by Sandy Eisenburg Sasso. In it, everyone is searching for God’s name and all of them think they have found the best one. It is not, however, until they all gather around a still pond and speak their own name for God that God becomes present. The kids were enthralled, and the insight of the book, as we struggle to name the unnamable, awed me and gave me goosebumps.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ghosts in the New York Public Library!

     Remember the movie Ghostbusters and the scene shot at the New York Public Library with the ghost in front of the card catalog? There is a wonderful group called Improv Everywhere that stages brilliant stunts in public places to the amazement of unsuspecting onlookers. The great thing I like about them is their pranks are never mean, but always the kind of performances that make people smile and laugh in wonder. Their latest video was arranged with the complicity of the New York Public Library to help with its current series of Public Service Announcements. Imagine you are studying at the library, when all a sudden ghosts begin to infiltrate, opening their laptops, reading, checking a dictionary entry. I mean, who you gonna call?

     This second video is the original one that caught my attention; you may have seen it too. It was filmed in the Liverpool train station as part of a commercial for T-Mobile. Imagine during a regular busy travel day, music begins and a man starts dancing alone in the middle of the station, only to be joined by five more people, and then ten, and then… I only wish something like this would happen to me when I travel.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

11th Annual Ecumenical Choir Festival

     Over one hundred choristers gathered at Trinity Episcopal Church last Sunday for our 11th annual Ecumenical Choir Festival. The church was packed, as choirs from as far away as Quincy, California lifted their voices in praise. Each group presented an individual anthem they had prepared, and there were three incredible mass choir pieces. Our church has a long tradition of supporting ecumenical relations, and it did my heart good as I watched Episcopalians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Unitarians all joining their voices in song. For a couple hours every year, it always feels to me I am seeing Christians united in faith as it was meant to be.

     This first piece is the mass choir presentation of Elijah Rock in an exciting gospel arrangement I had never heard:

     The second piece is Trinity's offering of Taste and See arranged by our talented new Interim Music Director, Michael Langham:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Leaving Facebook

     So, Facebook admits to making another privacy gaffe and apologizes profusely and sincerely, promising it will respect your privacy in the future. I, for one, don’t buy it. You can read the latest mea culpa in the "Washington Post". Wanting to beat the Christmas rush, I deleted my account two weeks ago.

     There are many reasons why people get onto Facebook. It all sounded so noble and logical as I repeated my reasons to others a year ago, “My oldest daughter has graduated from college, and my younger daughter will be following her in a couple years. As they go away to graduate school, I want to be able to stay in touch.” Sometimes, I even threw in a justification based on evangelism: “You know, most young people communicate through Facebook, so this will open up a whole new way of staying in touch with younger parishioners and older ones too.” What a great dad! What an edgy emergent-church kind of priest! The real truth was far less pretty.

     I was driving home last year when my oldest daughter called me on my cell phone to say she had been accepted by Seton Hall University about fourteen miles outside of New York City. I was thrilled; I was proud; I made all sorts of appropriate parental noises. I also hung up and cried the rest of the way home. Seton Hall: 2,861 miles from my doorstep in northern Nevada.

     According to Google Maps, it would take me forty-three hours to drive there. Clearly, Google Maps based this wild-eyed optimistic estimate on three assumptions: 1) I would not sleep, eat, or stop for gas; 2) My little Hyundai sedan could maintain a constant rate of 66.5 miles per hour shooting out of my sleepy little neighborhood and blazing through downtown Salt Lake City, Omaha, Chicago, and Cleveland without attracting the interest of law enforcement, and; 3) A large-sized Diet Pepsi wouldn’t force my tricky fifty-two-year-old bladder to the side of the road within fifteen minutes flat. I had realized the girls were eventually going to grow up and have their own lives, but did they really have to begin them on the other side of the planet? OK, to take the drama down a notch we return to Google Maps where we learn that the “other side of the planet” would technically have been somewhere in the neighborhood of Samarkand, Uzbekistan – but you get my drift.

