Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Spirit of Pentecost

May the dove of peace be with you this day.

May many blessings follow you always.

May the Holy Spirit guide your path, give you strength, and kindle your heart for the journey that is yours -- forever. Amen.
Pentecost icon from Mexico

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hospitality Hospitality Hospitality Hospitality Hospitality

At its core, everything we do in church is about hospitality:

How we include people of all backgrounds and ages in our worship; how we greet one another at the "peace" and after our worship; how we treat strangers who come in the door, whether they are visitors from out of town, or new to our community and looking for a church, or hard up and living on the streets in Charlottesville -- all of it is about hospitality. 

How we treat each other and talk about each other is about hospitality.

How we work outside the parish is ultimately a reflection of our hospitality inside the parish.

From time to time this summer,  I want to explore the theme of hospitality in sermons, on this blog, and in our newsletter. I invite your reflections and comments on what we are doing well at St. Paul's and what we can do better. We don't have to do everything all at once, but we can strengthen our hospitality if we all do this together. 

Recently we started a Welcome Center in the Parish Hall. It has a big banner above it with the Episcopal Church emblem and is staffed on Sundays by members of our Newcomers Friends ministry team. If you would like to volunteer to take a rotation sitting at the table, or join the Newcomers Friends, please stop by the Welcome Center and sign up, or contact me through the office. 

And when you notice someone new, please introduce yourself, invite him/her/them to coffee in the Parish Hall and bring them to the Welcome Center. 

How to know a new person? The ushers are giving out nametags with stars on them to new people and visitors, which means that it is a good idea if you wear your nametag. More on nametags in another post. 

Cartoon by Dave Walker

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I'm not sure if I have run this before, but I rather like it. The week can use a little astonishment, so here is a lovely poem from Mary Oliver. Enjoy...
Mysteries, Yes
By Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Protecting families in the wake of Proposition 8

Recently, the step-mother of a prominent member of our congregation died suddenly. This member of our congregation happens to be gay. His partner of many years, who is also very active in the parish and who considered the deceased his mother-in-law, was unable to take bereavement leave from work. 

That hurt this family deeply. Such is the state of the civil law in Virginia, where only one type of family, between married people of the opposite sex, is recognized. Make no mistake: the civil law matters and has an impact on the everyday life of families.

I'd like to start there in reading yesterday's decision by the California Supreme Court on Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. We ought to be concerned with strengthening families, and to do so we need to recognize that there are a variety of families in our community -- straight, gay, and those with single parents. 

The tragedy of yesterday's ruling is it creates more outcasts in our society when we ought to be working to achieve unity. Inevitably, the decision will be read as affirmation by those who think their type of family is threatened by the existence of other types of families. That is simply wrong and has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Last night, I took the chance to re-read the California Supreme Court carefully (see post below from yesterday for my initial impressions, and for a link to the opinion). The court maintained that even with the repeal of the designation "marriage" for gay people, there remains in place a structure of rights to protect families -- all kinds of families -- in California. 

Nothing remotely close to that exists in Virginia. 

The ruling is likely to please no one. The court appeared to reverse itself from last year when it said that marriage is a right that cannot be confined to one class of adults. Yet yesterday the justices argued that the word "marriage" is simply a designation with no underlying rights. On pages 34-37, the opinion sets up a legal designation for gay unions with all of the rights of marriage as long as it is not called "marriage." Here's the crux of the court's opinion:
The new constitutional provision cannot properly be interpreted as having repealed, by implication, the preexisting state constitutional right of same-sex couples to enter into an officially recognized and protected family relationship except insofar as that preexisting constitutional right included the right of access to the designation of marriage...
[A]lthough Proposition 8 eliminates the ability of same-sex couples to enter into an official relationship designated “marriage,” in all other respects those couples continue to possess, under the state constitutional privacy and due process clauses, “the core set of basic substantive legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage,” including, “most fundamentally, the opportunity of an individual to establish — with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her life — an officially recognized and protected family possessing mutual rights and responsibilities and entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded a union traditionally designated as marriage.”
In other words, if the proponents of Proposition 8 believe they were peeling back all legal protections of gay people, they are wrong. What the court appears to have done is set up a new designation without name for legal unions among people of the same sex. The word "marriage" ends up with an unclear legal meaning.

Not to put to fine a point on this, but such legal verbal gymnastics do not pass the duck test: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck. If it looks like marriage, has all the rights of marriage, isn't it marriage? The California Supreme Court wrote a decision that might work in a law school classroom, but it lacks basic common sense. At best it creates more legal confusion around who is married, who is not, and what marriage legally looks like. There is no doubt that California voters will be asked once again to decide who can and cannot be married.

And that brings me back to Virginia. Yesterday evening, Lori and I joined a gathering of 35-40 people at "Free Speech Wall" in front of Charlottesville City Hall to show our support of our gay brothers and sisters who have been denied the basic right to be married, and to show our opposition to the California Supreme Court ruling. It was one of two demonstrations in Virginia on the issue last night. We then marched up to the federal building and stood with signs for about a half hour. Motorists driving by signaled support, and more than a few quizzical looks.

We were there for a simple reason: It is time that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Virginia are afforded the same legal protections for their families that Lori and I enjoy. Churches may marry whom they wish to marry, but that should have no bearing on our basic legal rights as American citizens.

It is time to protect families in this state. It is the right thing to do.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

California Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8 and gay marriage

As you probably know by now, the California Supreme Court handed up its ruling this morning on Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as between opposite-sex couples. The court ruled that the amendment was valid, but also ruled that the 18,000 same-sex marriages that were performed up until last November remain legally valid. You can read the full decision in Strauss v. Holton by clicking HERE.

I have read the decision, and I am struck by a number of items. In one sense, the court ruled narrowly, saying that its responsibility was confined to deciding whether the voters had amended the state constitution validly: "It bears emphasis in this regard," the court wrote, "that our role is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values."

The court noted that, unlike the U.S. Constitution, amending the California Constitution is relatively easy. There have been only 27 amendments to the federal constitution since 1789 while there have been more than 500 amendments to the state's constitution in barely a century.

Here is where today's ruling gets interesting; the California Supreme Court rested its decision on the premise that Proposition 8 did not, in fact, limit the rights of same-sex couples other than to remove the designation of "marriage" from such unions. The court said that to have limited rights would have been a constitutional "revision," and that the voters cannot do.

