Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The New Google+ vs. Facebook

     My close friends know that I was kind of shamed into rejoining Facebook after a long absence by a circle of older ladies who were incredulous I was so behind the times.  It's odd that I didn't immediately take to Facebook since I am kind of a technogeek.  Balancing out my technogeekyness, however, is a very strong sense of my own privacy.  It would not occur to me to share personal details I see posted on Facebook (by people other than my own friends, of course, who only post intelligent and sensitive observations that enrich and inspire.)  Since I'm already on that slippery Facebook slope, the technogeek in me won the battle to check out the new Google+ service that became available today to everyone without an invitation.  You may click here if you're so excited about this you wish to join Google+ immediately without reading the rest of my review of this new service ► https://plus.google.com/  For those of you who can contain yourselves a bit longer, here's my thoughts on it.

     First Impressions:  Not much different than Facebook.  The box along the top asks you to post a status update.  To the left you'll see your various "circles" or groups of friends, much like the new groups update to Facebook.  To the right you'll see suggestions of new friends and a place to receive invitations to events.

     Privacy Controls:  Naturally, the first place I want to look at was my privacy settings.  They're not much different from Facebook's new ones.  I also had to go into my settings and turn off the options that E-mail you every time there's any activity on your Google+ account.  My thinking with both Facebook and Google+ is I'll check-in when I feel like checking in; the last thing I need is a bunch of updates in my E-mail inbox telling me what everyone else had for lunch and that they've uploaded new baby pictures.

     Digging a Little Deeper:  There are some unique and kind of cool things on Google+ you won't find on Facebook.

     Major Cool Feature #1:  Hangouts – What they are is basically Skype, but you can videoconference with more than one person at the same time.  You can choose which circle of friends or family have access to a hangout you create.  For me, instead of just Skyping with my daughter in Texas, we can now hold family conversations with all of us in the same room.  Everyone with whom you’re videoconferencing shows up in boxes underneath the main picture.  There's also Hangouts with Extras, which has some cool features (see below) that might be very useful if you're actually working on a group project.  For me, it's just kind of neat to be able to have my whole family in a single room seeing each other and talking.
     Major Cool Feature #2:  Huddle – Naturally, Google+ has an app for your smartphone.  Huddle allows you to create what amounts to a conference call while you're texting.  Everyone sees everyone else's text in the group, so if you're planning a dinner, for example, you can text with everyone simultaneously and get a date and time set.  This will also probably be a major cool feature for young people to chat with their friends.

     Now we move from the Major Cool Features to what I would describe as the "Meh" Features.

     Meh Feature #1: Instant Upload – Pictures on your smart phone will automatically sync with the private album on your Google+ account.  Instead of having to upload pictures one at a time, you'll have them right there for easy access.  It simplifies things, but I don't know how I feel about Google having instant access to every photo I take.

Meh Feature #2: Sparks – This sounds to me basically like a glorified Google search.  Supposedly, you enter things in which you are interested such as "The Episcopal Church" and Google+ will steer you toward websites, blogs, etc. in your area of interest so you'll always have something to read.  I'll give it a try, but it sounds more like I'm being mined so Google can produce more targeted ads.

     While Google+ has some great new features, the biggest drawback I can see is none of my friends are on it yet.  I'll certainly encourage my family to open Google+ accounts so we can use the Hangout feature, but it seems like a lot of work for most folks to migrate over to a new platform.  We'll see – that's probably what they said about MySpace when Facebook came along.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


     The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. – Exodus 16:2
     For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. – Philippians 1:21
     Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner… – Matthew 20:10,11

     It's what I felt ten years ago as a teacher trying to explain to young children what had just happened at the World Trade Center in New York City. The children were afraid, and my job as a teacher was to reassure them that they were safe with me in school, even though I was just as afraid.


     It's what I felt Friday night as I watched over two hours of coverage of the tragedy at the Reno Air Races. Finally, I just had to turn the TV off. I had gone from being afraid and horrified to simply being numb, as the video of the accident looped over and over again. I gave up working on my sermon, and just went to bed, turned out the lights, and prayed.