     So, in what some would uncharitably describe as a less-than-manly display of parental panic, I joined Facebook. At first it was fun. We had some great father-daughter time as the girls tutored me in how to post my status (“Dad is now on Facebook!”) and learned how to make critical updates about my life (“I have uploaded my first picture of the cats!”) Ever the Episcopalian and concerned about my privacy, I spent hours perusing articles about online settings for Facebook to prevent personal details being divulged to identity thieves or the Huffington Post – both evil enterprises who would naturally want to access private shots of my cats. Finally it was done, and I settled back into making daily checks of Facebook to learn about my daughters’ lives and share mine with them. What I learned is our lives consist mainly of what we have eaten today, things we already discussed on the phone or in person, and who our latest Facebook friends are. Week after week, I found I had less to say and would prefer to talk to my daughters in person rather than try to make my rather predictable day sound interesting by coming up with catchy status updates like, “Whoa! Jonah swallowed by sea monster during Morning Prayer. God: 1; Jonah: 0!”

     Yes, it was life on the edge, until the day Facebook decided to make its first “enhancement” to my privacy settings. What Facebook means by “enhanced privacy settings” is they have defaulted all your previous privacy settings to absolute zero, allowing everyone (especially their advertisers) to see your profile, marital status, home town, groups you have joined, list of friends, and the new Thai restaurant you ate at last night. Another facet of being Episcopalian is I am basically polite. I found it hard to refuse the deluge of friend requests from people I liked, people I was not sure I liked, and people I did not even know. What began as a family sharing experience shortly became a mob. Soon, I was being informed about vague acquaintances purchasing fertilizer for their simulated ant farms on Facebook and important valid scientific tests I could take (“What Gemstone Are You?”; “What Celebrity Are You?”; “What Theologian Are You?”) I learned how to hide friends or activities like the ant farm but still, as one friend put it, “What does it say about your sixty-eight friends when you have sixty-two of them hidden?”

     After each of the four “privacy enhancements” Facebook has rolled out in the year I have been with them, I had to spend too much time learning how to lock down my settings again. Each time, they introduced one more way to make it difficult or impossible to do so. Sometimes I did not realize I had missed a setting until I had a new friend request from a stranger waiting for me or received startling E-mail notifications from Facebook (“Margaret went to the same Thai restaurant you did last night!”). The final straw came during their last upgrade when I discovered I could no longer completely opt out of people sending me friend requests. I had received thirteen requests from current and former students within a week. There is no way I am sharing my personal life with twelve-year-olds I am currently teaching and middle schoolers I taught last year. I’m their teacher, not their friend – no matter what more groovy teachers say, there does remain an important gulf between those two. Read about privacy concerns on Facebook at the New York Times here: "Price of Facebook Privacy?" Given these four previous missteps and the amount of money to be made from ad revenue if Facebook does not respect my privacy, you will understand if I am less than ready to swallow the latest spin-saturated apology.

     Since I also work with websites, I have a rather advanced Internet virus protection program. I say “advanced” because it cost me a lot of money. Over a week’s time, my virus protection program would indicate an uptick in malicious traffic whenever I accessed Facebook. Reports online have indicated Facebook is one of the new favorite targets of spammers, hackers, and identity thieves. Read about these concerns at the New York Times here: "A 'friend' might send you a virus"

     So, a couple weeks ago, I deleted my account. It is a pretty easy process if you can withstand the pleading messages that arrive in your E-mail afterwards: “Mark will miss you!” “Susan still wants to be your friend!” Simply go to the help page on Facebook, type “delete account” into the search box, and the answer will come up – it is just one simple click on a link after that. I even have heard there is a move to get people to quit Facebook on Memorial Day due to these privacy concerns ("Quit Facebook on May 31"). For once, it’s nice to be ahead of the curve. Facebook will try to get you to just “deactivate” your account, but don’t fall for it – if you ever sign in again, even accidentally, your account is automatically reactivated. Even when you choose to delete your account, if you sign in again within fourteen days, the process is cancelled, and you have to start over.

     My oldest decided not to go to Seton Hall last year after all; instead she will be heading down to Texas for grad school this fall. It is not the other side of the world at least, but she is probably going to end up with a drawl at the end of her first month, and I am concerned about her even being in the same state as George Bush. We will keep in touch in old fashioned ways – letters and phone calls – and in new fashioned ways like E-mail. The bottom line is I do not really think a third party focused on advertising dollars maintains your relationships – only real human contact does that. Besides, Texas isn’t that far away. Google Maps says it is only a twenty-nine hour drive!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Retirement or Act II?

     After many years teaching elementary school, I have decided to retire. It really was not an easy decision. Realizing I was finishing my thirtieth year finally hit me after the holidays. Just out of curiosity, I wrote to our public employees’ retirement system to see what kind of retirement income I would have if I retired at the end of this year. After looking at the figures, I realized if the church wanted me as a part-time priest, they would be getting quite a deal since I did not need that much additional salary to bring me up to my current teaching salary.