The Supreme Court maintained that the legal rights of couples, same-sex or opposite-sex, remain unchanged regardless of whether it is called "marriage." Proposition 8, the court said, left "undisturbed all of the other extremely significant substantive aspects of a same-sex couple’s state constitutional right to establish an officially recognized and protected family relationship and the guarantee of equal protection of the laws."

Yet is that true? Last year, the same state Supreme Court ruled that marriage was so inherently important that it could not be denied couples based merely on their gender or gender preference.

Therein is the crux of the moral, legal and political argument that will continue to take place. Are rights (not privileges) being denied, as the court ruled they were only a year ago? The stories of real human beings must be told -- again. Those with open hearts, I pray, will listen. No church, no member of the clergy, is being forced to perform any kind of marriage ceremony he or she does not agree with. I also pray that those of us who support equal access to marriage will do so in a way that is without rancor, that looks for the best in people, and not their worst, and seeks always to bring healing and reconciliation among all people.

As religious people, as followers of Jesus Christ, I pray that compassion will be our guide. And compassion should bring us to a place of support for those who wish to live in loving, committed relationships called marriage, with the full protection of the law. What would Jesus do?

Seek patience and passion

The remainder of this week promises to be busy. There is much happening in our church and in the world. 

We celebrate Pentecost this Sunday, and I hope it will be a wonderful celebration of God's call to us through the Holy Spirit to be active in the world, listening, working, healing and seeking reconciliation and justice wherever and whenever we can. 

Pentecost is about being the Church beyond the walls of churches, and that means being involved in the messiness of the world.

Today the California Supreme Court will hand up its decision on Proposition 8, the ballot measure that would ban gay marriage. While the decision applies only to one state, many eyes including here will be watching, waiting, praying, and analyzing every word.

Amidst all of this, I thought I would give you a short poem by Maya Angelou today:
Seek Patience
by Maya Angelou

Seek patience
and passion
in equal amounts.

Patience alone
will not build the temple.

Passion alone
will destroy its walls.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day: Let us remember

"As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world," Jesus says in the Gospel of John, the lesson from yesterday.

Another way of saying it might be this: "I have blessed you in the world, and now it is up to you to pass it forward by blessing the world." 

It is an apt message for Memorial Day, as we remember those who have given us their blessing and died in service to our country.
Memorial Day has its origins in the Civil War. It began as a day to honor the dead of both sides. The day was deliberately chosen because it was near the anniversary of the day that our nation was reunified, thus making Memorial Day a reminder that our highest value is not warfare but reconciliation with our enemies.

Following World War I, the dead of all wars were included in Memorial Day. The calamity of World War I was without parallel in world history; no war had ever claimed so many lives globally. There came a growing awareness that the dead of that war -- and every war -- should never be forgotten. The word "Memorial" began to be used in naming public buildings and churches, including our own St. Paul's Memorial Church. The name "Memorial" in our church title was meant to evoke the memory of those who had died in World War I, and to remind us that we should be unceasing in our effort to end all wars. 

Today, let us remember those who have died in war, and remember those who are still dying on battlefields across the globe. Let us remember those Americans who have died for our country, and let us pray for our enemies, and pray that all who are at war may one day find peace and reconciliation.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Newseum: Celebrating journalists and Freedom of the Press

I have not posted in a few days because Lori and I were "off the grid" celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. Thanks to all who sent us by email, Facebook and other means your wonderful good wishes and blessings!

So what did we do for our 20th? What any two news junkies would do if they were in Washington DC: We went to The Newseum. 

This amazing museum is entirely devoted to celebrating The First Amendment and highlighting the role of journalism in a free society. I highly recommend going if you are in our nation's capital. We spent most of the day there -- and while we were there we caught a glimpse from the museum balcony of President Obama in a motorcade speeding down Pennsylvania Avenue on his way to a speech at the National Archives. Yep, we are definitely news junkies.

As many of you know, Lori and I both spent most of our adult lives working for newspapers; I as a reporter and Lori an editor. We met at The Sacramento Bee during its glory years. So our visit to The Newseum was like rummaging around in the family attic. 

We saw newspapers with bylines by friends, and I was moved close to tears by the Pulitzer Prize photojournalism exhibit featuring photography from colleagues with whom we worked, like Don Bartletti of the Los Angeles Times and his series on the "immigration train" in Mexico (one of his photos is featured here). 

Years ago when Don and I worked together at The San Diego Union, we did a series documenting life in the shanty towns along the Tijuana River in Mexico. Don moved onto the LA Times and has continued to document life on The Border, and he won the Pulitzer in 2003 for which he richly deserved.

Also in the photojournalism display are photos from the 1984 Olympics which won the Pulitzer Prize for the Orange County Register. Lori was among the editors on that project, and she shares in the Pulitzer Prize. 

The museum has displays on stories I covered and that was fun to see. The first "big story" I was involved in was in 1976 when I was a stringer for NBC news. I worked primarily for Carl Stern on his series on COINTELPRO, the FBI effort in the 1960s to infiltrate and disrupt anti-war protest groups. There is a great display on that. 

Also featured in the museum are items from presidential campaigns, including 1992 and Bill Clinton. There was even a display of antiquated journalistic hardware, like the Tandy 120, the first generation of true laptop computers we used on the campaign trail that year (actually, the first was the Tandy 80, which we nicknamed "The Trash 80"). The computer memory could hold two 20 inch stories, so you had to erase one story before you could write another.

Elsewhere, the museum has the Unabomber's Idaho cabin in which he made his bombs. I have never seen the tiny plywood cabin until now. In 1996, Cynthia Hubert and I reported on the Unabomber case day after day for The Sacramento Bee, and we scooped the Washington Post and The New York Times for a solid two months running. Alas, none of our clips were on display (those on display were only from the aforementioned newspapers, which I think is major oversight, but what would you expect me to say?). Seeing the cabin was fascinating.

I could go on and on with journalism stories, but I won't. This I do want to impart: it struck home again with me that journalism is a calling. That fact was driven home to me by seeing on display the car driven by Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles on the June day in 1976 when he went to meet a source on Mafia corruption in Arizona. He was murdered by a car bomb planted by his source. Bolles' murder brought about the creation of Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc., in which I was active for two decades. His murderer went to prison.