     We spend so much of our lives afraid. We naturally experience fear when we have to deal with terrible tragedies: The shootings in Carson City last week; the devastation of the hurricane on the East Coast; the suffering of the Japanese in the wake of the tsunami; the poor people of the nation of Haiti. But just in the day-to-day living of our lives, so much of what makes our decisions for us is fear.

     In our readings today, the Children of Israel were afraid: Afraid that there wouldn't be enough to eat; afraid that they would die of thirst. We live in constant fear of both living and dying. Yet in our reading in Philippians today, we hear Paul saying he's neither afraid to live nor afraid to die. And because he had let go of fear, he was able to act, and to teach, and to love. Even in our Gospel reading today, we see the commonest of all fears: Those who had worked in the vineyard all day were angry that those who had only worked a couple hours were paid the same. That anger was based in a common fear we all share: The fear that someone else will do better than we will. That they will somehow get ahead of us in this life that we so often turn into a rat race. And because we live in our own skin, we think our own personal fears are unique, but they're not.

     Michael Bernard Loggins is an adult living in San Francisco with developmental disabilities. He wrote a little book about his fears entitled Fears of Your Life. He says of his book, “I write down my fears, my scariness and my frightfulness. This is an understanding process. It helps me real good.” You and I may not seem to have a lot in common with a developmentally disabled 40-year-old man, but I invite you to listen to some of his fears and see if we don't share some just like his. 
  • Fear of hospitals and needles.
  • Click here to order book.
  • Fear of school and dentists.
  • Fear of black cats.
  • Fear of monsters being under my bed.
  • Fear of intruders coming to the house to steal things and hurt us all.
  • Fear of being followed.
  • Fear of dogs.
  • Fear strangers.
  • Fear of timebombs.
  • Feared of being left in the house alone afraid that there would be an earthquake in few more seconds.
  • Feared that if you are bad or naughty no one's isn't going to love you anymore.
  • People are fearful of me which I wonder is they think I am all that terrible or I'm thinking that they think I'm not human at all because when they sit next to me than they get back up and move away from me i may be a stranger but that doesn't make me a created monster or something like that… They don't think who's feelings they hurt at all they just do it no consideration for whatever.
  • Fear of you never known you were gonna lose your mother is very sad and scary experience you have to face and learn from and you wonder why she has to die I love her – and I had loved her once while she were alive. Especially if she was the mother that raised you and the others through birth and you only wish that you could have done all you can to help save her life. It gonna be a worse times and hard times for Michael Bernard Loggins and his sisters and brothers too. Especially when Mother's day comes.
      Yet, this man who faces so many challenges in his life also shares his wisdom about fears with us:
  • Does fear makes you smart or does it takes you over? It tries…
  • Want to know more about fears: and what it can happen to you if you still be afraid and you hasn't really truly over come the kind of fear that you happens to have on you? You look like you'll almost never get your chance of over coming it like if you are home alone.
  • Life will be… no matter what the circumstances will be. Whether it's good – bad – or worse than what it seems or even those things kind of get wacky, or slightly out of hand, soon or later, these things blows over and return to what they will be.
      I think Michael Bernard Loggins is right: Fear can take over your life. You'll never get over fear hiding alone at home. And finally, in life these things blow over and return to what they will be.

     It is tempting to blame tragedy on God. But God was not behind the throttle of the airplane Friday. There was just a good man by all accounts, an excellent pilot, yet human frailty or a mechanical failure – we don't know – overtook him. It was an accident.

     But I know where God was because I saw him on TV. I saw God in over a hundred people in the grandstands who responded to the plea for anyone with medical training to come help. I saw God in the many people who had no medical training who stayed and helped get the wounded to safety and comfort the terrified and grieving. And I see God in all the good, good people of this Valley who hold the victims of this tragedy up in prayer.

