Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lent 1B

A Reflection on Mark 1:12-13
1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Recently, I ran across a curious list with the title: "Great Truths About Life That Little Children Have Learned." Perhaps you’ve seen it? Regardless, let me share a few of these "great truths" with you.

(1) " No matter how hard you try you cannot baptize a cat."
(2) "When your mom is mad at your dad, don't let her brush your hair."
(3) "Never ask your 3-year-old brother to hold a tomato or an egg."
(4) "You can't trust dogs to watch your food for you."
(5) "Don't sneeze when somebody is cutting your hair."

These seem like very wise and practical truths spoken from the reality of children.

Ash Wednesday ushered in the season of Lent with the invitation that we observe Lent in a holy way. The Book of Common Prayer describes a holy Lent as one in which we practice self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial, by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word, and from these to learn some truths of our own.

Fasting is one of the primary Lenten disciplines that people undertake. Fasting can be done in a number of ways. We can choose to fast from entire meals, or to eat simply. Some people choose to fast from a particular food, like chocolate or sweets. Recently I saw on television that kids are giving up Facebook for Lent. Facebook, for those of you who may not know of it, is an internet based personal web page that allows people to dialogue back and forth, almost like emailing, but through a different medium, a personal on line page. The kids who had chosen to give this up spoke about how hard it was and how much they hated not being on facebook.

Many people who give up something, whether its facebook or chocolate define their Lenten time as a struggle, as something uncomfortable, even miserable. And, I suppose for some, that is a worthy way to spend Lent. We who have so many comforts in life can afford now and then to suffer a bit and go without.

But I don’t think that suffering is the primary purpose and intent of fasting as a means to observing a Holy Lent. The purpose of observing a Holy Lent is to bring us closer to God and to help us remove all those obstacles that keep us from being close to God.

If eating chocolate or sweets is something that has become an obstacle between you and God, then fasting from it may be the very thing you need to do. If kids are spending too much time on Facebook and the internet and it is impacting their relationship with God, with themselves, or with others, then fasting from that is a good thing. In other words suffering is not the purpose of a Lenten practice, even though we may suffer along the way. The purpose is to remove the things in our lives that have become an obstacle between us and God.

Fasting is a way to do this. Here are some other ways we can consider fasting:

Fast from judging others, pray to know the love of Christ dwelling within them
Fast from emphasizing the ways in which we are different from one another, pray for unity
Fast from words that pollute, harm, and hurt others, pray to know the love of Christ in everyone
Fast from fostering feelings of discontent, pray for gratitude
Fast from anger, pray for patience,
Fast from fear, pray for hope
Fast from pessimism, pray for optimism,
Fast from worry, pray for grace
Fast from negativity, pray for joy
Fast from hostility, pray for compassion
Fast from bitterness, pray for forgiveness
Fast from anxiety, pray for peace
Fast from suspicion, pray for trust
Fast from thoughts that weaken, pray for inspiration
Fast from gossip, pray for silence
Fast from hatred, pray for love.

(Derived from the writings of William Arthur Ward, teacher, author, and Pastor, 1921-1994, thanks to Jan at Yearning for God )

I suspect that if we were to fast and pray in this way we would come to understand a bit about Jesus’ experience in the wilderness, about the wild beastiness of temptation, and the healing grace of angels tending to us.
Jan Richardson, on her blog, “The Painted Prayerbook” says this about Lent: “Ash Wednesday beckons us to cross over the threshold into a season that’s all about working through the chaos to discover what is essential. The ashes that lead us into this season remind us where we have come from. They beckon us to consider what is most basic to us, what is elemental, what survives after all that is extraneous is burned away. With its images of ashes and wilderness, Lent challenges us to reflect on what we have filled our lives with, and to see if there are habits, practices, possessions, and ways of being that have accumulated, encroached, invaded, accreted, layer upon layer, becoming a pattern of chaos that threatens to insulate us and dull us to the presence of God.”