Reporters like Don Bolles are still on the beat, putting themselves in harm's way all over the globe. The museum has a wall devoted to the memory of journalists killed in the line of duty, and it is moving to see so many familiar faces. Pursuing the news is more than a nine-to-five job. It is a calling to pursue the truth wherever it may lead. We are privileged as a free people to have great journalists still carrying notebooks and cameras, and I am blessed to count many of them as friends.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Twenty years today!

Twenty years ago today, Lori and I stood in the courtyard at St. Timothy's Parish, Danville, Calif., and exchanged our marriage vows. We wanted an outdoor wedding because no roof in a church was high enough to contain our love. The Rev. Carl Gracely presided.

Here we are, two decades later, many miles, many adventures, career changes, many ups-and-downs and many, many great meals. We've moved across the country, and we are still together, our love deepened by all we've shared, all we've seen, and strengthened by the support and prayers from all of you. Would I do it all again? Absolutely. And I look forward to the next twenty, and the twenty beyond that.

I've been wracking my collection of poems all morning looking for the perfect love poem to share here, and I just cannot quite find the right one. We are sharing the day, heading out of town. Unpacking boxes and church business will just have to wait. Today is beautiful.

Blessings to all!


Honoring Bishop Peter Lee

On Monday, Lori and I attended a luncheon in Richmond honoring Bishop Peter Lee, of the Diocese of Virginia, for his lifetime achievements in promoting ecumenical cooperation, sponsored by the Virginia Council of Churches. 

We were delighted to be there, and learned new things about our adopted state, particularly about the forthright work the churches have done together in fighting poverty and racism in Virginia. 

I was especially touched hearing a testimonial by Roman Catholic Bishop Walter Francis Sullivan about Bishop's Lee courage in the face of those who would divide the Episcopal Church over sexuality issues. Also receiving an award was Virginia Governor Tim Kaine; he spoke to the luncheon by video, and talked about his own faith formation in the social justice ethos of Catholicism, and how it has shaped his approach to politics.

The Episcopal News Service story on the luncheon can be read by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How do we know a sin when we see one?

How do we know a sin when we see one? Bishop Dan Edwards of Nevada wrote a brief and insightful commentary on that question this past Saturday on his blog. I highly commend Bishop Dan's blog (his travel commentaries through Nevada are terrific), and reprinted in full below is his essay on sin:

How do we know a sin when we see one?
By Bishop Dan Edwards
A recent letter to our diocesan newsletter chided church leaders for failing to teach that homosexuality is a “sin.” I don’t want to tackle the question of whether homosexuality is a sin or not on a blog. It takes more words and more serious reflection than this medium affords. But it does raise an important question I want to ponder a little. What is a “sin”?

The letter to the editor sparks this question for me because Scripture does not define homosexual acts as sins. Only one specific homosexual act is prohibited and it is described as a ritual purity violation, which is quite a different matter. Ritual purity violations are in the category of planting two kinds of crop in one field or wearing a poly-blend suit, not the category of murder, theft, adultery, and other such moral issues having to do with justice and integrity. But if something is not defined as sin in Scripture, that doesn’t resolve the question. Scripture doesn’t say anything about “enhanced interrogation techniques” (torture), toxic waste dumping, or human trafficking – but I feel certain in my heart that those things are sins. So how do we know if something is a sin?

We get some interesting notions about it. I grew up in East Texas where there were many small denominations of the Free Church traditions. They were divided over whether certain specific acts were sins. Some said all dancing was a sin; others believed only fast dancing was a sin, and others thought fast dancing was ok but slow dancing was a sin. Some believed it was a sin to go to a movie -- ever; others held it was ok to see a film on Saturday night but it would be a sin to do so on Sunday. Some believed smoking was a sin. Others thought smoking was a sin if done by women, but it was ok for men. The there was hair! We had letters to the editor of the Texarkana Gazette arguing that the male hair styles of the 70’s were sin. Others held that it was a sin for a woman to trim her hair at all. (That incidentally is the only one of these notions that actually had a Biblical basis.)

One of the great virtues of the Anglican Tradition, always held, then made explicit during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, is that we are free to disagree about such things, but we don’t divide up over them. We still pray together and love each other as family. It is the nature of families to disagree. That keeps it interesting. But as we disagree, what kinds of arguments can we use? How do we discern right from wrong? How do we engage in moral reasoning?

Scripture may not answer all our questions, but it is our starting point. The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life. So we read our Bible looking for the mind of God and the heart of Christ. “What would Jesus do?” is a solid way to start.

But when Scripture doesn’t give us a clear answer, we have tradition to draw from. That doesn’t mean we are stuck with the morality of primitive times. If so, we would still be practicing slavery and executing people for stealing sheep. Tradition is our warehouse of experience -- what have we learned from the past? Some practices have proven over the centuries to be wise and merciful. Others have done more harm than good. Tradition means we look at our experience and learn from it.

And we use our God-given reason. Logic is part of that. Kant may be out of fashion, but not with me. He demonstrated that there is a rational core to the moral order. His principles of moral reasoning are an essential step: Is this a rule we can apply to everyone? Are we faithful to the rule to never treat another human being as a means to an end, but always as an end in himself or herself. Kant used logic to validate the Golden Rule laid down by Jesus. But there is more to Reason than logic. All we can learn from psychology, sociology, biology, economics, and the whole field of human learning is properly part of our moral reasoning.

So that makes the question of sin something to ponder carefully. It takes a lot of thought and a lot of humility. I have come to the opposite conclusion from the man who wrote the letter about homosexuality. But I deeply respect many people who disagree with me. I just pray that those of us who disagree will study, think, pray, feel, and talk with each other patiently and in good faith. We may have much to learn from each other. That’s how you can tell a community of faith from an enclave of the like-minded doomed by their homogeneity to become small minded.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Monday Funnies

With the summer soon upon us, it is time to take stock a bit of how we are attracting new members, and perhaps look at some successful marketing campaigns. Here's one I thought you might enjoy...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Graduates from Virginia to Merced: Congrats!

We enjoyed the commencement spectacle this morning on our corner in Charlottesville, with graduates, families, and all manner of academic regalia parading down the street. 

Lori and I walked up to Thomas Jefferson's Lawn for a little while to watch everyone streaming from every direction for commencement. This was a commencement like none I have ever seen -- a happy, joyful and wonderful event!

