“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Encounter Love

On a beautiful Sunday morning, in an old white stucco church with red doors and antique wood pews, a young couple baptized their first baby, a little boy.  Dan and I, and our two small children were present. I was in seminary at the time and our parish priest was a semi-retired gentle old man who had moved to the area because his wife took a prestigious position as the head chaplain at a local retirement community. Although I was only beginning to learn about liturgy and the sacraments, I was surprised when the priest eliminated portions of the baptism service, specifically all references to sin as it pertained to the infant being baptized. Later when I asked the priest about this he said that the couple could not imagine their precious new born baby being sinful and they didn’t want the idea of evil to be associated with the baptism. I understood that, newborn babies being sweet, innocent, and a gift of joy and delight. Apparently, this has had a lasting impact on me because now when I offer baptismal preparation for families I encourage us to have a conversation about the ways that evil and sin manifest in our lives and the world around us. I want every person who stands at the font to have their own understanding of what they are renouncing as sinful and evil and what they are affirming as good and holy. To a person this is both the most significant conversation we have and the most challenging because sin and evil are difficult subject matters. But not talking about them nor gaining insight into what one thinks about them isn’t helpful, either. Sin is complex and nuanced, and pertains to the disparity of hurting relationships one has with one’s self, with other people, and even the impact of one’s life on the global community through acts that affect racism, economic conditions, or the environment. The confession we pray each Sunday speaks about sins known and unknown and our responsibility to become aware of who we are, what we do, and how one life impacts another. Growing one’s ability to speak about sin and recognize its role in the world is a process of deepening one’s spiritual life and growing a more mature faith. 

In this season of Lent we have been focusing on the Lenten spiritual disciplines that support Christians in their faith formation, in recognizing God’s presence in one’s life by considering what sin is and how one can live a good and holy life. These spiritual disciplines are listed for us in the Ash Wednesday service: prayer, self-examination, repentance, fasting, and reading scripture. So far we’ve talked about prayer and some of the ways one can engage in prayerful activity from silent prayer, or reading, writing, or taking walks in nature, with the focus on making room for God to be present in one’s life. 

We’ve talked about self-examination as a spiritual discipline that was developed by St. Ignatius in his spiritual exercises. Self-examination is a daily exercise of reviewing one’s life and making note of what has gone well that day, what one has found challenging, working to make amends and heal broken relationships, finding gratitude in some aspect of the day, and looking forward to tomorrow.

Fasting has a long history in religious traditions. Sometimes one fasts from a particular food or beverage. Perhaps one fasts from an activity, like staying off of Facebook for the season of Lent. Some choose to fast from busyness. Busyness is a real phenomenon in our society. By staying really busy one does not have time to focus on building relationships or mending challenging relationships, one is simply too busy to do this deeper work, too busy to even make a little time for God and the formation of a spiritual life. Fasting from busyness provides an opportunity to enhance the quality of one’s spiritual life.

Today we are reflecting on the spiritual discipline of repentance. Repentance literally means turning around. As a Christian discipline it is the act of turn toward God or returning to God when one has strayed. It builds on the idea that sin is, essentially, broken relationship in all its forms - broken with God, broken with self, and broken with others. Relationships are broken, for example, when one fails to nurture them, pulls away or distances one’s self from another, chooses to not work through challenges, diminishes one’s self or another, shames or blames self or another person, among other ways that relationships might be broken. Repentance is the act of recognizing one’s broken state in light of God’s desire for all people to live in healthy, mature relationships, loving God, self, and others, and working to make amends.

The Gospel reading this morning challenges the listener; what is really going on in this story? Some people in the story think that the man’s blindness is the result of sin. In the ancient world  illness was thought to be the consequence of sin. Jesus refutes this idea, sin was not the cause of blindness. Notice that the blind man doesn’t ask Jesus for anything, and yet Jesus heals him. This is a story about what happens when one encounters the love of God. Encountering God’s love in human flesh causes a radical transformation, a change in one’s very being. Whether the act of encountering God’s love causes a literal physical healing or whether it causes a spiritual healing, the end result is similar, one is able to see in a new way. 

The Christian disciplines that Ash Wednesday invites us to observe intend to open one’s eyes and help one see in a new way. Lent provides us with a season to focus on how one is living one’s life and growing in faith. Next Sunday members of the Spirituality Commission will offer an adult forum, a sampling of some spiritual practices including: walking the labyrinth, centering prayer, and chanting. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about each of them and then try one of them. The Commission will repeat this forum several times over the spring so you will have the opportunity to try more than one, or to keep working on the one you like. 


 Like the man born blind who encounters Jesus and has his eyes opened, such is the potential for any one who takes on the practice of developing one’s faith. With opened eyes one can better see the broken and the whole places in one’s life and in the world. Practicing the spiritual disciplines of our Christian faith holds the potential that one might develop the capacity and the maturity to navigate one’s life in fuller, deeper, more complex and meaningful ways, one that informs and develops insight and wisdom, compassion and grace, and the ability to love a little more like God loves. But the most compelling potential of practicing the Christian disciplines is the idea that one might be healed of that which blinds one to one’s self and to others, and then, with new sight, one is sent out into the world with eyes wide open, to follow Jesus, feeding people in mind, body, and spirit.

a reflection for Lent 4A: John 9:1-41

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Speaking one's mind, telling one's heart, becoming living water