I invite us to observe a holy Lent, to ponder what we have filled our lives with and as a result the ways we have become dull to the presence of God, that we may learn some new truths about our lives and our relationship with God, with self, and with one another.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Broken, Healed, Renewed...

A reflection on 2 Kings 5:1-14 and Mark 1:40-45

D and I joined the Episcopal Church after we had been married for 4 years. Our daughter Jessica was about one, and dressed in her frilly Sunday best with a big bow in her hair, the women of the church thought she looked just like the little girl on Full House.

The Church we joined was about 150 years old, in a Northwest Chicago neighborhood. D’s grandparents and mother use to live just around the corner from the church. Our house, at that time, was a few blocks away.

The Church was a white stucco building with red doors. Inside was red carpeting, stained glass windows, and light oak pews, altar rail, and altar. It was small but charming. The people were friendly enough, the priest kind. Before long we were in an inquirer’s class learning about the policies and practices of the Episcopal Church. In the fall the Bishop came to visit. He confirmed me and others in the class and received Dan. Attending church, working in various ways in the life of the church, and contributing from our time, talent, and treasure, we became full members of the church.

In January we attended our first annual meeting of that parish, my first annual meeting in a church of any kind. We had a lovely brunch prepared by members of the congregation and then moved into the business portion of the meeting. Somehow, and I don’t remember how, this meeting erupted into an angry explosion. All of a sudden people were yelling at each other, bringing up old wounds and hurts, some of them 20 and 30 years old. Dan and I sat there in stunned silence. We had no idea there was that kind of hurt going on in the people we had come to love. And we certainly thought it was odd behavior for a church community.

I don’t remember now what was done to move through this hurt, if anything. I wasn’t serving on vestry or in any of the leadership areas. What I do remember is that a few years later we had a new priest. He arrived on Ash Wednesday in time for our fish fry supper. This parish put on wonderful meals for the neighborhood, including a Thanksgiving day meal and a homemade fish fry every Ash Wed. While Thanksgiving was free, the fish fry was a fundraiser for the parish and we sold tickets throughout the neighborhood. It was delicious, but as you can imagine, with splattered grease all over the kitchen, it was also a huge mess!

We were part way through our supper when the new priest arrived. The matriarchs and patriarchs of that parish literally escorted the priest into the parish hall directly to their table. He did not have an opportunity to greet others along the way. From there we went into worship and began Lent. A few weeks later these same people who escorted the priest into the church were now citing all the things he did wrong, often announcing them to the altar party before we processed in to begin worship. Clearly the unhappiness had not been settled in that annual meeting years before.

Sometime into his ministry this new priest began to hold, approximately once a month, healing services during the Sunday morning worship. He offered them according to the order in the Book of Common Prayer, after the confession and before the peace. He invited people to come forward, down the center aisle, and receive anointing, the laying on of hands, and a prayer. At first I thought it was very odd. Some sort of mumbo jumbo and magic. But over time I began to see how this ritual was working through the people of the church, bringing a sense of community that had been missing, of wholeness, and hope. The old wounds and hurts were being held up by an entire community of people all praying together for healing. And healing began to take place. Of course the healing prayers were not the only cause of the healing but they seemed to help.

As human beings we are all broken in some way. In one chapter of her book “Christianity for the Rest of Us” Diana Butler Bass describes the healing ministry of several churches from different Christian denominations.
She says, “Healing is an expression of God’s harmony – what the Hebrew scriptures refer to as shalom, God’s dynamic wholeness, which is both personal and communal healing. Walter Brueggermann describes (this) as the central vision of the Bible in which all of creation is one …the healing of the disordered and broken into the harmony of its created wholeness.” (DBB Christianity for the Rest of Us, pg 110)
In our Christian worship we are offered three rituals for healing: baptism, anointing, and the Eucharist, each intended to remind us of our story and the way in which God desires wholeness and harmony in creation. In the ancient church those desiring baptism were typically adults who had to spend two years preparing to be baptized on Easter Day.