And here is a big Shout Out to the University of California, Merced, the 10th and newest campus of the UC, hosting First Lady Michelle Obama as its first-ever commencement speaker this weekend. UC Merced is located in the Great Central Valley, the most under-served region of California by all public institutions.  

Many scoffed that a University of California could ever be built in the Central Valley, much less graduate a class. This weekend proved the skeptics wrong. Students, parents and supporters sent letters and valentine cards to the White House inviting the First Lady -- and she came to celebrate with them! Click HERE to read The New York Times story. Count me proud to be a native Californian.

Again, congratulations to all graduates everywhere!


Congratulations to all graduates everywhere!

To St. Paul's folls, we have one service today at 8am.

Hope to see you all here tomorrow back in this space for The Monday Funnies.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

An enjoyable morning

We took a time-out from moving this morning to go to two breakfasts. First we joined members of the youth group for the last fund-raiser for their trip to the Pine Ridge reservation this summer.  We filled up on pancakes, then headed to a breakfast hosted by nationally known political scientist Larry Sabato in "Pavilion IV" on the University of Virginia lawn (see photo). 

The pavilion is one of several homes embedded in the "academical village" designed by Thomas Jefferson. Students live in the surrounding one-bedroom chambers up and down the lawn, while prominent faculty live in the pavilions, and it so happens that Professor Sabato is the current occupant of Pavilion IV. We had a delighted breakfast in his garden, chatted awhile, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. 

And, one more reminder: Tomorrow's worship service will be held at 8 am (there will be no 10 am service because of commencement across the street). Okay, back to boxes...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Life on The Corner...

First things first today: Congratulations to all of the University of Virginia graduates!! 

Commencement is this weekend, and we can already feel life slowing down on "The Corner" in Charlottesville.  The photo at right is what it looks like on a typical day in front of St. Paul's.

Yesterday evening Margaret Mohrmann gave a terrific homily about how it is time to find the God of the beach, good books and rest. Amen.

This Sunday we will have only one worship service, at 8 am, because of commencement exercises across the street later in the morning. Do please come at 8 am; we will have a full service with choir, homily and Eucharist. We have a few parking passes we can give to graduates and their families usable for commencement.

As for Lori and Jim, we are moving households today and the next few days. We are decamping from our rental condo and heading to our new place south of town. Lori has already dubbed it "Glebe Cottage." The internet is already up and running at the new place, but I am not sure how active I will be with the posts here until we are settled.

Again, congrats to the grads! Blessings to all. 


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"How yuh doin' you big old walrus?"

We haven't had much poetry here this month, and today is a good day for a poem. Every day is, really. I was looking through my cache of gifts from Karen in Tennessee and came across this. I like it a lot. I hope you do, too:
In Praise of the Great Bull Walrus
by Alden Nowlan

I wouldn't like to be one
of the walrus people
for the rest of my life
but I wish I could spend
one sunny afternoon
lying on the rocks with them.
I suspect it would be similar
to drinking beer in a tavern
that caters to longshoremen
and won't admit women.
We'd exchange no
cosmic secrets. I'd merely say,
"How yuh doin' you big old walrus?"
and the nearest of
the walrus people
would answer,
"Me? I'm doin' great.
How yuh doin' yourself,
you big old human being, you?"
How good it is to share
the earth with such creatures
and how unthinkable it would have been
to have missed all this
by not being born:
a happy thought, that,
for not being born is
the only tragedy
that we can imagine
but never fear.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley

Recently I was asked to write an op-ed piece about my conviction that the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park should be restored (the artwork here is a rendering of what the valley would look like if San Francisco's dam was removed). It is a cause I have been long associated with, and I was happy to share a few words (I wrote this while waiting for recent flight at Dulles). This short piece ran in the San Francisco Examiner Sunday May 10, and I share it with you:

Why the religious community should care about Hetch Hetchy

By: The Rev. James Richardson Special to The Examiner | 5/8/09 4:14 PM

With the dire threat of climate change and with one-third of the planet’s population lacking safe drinking water, it’s a reasonable question to ask: Why care about a relatively small mountain valley in California? 

For those of us in the religious community, it’s especially fair to ask that question given our seemingly stretched resources and the priority extended to alleviating the suffering of the poor. Would we not be better served to spend our resources elsewhere and on some other cause than the effort to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley? 

Let me suggest looking at this differently, and I am speaking primarily to my brothers and sisters in the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other religious communities. It’s a central tenet of faith common to all of our religions that God provides. And God does not provide meagerly, but provides abundantly. God gives us all that we need to heal the sick, bind the wounds of the injured and to care for this planet, our island home. 

Restoring Hetch Hetchy would be a spectacular declaration that we believe in God’s abundance, that we take seriously our calling to be faithful stewards of all God gives us. If we have just enough faith to restore one wounded valley, we can move other mountains — we can reverse global warming, we can clean the watersheds and bring safe water and food to every corner of the Earth.  God provides everything we need to fully heal our planet. Do we really believe that? 

As pressing as large-scale issues like global warming are, we ignore at our peril the smaller-scale issues of environmental restoration. It would be doubly tragic to fail in our efforts at the large issues while also failing to restore the jewels of our planet, like Hetch Hetchy. I believe God calls us to do both. 

Restoring Hetch Hetchy also is about how human beings touch the sacred. We are not the first generation to experience God in the wilderness. The ancient Celts called the mountains and river valleys “thin places,” and Yosemite is certainly one of those amazing  thin places.

John Muir’s Celtic spiritual roots were on full display when he fought San Francisco’s proposal to dam Hetch Hetchy Valley. For the great naturalist, damming the valley was not only an attack on nature, but an attack on God.  

“These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar,” Muir wrote in 1912. “As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.”

The Rev. James Richardson is an Episcopal priest and the former Chaplain of the California state Senate.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Monday Funnies

Recently we've been making needed repairs and renovations to the St. Paul's building and grounds. Pat Punch is leading the effort, and I am much indebted to him for his expertise, dedication, smarts and hard work.