I had a sixteen year hiatus from church between the years I was fifteen and thirty-one. In my late twenties, when I began to think about my spiritual life and contemplated going to church I was hesitant, fearful. Like most fears my fear was not rational. I was afraid that going to church would mean that I would lose myself. Growing up I was always the obedient daughter who excelled at life, but I never voiced my own opinions. I lost my self in what others wanted me to be and do. The church of my childhood reinforced that role for girls and daughters and I was a good little girl. But when my family left the church and stopped practicing Christianity, I had the opportunity to rethink everything and figure out who I was and what I wanted. So finding out as a 28 year old that I was being pulled back into church life was powerful and terrifying. But my desire to return was two-fold: I wanted a community where I could belong with a group of people who had similar life experiences and hopes and a place where I could ask questions about God and grow a more mature spirituality.
Figuring out how to be a Christian in the world today is challenging because there are many ways to be a Christian, across a wide swath of denominations, values and beliefs. In this season of Lent we have been pondering who we are as a faith community, how we can grow and deepen the spiritual lives of individuals, and how we can expand our identity as a community centered church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit to make an impact on the world around us. We have been exploring this through our Sunday morning scripture readings, through the five disciplines that help us observe a Holy Lent as defined in the Book of Common Prayer, and through our newly forming Spirituality Commission. 
In each of the Sunday morning sermons I have taken one of the five Lenten disciplines: prayer, self-examination, reading scripture, repentance, and fasting, and connected it to the readings, its history in the Christian tradition, and how it might enhance one’s spirituality. So far I’ve talked about prayer and self examination. Today I’m reflecting on fasting. Fasting is an ancient practice found in many faith traditions. For Christians the point of fasting is to help one focus on God. Whenever one craves what one has given up one is to turn one’s attention to God through prayer and self-examination. When we think about fasting we usually think about not eating some food, like giving up chocolate for Lent. 
One can also fast from something one does. For example, I know a number of people who are fasting from Facebook for Lent. So instead of going on one’s computer and checking out Facebook one spends time in prayer instead. 
I said on Ash Wednesday that my Lenten discipline was going to be a fast from false busyness. I was going to slow down and be more present to my life. I thought of this because of several articles I’ve read recently which say that people have a tendency to stay really busy as a way of avoiding their lives - avoiding challenges in a marriage or parenting - really busy to avoid working on deepening relationships. Or being really busy because just the act of being busy makes one feel important and useful. I’m fasting from that kind of busyness and taking time to look at my life and my relationships. I’m taking time to focus on prayer and self-examination and God’s presence in my life. 
Which is exactly what happens in our scripture reading this morning. Both Jesus and this woman at the well stop long enough to become vulnerable with one another which leads them to take a good hard look at their lives and come to a deeper understanding of self. Who Jesus is and who this woman is.  
It seems that her life did not turn out as she had hoped. As a woman in that day and time she had no choice of who her husband was. And, if one husband died a brother or another male family member of that husband was obligated to take her as his wife. Sometimes no one would do that and the woman was abandoned, left to starve and die. 
This is a story about a woman who has stood up to the challenges in her life and survived. Her ability to enter into a debate with Jesus speaks to her strength. Unlike Nicodemus in the Gospel story from last week who came to Jesus in darkness,  she appears in the light of day. This points to her willingness to be out in the open, honest about who she is, willing to be vulnerable and yet courageous, feeling strength in her sense of self. 
 Brene Brown writes that embracing our vulnerability is risky and takes courage. “The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”’
And so this woman and Jesus have a courageous heart to heart conversation. By the way, this is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the Bible. 
In the context of this profound conversation three things happen. 1. Jesus has travelled to Samaria, a land despised by the Hebrew people and with whom the Hebrews are in constant conflict. So, Jesus moves outside of his comfort zone, taking a risk, being vulnerable, and another example of how Jesus often went to the people instead of expecting them to come to him; 2. Jesus is the one who is thirsty, yearning for a cup of water, but he has no means of giving himself that water. This woman can give him a cup of water and she does. Jesus understands that his willingness to be vulnerable creates the opportunity for a deeper relationship to form with this woman, and with others 3. Jesus breaks with the male/female protocol and speaks with her and she with him. Each becomes vulnerable to the other and they end up seeing one another, and themselves, with more depth, understanding, and compassion, which changes each of them forever.  
Another important detail of this story is that the woman leaves her water jar at the well when she runs off to tell the townspeople about her encounter with Jesus. She can fast from that burden because she has a new purpose. Now she is the vessel of living water, she is the bearer of God’s love. Being heard and seen by Jesus she is able to authentically carry within her the fullness of her story, knowing that she is loved for being who she is. She becomes both vulnerable and strong, willing to share this love with the townspeople.
In a similar way, the purpose of our mission to feed people in mind, body, and spirit, is to deepen our relationships with other people through joining them at the well of life, listening deeply, and sharing expansively of our selves, becoming God’s living water to our neighbors far and near. 

A reflection on John 4:5-42 for Lent 3A


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Just, Humane, a spiritual examen of self

When Dan and I were first married he worked in the computer industry designing and selling systems, from servers to computers to software, from installation to training, to law schools, universities, and graphic artists, primarily using Apple products. Beginning in the 1980’s including the twenty-two years that Dan worked in that industry, I’ve been inundated with technology. We had one of the very first Apple desktop computers. I was in seminary in the mid 1990’s when I first started using the internet, on a dial-up access, to do research for papers. I’ve built websites and Facebook pages and blogs for myself and churches I've worked for, including this church, and as well as for the many social justice groups I work with. Soon my son will graduate from Eastern with a degree in internet security, which is primarily about preventing hacking but also considers internet law and ethics. Dan, Peter, and I have lively conversations about all of this, although my input is primarily on the moral and ethical end, not the technical. So, I was intrigued by a recent interview (January 12, 2017) with Krista Tippet and Anil Dash for “On Being.” Anil Dash is a technologist, exploring the unprecedented power, the dangerous learning curves, and the humane potential of technology today. His Twitter profile says he is “Trying to make tech a little bit more humane and ethical.”