Baptism is an opportunity for healing because it offers us, both the one being baptized, and those of us renewing our baptismal covenant, to remember who we are as the Body of Christ. The entire baptismal rite focuses us on the ways we are broken or contribute to the brokenness of the world and the healing power offered to us through the Holy Spirit. In just a few minutes we will baptize Graham Robert and I will place the sign of the cross on his forehead. The cross is made using holy oil called Chrism. Chrism is blessed by the bishop each year during holy week and distributed to the priests of every church for use in baptism, anointing for healing, and last rites. This sign of the cross using Chrism, was made on each of our foreheads, marking us as Christ’s own forever. Another sign of the cross is made on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday.

The Ash Wednesday service, which will be a week from this Wednesday, February 25, is a time for us to remember again who we are and whose we are. This time cross is marked on our foreheads using ashes burned from the Palms distributed during Palm Sunday. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent and points us to ponder the various ways we are broken and the ways we are causing brokenness.

Lent then is a time for us to seek forgiveness and begin the healing process within ourselves, with our world, and our community, and with God. This year in Lent we will explore our brokenness and potential for healing, in a number of ways. Each Sunday we offer anointing and prayers for healing, offered by the Daughters of the King, in the chapel. During Lent we will expand this anointing service and make it available in three places in the church instead of just the chapel.

So, baptism is one way the church offers us healing and wholeness, intentional anointing and prayers for healing is a second way. The third way the church offers us healing and wholeness is in the body of the Eucharistic prayer.
Each Sunday we hear our Christian story in the words of scripture and in the prayers at the Eucharist.

The Eucharistic prayer offers us the opportunity to healed, to be renewed and to be sent forth to do likewise in the world. If you listen carefully to the words of the Eucharistic prayer you will hear this conveyed.

For Christians, the heart of all human pain and suffering is summed up in the life and death of Christ, while all hope for healing is found in the resurrection. The reality of pain and suffering is common to every human being, we all are broken in some way by life. But it is from our broken places, and in the healing of that brokenness, through prayer, and through the love and grace of God, that we are able to offer love and healing to others.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Which One Will Live?

A reflection on Isaiah 40:21-31 and Mark 1:29-39.

Two and half years ago I suffered a serious illness. From a fractured tooth came an abscess, from the abscess came an infection that ran 2-1/2 inches through my jaw bone. The infection followed the nerve in my jaw, leaving me unable to feel most of my bottom lip, chin, and teeth. The infection then travelled up the side of my face. All of this developed over the course of one week, taking me from a dentist who thought I had TMJ to a hospital room and a team of doctors including a surgeon, an internist, and infectious disease specialist. At first the hospital attempted to cure me with IV antibiotics, and after about 24 hours it seemed like it might work. But by 36 hours it was apparent that it was not. By 48 hours I was prepped and waiting for surgery.

I remember waiting for the surgery; it was about 5:00 in the evening. I was taken down to the surgical unit and left in this holding area. Alone. Well alone except for some guy in surgical attire who was tinkering on some piece of equipment. I have no idea who he was or what he was doing – and in a pain-killer induced stupor I had this sense that I had been parked in a mechanics garage – the hospital equivalent of a Jiffy Lube stall. At one point I became cognizant of this guy’s presence and felt awful that they had just parked me in his space and left me, so I apologized for my disruptive pain filled moans. He must of have thought I was nuts. I waited there for nearly 90 minutes, a big old clock hung on the wall, showing me just how slow time can pass. In spite of my pain killer induced hallucinations I remember feeling as if I was waiting for God in the stillness of that slow moving clock.

As we hear in our Gospel this morning, Peter’s mother in law is sick with fever. Jesus, coming straight from the synagogue where he has healed a man possessed by demons, walks into the home and into her room, and heals her. Upon which she immediately rose from the bed and began serving her guests. It is an awesome story of healing and the transformation that God offers us; of the new life we find when we are healed.