Last Friday a few fixes were made to the pulpit. I thought you might like to see the schematic drawing for the new deluxe updated contemporary pulpit. Thanks to 'toonist Dave Walker...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Poem for Mother's Day

A poem for Mother's Day, thanks to our friend Karen in Tennessee. The icon is called the "Choctaw Madonna and Child." Hope you like it as much as I do. May you have a blessed Mother's Day:
Invisible Work
by Alison Luterman

Because no one could ever praise me enough,
because I don't mean these poems only
but the unseen
unbelievable effort it takes to live
the life that goes on between them,
I think all the time about invisible work.
About the young mother on Welfare
I interviewed years ago,
who said, "It's hard.
You bring him to the park,
run rings around yourself keeping him safe,
cut hot dogs into bite-sized pieces for dinner,
and there's no one
to say what a good job you're doing,
how you were patient and loving
for the thousandth time even though you had a headache."
And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself
because I am lonely,
when all the while,
as the Chippewa poem says, I am being carried
by great winds across the sky,
thought of the invisible work that stitches up the world day and night,
the slow, unglamorous work of healing,
the way worms in the garden
tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe
and bees ransack this world into being,
while owls and poets stalk shadows,
our loneliest labors under the moon.

There are mothers
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world's heart.
There is no other art.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The real story of Mother's Day

I hope you will take the time Sunday to show your appreciation to all of the women who are important in your life, especially your mother (and a prayer for your mother if she is no longer in this world).

It may interest you to know that Mother's Day did not start out as a "Hallmark Holiday." In fact, the first Mother's Day in 1870 was the brainchild of Julia Ward Howe, the author of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and a prominent anti-slavery abolitionist. 

After the Civil War, she borrowed an idea from West Virginia and used her influence to proclaim "Mother's Day" as a statement by mothers against sending their sons off to any more wars. She also saw the day as a celebration of women's civic activism. It was not until the 20th century that Mother's Day became commercialized. 

Below, printed in full, is Howe's proclamation on that first Mother's Day, followed by a terrific essay by Ruth Rosen, a historian from the University of California, Davis, on the history of Mother's Day and what Mother's Day could be. My thanks to Peter Dennison for bring all of this to my attention. May all of the women in our lives have a blessed day!
Mothers' Day Proclamation: Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1870
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!
Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
*  *  *
Mother's Day for Peace
by Ruth Rosen

Honor Mother with Rallies in the Streets.The holiday began in activism; it needs rescuing from commercialism and platitudes.
Every year, people snipe at the shallow commercialism of Mother's Day. But to ignore your mother on this holy holiday is unthinkable. And if you are a mother, you'll be devastated if your ingrates fail to honor you at least one day of the year. Mother's Day wasn't always like this. The women who conceived Mother's Day would be bewildered by the ubiquitous ads that hound us to find that “perfect gift for Mom.” They would expect women to be marching in the streets, not eating with their families in restaurants.This is because Mother's Day began as a holiday that commemorated women's public activism, not as a celebration of a mother's devotion to her family.
The story begins in 1858 when a community activist named Anna Reeves Jarvis organized Mothers' Works Days in West Virginia. Her immediate goal was to improve sanitation in Appalachian communities. During the Civil War, Jarvis pried women from their families to care for the wounded on both sides. Afterward she convened meetings to persuale men to lay aside their hostilities.
In 1872, Julia Ward Howe, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” proposed an annual Mother's Day for Peace. Committed to abolishing war, Howe wrote: “Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage... Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
For the next 30 years, Americans celebrated Mothers' Day for Peace on June 2.
Many middle-class women in the 19th century believed that they bore a special responsibility as actual or potential mothers to care for the casualties of society and to turn America into a more civilized nation. They played a leading role in the abolitionist movement to end slavery. In the following decades, they launched successful campaigns against lynching and consumer fraud and battled for improved working conditions for women and protection for children, public health services and social welfare assistance to the poor. To the activists, the connection between motherhood and the fight for social and economic justice seemed self-evident.
In 1913, Congress declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother's Day. By then, the growing consumer culture had successfully redefined women as consumers for their families. Politicians and businessmen eagerly enbraced the idea of celebrating the private sacrifices made by individual mothers. As the Florists’ Review, the industry's trade jounal, bluntly put it, “This was a holiday that could be exploited.”
The new advertising industry quickly taught Americans how to honor their mothers - by buying flowers. Outraged by florists who were seling carnations for the exorbitant price of $1 a piece, Anna Jarvis’ duaghter undertook a campaging against those who “would undermine Mother's Day with their greed.” But she fought a losing battle. Within a few years, the Florists’ Review triumphantly announced that it was “Miss Jarvis who was completely squelched.”
Since then, Mother’s Day has ballooned into a billion-dollar industry. Americans may revere the idea of motherhood and love their own mothers, but not all mothers. Poor, unemployed rmothers may enjoy flowers, but they also need child care, job training, health care, a higher minimum wage and paid parental leave. Working mothers may enjoy breakfast in bed, but they also need the kind of governmental assistance provided by every other industrialized society. With a little imagination, we could restore Mother’s Day as a holiday that celebrates women’s political engagement in society. During the 1980's, some peace groups gathered at nuclear test sites on Mother's Day to protest the arms race. Today, our greatest threat is not from missilies but from our indifference toward human welfare and the health of our planet. Imagine, if you can, an annual Million Mother March in them nation's capital. Imagine a Mother's Day filled with voices demanding social and economic justice and a sustainable future, rather than speeches studded with syrupy platitudes.
Some will think it insulting to alter our current way of celebrating Mother's Day. But public activism does not preclude private expressions of love and gratitude. Nor does it prevent people from expressing their appreciation all year round.) Nineteenth century women dared to dream of a day that honored women's civil activism. We can do no less. We should honor their vision with civic activism.

Ruth Rosen is a professor of history at UC Davis.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Windsor Listening Process: Report to the Parish

Several months ago, Bishop Peter Lee invited St. Paul's to participate in a pilot project to explore a method of "listening" on the deeply divisive issues of sexuality. I was asked to invite four people to engage in a conversation with four people from St. John the Baptist Church in Ivy. Their conversations would be moderated by a trained facilitator.  

The four individuals from St. Paul's whom I invited to participate were Peter Dennison, Simeon Fitch, Margaret Mohrmann and Mildred Robinson. The wider context for this was the Windsor Report of the Anglican Communion a few years ago recommending that the Communion as a whole engage in a listening process, though no specific process was suggested.

The group began meeting in Lent and their conversations were strictly confidential. The dialogue was not designed to bring consensus on sexuality issues, but allow viewpoints to be heard with respect. The facilitator has written a confidential report to Bishop Lee, who is most interested in knowing whether their method could have a wider application and what adjustments might need to be made. The method itself can be found by clicking HERE.