Dash spoke about the moral quandary of the industry of technology and its influence on civic behavior though social media.Tippet’s interview with Dash, who is from India, covered the landscape from “fake news to Facebook to Uber to cell phones.” He spoke about social media not wanting to judge what people write and say on the one hand and on the other creating apps that influence how people understand their own behavior with the idea of creating more responsible, kinder, healthier people. The interview focused on the need for there to be an intentional component to technology and social media that considers what is ethical and humane. Tippet said, this technology is in its infancy, and we are the adults in the room. How we develop it and use it requires us to be intelligent, mature, just, ethical, and humane. 

The Ash Wednesday liturgy invited us to observe a Holy Lent by taking on five practices that will deepen one’s faith: prayer, self-examination, fasting, reading scripture, and repentance.  One might consider these spiritual practices to develop the capacity to be just and humane. Last week we explored the spiritual practice of prayer grounded in our reading from Matthew that portrayed the impact of prayer on Jesus’ life and his ability to stay focused on his beliefs and values and not succumb to temptation. 

Today’s reading from the Gospel of John uses birth as a metaphor to convey the messy and painful challenges of life and faith. Jesus and Nicodemus are talking about discipleship and the moral quandary of being both just and human. This is the invitation to and the point of self-examination. By self-examination I mean taking time every day to review what one has said and done. This practice is best developed in the Ignatian Exercises. St. Ignatius lived in the 16th century in Spain and is credited with developing the practice of spiritual direction, wherein a person journeys with a spiritual guide to help one develop one’s awareness of God’s presence. Every person going through the ordination process is required to have a spiritual director, and I am a trained spiritual director and have practiced the Ignatian exercises, of which the daily examen is one part. Practicing self-examination one:

1. Becomes aware of God’s presence.
2. Reviews the day with gratitude. 
3. Pays attention to one’s emotions.
4. Chooses one feature of the day and prays from it.
5. Looks toward tomorrow.

The purpose of developing a practice of self-examination is to deepen one’s awareness of one’s self, one’s relationship with God, and one’s relationship with other people by becoming more aware of the broken and hurting places in one’s life and working to make amends and heal them.

When Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus he is talking about discipleship and rebirth - which is exactly what we are looking at too - how are we growing our relationship with God and with our neighbors, which is discipleship, and how are we going to take risks in these relationships with the hope of revitalizing, rebirthing this church. For example, every time I update or post something on our Facebook page or website, I am thinking about what it says about who we are. Because most people find a church from social media sites, how we portray who we are is crucial, and the burden always falls along the lines of conveying our values and beliefs, and in particular today, what it means to be humane and just, and how through the mission of this church one might find purpose in one’s life.

Nicodemus follows Jesus from afar, approaches Jesus in the darkness of night. It’s not that Nicodemus’ faith is faulty, even though it is secreted away in darkness, it’s that its too small, incomplete, immature, like a fetus in its mother’s womb. Darkness is the beginning of life, it is how life and light are born. But one is required to labor through darkness to be birthed into light. This means taking risks to move out of an insular space and into the world outside.

What kinds of risks will we take to move this church into its next 150 years? What kinds of risks will grow discipleship and bring about new birth? To understand how we are to do this will require, at the very least, self-examination and prayer. But self-examination and prayer must lead to action, the labor of rebirth. 

Which is where Nicodemus gets stuck. He can’t manage the anxiety of taking action so he moves back into the safety of darkness. The diocesan workshop, “Requiem or Renaissance” will challenge us along these lines. Likewise, as we learned in the diocesan Diversity and Inclusivity training, there is work to be done to reconcile and heal relationships that have been affected by racism, sexism, genderism, homophobia, and xenophobia - because all of these “isms” are embedded in our institutions, including the church. Therefore they are deeply rooted in us too, often unconscious in our thoughts and actions, requiring us to do self-examination and become aware of how words and actions affect our relationships, how they may or may not be just and humane.  As we do our self-examination, as we explore discipleship and our relationship with God, our neighbors, and one another, our challenge is to not get stuck in the process but to become creative risk takers. Although we don’t hear about it, Nicodemus must struggle with this, with his faith, with justice and his place in humanity, because at the end of the Gospel he comes out into the light and lives his faith in a new way. Likewise, we are to consider who we are and how we are telling our story of faith. Darkness is forming us and if we embrace the process and work with it, then it will birth us into new life, as a more humane and just community that truly and deeply feeds people in mind, body, and spirit.

a reflection John 3:1-17 for Lent 2A


Saturday, March 04, 2017

Holy Habits

When my children were little we had a daily habit of praying two prayers. One was the prayer before meals:

Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts which are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

The second one I prayed with each child at bedtime. It comes from the New Zealand Prayerbook: 

Dear God, Thank you for today. I am sorry if I have been unkind to anyone. Help us to forgive each other. Thank you for my family and friends. Please be with me tonight. Amen. 

The bedtime prayer in particular became an opportunity for me to talk with my children about our day, what had gone well, to reflect on occasions to forgive and be forgiven, to consider how we responded to life’s challenges, and how we might respond better the next time. 

