Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Wisdom of Wilderness

A reflection on the readings for Lent 1B - Mark 1:9-13 (14-15)

  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

One of the great preachers of our time is Dr. Fred Craddock. Craddock tells a story about vacationing with his wife one summer in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One night they found a quiet little restaurant, where they looked forward to a private meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. Before long the man did come over to their table.

  "Where you folks from?" he asked in a friendly voice.

"Oklahoma," Craddock answered.

"Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there," the stranger said. "What do you do for a living?"

"I teach homiletics….," Craddock replied.

"Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a story to tell you." And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife.

"I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born, so I had a pretty hard time. When I started to school, my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and lunch time because the things they said to me cut me so deep. What was worse was going to town on Saturday afternoons and feeling like every eye was burning a hole through me, wondering just who my father was.

"When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the closing prayer so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in the church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me. ‘Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?’ he asked. I felt this big weight coming down on me….Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. ‘Wait a minute!’ he said. ‘I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.’ …‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.’

The old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, "Those were the most important words anybody ever said to me, and I’ve never forgotten them." With that, he smiled shook hands with Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends.

As it turns out, Ben Hooper, was a former governor of Tennessee, a man who did indeed go out claim his inheritance as a child of God.

Ash Wed. invited us to observe a holy Lent. Observing a holy Lent is an invitation for us to explore who we are and whose we are by doing something different. It doesn’t mean we have to literally go into the wilderness as Jesus did in our Gospel reading this morning. But Jesus’ wilderness experience reminds us there is wisdom in knowing when to turn toward a place, a person or a practice that can help us move through the challenges of life, move more deeply into understanding God, Jesus, and our faith. (idea from Jan Richardson, A Painted Prayerbook)

The Ash Wed. Services reminded us that we are to observe a holy Lent by doing the following:
Self-examination
Repentance
Prayer
Fasting and self-denial
Reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

Self-examination means that we pay attention to our lives. That we become mindful of our actions and words, and more intentional in acts of love and compassion as a means to grow deeper in our relationship with God.

Repentance: Repentance literally means turning away from anything that keeps us from God. Repentance comes from being mindful of how we have tended to our relationship with God, how we have cared for others, and how we have treated our-selves.

Sin: Essentially sin is broken relationship in all its forms – broken with our family and friends, broken with our neighbors, broken with strangers…broken because we stop caring. Sin is also broken relationship with ourselves – the ways we berate ourselves and tell ourselves we are not worthy of God’s love, even when God tells us over and over that we are truly worthy.

Prayer: Our prayer does not need to be perfect, nor poetic, nor grand. Prayer is simple. We offer ourselves to God - in words or in silence– like sitting with a friend. Often times it is enough that we just sit down for a few minutes and say, “God, here I am.” And then be silent.

Fasting and self-denial – these speak to a process by which we empty ourselves of the stuff of life and open ourselves to God. Fasting may be from food or drink – but it also may be from simply being too busy. Imagine your Lenten discipline being a fast from busyness.

Reading and meditating on God’s holy word: Our scriptures offer us a wide range of human experiences with God. And from the stories and experiences of the people in our scripture we learn that we are members of a community of people who struggled with their faith. And yet, these are a people who have been loved by God for being who they are - who we are.

But it’s not just about what we are doing; it is also about what God is doing. Observing a holy Lent is about enabling ways to invite God into our lives anew. God draw us into a place where we don’t know everything, don’t have to know everything. And thereby we become free to receive the word, the wisdom, the clarity about who we are and what God is calling us to do.

Our worship space is one way we are connecting ourselves, our worship, to the season of Lent. Our space reflects this symbolically in the use of dried branches, pussy willow, and dried sunflowers– all signs of the middle of winter, seemingly lifeless and barren, the wilderness, acknowledging that sometimes life feels this way too.

 The color purple – a color of royalty reminds us that the love of God, “God’s kingdom,” is made manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The rocks in our worship space and in the baptismal font symbolize the ruggedness of our journey, the challenges of our faith. The water that symbolically flows from these rocks reminds us that God pours God’s self out for us.

This living water represents the love of God which flows forth at all times. And for Christians it is the living water that gives us new life in Christ and names us as God’s. Baptism is the beginning of the relationship.

Lent is an invitation to be mindful of the relationships we have with God, with others, and with ourselves, and become more intentional in the way we love. Lent invites us to turn our hearts and minds to God in a new way in order that we can more fully understand who we are and whose we are: created by God, loved by God, made good to do good.