But that does not mean that the transformation comes easily. Part of this is because God’s healing does not always happen the way we want – it may not include being cured of our illness. Sometimes we find a healing of spirit takes place within the context of an incurable illness. Some of us here are struggling with an illness of such magnitude that it alters our entire self perception – some of us may say to ourselves, “because of this illness I am no longer the person I was.” That is certainly true for me. In the course of the illness I lost teeth and I acquired what seems to be a permanent paralysis of lower lip and jaw on the right side. You can tell because I sometimes garble my words even when I aim to enunciate carefully.

In a similar way some of you are permanently changed from some illness in your life. God’s healing does not necessarily mean a cure, but it does transform us.
Others are struggling with a loss of identity: Who am I now that I am retired? Who am I now that I have retired from that position or that company? Who am I now that I have lost my sense of power, given up that place where I had some authority, left behind that sense of self that told me who I was and calculated the hours of my day with a schedule and appointments that told me I was important. Who am I now?

I remember when my daughter was first born and I quit my job at the interior design firm to stay home with her. One day calling the pediatrician to make an appointment they asked me what I did for a living, and for a moment I had no response. Just a week before I was waking up at 5am, dressing in my professional maternity business suits, and heading into the office. On that day, it was 4:00 in the afternoon, I had not showered, was still in my pajama’s - consumed all day with the activities of tending to a new born - diaper changes and feedings. With a moment of free time because the baby was napping, I had to squeeze in phone calls and a shower and begin supper. Who was I, the person asked? Finally I managed to say, I’m a stay at home mom. A very different sense of identity than the interior designer working for a high powered firm.

My husband has had a similar loss of identity. In 2002, as a result of 9/11 the company he worked for went out of business and laid off all their employees. For the next 6 years he struggled to find work and to make a living. He lost every sense of himself in the process, going from being a sought after computer consultant with an expertise in graphic arts and Macintosh systems, to someone was seen as too old to sell Apple’s. It became a young person’s industry. As a man that loss has hit him particularly hard. He always saw himself as our family bread winner. He has lost a lot of his sense of self and identity and is slowly rebuilding it. Likewise most of our friends are in the same position, for one reason or another, losing jobs and therefore most of their retirement savings. We all know we will end up working the rest of our lives, gone are our dreams of retirement.

Each of us here has, or is, or one day will struggle with a loss of identity as we move from independent lives into assisted living, or memory centers, losing our sense of self along the way.

Perhaps you’ve never had a life changing illness, and you’ve embraced retirement with gusto, finding joy in travel and leisure, golf and bridge, and perhaps you’ve been thankfully unaffected by this or any other financial crisis. Perhaps though suddenly one day you realize that the world around you has changed – and now you, who were once riding the high tide of this American life, are feeling lost and left behind. Remember that saying, “Stop the world, I want to get off?” Technology and computers and internet and cell phone just make you want to hide in your world. With every ounce of your being you just want to keep things the same. It is the only way you know to hang onto your sense of self – to know who you are.

There was a woman in my former diocese who would stand up at Diocesan Convention every year to speak against some resolution for change, and as she began to speak she would say, “I know I’m a dinosaur, but….” I imagine that after a number of years she realized, even as she rose to speak, that what she longed for, the world as she knew it, was gone…with only her words to mark the passing of time and a lost hope for what had been her comfortable world.

We are broken people – and I mean not just this church or the Episcopal Church or the state of Arizona, or this country – but of our entire world. Each of us in our own way. We are broken. We each carry deep pain and loss and sorrow and grief, or at the very least scars from such. Some of us have healed and, though scarred, are working our way into a new life. Some of us are looking for healing and have a glimpse of hope. Some of us may be finding a new sense of identity in the brokenness itself, an identity grounded in depression or anger - we all know someone like that, right? Someone who is always complaining or morose, or angry about something, and working hard to make others feel the same way?