As an adult my preferred way of praying is in silence. I spend 30 minutes every day in silent prayer. I give myself over to that liminal space and open myself to the possibility that God may speak into my life. I learned how to pray this way in the 1970’s when meditation was the cool thing to do. For many years I meditated because it made me feel calmer by settling my autonomic nervous system, that part of my brain that regulates breathing, heart rate, and what’s known as the “fight or flight” response. Fight or flight is the automatic trigger that surfaces when one feels threatened. However because its automatic and reactive, its done without thought. Meditating gives one access to those automatic responses deep inside and even some degree of control over them, slowing one’s breathing and heart rate, calming one’s emotional reactivity, and building a reserve so that in truly anxious moments one can be a little less automatic. 

Over the years I’ve transitioned from experiencing this silence as meditation to understanding it as prayer. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century saint advocated for this kind of prayer. She found using words to be distracting and was drawn to silence. Silent prayer is also known as contemplative prayer. Prayer because in the silence one opens one’s self to God and contemplative because it offers a space into which God may speak. 

Not everyone is like Teresa of Avila, able to sit in silence while seeking God. Many people need to do something that engages their mind and body in a more conscious way. Some of us find that we need to walk outside in nature, or listen to music. Some people journal, writing down the random thoughts floating in their head, which can also lead to recognizing where God is active in one’s life.

The point of prayer is that one takes time to slow down and invite God to be present in one’s life. Yes, God comes, bidden or unbidden. However, one is more likely to recognize God when one has made room for God’s presence through prayer. Inviting God into one’s life is an opportunity for one to be transformed, healed from the brokenness of life, restored, and more at peace. 

Lent is a season to focus, intentionally, on the broken places of our lives and to work to repair them, to say we’re sorry, to change our behavior, to turn and return to a right relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. Forty days is long enough for this intentional focus on our behavior to establish some long lasting changes in what we do habitually.
Changing habits is a process. Charles Durhigg wrote about this process in his book, “Habits,” saying this: “Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits…..At one point, we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we got to the office, how often to have a drink or when to go for a jog. Then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic. It’s a natural consequence of our neurology. And by understanding how it happens, you can rebuild those patterns in whichever way you choose.”
The key to changing habits, Charles Durhigg states, is in finding the trigger, particularly the trigger that elicits pleasure in that habit. 
On Ash Wednesday we were invited to observe a Holy Lent by engaging in five spiritual disciplines: prayer, self-examination, fasting, reading scripture, and repentance. Each of these are helpful in understanding the impact of sin in one’s life. These are spiritual practices that can become a discipline, a habit, if one engages in them during the forty days of Lent. These disciplines invite us to contemplate our bad habits, our “sins.”
Each of the scripture readings this morning considers the nature of sin. Genesis reveals the moral dilemma of sin as broken relationship in all its forms: broken with God, broken with other people, and even broken with one’s self. Broken because of anger, denial, lack of self accountability, blame and shame. The point of the Genesis story is that through our brokenness our eyes are opened, we become vulnerable, but as a result we have opportunities to learn, grow, and mature.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is tempted to sin but he does not fall for the temptations. He stays focused on what he values and believes, stays focused on his love of God, love of self, and love of others which provides him with the strength, stamina, and wisdom to not succumb to the temptations. 
The disciplines that are highlighted in Lent become an opportunity to change the brokenness into healing, to create new habits, new patterns of behavior, and practice them through the season until they become a part of who we are, capable of holding us up when we might otherwise fall. 
I focused today on the spiritual disciple of prayer because prayer is a good place to start. Prayer is practiced both individually and in corporate worship on Sunday morning. In worship prayer can be in silence, through the spoken word, or with music either instrumental or sung.
Our Lenten worship uses Taize for the service music. Taize music was written by a faith community in France, using words from scripture set to simple, easy to sing tunes. The simple words and tune and the repetition of the song, sung over and over, enables Taize to take on a meditative quality, to be sung prayer. The entire Lenten service is intended to offer us an opportunity to slow down, to enter into a liminal space for prayer, self-examination, repentance, and reflection on scripture, allowing us a time to fast from the busyness of life in order to be present to God. 

May this be a season of making holy habits that last a lifetime.

a reflection on the readings for Lent 1A:  Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Cascade of Hope