     Last week on 9/11, we talked about forgiveness. This week we consider fear. Next week, we will talk about the future. I am convinced that without forgiveness; without letting go of harm that has been done to us either intentionally or just because of the randomness of life… all that remains is fear. I am convinced that without looking to a future of love; without believing the God whose name is love is already standing there waiting in all our tomorrows no matter what they bring… all that remains is fear. I am also equally convinced that if we will unclench our fists and allow God to carry the burden of our fears… all that will remain is love.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Prayer for The Tragedy at the Reno Air Races

     O merciful God, you have taught us you do not willingly afflict or grieve your children: look with pity upon the sorrows of the family and friends of those who died and those who were injured at the Air Races. Remember in your mercy, those who died and hold their souls close to your heart. For the injured and those who grieve, and for we who are simply stunned and aching because of this accident, nourish all our souls with patience, comfort us with a sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance upon us, and give us peace

     We pray also for the emergency workers, doctors, nurses, and all healthcare providers. When those charged with the urgent mediation of your healing power feel overwhelmed by the numbers of the suffering, uphold them in their fatigue and banish their despair. Let them see with your eyes, so they may know all their patients as precious. Give comfort, and renew their energy and compassion.

     O Christ, you came into the world as one of us, and suffered as we do. As we go through the trials of life, help us to realize you are with us at all times and in all things; that we have no pain you do not see; and that your loving grace enfolds us for eternity. In the security of your embrace we pray. Amen.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

If I truly loved my neighbor

     Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The command-ments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. – Romans 13:8-14

     A comedian once joked that the biblical command to love your neighbor and love your enemies were side-by-side in the Gospels because usually they were the same people. In Romans, Paul says, "Any other commandment(s), are summed up in this word, 'love your neighbor as yourself.' love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.'"

     Loving your neighbor is something we say we’ll do every time we repeat our baptismal covenant: The celebrant says, "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?" and the people respond, "I will, with God's help." If you check the Internet, you'll find people have made up all sorts of lists of what they feel it means to "love your neighbor" in practical terms. Here are some of the more interesting ones I found:
  • Ask your priest if someone on your church’s sick list would like a visit.
  • Mow your neighbor’s grass.
  • Volunteer to tutor a kid at your local elementary school. (try to get to know the kid’s family.)
  • Plant a tree.
  • Serve in a homeless shelter. For extra credit, go back and eat or sleep in the shelter and allow yourself to be served.
  • The next time you're out shopping, let the person behind you in line go first.
  • Take a prayer walk. With the lovely days of late summer upon us, go for a walk around your neighborhood, and pray for your neighbors as you stroll.
  • Listen to other's stories.
  • Share a meal.
  • Go to an elderly home and get a list of folks who don´t get any visitors. Visit them each week and tell stories, read the Bible together, or play board games.
  • Confess something you have done wrong to someone and ask them to pray for you.
     But of course, other people's lists might give you ideas, but you really have to make your own. As I studied this scripture this week, I kept coming back to the same thing: If I truly loved my neighbor, as I profess, how would my life change? Some of you have mentioned you like my sermons... thank you. If you haven't gotten the chance to tell me, you’re more than welcome to leave a comment at the end of this blog entry.  I'm going to share with you one of my secrets for writing a sermon: I'm always preaching to myself. If you ever hear something in my sermons that feels like I'm urging others to do something or criticizing something, it's honestly directed at me... I just happen to be sharing it with you. So, I thought I'd just share with you the list I've come up with this week as I contemplated what it would mean in my life:

     #1 - I would have to get to know my neighbors better. The neighbors to the south of me moved out, but there are new ones moving in. I've not met them... aren't I going to have to do that so I can truly love them? The man and his family to the north of me I know. We speak every now and then. He's got a lawn care business; his lawn is gorgeous... something straight out of a Better Homes & Gardens photo spread. The man is an artist.  I am a guy... like all guys, I used to see it as a competition. I used to try to have a nicer lawn than he has, but I've given up. My only goal now is to keep my lawn nice enough so I don't embarrass him when his friends come over. But I truly don’t know many of my other neighbors.

     #2 - I wouldn't judge so quickly. I wouldn't take offence so quickly, and then would handle it as Jesus suggested in Matthew 18: I would go to the person privately… or I would let it go. I wouldn’t gossip. I wouldn't be so quick to think negatively of people. I know I'd like people to do that for me.