It is a paradox that in the wilderness we find our true home. For it may be that in the wilderness of a Lenten journey we become more mindful of what we are doing and saying, striving for greater compassion in all ways. May we take time each day to pray, silently or with words. May we fast from that which keeps us from God. May we ponder God’s living word. May God’s love flow like water in and through our the wilderness of our lives.

Friday, February 24, 2012

RevGals Friday Five: Empty


Sally, over at the RevGals offers this Friday Five
I have been pondering this Friday Five over and over in my mind, but I am coming up with nothing, so I am wondering; what do you do when you feel empty of all creativity and unable to make/do anything? This is a completely open question, the only rule is name 5 things that fill/ inspire you
1. Reading often inspires me
2. Clergy conferences and other learning opportunities can offer me ways to "fill the well"
3. Walking can stir my thought process when ever I feel blocked
4. Engaging other people and inviting them into the creative process
5. Meditating and spending time in silence often moves me in interesting directions

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Morning Musings

A week from today I will be on my way to New York City to attend my second United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Last year I learned a great deal from attending this event and the many paralle events offered by hundreds of NGO's. This year I will offer two workshops as parallel events sponsored by the Episcopal Church Center. Both workshops pertain to the WordsMatter Expansive Language Project.

One workshop is for the young adults who are coming as the Episcopal Delegation of Young Adults to the United Nations. We will spend 5 hours sharing stories and engaging the conversation guide process. (More about the WordsMatter Project go here This, and other articles on the WordsMatter.Episcopal blog discuss the project and the UNCSW). The second workshop will be offered on Thursday, March 1 from 10am to 11:30am and will be open to the public, although regisration is necessary.

For a full listing of all the NGO parallel events offered at the UNCSW go here NGOCSW. The events begin on page 7. The photographs are awesome, and the book gives a fuller picture of how amazing this event really is.

Tomorrow I plan to burn the palms to make ashes. I've purchased a firepit and hope the weather holds to burn them outside without too much complication from the predicted rain and snow mix. It doesn't take long to burn them. I've written a short prayer around the burning of the palms and invited people to come and participate. I have also created a short prayer for blessing the pancake supper which follows the burning of the palms. We've "decorated" the church for Lent and, aside from burning the palms and making ashes, we are ready for Ash Wednesday.

For Lent I plan to follow two Lenten prayer sites: wordsmatter and Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. And we will have a wonderful program at the church, shared with our sister congregation, St. Paul's Lutheran. That's what I'm up too. What about you?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Transformed in Mystery

A reflection on the readings for Last Epiphany, The Feast of the Transfiguration: 2 Kings 2:1-12, Mark 9:2-9

A delightful video appeared on the news Saturday morning. The story told of a couple of young men in St. Pete Beach, Florida, who were wakeboarding – water skiing on a single board, without the accompanying ropes, in the wave created by a speed boat – one young man was filming the other as he skied.
Suddenly two dolphins appeared, leaping high out of the water then diving back in. The dolphins raced along in the wave near the man skiing, with a playful intentionality, with no other purpose than to have fun. And then quite easily the dolphins caught up with the speed boat, astonishing everyone who watched.

The video is pure delight – catching the dolphins in and out of the water – simply playing. Moments like these, when the beauty of nature breaks into the world of human beings, surprising us and delighting us, are mystical moments. Caught by surprise mystical moments burst open our sense of life and give us a new, deeper understanding of what is possible. Mystical moments point us to God, and the reality that there is so much more to this world than we normally see.

Mystical moments of the in-breaking of God are what we hear in our scripture readings this morning. In the reading from 2 Kings we have the story of Elisha and Elijah. These two prophets are well known in Hebrew stories as the prophets who point the way toward the coming of the Messiah. The story of Jesus’ transfiguration in the presence of Peter, James, and John, like the story of the ascension of Elijah, is meant to break open our understanding of who God is, how God works in the world, and invite us into a deeper relationship with God.

No doubt mystical moments, when we are able to perceive them as such, sustain and deepen our faith. But more often we live in a world of skeptics, or as Mark is fond of saying, a world in which we fail to see God’s presence around us.

