Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Father Jake Stops Nevada!

Fr. Jake     Premier Episcopal blogger Father Jake attended our Diocesan convention at Lake Tahoe last week. It was exciting to finally meet him in person! As he told the story of his own journey through an almost impossible childhood and youth into faith and service, there was a profound stillness in the large convention room. I found myself wanting to reach into the past to the boy he was and tell him everything was going to be alright. He brought closure to the past by speaking of how he found the blessing in what he had gone through. A very wise friend once told me that healing begins when we can find the gift in pain we have experienced.

     The part of his message I am still pondering is when he said all our efforts at attracting people into the Church such as improved signage, advertising, visitor-friendly bulletins, etc., are mainly for those who already have some kind of a church experience in their background. He pointed out many children are being raised by parents who themselves have had no contact with even the simplest stories of the Christian tradition, such as Noah and the Flood. In reaching out to them, his recommendation was simple: Tell your story.

     In sharing his own story of what God had done for him, he drew us in. Given the choice between “show and tell,” Fr. Jake didn’t just tell us about faith, he showed us by taking us back through his own life. His challenge to us was to go and share ours. How simple. No focus groups or mass media buys – just go and tell your own story of what God has done for you.

     If you have not had the pleasure of being a regular reader of Fr. Jake’s blog, I highly recommend it. You can find it here: Father Jake Stops the World.
Lake Tahoe at sunrise.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Paradox and the Velveteen Rabbit

     Paradox – A statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
     Often, God's truths are presented to us in paradoxes.

     Jesus offers a journey of paradox instead of a simple rabbinical pronouncement when asked, "And who is my neighbor?" He tells the story of the poor man beaten by muggers and left to die by the side of the freeway, being avoided by the religious leaders of the day. Then along comes a half-breed they would have despised, the Samaritan, who binds a total stranger's wounds and takes him to safety. Then Jesus asks, "Which of these was 'neighbor' to him?"

     No longer is "neighbor" defined as who lives next door to you. No longer is "neighbor" defined as anyone within your neighborhood. No longer is "neighbor" defined as someone of your tribe, nationality, skin color, sexual orientation, or your religion. Now "neighbor" is based on how I behave, how I love, how I respond to pain in the world. It is a paradox.

     Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury in his 1995 book, Ray Of Darkness, wrote about why paradoxes are so important,

     "We speak in paradoxes because we have to speak in a way the keeps a question alive... If we lose sight of the beauty and terror of Job's God in the whirlwind, we are taming the vision to the scope of what we can cope with, pretending that our language has caught up, and we no longer need paradoxes of confusion and subtlety to speak of (God)."
     Jesus didn't settle the question of who my neighbor is; I must remain on the lookout for my neighbor because it could be anyone.

     It is a paradox that God loves us as we are, and yet - if we let him - loves us into something more each and every day. Perhaps the paradox of God's kind of love for us is best summed up by the children's book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. The velveteen rabbit had a conversation with the skin horse…

     "What is real?" asked the rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

     "Real isn't how you are made" said the skin horse. "It’s something that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real."

     "Does it hurt?" asked the rabbit.

     "Sometimes," said the skin horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are real, you don't mind being hurt."

     "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

     "It doesn't happen all at once," said the skin horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all; because once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"faith" in small letters, not CAPS

     I have a confession: I am a news junkie. I almost never miss Charlie Gibson on World News Tonight, and I think Google Reader is the greatest invention as it draws articles from hundreds of different news sources and blogs for my perusal. I even have the news sectioned off by "Church," "World," "National," and "Local" so I can scan it section by section - pretty much the cyber equivalent of not letting the peas touch the mashed potatoes on your plate.

     Still, there are times when my soul gets overwhelmed by the 9/11's and schisms and Anglican councils and evening news. Some days I rekindle my faith by recognizing these things are just too big for me. On those days, it is enough to understand that I love people, that I can personally do some good in my own little corner of the world today, that I am grateful I have food and shelter, and that I need to remember to refill the bird feeders. Faith in small letters, not caps, is where I have to sometimes take refuge. I suspect that returning time and again to "faith" in small letters is what actually allows us to hit the shift key and type "FAITH" when faced with tragedy, illness, crisis - the big things in life.

     I'd like to tell you more, but I need to go put more seed in the bird feeders. It is getting cold here in the desert, and the birds kind of count on me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

     President Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." (See this article in the Washington Post.)

     It is a pleasure to see that attempts at reconciliation really matter. The fact that it is the President who is being recognized simply gives honor to the nation.

     All too often in our American political landscape, we reward the rootin' tootin' cowboys who shoot up the saloon. We vote for people who are extreme in their positions and speak harsh words about those who disagree. Sadly, we often see people able to engage in civil discourse as "weak".

     All the Nobel Prize can do is focus attention on an accomplishment. It would be my hope that it draws not just the attention of Americans to the importance of the process of reconciliation, but also draws the eye of the dictators and warlords of the world.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

St. Francis Day and My Sin

     Our celebration remembering St. Francis took place on Sunday at the children’s service. We have held a small gathering outside on the lawn in the past, but this year our new rector wanted to have the pets come inside for the service. It was delightful! We had strategically planned to have the carpets cleaned this week, so we were not worried about any damage. My friends brought their two enormous St. Bernards. My cats decided to sit this one out. All congregants were well-behaved – an occasional snarl or two, but no biting – all were fed; all were blessed.

     After reading a children’s book that quickly covered the highlights of Francis’ life and faith, the rector invited me to add some words. I had not planned it, but I told this story:

     One of the greatest sins I ever committed happened one day while I was driving home. I saw a homeless man pushing a shopping cart piled with plastic bags and his other shabby belongings. Tied to the cart by a worn rope was a puppy. The dog trotting alongside the man appeared to be some kind of a golden retriever mix.

     Immediately I felt this anger rise in me. “What was this man doing with a dog? He probably doesn’t feed him right. He certainly can’t afford vet bills.” Thankfully, in almost the exact same moment those thoughts entered my heart, grace intervened, and I felt completely ashamed of myself. I realized that probably this was the only unconditional love this poor man had in his life.

     So often, we try to understand God’s unconditional love for us by surrounding it with too many words. Perhaps all we need to do is look into the eyes of our animal companions.