     #3 - I won't complain about Rin Tin Tin. That neighbor with the beautiful lawn has a new German Shepherd puppy... who whines and barks constantly. But I saw that dog when the man's son first brought him home... He slipped his leash, ran straight to me in my garage, and rolled over so I could pat his tummy. My neighbor and his son ran over to retrieve the dog, and as I patted his tummy, I asked the dog’s name. My neighbor said proudly with his heavy Hispanic accent, “Rin Tin Tin.” That man's son had dreamed for years of having a dog of his own... and now he was here, and the boy looked so happy and proud. So, because I know my neighbor and his son, I won't complain when he barks and whines all the time, he's just a puppy – a puppy as big as a small horse... and the boy… you should see him… the boy is so happy.

     #4 - I would be a better driver. I'm a pretty safe driver as it is. Maybe a little too cautious. But if I thought more of my neighbor, I’d probably be more than just a careful driver… I would be a kind driver. I probably wouldn't honk at all… yes, sometimes I do – I try not to do it when I’m in collar. Let's be honest: They call the horn a "safety feature," but it's only used for two main reasons: One, to say, "You idiot!" or two, to say, "Can't you see the light's green, you idiot?" Neither of which sounds too neighborly to me.

     #5 - I would listen more and speak less. I guess that would be because I would care more about what my neighbor has to say... I would want to listen more carefully.

     Amazing. Paul in Romans tells us to be holy... to fulfill all that God really wants out of us, we don't have to go away and live as some kind of religious hermit in a cave. We don't need to work any great miracles. We don't need to sell all our possessions and put on sackcloth. We don't even have to have a Doctorate of Divinity from a recognized seminary. No, all we have to do is work a bit more on loving our neighbor, and any other commandments just fall in line… they’re taken care of.  You've heard my list... how my life would change if I truly, truly loved my neighbor… now, it might be interesting to make up your own.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Moses Choice

     From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
     Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

     ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.                          – Matthew 16:21-27
      In April 2010, thousands of shoppers unknowingly signed their souls over to a computer game store after failing to read the "Terms and Conditions" on their website.  To make a point about how none of us reads the "Terms and Conditions" of any website or software we install, GameStation in England had added an "immortal soul clause" to online purchases that read:
     “By placing an order via this Website on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non-transferable option to claim, for now and for evermore, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 working days of receiving written notification from gamestation.co.uk or one of its duly authorized minions.”
      GameStation representatives later generously stated they will not be enforcing their rights and will now E-mail customers nullifying any claim on their souls. For all I know, I’ve sold my soul hundreds of times over to the iTunes Store. 

     Wouldn't life be so much easier if losing your soul was just something that you had to watch out for when you signed a contract?  I sometimes think that's why people love laundry list religion:  Don't do these twenty things; do these three or four things, and you're home free!  Although, to be honest, I've always wondered why the "do not" list is always so much longer than the "do" list.

     Jesus says it isn't as easy as a simple check-off list.  Instead, it's a lot harder and more complicated to keep our souls... to not lose who you really are... who God meant you to be.  He said, "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

     Jesus challenges our natural human inclination to be self-centered – have it be all about us – and asks us to accept the only way to avoid getting lost along our way in this world... the only way to save our souls... is to let go. 

     Unfortunately, losing your way in this world... your soul... your life... happens to people for so many reasons.  The book of Exodus describes God's people as losing their souls in Egypt – what it meant to be human, their very being was undermined by the crushing cruelty of their enslavement.  God heard their cry and sent Moses.  Now, despite the burning bush, Moses had his own ideas about his future:  He was herding sheep in Midian, he had a wife, and he wasn't interested at all in going back to Egypt to help God's people get free.  But Scripture tells us Moses was a humble man.  He set aside his own life and instead, chose to save the lives of others. 