The Huffington Post Religion page had an article on Saturday by Diana Butler Bass. Bass was reflecting on her latest book, “Christianity After Religion, The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.” Bass writes:

Something startling is happening in American religion…
…In 1999, when survey takers asked Americans "Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious," ….54 percent responded that they were "religious but not spiritual." By 2009, only 9 percent of Americans responded that way. In 10 years, those willing to identify themselves primarily as "religious" plummeted by 45 percentage points.

In the last decade, the word "religion" has become equated with institutional or organized religion. Because of crises such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Roman Catholic abuse scandal, Americans now define "religion" in almost exclusively negative terms.

….There may be hope, however, regarding the future of faith. Despite worry about the word, "religion," Americans are extremely warm toward "spiritual but not religious" (30 percent) and, even more interestingly (and perhaps paradoxically), the term "spiritual and religious" (48 percent). While "religion" means institutional religion, "spirituality" means an experience of faith. Large numbers of Americans are hankering for experiential faith whereby they can connect with God…”

"Americans are searching for churches -- and temples, synagogues, and mosques -- that are not caught up in political intrigue, rigid rules and prohibitions, institutional maintenance, unresponsive authorities, and inflexible dogma but instead offer pathways of life-giving spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation, and doing justice in the world..” (Huff Post Religion, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012: Diana Butler Bass)

I find this excerpt from Bass’ article intriguing because it segues with the vestry discussions from our retreat last weekend. Focusing our work on the idea of discipleship as a call from God that asks us to “go and do” we pondered the ways in which Christ Church is offering people a place to experience the presence of God, both in worship and in moments outside of Sunday morning worship.

Take for example all of the people who come through our doors for AA meetings, martial arts, the League of Women Voters, the AAUW, the Moms Take-A-Break group, Zumba class, stretching class, Creating Hope International, and Sekeena’s work with women and girls in Afghanistan, the many people who came here for the Alternative Holiday Market, the boy scouts and girls scout troops, and Chapel Day pre-school – as just a few examples of the many ways this building offers people a place to experience the presence of God simply by the ordinary work they do each and every day – whether or not an experience of God is a primary focus and intention of the group. Part of our mission is to function as community center for these many groups that meet here.

Another part of our mission is help people become formed in their faith. Christianity is not intended to be a solo faith experience - rather it is intended to be a community experience. Scripture reminds us that our faith is nurtured when we gather to pray, celebrate, and sing. Our faith is nurtured when we develop a language of faith which can articulate our experiences of the profound in-breaking of God’s presence. Even as we are called to do this, gather, worship, be formed, and share an experience of God, we are also called to go out and do. Jesus makes that perfectly clear to Peter when he tries to limit and contain Jesus on the mountain top. No Jesus says, let’s go! And so a third part of our mission at Christ Church takes place out in the world around us. This is our work in soup kitchen and homeless shelters, and building wells in Africa.

The vestry’s work over the next year will include telling our story at Christ Church and the wonderful ways we encounter the mystery of God and share that mystery with others.

Lent, which begins this week, is a season that journeys through mystery and transformation: mystery of what God is doing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; and the transformation that is the result of God’s in-breaking Spirit.

Lent is distinctive and beckons us to take notice. Like other seasons our worship space will be transformed. Members of the worship planning committee and other parishioners are busy creating the look and feel of Lent for us. Flowers will be replaced with bare branches and rocks, startling but symbolic of the season. Lent is a season of ash and dirt, bearing an earthy quality. Our Lenten bread will be a hardy rye, wheat, and bulgur. Our Lenten communion wine will be a dry burgundy. Our Lenten vessels will be glass, the color of Lent is purple. Our worship will invite us to engage our senses of sound, smell, touch, sight – to reflect on the ways God is present in ordinary ways – in life and death, in simplicity and solemnity.

Part of our mission as people of faith is to engage in creative energy. Lent will stimulate our senses in a particular way. Lent invites us to use our imaginations, and to be attentive to the ways God is breaking into our lives. Lent invites us into the mystery of death and life. Into the mystery of examining the ways we are broken and the ways God breaks in and heals us.

For God’s presence is essential to our lives, like breathing – in and out, willingly and unwillingly, consciously and unconsciously, we breathe and go on breathing – and so it is with God – always present whether we know God’s presence of not, filling our lives with God’s sustaining love, whether we know it or not. Inviting us to be playful, like dolphins in the waves, in a faith journey that engages all our senses and imagination. The great season of Lent is upon us. May it be a mystical journey of faith.