In 1995 wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, having been absent from the park for seventy years. In the 1800’s Yellowstone park rangers took it upon themselves to eradicate predatory animals like wolves, bears, and coyotes in order to sustain the viability of livestock animals for food. A hundred years later people began to have an awareness of how one species of life can impact an entire ecosystem. This led to fourteen wolves being reintroduced to the park in 1995 and another 25 within the next year.
As soon as wolves arrived there was a radical change in the behavior of deer. The deer began avoiding certain areas of the park. They left valleys and gorges and moved to higher elevations. When the deer moved, the height of trees increased. Other trees returned like aspen and willows. With the return of trees, more birds returned, and beavers returned.  Beavers are ecosystem engineers because they create habitats for other animals like ducks and fish. The wolves killed coyotes, which in turn brought back rabbits and mice. The return of rabbits and mice enabled grasses to grow because their dens and holes provide a natural aeration that supports the growth of wild grass. The return of rabbits and mice and other small animals also brought back hawks and eagles. Bears increased too because there were more bushes and trees and therefore more berries. The presence of wolves changed the behavior of the rivers. With increased tress and grasses there was less erosion of soil, channels narrowed, more pools formed. The regenerating forests stabilized the banks, therefore they collapsed less often and the rivers became more fixed in their course. Less soil erosion restored the water ways. Some say it is amazing how, in a mere nineteen years a few wolves changed the ecosystem of Yellowstone.
We’ve come to the last Sunday after the Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday.  A Gospel reading on the transfiguration of Jesus appears in Mark, Luke, or Matthew, which means the transfiguration is a powerful story from the ancient world. This year we also have the reading from Exodus on the transfiguration of Moses as he encounters God on the mountain top. 
Moses ascends to the mountain top because God has called him there. On the mountain Moses is given the Ten Commandments. These commandments, and the 603 additional commandments that come from them, sometimes referred to as the laws of Moses spell out how people are to be in relationship with God, self, and others.  Moses was called to the mountain, not so he could be changed, but so that he could become an agent of change for the Hebrew people. Moses teaches the people how to live in relationship with God, with other people, and even with one’s self. 
In a similar way God calls Jesus to the mountain top. Jesus takes with him three disciples. While on the mountain Moses and Elijah appear and Jesus is transfigured. Again, the transfiguration of Jesus was not for Jesus, but for the disciples. The disciples now know that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law of Moses, and that in and through Jesus they will come to know how to live in right relationship with God, with others, and with themselves. 
When Moses encountered God, God was hidden in a cloud. When Jesus is transfigured God is visible for all to see. God manifests God’s self in human flesh. This means that we know God in and through our relationships with other people. 
Over the last three days members of this parish, including the Vestry, Mitch and me, have participated in the initial conversations about our revitalization process. We met with Diocesan staff who shared with us concepts about sustainable budgets. We had a Vestry retreat to help orient our new Vestry members to the work of the Vestry as it guides this parish in living out our mission to feed people in mind, body, and spirit.  And we participated in a diocesan wide Diversity and Inclusion workshop, looking at how we can truly be a community that respects the dignity of every human being. In all of this we are taking a deep look at how we are revealing God in and through our lives, at how we are loving God, loving ourselves and loving our neighbors.
What has transpired when the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone is a phenomenon known as “trophic cascade.” Trophic cascades are powerful indirect interactions that can control entire ecosystems. Trophic cascades occur when one species impacts the density and/or behavior of another species causing a cascade effect all along the chain of the ecosystem.
Likewise, I am confident that we stand on the precipice of a mountain top, at a point where what we do this year and next year will make all the difference for the years to come, possibly setting the template for the next 150 years. A number of factors contribute to my confidence, including the fact that west Dearborn, thanks again to the Ford Motor Company is on the brink of a substantial change, of an influx of business and development, and people. 
Now is not the time to be like the Peter, where we try to build ways to remain isolated within on our own little mountain. Now is the time to think expansively and take risks to build relationships outside our own walls, to go out into the world and connect with this revitalization project, to invite members of Ford Motor Co and its redevelopment to come and speak to us, to help us learn how we can be part of this project, to work with the city and see what we can do to be part of it, to put Christ Church in the center of building relationships, right in the midst of this transfiguration that is going to take place in Dearborn. Now is the time for us to ponder what is it that we will do that will be like the wolf pack in Yellowstone, to create our tropic cascade, our something that completely alters the environment of this church, this community, now and for the future.  

reflection on the readings for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Transfiguration:  Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9




Saturday, February 18, 2017

Holy God, Holy People, Holy Love

The first congregation I served as Rector was stunned when it was revealed that the wife of a prominent couple in the parish was the victim of years of domestic abuse. When divorce proceedings started the abuse escalated and threatened to spill into the church itself.  We were forced to be attentive for the safety of everyone, most especially the wife and children. A few years later a colleague at another church experienced a tragic domestic violence episode in her congregation, when a wife tried to have her abusing spouse murdered. He lived and she went to prison. Then the news reported that a woman, who had been kidnapped by her former husband had been found alive but severely beaten, bound and gagged, stuffed in a trash can and locked in a storage unit, not far from my house, where she had been left to die.

A few years later I attended a conference called, “Not In Our Pews” held in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin and sponsored by Project SAFE, an organization composed of a number of religious institutions and service provider agencies in Wisconsin. One of the panel speakers at this conference was the woman who had been kidnapped and left to die in that storage unit. She was permanently damaged from the abuse, her legs and back would never fully heal, and walking was painful. She told her story of fear and hope and of her ongoing resistance to violence through the lens of being a person of faith, which connects her story to our scripture readings this morning in both Leviticus and Matthew, because they are often used by people of faith to coerce women into submitting to abusive partners, as if this is their cross to bear. This is a misunderstanding of the readings. 

Leviticus is considered the book of rules for the ancient people of God. It is filled with rules for how to live - what one can and cannot eat, drink, or do. However, if we take the rules literally we miss the point Leviticus is making - that people are holy because God is holy. We are holy when we live in right relationship with God, with our selves, and with other people. Being in right relationship with God is about our integrity as individuals and communities, one’s ability to be centered in one’s values and beliefs, one’s  capacity for introspection and self reflection, and the degree to which one can learn and grow and become a more mature person of faith by loving God, loving self, and loving others.

The Gospel of Matthew builds on the laws of Moses, not just the ten commandments, but all 613 commandments found in the Hebrew Bible, which essentially define how one lives in right relationship with God, self, and others. The focus of the Gospel of Matthew is to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. This point is made clear in Matthew 22 when one of the Pharisees asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest, and Jesus replies, that one should love  God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind and love one’s neighbor as one’s self, thus summarizing all 613 commandments into one. In other words, Jesus claims that there is no justification for violence and abuse, love never demeans or diminishes another.  