I am very grateful to Peter, Simeon, Margaret and Mildred for devoting considerable time, energy and commitment to this process, and especially for their courage engaging in a dialogue that required them to be vulnerable with each other and a group from a very different congregation than our own. The four have correctly concluded that to respect the process they cannot answer questions about it.  Instead, our group has prepared a report to the parish. The report will be posted on the St. Paul's website, and I am posting it in full here:
Windsor Dialogue Listening Group
St. Paul’s Memorial Church
Report to the Parish
May 5, 2009

Group Members: Peter Dennison, Simeon Fitch, Margaret Mohrmann, Mildred Robinson

The “Windsor Dialogue Listening Process” is part of a 2008 report from the “R-5 Commission” (appointed by Bishop Lee in 2007). The full report, including the details of the Listening Process format, is available on the Diocese of Virginia website at: HERE.

As part of the pilot program for the Listening Process, twelve parishes throughout the diocese were paired; St. Paul’s was matched with St. John the Baptist, Ivy. Our rector, the Rev. Jim Richardson, and St. John’s vicar, the Rev. Kathleen Sturges, each named four parishioners to the Listening Group. The Group met six times in two-hour sessions from March 8 to May 3, using the Windsor Dialogue Commission designated format, under the guidance of a diocese-trained facilitator.

At the initial session we agreed to “ground rules” for the group that included boundaries, confidentiality, and a commitment to listen carefully and make “I statements.” It is important to note that the stated objective of the Listening Process is neither persuasion nor argumentation, but open and honest communication with the goal of mutual understanding. The process is about listening and sharing, not debate; understanding without requiring agreement. In our experience, the sharing was indeed honest and open, at times intense, and all participants consistently manifested respect and quietly focused attention. As a result, the process was more a series of monologues—with such responses as there were mostly signaling understanding, empathy, and appreciation—than it was a conversational dialogue. Nevertheless, we believe the objective of mutual understanding was indeed accomplished.

According to the R-5 Commission report, the overarching goal of the Listening Process is “discernment of a possible ‘emerging consensus’ with regard to the permitting of ‘local option’ for the blessing of same-gender unions” in the diocese. In no session, however, was this topic among those provided in the format; in none of our meetings was it a subject of discussion. Likewise, there was no provision in any session for direct discussion of scriptural passages variously said to forbid, permit, or support committed same-gender partnerships, nor did that discussion happen. It became clear instead that the Listening Process itself is not directly about those questions, but about all that we each bring to the table when we consider (or debate) the full sacramental inclusion of those among us who are gay or lesbian, not only in baptism and Eucharist, but in matrimony, ordination, and consecration.

Each two-hour session followed a similar format: After an opening prayer, participants responded to an opening statement or question (an “ice breaker” so called, although in most sessions it was considerably more substantive—and difficult—than “ice breakers” generally are). We then spent the majority of the two hours in the “sharing time” segment, in which we responded to specific topics or questions in some depth, with the facilitator ensuring the “ground rules” were followed. The session concluded with a reflective Bible study, in which we read the designated passage through three times, with silence between the readings, and then spoke of connections we saw between the text and what we had been talking about during the session.

In the initial session, we explored what could be called our “spiritual autobiographies,” telling each other our background in and current relation to our faith and to the church; the Bible passage that ended that session was Luke 19.1-7, in which Jesus invites himself to the house of Zaccheus the tax collector. We took this discussion further in the second session, which focused on our experience in our own parish in some detail, including what draws us and keeps us there and whether and why we might consider leaving. For this session, our Bible study centered on Psalm 84, “How lovely is thy dwelling place.” After an hour’s break for supper (scheduling was definitely one of our biggest problems; this was a two-session marathon day), we continued with the third session, in which the focus broadened beyond church to our memories, from childhood on, of experiences in which we felt particularly included or excluded. The biblical text for that evening was Acts 10.1-20, the story in which Peter dreams that God challenges and corrects him about definitions of “clean” and “unclean,” after which he is then called upon to baptize the non-Jewish Cornelius and his family.

The fourth session was the crux of the process, and certainly the most difficult time of “sharing.” The subject was sexuality but, in keeping with the tenor of the process, it was not what we think about sexuality and its possible expressions, but rather our own experience of coming to awareness about sexuality and how our understanding has changed over time. This session is the only one of the six in which we were asked to speak directly about sexuality; the subject certainly arose in other sessions, but only because we knew it was the subtext of the entire process. The concluding Bible study was reflection on Genesis 1.26-31, the first of the two stories about the creation of human beings—the story of male and female created as two facets of androgynous humanity, not the later Genesis 2 story in which woman is fashioned from man’s rib to be a helper to him.

At our fifth meeting, we first talked about what had stayed with us from the previous session, and about whether and how what we heard had affected our views of the current controversy in the church. We then spoke of our hopes for the future of the church, what we think it should look like, and finished with reflection on Matthew 15. 29-37, the feeding of the 4000—in which, as was noted by the group, Jesus creates abundance and Jesus’ disciples are charged with distributing it. The final session was largely evaluative; we spoke of what we had experienced and learned over the previous sessions, and in doing so crafted the report our facilitator would forward to the Bishop. The concluding Bible study was of Acts 2.1-13, the story of Pentecost, when the observers responded to the power of the Holy Spirit in a variety of ways, including bafflement, curiosity, and derision.

The report generated in that session, we learned late in the process, is for the Bishop only and is not to be shared with our own parishes. Together with reports from the other five groups, all of which have now completed their meetings, our responses comprise the results of this pilot study. We have no information, and little basis on which to speculate, about what will now happen in this process or what the Bishop or the R-5 Commission expected or hoped for from it.

When asked, in the final session, what we had learned from the process, our answers were all over the board. In many ways, it was truthful to say we had learned nothing that showed a clear path forward. On the other hand, we learned a great deal about ourselves and about each other. We learned the sweetness of true, heartfelt communication, when trust is present and honesty valued. We saw how a sense of community is born out of that trust, openness, and safety. We learned both how different “Episcopalians” are, and how alike. We learned that, no matter where we stand on issues or what our experiences have been, talking about sex in “I statements” is far from simple; it is both difficult and complex. The complexity of what we all bring to our discussions about sexuality and the church is a very good thing to have learned, casting doubt on simplistic and reductive polarizations, the usual fodder of debates on questions of scriptural interpretation and definitions of justice.