Friday, February 17, 2012

RevGal Friday Five: Freedom!

Jan, over at RevGals has recently been released from six weeks of wearing a sling to allow her shoulder to heal after surgery. As a result she is experiencing a new sense of "Freedom" and offers this Friday Five:

1. physical - six years ago I suffered from a terrible infection that landed me in the hospital for eleven days followed by nine weeks of antibiotics four times a day via self injected pic line. Being released from that pic line was a similar sense of freedom as Jan expresses.

2. spiritual - spiritual freedom. Curious. I could probably go in many different directions with this one, but given the short amount of time I have this morning, I'll go with the first thing that pops into my mind. Here in Dearborn we live in an active, intentional, interfaith city. I like that, it reflects the best of what this country has to offer and enables me to grow more deeply in my faith through relationships with other faiths.

3. emotional - this kind of freedom comes, I think, through doing the good hard work to understand what motivates me and what I do to undermine myself - those "old tapes" if you will, that can be destructive, fear filled, stifling. The more work I do to grow and be emotionally healthy the more "freedom" I experience.

4. vocational - working within a hierarchical church system enables a peculiar kind of freedom, but also, limitations. So, within the freedom I have I enjoy my vocation and find it gratifying. I often appreciate the structure, which I usually experience as useful, although there are occasions when the structure becomes destructive if we don't all do our best to function with healthy boundaries.

5. relationships - In some regard social media has opened up a whole new world of relationships for me. I maintain a regular connection with people from high school, earlier careers, and people I've become friends with, but have never met. It certainly seems like a wonderful sense of freedom!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

As You Go

In preparation for our retreat last weekend the vestry and I read Peter Steinke's book, A Door Set Open. In the book Steinke places significant emphasis on "Mission."

Our retreat was led by Jim Gettel a consultant who has worked with me in the past. I find Jim's approach to leadership, scripture, faith, discipleship, and mission inspiring.

I have pondered mission for the better part of the past eleven years. What does mission really mean?

I began my journey pondering mission with books by Diana Butler Bass: From Nomads to Pilgrims and Christianity for the Rest of Us. Her work has been transformational for me, and has inspired much of the work I have done in congregations.

Nonetheless, I have found a need to have someone who remains outside the congregation, someone not me guide the leadership through the work needed to move into a missional mode. It's not that this work is impossible for a priest/rector/pastor to do. It's just that as a solo priest/pastor I am pulled in many directions and stretched thin, which makes it difficult to maintain momentum in building a missional focus.

Jim guided us, using scripture, through a series of reflections on what it means to be a disciple - to follow Jesus. Much of his focus is linked to this idea, found in A Door Set Open, referring to David Bosch's book, "Transforming Mission." Steinke writes:

The Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20, was not understood to be primarily about mission until the early nineteenth century. Before then, the verses were read as part of the rite of baptism. Biblical scholarship has revealed that the mandate "God!" is not in the original Greek. It is a participle - "GOING." The translation would be "as you go."...as you live, as you go about your daily work, as you move to new settings, as you join or create new communities of discipleship's, as you fulfill your vocation as a follower of Jesus - you shall be witnesses.

But, still I wonder, "What is mission?"

Steinke continues:

Mission is the nature of the church, not some list of qualifiers. Because God has a mission, a church arises. Apart from mission, the church is meaningless. The mission has churches....the word mission means - "sending." ....Missiologist David Bosch write, 'Mission is the church sent into the world to love, to serve, to preach, to teach, to heal, to liberate.'

Using the reading of the Good Samaritan, Jim asked us to think about "Who helped," and "Who is our neighbor?" Of course help came from the one who was not bogged down by the "law," nor by the one locked into doing things according the status quo, but by the one who acted out of compassion and love, the stranger, the foreigner, the one willing to "do."

Mission is the church willing to do: to love God and to love neighbor, to love with abundant hospitality.

Our next step is to figure out just what it means "to do." In particular, what we are to do.

This Sunday the readings from scripture will focus on the transfiguration of Jesus. In this reading Peter wants to stay put, to build three tents, to keep everyone right they are.

But Jesus says that staying put is not what we are called to do. We are called to Go. And as we go, we are called to love. To go and love as God loves, generously, graciously, compassionately, completely.