So listen carefully to the readings today. Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek and not resist the evildoer points to a different level of resistance, a non-cooperation in hate and violence. The readings this morning formed the foundation for the nonviolent resistance of Gandhi’s strategy against British colonial rule, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement to dismantle racism. Love your enemies is not an instruction to be passive toward cruelty, rather it guides one to defiance, to work against the system and cycle of violence or racism or any other way people are demeaned and diminished by refusing to be part of it.
A scene in the movie 42 helps to illustrate this point. In this scene Branch Rickey is talking to Jackie Robinson, who was to become the first black baseball player in the major leagues and he’s checking out Robinson to see if he has the wherewithal to do what it takes to navigate the challenges of breaking down barriers. 

Jackie Robinson says: You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?

Branch Rickey responds: No. No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back. People aren’t gonna like this. They’re gonna do anything to get you to react. Echo a curse with a curse and, uh, they’ll hear only yours. Follow a blow with a blow and they’ll say, “The black man has lost his temper.” That “The black man does not belong.” Your enemy will be out in force… and you cannot meet him on his own low ground. We win with hitting, running, fielding. Only that. We win if the world is convinced of two things: That you are a fine gentleman and a great baseball player. Like our Savior… you gotta have the guts… to turn the other cheek. Can you do it?

To which Jackie Robinson says: You give me a uniform… you give me a, heh, number on my back… and I’ll give you the guts.

Because non-cooperation with hate and violence means we hold people accountable for their behavior and we hold ourselves accountable, too. These readings call for radical transformation of individuals and communities through the simple, yet incredibly challenging commandment to love. These readings speak into and aim to direct one to one’s core sense of self, one’s soul. When the soul of the individual and the corporate soul of faith communities and even the soul of entire cities and countries, live with the guiding principle of love then one will do everything one can to ensure that all people are cared for equally.  People are holy because God is holy and therefore abusing any one, demeaning or diminishing another in any capacity, is as if one is abusing God. People are holy because God is holy.  

As Christians who believe in Jesus, resisting all forms of abuse that demean and diminish human beings is Incarnational, its God’s love in human flesh, God’s love activated in Jesus, in you, in me. Incarnational and holy because it requires one to have a clear understanding of what love actually means and then the capacity to live with that kind of love as one’s foundational value and guiding principle in life.  Incarnational love because God is holy and therefore we are holy too. 



A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 7A: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Be Salt, Flavoring the World with Love and Compassion

I finally went to see  the movie “Hidden Figures” on my day off last week. It tells the story of thirty black women, who, in the 1960’s worked for NASA as mathematicians. They were called “computers” because they calculated the trajectory of space flights beginning with John Glen’s first flight into space to the landing on the moon and the space shuttle. These women worked behind the scenes but were absolutely essential to the program. The movie focuses primarily on three of the women: Katharine Johnson who calculated the space flights, Dorothy Vaughn who was the first black female supervisor in NASA and she hired and trained other black women to be computer programers, and Mary Jackson who became the first black female engineer in NASA. The story describes the challenges these women faced from outright racism and sexism, which they met with tenacity and grit and perseverance and confidence in their worth and value. During the day they worked hard to overcome near impossible obstacles. On the weekends and evenings the movie portrayed them as fun loving, respectable, church going, family women who danced, and sang, and hugged their children. The movie is a snapshot into a whole community of black people supporting one another with joy and faith through the challenges of maintaining their integrity even as the world tried to suppress and oppress them.

Our readings this morning from Isaiah and Matthew describe the life of faith, of discipleship, of a people called to live God calls them too. 

In the Isaiah reading the people are not living as God desires. Their faith is superficial, their piety lacks substance. They are going through the motions doing what they think will please God but they are doing it without introspection and thus their actions are meaningless. Isaiah calls them to look deeply at their lives, to take an honest look at them selves. True fasting, he says, is never done to meet one’s own purposes, but rather to connect one’s actions with the deeper desire of God. For example, fasting is not always the absence of food, it may be the forgoing of ego and selfish desires in order to make room for God’s desires to fill one up. Instead of fasting, God calls these Israelites to feed the hungry and cloth the naked, to live an active life of faith.

In his letter to the people in Corinth, Paul is saying something similar. Paul calls these people out on their fake piety. He strongly reminds them that when they set aside their egos and open themselves to God, the Holy Spirit enters into them. Paul says when the Holy Spirit moves into one’s being,  then one “will have the mind of Christ.” This is what happens when one sincerely and honestly looks at one’s words and actions and makes the effort to change from self-focused to God-focused. It is realized when one takes on the challenge of respecting the dignity of every human being. 

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is teaching his disciples about their role in bringing forth God’s kingdom. True to form Jesus uses food to make his point, speaking about the importance of salt to bring out the full flavor. Be salt, Jesus tells the disciples, (and therefore he’s telling us, too). Be salt, be the ingredient that brings out the fullness of God in the world. Be the seasoning that enriches the flavor of life. Be salt. 

Then Jesus uses his second favorite image, light. Be light, he says. Be the light that is born in the darkness to lead the way through. Be light, shine forth, be the beacon that lights the way to true life. 