     In February, I approached my rector with the idea. We did have a full-time priest in addition to her when she arrived, but that priest was hired into a rector’s position back east quite awhile ago. We also have a part-time priest shared between our congregation and another. For the past four years, I have simply acted as what we jokingly refer to in Nevada as a “gas money priest” since the small monthly stipend we receive usually pays for the gas. I presented the idea of the job initially, and then she called me back for a more serious talk a couple weeks later. Once she decided it was a great idea, it went to the executive committee, and then needed vestry approval. The hard part was knowing all this was underway, but having to keep track of who knew and who did not know, so I did not say something I shouldn’t. Finally, with the mailing of our May newsletter the whole congregation knew – what a relief! The congregation has given me a warm reception – odd statement since I have been there for thirteen years − and I am looking forward to starting formally in July. I am thinking of it not so much as “retirement” (I’m only 52 – a tender age), but as “Act II” in the unfolding play that is my life.

     It is an odd and somewhat unsettling feeling to think of myself not teaching school. When I pause to consider it, in one form or another I have never really been out of school: Grammar School – Middle School – High School – College – Grad School – Teaching. My entire life has been lived among schoolchildren. When I am asked what I do for a living, the answer has always been, “I’m a teacher.” Rarely does the priest thing come up. Now, the correct answer is, “I am an Episcopal priest.” That is going to take some getting used to.

     The standard questions I am asked on almost a daily basis are, 1) “So, are you counting the days?” and; 2) “What are you going to do?” That first question is beginning to get on my nerves. Yes, I am ready to move on, but I still love my students, and am going to give them my all until we have to say good bye in June.

     The second question is easier to answer, except most people seem a trifle disappointed I am not planning to sail around the world with only my cats for company or something equally extreme (We teacher/priests are a dull lot.) To be honest, there are a few things I am really looking forward to in my retirement: not grading papers every evening, not having to wait for a bell to go to the bathroom, and not being afraid of those icons on the evening weather report. I want to just watch the evening weather report without my stomach clenching if there is snow or rain midweek. If I see the rain or snow icon it means I’m going to have a rough commute (only 35-45 minutes, but lots of hills and mountains), and probably the kids are going to stay inside all day.

     It is public knowledge at my school that I am retiring, and even my students are beginning to know. One boy asked today in a hurt tone of voice, “Why didn’t you tell us you were retiring?! We would have treated you better.” I just laughed. I will miss the kids.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Easter Eve is Christmas Eve for Adults

     Do you remember the excitement and anticipation of Christmas Eve as a kid? Many folks were raised in a religious tradition that emphasized the incarnation of Jesus, and yet whatever your background, we can all remember the excitement of Christmas Eve not being so much about the baby Jesus, but about PRESENTS! The excitement of knowing there would be gifts in the morning to be unwrapped almost made it impossible to sleep.

     What Christmas Eve is for kids – anticipation, excitement, joy – the Easter Vigil held on Easter Eve is for adults. Adults have been through the reality of death in our world. All of us have experienced the sorrow and devastation of losing someone without whom the world will never be the same. We as adults have lived long enough to have seen evil. The worst of it is recognizing true evil exists twined around inside each of us. We have lived; we have seen real pain; we have tasted loss, despair, regret. Easter Eve isn't for kids... it's for those of us who have lived long enough to want a different kind of present. It’s no longer that shiny bike or the new train set under the Christmas tree which fills our dreams. Instead, we dream of resurrection, life, hope – the redemption of regained innocence in this tired, cynical world – a second chance. The gift of Easter is the present adults really want and need.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Chocolate Crosses for Easter?!

     Clergy have long struggled with the secularization of Easter. Many priests feel that things like the Easter egg hunt and someone in a bunny costume takes away from the true message of Easter: the resurrection of Jesus. Well, maybe, but like a true Anglican, I have always fallen on the rather wishy-washy side. I guess it could vaguely be described as the “Oh-for-goodness-sakes-the-kids-and-parents-love-the-Easter-egg-hunt-and-maybe-it’ll-get-them-in-church” side.