The Listening Process did not, and perhaps is not really designed to, engender or uncover consensus on the issues about sexuality currently troubling the church. However, it seems to us to have rich potential for fostering respect, trust, and love among the members of our diverse diocese, even when we are not of one mind on matters of sexuality. Through this groundwork comes the hope for us at St. Paul’s for a progressive future where all of God’s children are affirmed in their right to the full sacramental blessings of the Church. It is clear that the Holy Spirit is at work in our diocese—we surely covered sacred ground in our courageous sharing and heart-felt listening—yet the work at hand is just beginning. As a group we appreciate the trust and support St. Paul’s gave us as we experienced this process; we now ask you to pray that the Bishop continues this process and to support the work required to make whole our part in the Body of Christ.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

25,000 Pennies from Heaven

This very generous offer comes from our friends and fellow members of St. Paul's, Charles and Joy Perry, and I highly commend it to you:
25,000 Pennies from Heaven

We Social Security recipients have been notified that later this month each of us will receive an extra check for $250 as a gift from the Economic Recovery Act.

Some of us need this money for expenses of living. For others, Joy and I included, this gratuity represents 25,000 Pennies from Heaven. Each of us intends to pass the $250 on to St. Paul's as a gift over and above our annual pledge.

We make this intention public in the hope that a number of our fellow pensioners may wish to join us. You might note on your check to St. Paul's "Pennies from Heaven."

Charles and Joy Perry

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tentative ruling in San Joaquin

The Fresno County Superior Court has indicated it is ready to rule in favor of The Episcopal Church in its property dispute with the breakaway congregations of the Diocese of San Joaquin which have aligned with the Diocese of the Southern Cone (Argentina) and taken church property with them. This is a big step along a difficult path, although we can expect more legal wrangling beyond this. Whether this will have an impact on other cases, it is too soon to tell.

It is my hope and prayer that the congregations who broke with The Episcopal Church will now find a way back, that all involved will find a way to reconciliation, and that those who still wish to leave will amicably settle these property disputes as brothers and sisters in Christ so that mission of the Gospel will be advanced.

Here are the pertinent paragraphs from the trial court in Fresno:
The documents are clear. Only the "Bishop" of the Diocese of San Joaquin has the right to the incumbency of the corporation originally entitled "The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin, a Corporation Sole" and given the number C0066488 by the Secretary of State. Moreover, the Episcopal Church has spoken as to who holds the position of Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin — Reverend Lamb. Defendants challenge Lamb's election as Bishop on procedural grounds such as notice and quorum, but this court has no power to rule on the validity of the Episcopal Church's election of its Bishops.

Both the United States Supreme Court and California courts have held that in the case of hierarchical religious entities the civil courts must accept as binding and defer to decisions by religious tribunals with respect to religious doctrine, practice, faith, ecclesiastical rule, discipline, custom, law, membership, polity, clergy credentials and discipline, as well as religious entity governance and administration....

Accordingly since the Episcopal Church has seen fit to recognize Lamb as the new Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, we must do so as well.

Faiths Act Together: The Story of a Bednet

Today please spend the next 4 minutes and 45 seconds looking at the video below: The Story of a Bednet. You might be able to save lives.

The Episcopal Church is committed to the Millennium Development Goals of shrinking world poverty by 2015. That may sound utopian, but it is not if you consider that a major culprit in world poverty is malaria. More than 1 million people die every year from malaria, and it is preventable. For a few dollars, we can distribute mosquito nets in Africa and Asia, the hardest hit regions of the world. To learn more about what we can do, click HERE, and please have a look at this video: 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Our Youth Group sharing prayers from many traditions

This past fall, our teenage youth group embarked upon an incredible spiritual adventure: they set out to visit a different congregation each month. Associate Rector Janet Legro, our youth leader, called it "Church on the Road." 

The youth visited not just congregations from different brands of Christianity, but congregations from other faiths as well. Our young people came away with a deepened appreciation of how human beings find and worship God in many languages, cultures and customs. This spring our youth group completed their visits, but by no means finished their spiritual journey.

This past Sunday, our youth group led our worship, and we were treated to a series of "Prayers of the People" that borrowed from the congregations our youth group visited. Here below are those prayers, and a few photos of the youth leading our service Sunday. Blessings to all.

Prayers of the People by St. Paul’s Youth

The prayers of the people this morning come from those prayers we experienced when we visited other religious communities in Charlottesville and a Lakota prayer from the communities we will visit in June.

Lotus Prayer from the community at Yogaville 
O Lord, the Light of Lights, Kindly lead us to that Light of Wisdom and enlighten our hearts. Help us experience that Light within and without. Help us see the same Light, the same Spirit dwelling everywhere in everything. 
Lord, in your mercy, hear our Prayer.

Help us recognize the central unity. Help us realize we are Your image, Your children, no matter what the differences are. Let us behold Your Spirit running through all. Give us the strength and courage and capacity to experience that Peace and Joy and share that experience with everyone.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our Prayer.
Help us to get away from these selfish temptations with which we are creating all the differences, all the fights, and all the wars. We have suffered enough due to our ignorance. Please guide us to know our brothers and sisters and to know we are all parts of your family.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our Prayer.

Buddhist Prayer from Tashi Choeling Buddhist Center
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness;
May all be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow;
May all live in equanimity, without too much attachment and too much aversion,
And live believing in the equality of all that lives.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our Prayer.

Muslim Prayer: by Aminah Sharif Goling
In the name of God, the Beneficent and the Merciful, We pray to You peace. Peace that comes from within our hearts, which is authentic. Peace that radiates through out the whole of humanity that brings harmony. Peace that is rooted in understanding one another and sustained through times. Peace that recognizes not only the similarities but also the differences between and among people. Peace, in your Name.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our Prayer.

Christian Prayer from Mother Teresa
Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our brothers and sisters throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands this day their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.

Lord in your mercy, hear our Prayer.