The point of all of our readings today might be summarized in this quote from the Archbishop William Temple, “The Church is the only organization that exists for those who are not its members.” In other words, as disciples, and as a church community, we are not here for ourselves, we are here to do God’s work in the world. We come here, like the people in Isaiah, to practice our faith in order to have an authentic understanding of who we are and what we are to be about. These practices of worship are intended to open one up and instill in one the mind of God, and then to send one out into the world to be the salt, to be the ingredient that transforms a bland reality into its fullness of life.

In an era when anxiety and uncertainty are prevalent, I am tempted to hunker down and withdraw, to just wait it out and hope for the best. I feel a strong urge to just look the other way, losing myself in knitting, or preparing for the birth of my grand daughter, or some other activity that distracts me from life. However, if I am to be the person God is calling me to be, if I am to live fully, if I am to continue to build the kind of world I hope for for my grandchildren, the kind of world that I think God desires, then I need to be engaged in the world as it is in order to work to transform it. I need to be willing to do the hard work of introspection, to examine myself, my words and my actions, and consider how I might live more fully in and through God’s desires. How can I avoid the temptation to shame, name call, or blame others? How can I focus on myself and try to be the best version of myself that I can? How salty can I be?


At Christ Church our mission, our call from God, our discipleship, is to feed people in mind, body, and spirit. It’s a call grounded in scripture, sustained by our baptismal covenant, and one that is authentic to who we are. One might say that by living into this mission we are being salty, flavoring the world around us with love and compassion. 

a reflection on the readings for Epiphany 5A: Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20

Saturday, January 28, 2017

God tells 'em outright

What does God require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. 

In 1862, at the age of 24, George W. Haigh responded to the call from Abraham Lincoln to shore up Union troops in the Civil War. He joined the 24th Michigan Infantry Company D, composed of men from Wayne County. The 24th Michigan Infantry participated in several key battles of the Civil War, most notably the battle at Gettysburg. Known as the bloodiest battle, all the troops, on both sides of the conflict, incurred a 73% casualty rate. George survived the war and went on to live another 58 years. He was on the very first Vestry of Christ Church along with his brother Richard. George died in 1920 and in 1923 two parishioners designed and made the stone baptismal font in his memory. When this church was built in 1949 a special nook was created in the entrance way to hold the font. Today it stands as a reminder of who we are as Christ Church, a people with a long history of responding to the needs of the world, living an active faith, grounded in our baptismal identity to do justice, love kindness, and be humble. 

Mary Jo Searles was born in 1936 and raised in Christ Church. She dedicated her life to a variety of social justice causes including education for women and girls in this country and abroad. She served on the Vestry multiple times. Her last tenure on the Vestry ended in 2012. During her life she was active in every aspect of parish life and her impact is still with us, whether we are aware of it or not. Mary Jo fought Non-Hodgkins lymphoma for years, but succumbed to a brain tumor in April of 2014. The funeral liturgy that she created for her service revealed her values: a reading from the Q’ran that honored our interfaith heritage in Dearborn and Christ Church; a pause in the liturgy while Sean played Widor’s Toccata on the organ, because she loved the organ; and a Eucharistic prayer that used expansive language to describe God and human beings revealed her passion for equality and justice. We have created a new baptismal font that lives in the sanctuary in her memory as one who was humble enough to do justice with loving kindness.

These two saints of the church hold up for us the values of our Christian faith and remind us of who are as Christ Church in Dearborn. One could look back through these past 150 years and find many others, then and now, who are just like these two, people who exemplify for us what it means to be the living body of Christ feeding people in mind, body, and spirit because we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. 

Whether one lived in the years surrounded by the unrest of the Civil War and the role slavery played in defining faith, or the challenges to morale following WWW I or post WWW II and the struggles to unify and rebuild this country as well as this new church, or one lived in the 1960’s in the era of civil unrest over racism, or whether one lives now in an era focused on equality for all marginalized people regardless of religion, race, or gender, we here at Christ Church have played an active role in the lives of people of faith and in the Dearborn community. We have a long history of being involved, invested, fearless leaders who take on challenges and over come them. It’s a history we can be proud of. 

Our reading today from Micah supports this understanding of how we are to live as people of faith. This reading is set up as if it were a courtroom with God as the witness and the people are the jury. In this reading God asks a series of rhetorical questions of the people, all aimed at getting them to think about what it means to be a people of faith. In the end God simply tells them outright. God says that God is not expecting a particular type of sacrifice, God is expecting a particular type of person. God is interested in the integrity of one’s personhood. God is looking for people who will do justice, live with humility, and love kindness.

To be a people of justice and to live a life of integrity is defined for us in our baptismal covenant and by Jesus; we are to love God, love self, and love others by respecting the dignity of every human being. This is two-fold. It means we stand up and refute injustices and we work to enable greater justice. But we do this with humility. Humility does not mean being passive, nor does it mean being silent, it means being willing to learn, to grow, to deepen one’s understanding and to do so respectfully, all the while never diminishing the value of another human being.

This too is the heart of the Beatitudes in the Gospel reading. The beatitudes speak to what it means to live as a person of faith. The Beatitude’s describe how life is when one is faithful. 

Dearborn is a unique community. We’ve struggled through a history of deep racism to become a model interfaith community. We are not without our challenges, but we are facing those challenges. We dig deep, we strive to learn, to aim to be a people of faith. We are a community of many faiths. And each faith teaches us the same essentials: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. 