     I have, however, recently realized even I, progressive and liberal as they come, have my limits. I was introduced to my boundaries courtesy of the Hershey Chocolate Company and my local grocery store. In a no doubt well-intentioned move to answer more conservative Christian concerns and infuse a little religion into the secular, Hershey’s has come out with the chocolate Easter cross (in white or milk chocolate). So instead of biting off those chocolate bunny ears, children can now munch on a piece of Jesus’ cross. Am I the only one kind of creeped out by this?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hot Chocolate & Lorna Doones

     Looking for a guilt-free snack in the evening? Here’s mine: Sugar-free diet hot chocolate and Nabisco’s 100-calorie pack of Lorna Doones. This combo is only 3 points on Weight Watchers (1 for the hot chocolate; 2 for the cookies). Curl up with this treat and a good book, and you’re set. Since I constantly have to keep an eye on my weight, I am open to any suggestions. So, what are your guilt-free treats?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

San Francisco’s Answer to the Westboro "Baptist" Church

     When the perennial purveyors of globe-trotting hate, AKA The Westboro “Baptist” Church, showed up at our downtown Episcopal Church in Reno a few years ago, we simply filed out of church and turned our backs on them and were mute – that ticked them off, I can tell you. I have to put “Baptist” in quotes since they are not affiliated with any recognized Baptist group.

     I’m wondering now, though, whether we should have followed the lead of some pranksters who dealt with the protestors in San Francisco by using humor. They created hilarious signs like “God Hates Signs” and “I Was Promised Donuts!” and infiltrated the protestors while blaring music from Lady Gaga (a particular favorite of the Westboro group, I understand.)

     I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s quote: “I often laugh at Satan, and there is nothing that makes him so angry…”

     Read the full story and see more pictures and a video here: “San Francisco’s Answer to the Westboro Baptist Church” .

Anne Frank’s Chestnut Tree

     Other than the Bible, it is said that the diary of Anne Frank is one of the most widely read works of non-fiction in history. Outside of the office building in Amsterdam where her family hid from the Nazis, a chestnut tree grew. Anne mentioned it in her diary on Feb. 23, 1944:

     "From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind. 'As long as this exists,' I thought, 'and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.'"
     The tree is, however, close to the end of its life. In order to preserve Anne’s memory, saplings grafted from the original chestnut tree have been awarded across the globe – eleven are coming to the United States. The nearest sapling to my home here in Nevada is now planted north of the San Francisco bay area at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California‎.

     Who would have thought at the time, that the diary of one bright young girl would forever change how we would see the consequences of World War II. One little chestnut sapling still grows to testify to what happens when people marginalize others, treating them as less than fully human… less than fully made in God’s image.

     You may read the full story here: The San Francisco Chronicle – “Anne Frank's spirit lives on in chestnut tree”.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Books Intravenously! The Amazon Kindle!

Learn more about the Kindle!     Perhaps I exaggerate by saying the books come intravenously, but for a book-lover, the Amazon Kindle is pretty close. I tend to rarely turn on the TV except for the news – it is not that I do not like watching TV, I just tend to forget about it. As a kid, I loved both reading and watching TV, but somewhere after high school I lost the habit of being glued to the tube. I am just more likely to pick up a good book than take the trouble to flip through channels or check a TV Guide. I still love the feel of a real book in hand, but now when I come across a book I would like to read, I can pick up my Kindle and have it delivered wirelessly within a couple minutes – nothing like a bit of instant gratification. You click a button and momentarily, you are in the Kindle book store on Amazon browsing through over 400,000 titles, most of which sell for $9.99 or less. By using the small keyboard at the bottom, you can search by title, author, or key word. It has limited ability to surf the web – mostly websites that are mainly text – still, it allows me to check my E-mail, read the news through Google Reader, go to a website with the daily office (Mission St. Clare) , and Google things; I do not need much more Internet than that while on the go.

     One of my favorite features is the E-Ink display. It is crisp and without the backlighting you see on a computer monitor. That makes it much more restful for the eyes. In the evening after grading papers and computer work, my eyes tend to be tired. All I have to do is press a button and the font size enlarges to a more comfortable size for reading. I hear the Kindle has the ability to hold about 5,000 books on it. I have nowhere near that many, but still quite a few, including the entire Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