     Some people lose their way in this world, their souls, for a lot of reasons.  Paul mentions some of them in Romans 12.  Some people loose who they are because they are consumed with wanting to get vengeance on another.  In Oct. 2006, Charles Roberts went into an Amish school in West Nickel Mines, PA, shot ten girls, killing five before committing suicide.  He wasn't Amish, but Amish families knew him as the milk truck driver who made deliveries. Since the tragedy, people around the world have been inspired by the way the Amish expressed forgiveness toward the killer and his family.  According to an article on NPR (10/2/07) members of the Amish community went to the killer's burial service at the cemetery.  "Several families, Amish families who had buried their own daughters just the day before were in attendance, and they hugged the widow of the gunman, and hugged other members of the killer's family."  The Amish community also donated money to the killer's widow and her three young children.  One counselor later said that while their acts of forgiveness were inspiring, they also caused a misperception that the Amish had quickly gotten over the tragedy.  He said, however, that because the Amish can express that forgiveness, and because they hold no grudges, they are better able to concentrate on the work of their own healing.  I have two daughters – It certainly made me examine my own ability to forgive.

     Some people lose their way – who they are – because of grief.  Grief over missed opportunities, past mistakes; grief over the essential unfairness of life; grief over the end of a relationship or when, because of death, you've had to say goodbye to the person you love most in this world.  That's why I think Paul encourages us to "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."  I don't believe any of us are meant to get through this world on our own... we need each other.  That's why we have families, friends, and one another here in the church.

     It's so tempting to do it our own way instead of Jesus' way.  That's what happened to Peter in our Gospel reading.  He loved Jesus, and didn't want him to suffer.  No, Peter had his own ideas about how Jesus should be the Messiah.  Jesus would go to Jerusalem on a white charger with trumpets blaring and crush those in political, economic, and religious power.  Jesus used the harshest words ever directed toward one of his disciples: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me."  It would never have occurred to Peter that instead of a white charger, Jesus would be riding a donkey... instead of trumpets blaring, there would only be the voices of children crying "Hosanna".  Peter was echoing the same temptation to choose the easy way that the voice of Satan had tried with Jesus during his temptation in the wilderness.
In Luke 4: "Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you," and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone."'"
      Just a note here: Even Satan can quote Scripture. 

Trinity with the courthouse in the background
     Herod's Temple was one of the larger construction projects of the 1st century BCE.  It was the equivalent of a nine to twelve story building – Twice as tall as the new courthouse next door to our church.  I don't like heights.  Hanging my Christmas lights every year from the pinnacle of my little one-story house is an adventure in the wonders of the Christmas spirit, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.  It makes my palms sweat to think of standing on the pinnacle of something twice as tall as the courthouse.  Priests, court officials, Roman guards, attendants, the entire nation of Israel came to the temple!  It was the center of their universe.  Oh, yeah.  That would have been sweet!  All Jesus would have had to do is... step off... and he would float gently to the ground upheld by angels, as everyone watched, and all bowed.  Hey!  Beats the heck out of three years on the road preaching and teaching, getting rejected, and eventually crucified.

     But, for your sake, and for my sake... for the world's sake, Jesus made the hard choice instead of the easy one.  He made the hard choice for himself to help us find our way, to not lose ourselves, our souls... to set us free.  He taught that if we are to follow him, we too must be ready to make hard choices instead of easy ones so we can help others find their way; to set others free.  Jesus never expected you or me to be him... he only asked that we try to be like him... make just a few more of those hard choices to look outside ourselves and see all the people who are hurting... losing their way in this world, losing who they are, forgetting how very precious and beloved of God they are.  There are so many people we encounter every day of our lives, who are discouraged, beat down, hurting; enslaved every bit as much as were Moses' people in Egypt.  And if we can make that Moses choice... that hard choice to forget our own busyness and problems and see, truly see others... and allow our hearts to be open to them.    By a kind word, by our forgiveness, by a gentle touch of faith, we can lighten their load, we can help set them free.  And little by little, day by day as we practice losing our own lives, letting go, and instead, focusing on freeing others, we’ll wake up one morning surprised to discover that, just as Jesus promised, we have gained the best life of all.

     I think Demetrius Dumm, a Benedictine monk, said it best: “Sometimes,” he said, “I think the only question we will be asked at the Last Judgment will be, quite simply, 'Were you a Pharaoh or a Moses... did you leave others in slavery, or... Did you let my people go?”