This, then, is what is meant by mission. Going, and, loving as we go.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Healing, Called to Serve

A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 5B, Mark 1:29-39

Five and half years ago I suffered a life threatening 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 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 an infectious disease specialist. At first the hospital attempted to cure me with IV antibiotics. But 48 hours later, with the infection increasing, 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 my drugged state I had this sense that I had been parked in a hospital version of a mechanics garage – the hospital equivalent of a Jiffy Lube stall. I waited there for nearly 90 minutes, while they prepared the operating room. A big clock hung on the wall, literally reminding me just how slow time can pass. It was a very surreal time for I was in both profound pain and profound peace. I just gave myself over to God, trusting that one way or another everything would be all right.

As we hear in our Gospel this morning, Peter’s mother in law is sick with fever. Having a fever was no small matter in the ancient world – people knew that there were many causes of illness and that fever carried with it a high potential for death. Then, Jesus comes into the home and into her room, and heals her. Upon which she immediately rises from the bed and begins to serve her guests. “Being raised up” is how the Gospel describes this healing, using a verb, egerio, that is common in the Gospel of Mark. This verb suggests that a new strength has been imparted to an individual laid low by illness in order that they can rise up and take their place in the world.

Think about that – a new strength imparted to one laid low by illness in order that they can rise up and take their place in the world.
The Gospel tells us that this is exactly what Peter’s mother in law did – she rose up from her illness and began to serve them. It was after all her home and her calling, as the matriarch of that home, to tend to her guests. The same verb “To serve” is used in Mark to describe both the actions of the mother-in-law AND the actions of Jesus – both are called to serve in the same way. It’s a calling from God, and it brings with it a sense of the holy. This same verb is used to describe the ministry of the disciples, too. But in the Gospel, this woman, this mother, is the first character who is described with these verbs – making her the first disciple, one who is doing God’s work in the world by serving others.

Following this story about the mother in law we find Jesus healing many others. Not everyone, mind you, is healed, but many are. We see Jesus in action, serving others, as an agent of God’s healing love in the world. You might say that the door of the woman’s house, where she was healed, becomes the doorway where all in the city are healed.

It’s all kind of ordinary, the way the woman serves and the way Jesus serves, and the way in which healing occurs. Ordinary, and yet, extraordinary, because healing comes from God, and is an expression of God’s power, grace, love, mercy, and compassion.

And so, healing is one thing, being cured is another. Not everyone who is healed is actually cured of illness and disease. But in and through the grace of God, deep and profound healing can take place, even in and within the course of an illness. Even a chronic illness or a terminal illness can become the means by which a person finds healing.

Being cured means that the symptoms of the illness are gone and one can resume one’s every day activities. Being healed means that regardless of the illness and symptoms one finds a sense of peace and wholeness, a sense of being complete and held in God’s love, one can be healed even when one remains ill. Anyone who lives a life with a chronic illness understands what this means. Healing allows us to reclaim our vocation, our calling from God, to serve God, to tend to people as God’s hands and heart.

One of the primary ways we access the healing that God offers is through prayer. I’m not really talking about prayer where we plead with God for healing, nor prayer where we bargain with God – although I am sure God accepts our prayers however they come from us. But there is a particular way that healing comes when we pray as Jesus did, in silence and stillness.
Scripture helps us understand that we are called to stillness, to pray, to reflect - Remember Isaiah’s promise, “those who wait for God…shall run and not be weary, shall walk and not faint.” God calls us to be still, to wait, to reflect on our lives, and then to trust in God, in God’s steadfast love. Jesus takes time out for stillness, to pray, to reflect and from it he finds his direction. The stillness, the prayers, point us to see our lives as they really are. We are more than the illness in the body. We are more than the suffering in the body. We are more than the fear and more than the pain. We are loved by God and that makes us more than anything that tries to hold us down.

One of the primary purposes of Sunday morning worship is to offer us this time for stillness and prayer, a time to be lifted up out of the concerns of our lives and be reminded of who we are and whose we are. We hear this affirmed in our scripture readings, in our prayers, and in the Eucharist - a reminder that our brokenness is healed and renewed, over and over, through the grace of God’s love. Through the praying of these prayers a new strength is imparted onto us, and our illnesses are laid low, in order that we may rise up and take our place in the world. Sent out into the world in peace to love and serve God.

I will with God's help....uncomplicating the complicated

I was baptized when I was nine years old. I have vivid memories of the baptism itself, of being terrified, as I was fully immersed three ti...