     For most folks, I think it is a little pricey at $259.00, but perhaps with competition from Apple’s IPad and other E-book readers, the price will continue to come down. I know I have saved a great deal of money compared to what I would have spent on both full-priced books and the attendant shipping costs. The text to voice feature is nice, but many of the latest books are not text-to-speech enabled – some deal cut with the publishers of audio books, I hear. I was going to continue reading a novel by listening to it through headphones while getting some dental work done last week when I discovered that particular book was unfortunately not enabled for text-to-speech. One claim made by Amazon is the Kindle is very sturdy and can be dropped without sustaining damage – not accurate in my experience. I dropped my first one and part of the screen just at the top had dark lines across it; I was able to live with it awhile until I dropped it a second time and the dark lines covered half the screen. To be fair, both times I dropped it onto the cement floor in my garage, which is not quite the same as falling onto a carpeted floor inside the house. As it was outside warranty, Amazon offered to replace it for only $100.00, but I chose to buy the latest version as a replacement. Needless to say I am being very careful with it.

     I would love to tell you that most of my titles are like the Bible, or the Book of Common Prayer, or a book I have downloaded at the recommendation Get hooked on the Stephanie Plum mysteries!of my bishop entitled Transforming Congregations by James Lemler. ("Oh yes," he said with fingers crossed behind his back, "that is me; always improving my mind.") I must confess, however, that the truth is I have a lot of fun reads too (Anyone for some good Stephanie Plum mysteries?) since it is so easy and inexpensive to download them. I am impressed by big screen TVs, but after seeing some of the price tags on them, investing in my favorite form of entertainment by purchasing a Kindle seems like a real bargain.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

He Passed Through the Midst of Them

     Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.      Luke 4:21-30
     This week after months of speculation, Apple unveiled its latest creation, the IPad. If you have not been following this news; if you are not a bit of a techno geek like I am, the IPad is 1 ½ pound, 9.7 inch, flat computer tablet with wireless internet. The buzz was good. There have been months of feverish speculation. In the New York Times, Steve Jobs, head of Apple spoke of the IPad with the kind of affection one usually reserves for one’s spouse. He is reported to have said, The IPad “is so much more intimate than a laptop, and it’s so much more capable than a Smartphone with its gorgeous screen.” Now, I do not know if it will do well or poorly. I am not much of a judge. I was the guy who told a friend in high school calculators would never catch on. More amazing than the product, was all the buzz that surrounded it long before people knew anything about it.

     Just like the IPad, the buzz was good about Jesus in today's Gospel. All were speaking well of him. Home town boy makes good! Naturally, he was invited to preach. From his brothers and sisters sitting up close to him, to proud aunts and uncles, to impressed co-workers, all the people of Nazareth first “spoke well of him” and were amazed at his “gracious words”

     So, Jesus preached from Isaiah:
     The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
     Jesus had a pretty short sermon: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Nothing wrong with a short sermon (can I get an Amen?) Everyone was happy hearing what Jesus said! The Jubilee year, the "year of the Lord’s favor" was meant in Levitical Law to be enacted every 50th year. It is a year of celebration and rest. Debts are forgiven, lands are returned to family ownership, captives are released, and the poor are given a reprieve. Israel was a captive nation; captive to Rome – so this must have sounded pretty good at first. Jesus stopped short in the Isaiah reading. Isaiah goes on to talk about God getting revenge on those who had oppressed God's people. Jesus did not seem to want to preach about revenge... only freedom. He probably would have been more popular if he had just stopped right there. That would have been just the right place for the "Amen".

     But Jesus goes on to tell two stories calculated not to make any friends among a proud and nationalist people. He introduces them by saying, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ Jesus might as well have gotten up and said, "I know you've all heard of the great things I did at Capernaum; well I am not going to do any of them here." You could have heard a pin drop in the synagogue that Saturday!

     He then went on to speak of the poor widow in the city of Zarephath in the country of Sidon. While famine was over the whole land of Israel during the reign of the later kings, it had also struck neighboring gentile nations like Sidon. God sent the prophet Elijah there to a widow who was not an Israelite... she was a Gentile. She had only enough flour and enough oil to make
one small piece of bread. Elijah found her gathering sticks to make a fire to bake the bread and then tear it in half, so she and her son could at least eat something... and then sit and wait to die. Elijah gave her something; somehow, the man of God gave this poor woman hope. He told her to bake the bread, but to bring it to him and then bake some more for her and her son. And what began as a menu of starvation became a feast for Elijah, for that widow, and for her little boy. Miraculously, the little bit of oil and the little bit of flour never ran out for three years and six months

     Jesus went on to speak of Naaman the Leper, a General of the Syrian army whom God healed through Elisha, the prophet who came right after Elijah.