Yes, we are broken. So, what are we to do? Let’s hear again the words of Psalm 147
“The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

What God offers us may not be what we want. It may not be some magic cure for our illness, it may not be some fantastic solution to our finances, it may not be some new sense of power. But what God offers will bind up our wounds and heal our brokenness, if we allow God too. Which reminds me of a story, perhaps you’ve heard it:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between 2 "wolves" inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, insecurity, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith." The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

In the words of our post communion prayer, from the feast at the table, through the love of God, our brokenness can be healed. Here we are fed on God’s love and renewed in God’s grace. From here God sends out from this table to love and serve Christ in the broken places of our world. We are broken, but within that brokenness we have choices. Which wolf will we feed?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Web of a Cup of Coffee


I often think about the way in which we are interconnected, one life to another, in ways we can hardly imagine. I think of movies like, "It's a wonderful life" or "Crash" or "Family Man" (with Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni)....each of these movies reflect the idea of our interconnectedness, each in a different way. My recent visit to Agua Pietra, Mexico raised this concept for me once again. I'm sure there is a lot of synchronicity in the work of C.R.R.E.D.A. - the rehab center - but I am mostly thinking about this after our visit to Just Coffee. Or, as they call it "Just Coffee, Caffeine with a Conscience."

The story of Just Coffee is a story of networking at its best. First there is the Presbyterian church (USA and Mexico)and their combined ministry with the Episcopal Church on the border of the US and Mexico. Immigration on the southern border is so complex that it cannot be simply reduced to "illegalities." Doing so removes all of our (the US) responsibility from the issues. Simply said the issue is financial and has a lot to do with farming, particularly coffee.

I don't really understand, in a comprehensive way, all the economic factors. But what I do understand is that large coffee companies are underpaying coffee growers and reselling coffee at profit margins that benefit the company and not the farmer. As a result farmers are selling their land and moving to cities where they are unable to find jobs. Or they continue to farm their land but have to supplement it with, oh, say, cocaine. Or, they have some family members farm the land while other family members try to come north to make a living and support the family.

Fair Trade Coffee is turning this picture around, and Just Coffee is one example. Supported by Frontera de Cristo, farmers from Chiapas, Mexico are joining together to develop the company and the farms. It all began with one man, Eduardo Perez Verdugo. Eduardo left his home in Chiapas after Hurricane Mitch which followed on the heels of the dramatic fall in coffee and corn prices, all of which undermined the financial structure of his community.

Eduardo migrated 2000 miles north, from Guatemala to Agua Pietra. The year was 1999 and at that time there was still a lot of factory work in Agua Pietra. Eduardo joined the Lily of the Valley Presbyterian Church. After a time of factory work Eduardo was offered a better paying job at a golf course in Phoenix and on Oct. 4, 1999 he migrated, illegally over the border. Not long afterward Eduard was caught by the Border Patrol, having fallen and severely injured his knee. He was sent back to Mexico. No one in his church knew he was planning on leaving. At his return the church rallied around to support him while he recovered from injuries. He told the Pastor, Mark Adams, that "Leaving our land is to suffer." For a coffee farmer, of many generations, leaving his land was to suffer.

Out of that statement blossomed the idea for the Cafe Justo, Just Coffee. First there was a conversation with people in Chiapas investigating the possibility of a coffee growers co-op. From that conversation a large number of the farmers agreed to join. The difference is, 60 cents for a 125 pound bag of unroasted coffee beans paid by the large companies, or $1.38 for the same bag, paid through the co-op. The farmers grow and transport the coffee beans from Chiapas to Agua Pietra, to the little shop in the photo above. In a simple three room facility the coffee beans are roasted, ground or not, bagged, and shipped. They have two roasters, a small one that cost $9000.00 and is electric - and a large one (capable of roasting 40 pounds in 10 minutes) that is electric and gas, that cost $40,000.00 - paid in half by the co-op and half by the Lily of the Valley church.

Now most of the farmers in Chiapas participate in the co-op, making a living wage, keeping families together, and regaining their dignity and self-respect. Changing lives, one cup of coffee at a time. How cool is that?

For more information, or to order coffee, click on the link to Cafe Justo, on this page.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...