At 150 years old this faith community has risen to the occasion many times and overcome challenge after challenge. We are here today keeping alive the passion of our ancestors who worked to make the world a better place by loving God and one another. The soul of this parish is maturing, growing in wisdom from the lives of those who have come before us, sustained by the kind of humility that encourages wisdom and the ability  to continue to learn and grow, and fortified by an inherent sense of loving kindness. We are here today because of the tenacity and fortitude of our ancestors who never gave up. We are here today because of each of you. We are an amazingly creative vibrant committed community of people who care for one another and for the world around us. We are not just sustaining a church, we are building a future for our children and our children's children. This is the legacy we inherited and the legacy we handing on.

We are, and always have been a community centered church, feeding people in mind, body, and spirit. 




A reflection on Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12 for Epiphany 4A

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hope, the nourishment of life

I have always been interested in the how the body works and fascinated by cellular biology in particular. Perhaps, if I were going to college now, I would study epigenetics, which looks at how life’s stressors change one’s DNA, altering what is passed down to subsequent generations. These are not changes to one’s actual DNA code, but rather they influence how our genetic material functions by triggering what part of one’s gene’s get activated or not to fight off physical or mental disease. For example, scientific evidence shows that people who have been subjected to trauma, like starvation, incur changes in their genetic material which is passed down to later generations, possibly causing obesity.

Instead of becoming a scientist I’ve spent most of my life as a parish priest. However, I think that in many ways this vocation is directly linked to my ancestors. Rooted, perhaps, in some spiritual transference of inspiration from my Mormon pioneer relatives who took great risks crossing oceans and prairies, leaving behind family and friends, to live a life of faith.  Many of my great grands however ended up struggling with divorce, alcoholism and depression because they were isolated and cut off from their families of origin. Likewise, it may be no coincidence that I’ve become a parish priest who studies Murray Bowen’s Family Systems theory, which looks at the emotional processes of intergenerational families and how the stressors of one generation play out in the behavior and health of subsequent generations. One might say that I study an emotional and spiritual form of epigenetics. 

One thing I have learned is that who one is and how one behaves is not predetermined by the past. One can decide how one lives and the influences on my physical and mental health. If I do the work to take care of my self, exercise, meditate and pray, eat well, and learn about the kinds of influences that trigger unhealthy reactions in me, I can find greater balance and not succumb to the impulsive remnants of my ancestors trauma that trigger disease.

All of this reminds me of a class I took in seminary called “The Plunge.” In this class groups of people went off to churches around the country, worshiped with them, studied their history and reflected on their current attitudes and behaviors and then reported back to the class as a whole. We were asked to think about and reflect on the idea that each parish has a “soul.” The parish’s soul reveals the defining character of the congregation, it’s practices and behavior, the stories it remembers about its history and the emotional tone of the congregation. Its kind of like looking at the epigenetics of a parish - how does the past influence the present? 

Christ Church has a relatively long history, compared to other Episcopal Churches in this country, many of which were started in the 1950’s. With our long history we have lived through good times and challenges. In the first fifty years parishioners struggle to find a priest, to have enough families, to have enough money, to have a place to worship. Then we stabilized with the growth of the automobile industry and with an influx of people moving here for jobs. The 1950’s and 1960’s are seen as glory days, when the church was booming with people, when Christ Church was the center of the community. Here men came to help grow their careers by forming business relationships and working to literally build a church. Here women came to find social connections, joining committees, doing fundraising, making friendships that have lasted a lifetime. And children grew up here, serving as acolytes, attending dances and socials and making friends. Christ Church was the hub of community life.

Now Christ Church is smaller, like almost every other church in this country. But we are still a bustling community centered church with our doors open every day and our halls lively with people coming and going. 

Through out our history our strength has always been feeding people. We are called Christ Church for a reason. We are part of the living body of Christ in our world today - doing the work that Jesus did to feed people in mind, body, and spirit. Jesus was always eating and feeding, he was always tending to the hunger’s of this world, the physical hungers and the spiritual hungers. 

In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus calls the first of his disciples. These fishermen drop everything to come and follow him. Jesus speaks into their deepest spiritual hunger and invites them to consider what it will take for them to thrive. These fishermen know about hunger and feeding people. Because despite literally feeding people with fish, all of them are still hungry for something more. Jesus calls into that hunger within, into that deep place of yearning. Following Jesus is not a comfortable thing to do. Following him does not take these disciples into a place of ease and plenty. Following Jesus takes them, and us, into a place of risk and challenge, to break out of the patterns of the past that could determine one’s future and into a new place of hope and vitality.

Each of our readings this morning speak in a similar way - that following God takes one into a new place. Not an easy place, but even in the challenges, it is a place that feeds people with hope and light and life. Our outgoing President, a man who often leaned into his faith to guide his work, said, “Hope is not blind optimism. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, to work for it, and to fight for it.” (Barak Obama)

I think the primary DNA material of Christ Church, of this church, is hope. Its in our DNA because of our ancestors built this place to be big and strong so it could have a vibrant future. They were not deterred by the muddy roads and economic challenges of 19th century Dearborn. No, they had a vision. 

Hope is in our spiritual bones and blood because of the name our ancestors chose for this church. We are Christ Church, the living hands and heart of Jesus, God’s hope for the world. We are not a people of blind optimism. We are a people of faith, built on the faith of our ancestors, built on the love of God in Jesus. Our heart beats with courage and vision and the willingness to work. We are Christ Church. It’s who we are because we are a community centered church. Its how we live because we feed people. 

And as Christ Church we can be the light that forges into the darkness of uncertainty, leading the way once again, like our ancestors did, building a brighter future, while feeding the world with the love of God.

a reflection on the readings for Epiphany 3A