     There were many suffering widows in Israel during that long famine, but Jesus talks about the widow of Zarephath in Sidon who got fed – an alien... a woman... an outsider. There were lots of folks with leprosy in Israel, sick as dogs, covered with sores. They were good, pious people, God’s own people, but God’s mercy went instead to Naaman the Syrian. Jesus knew that his message was not limited to Israel alone, and that this would be unacceptable to his own people. Most people these days do well to remain awake during a sermon; but the folks in Nazareth that day became “enraged.” Are you getting a hint of why Jesus' hometown crowd all of a sudden turned on him and wanted to toss him off a cliff?

     Some commentators say that perhaps in the confusion of the crowd, he was able to slip through them and go on his way... maybe. From what I've seen of mob behavior, and because of the way the hairs on the back of my neck tend to rise when I read the words, "But he passed through the midst of them..." It sounds like a miracle to me.

     Just as in Jesus' day, in our own time people who do not fit the norms of a group, whether social or religious, are still excluded. Sometimes they are excluded because of the color of their skin. Sometimes they are excluded because of their poverty. Sometimes it is because they do not have a home. Sometimes they have different religious or political ideas. Sometimes they are excluded because their relationships – the people they love – are different from other people's. Jesus broke through all barriers Here we see the real reason Jesus was so radical. He really upset his own people who thought they had an exclusive contract with God. They had their own ideas of how God would act. You know what happens when expectations are not met; when you disappoint people. Jesus keeps making the circle bigger while many people are trying instead to circle the wagons.

     This preaching of Jesus is like telling U.S. denominational Christians God is as likely to bless a Muslim Imam as an Episcopal priest. God is equally likely to look with favor on a newborn in Haiti as he is to care for my children. These alarming illustrations of God’s universal love and providence are not acceptable to people whose religion has made God small enough to sit in their churches or synagogues. This is a Gospel that is alarming to those who are so smug and self-righteous they can blame tragedies like we are seeing in Haiti on the poor victims themselves. It is alarming to people who have made God small enough to package and peddle at a church supper or a political convention.

     Most human beings are content to settle for a God smaller than the one Jesus preached. Most prefer a God that is safe, portable... potty-trained. Like shopping for a comfortable lounge chair, first we measure the space available in our living room, or our lives, and then pick out something that fits between TV and stereo. In setting up our church's budget or planning our pledges or considering how we will each serve God, have we already decided that the God we are going to follow in the coming year is just going to have to be scaled down? But God doesn’t dance to our tune. No longer can any one segment of the faith community claim God to be exclusively theirs. God belongs to everyone. That is Jesus' message. God's arms embrace us all.

     Is our God too small? The folks at Nazareth were quite content with a Nazareth-sized God. Have we settled for a Reno-sized God? Maybe a Reno-Sparks God? OK, a Reno-Sparks, AND Sun Valley God. Maybe we are magnanimous enough to have a Nevada God or even... an American God. Still, that is too small a God for Jesus. Our little Nazareths of local limitations send God away.

     Jesus was right there among them with the Gospel, but because their God was too small, Jesus ended up simply walking away unnoticed. Jesus eluded them both physically and spiritually – they did not comprehend who he was, what he was doing, or why he was there. So, this morning, over two thousand years later, we ask ourselves the question, "Is our God too small?" Is our God a local, kind of tribal God, or are we really ready to worship a God who embraces all his children?

     In 1 Corinthians 13, amidst bickering about whose spiritual gifts are best, Paul reminds the church that love is our chief vocation. God's love empowers us to love one another. I am truly known by God, forgiven and loved, and therefore I can turn and love others.

     Are we ready to receive the Gospel of God's radical welcome and love or will Jesus elude us too? Will he abide with us, or will we allow him to just... pass through our midst and go on his way?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Songs of Praise Rise from Haiti

     Well, the heat is off gays, feminists, and Planned Parenthood. You may remember, Pat Robertson blamed gays and feminists for 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on the work of Planned Parenthood. Pat has now sunk to an astonishing new low: Blaming the victims of natural disasters themselves. The following excerpt is from the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “700 Club” broadcast of 1/13/10:

"And you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it.

“They were under the heel of the French, uh, you know Napoleon the 3rd and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the Devil.

“They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.'

“True story.

“And so the Devil said, 'Okay, it's a deal.’

“And, uh, they kicked the French out, you know, with Haitians revolted and got themselves free.