Lakota Prayer from Black Elk, Oglala Lakota
Great Spirit, you are everywhere. You hear whatever is in our minds and hearts, and it is not necessary to speak to you in a loud voice. You lived first and are older than the prayers that are sent to you. All things belong to you. Thus we now send up a voice on behalf of everything you have made.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday Funnies

Last evening, Lori and I went to choir party. We had a wonderful time with the members of our very hardworking and dedicated choir. They are a very creative bunch, and a few had some suggestions for updating some hymns to attract the less committed. Here's the list:
1. A Comfy Mattress Is Our God
2. Joyful, Joyful, We Kinda Like Thee
3. Above Average is Thy Faithfulness
4. Lord, Keep Us Loosely Connected to Your Word
5. All Hail the Influence of Jesus’ Name
6. My Hope is Built on Nothing Much
7. Amazing Grace, How Interesting the Sound
8. My Faith Looks Around for Thee
9. Be Thou My Hobby
10. O God, Our Enabler in Ages Past
11. Blest Be the Tie That Doesn’t Cramp My Style
12. Oh, for a Couple of Tongues to Sing
13. He’s Quite a Bit to Me
14. Oh, How I Like Jesus
15. I Lay My Inappropriate Behaviors on Jesus
16. Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for Me
17. I Surrender Some
18. Praise God from Whom All Affirmations Flow
19. I’m Fairly Certain That My Redeemer Lives
20. Self-Esteem to the World! The Lord is Come
21. Sit Up, Sit Up for Jesus
22. Special, Special, Special
23. Spirit of the Living God, Fall Somewhere Near Me
24. Stick Nearby, It’s Getting Dark Outside
25. Take My Life and Let Me Be
26. There is Scattered Cloudiness in My Soul Today
27. There Shall be Sprinkles of Blessings
28. What an Acquaintance We Have in Jesus
29. When Peace, Like a Trickle. . .
30. When the Saints Go Sneaking In
31. Where He Leads Me, I Will Consider Following
32. God of Taste, and God of Stories
33. Lift Every Voice and Intellectualize
And thanks to Dave Walker for his cartoon with a musical theme, sort of.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spectacular Sunday at St. Paul's

Today was awesome at St. Paul's. Our youth led the service, with prayers and songs and sermons. Later this week I will post their "Prayers of the People," which they took from the various faith traditions from congregations they've visited this year. The energy was huge and the congregation enthusiastic. Thanks to Janet Legro and all the young adults.

Then we had lunch in the parish hall and walked over to open our new Community Garden. The drizzle did not seem to dissuade many from this epic moment. A good 30-plus folks put in the first planting: lettuce and tomato starts, flowers and a few herbs. 

The lettuce starts, incidentally, were donated by Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. We hope the community garden will provide food for the neighborhood and a gathering place building community.

Here are a few photos I took today at the garden. Margaret Haupt is holding the first lettuce start before putting in the ground. Lori has a basil start in her hand. The rest of the photos are self-explanatory. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Come bless our Community Garden Sunday

Tomorrow will be another huge Sunday at St. Paul's. The youth of the parish will lead our worship at 10 am. After worship, I will do a Q&A in the Chapel with anyone who is interested.

Then let me invite you to the opening of our community garden. We will bless the garden at 1 pm. 

This is an amazing project. Although the official opening is Sunday, a dedicated group of parishioners and Canterbury Fellowship university students have been working hard and planning the details for weeks. Earlier this week they began preparing the soil for the Spring planting (the photos were taken Friday). 

Major thanks goes to The Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor for his extraordinary work in casting the vision, corralling our resources and organizing our team to make this a reality. 

The Vestry in April approved the plan and appropriated $2,000 for start-up costs, and several Vestry members have been invaluable members of the planning and planting team. We have also asked for assistance from the Diocese of Virginia, and we welcome the involvement of other Episcopal churches in the vicinity.

This is not just any garden. The location is on Grady and 10 1/2 streets, in a predominantly African American neighborhood. The property owner has invited us to build this garden as a ministry to the neighborhood and has made a five-year commitment to us to allow us to use the property as a community garden. We hope to grow food to give to the food closets in Charlottesville, and build a green place in the neighborhood where people can gather. We still haven't named the garden -- that will come, and ideas are welcome. 

Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine flu and our worship

In recent days I have received many inquiries about the H1N1 swine flu and any special measures we may take to protect ourselves in our worship services. I have monitored various health alerts, and I have consulted with the bishop's office and various colleagues in other churches about measures they are taking. Here is the best advice I can give you and your families:

1- If you or anyone in your family is feeling ill or has immune system issues, please stay home and consult your doctor.

2- If you are well, please come to church to pray for the sick and those who are anxious about becoming sick.

3- Please wash your hands frequently, and wash your hands before coming to church. Please cover your mouth if you need to cough or sneeze, and then wash your hands.

4- You do not need to shake hands during the passing of the peace. A wave of the hand or a nod is perfectly fine.

5- All of the clergy will be using hand sanitizer before distributing communion bread.

6- You do not have to receive wine from the common cup. You can always dip your bread in the cup, or cross your arms when the cup comes by and the chalice bearer will say a prayer (you don't have to shake your head).

Please keep those who are sick in your prayers, and do come to worship as you are able.

"We have seen strange things today."

Jesus asks his inquisitors: What is tougher? Forgiving sins or healing the sick? For good measure, Jesus does both: he heals a leper and forgives his sins, though the man has not asked forgiveness. The inquisitors are baffled and all they can come up with is "We have seen strange things today." The story is in this morning's Daily Office reading (Luke 5: 12-26). The question from Jesus, of course, is meant to toss us off our heels and see the Kingdom of God in ways we do not expect. 

This story and others like it contain another element as well: Reconciliation. Forgiveness comes as a declaration by Jesus that the one who is healed is not only made whole in body, but is reconciled in spirit with the Creator. It comes without the baggage of guilt, but rather as a pronouncement of reconciliation. Healing is not complete without reconciliation. In the months ahead, I plan to explore this theme occasionally in preaching and on this blog.

There is another piece to this reconciliation business: In the Luke story, Jesus tells the healed leper to go to the priest and make an offering. Similar stories elsewhere in the gospels have Jesus telling the healed ones to go to the temple or go back to their villages. Notice that Jesus is telling these folks to go to the very people who rejected them: priests, temple authorities. Jesus looks for reconciliation with the persecutors, he sends them evidence of healing and wholeness in the hope the persecutors will repent -- turn around -- and be made whole. This concept, of course, the inspiration for the Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero and Desmond Tutu. Each confronted the oppressors not with guns, but with reconciliation. And sometimes hearts and minds do change. That is our Hope.

Blessings to all this day.