“But ever since they have been cursed by, by one thing after another, desperately poor..."

Source: ABC: Pat Robertson Blames Hatians
     The Gospels are very clear about Jesus’ thoughts on the subject of natural disasters and life’s misfortune – they were just that. He never blamed the victims. Here are some specific citations:

     As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. – John 9

     Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you…     – Luke 13
     There have been a number of responses to Pat Robinson's shockingly calloused and unscriptural remarks, but from The Washington Post, the voices of the Haitian people raised in songs of praise seem to be the best response.

At night, voices rise in the street. Sweet, joyful, musical voices in lyric Creole. A symphony of hope in a landscape of despair.

"It doesn't mean anything if Satan hates me, because God loves me," sing the women at Jeremy Square, their faces almost invisible in the darkness of this powerless, shattered downtown. "God has already paid my debt."

Port-au-Prince has become a kind of multidenominational, open-air church. Tens of thousands live in the street together, scraping for food and water, sharing their misery and blending their spirituality.

The women singing together in Jeremy Square might never have worshiped side by side before the disaster, but now their voices harmonize and soar well past 2 in the morning.
     The hand of God was not in the earthquake; the hand of God is behind those who sing and pray together, who come from other countries to offer aid, and in you and me when we open our hearts to pray and send support.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

You Are the Beloved

     Last night, I was the presider at our Saturday service. We talked about how Jesus showed us the place to start in our own ministries: in baptism. He rose dripping from the waters of the Jordan, and Mark states the heavens were "torn apart". The Spirit descended as a dove, and God himself from heaven spoke of His love for the Son.

     Some folks struggle through their whole lives without ever hearing a word of love; all they know is anger and rejection. Hearing someone say I love you – you are beloved – would be a life-changing experience. Like Jesus, when we reflect on our own baptism, we hear again those precious words said not just to Jesus, but to you and to me, "You are my child… the beloved. I am so pleased with you." As beloved, we can walk out into the world with a different attitude.

     Then, the congregation was sprinkled with water from the font with these words: “May the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in you, direct and uphold you in the service of Christ and his kingdom.” I did not plan this, but at the end, I just handed the water and the small pine branch we were using to an older woman in our congregation and asked her to sprinkle me. I said, “I need to remember my baptism too.” She was hesitant, and gave a first mild attempt without getting any water on me. I told her to try it again – she totally nailed me, and we all laughed.

     After everyone was gone, I went out to my car to drive home, and there was a light rain falling. As the drops hit my face it seemed that now it was God’s turn to baptize me and remind me who I am.

Monday, January 4, 2010

One Englishman's View of Americans

     Ever wonder what folks "across the pond" think of their cousins in the colonies? A humorous and insightful commentary by Geoff Dyer appeared recently in the New York Times:

     The first thing I ever heard about Americans was that they all carried guns. Then, when I came across people who’d had direct contact with this ferocious-sounding tribe, I learned that they were actually rather friendly. At university, friends who had traveled in the United States came back with more detailed stories, not just of the friendliness of Americans but also of their hospitality (which, in our quaint English way, was translated into something close to gullibility)...
     Enjoy the entire article here: "My American Friends" by Geoff Dyer.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Steal Our Poinsettias, Please!

     My church has been decked out in its Christmas finest for ten days now (Lords a’leaping, for those of you keeping track.) Inevitably, we must face the bitter truth that our overworked altar guild cannot continue to care for so many needy poinsettias, and although Epiphany is still three days away, enough is enough. So today, we asked people to steal them after the last morning worship service. OK, we were not quite that bald faced about it. I believe we couched the invitation in more correct Episcopalianese: something about the poinsettias “needing a good home” and “moving out into the community in the Spirit of the season.” One could almost hear the strains of “Born Free” playing in the background during the announcement.

     Now, there is always a titter of excitement that runs through the congregation when our annual sanctioned theft of the poinsettias is announced. We are Episcopalians, so we certainly can not rush up the moment after the dismissal of “Thanks be to God!” We take it slowly. Some parishioners kind of walk stealthily around the poinsettias as though choosing just the right one. Many will have already scoped out their favorite during the announcements and go through an elaborate dance of socializing while moving steadily toward their target, keeping a sharp eye out for interlopers who would carry off their leafy prize. Some of the plants will go to private homes; some to hospitals. Every Christmas we somehow manage to farm out our Yuletide shrubbery within a couple weeks, and the altar guild breathes a collective sigh of relief.