Monday, August 31, 2009

The Monday Funnies

It is the Dog Days of Summer, and the jokes are getting a bit thin. The joke bank is definitely depleted, but here we go anyway. Welcome to the Monday Funnies, and have a good week...

10. There's a case of bottled water beside the pulpit in a cooler.

9. The pews have camper hookups.

8. You overhear the pastor telling the sound man to have a few (dozen!)
extra tapes on hand to record today's sermon.

7. The preacher has brought a snack to the pulpit.

6. The preacher breaks for an intermission.

5. The bulletins have pizza delivery menus.

4. When the preacher asks the deacon to bring in his notes, he rolls in a
filing cabinet.

3. The choir loft is furnished with La-Z-Boys.

2. Instead of taking off his watch and laying it on the pulpit, the
preacher turns up a four-foot hour-glass.


1. The minister says, "You'll be out in time to watch the super bowl" but
it's only August!
And our Dave Walker cartoon is a repeat, but I love it!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Washing of Hands

Barbara Crafton is back from her year in Italy, and she has not missed a beat in her daily meditations from her "Geranium Farm." She sent this one Saturday, meant to go along with today's biblical readings. Have a look, and you can sign up for her "almost daily" emails by clicking HERE. And here is her meditation for today...
The Washing of Hands
By Barbara Crafton

For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it.
-- Mark 7:3-4

Often, people who want our religion to be more logical than it is will maintain that the dietary laws and cleanliness codes of ancient Israel were about sanitation. They try to argue that shellfish were forbidden to the Hebrews because they are dangerous without refrigeration, or that the injunction against boiling a kid in its mother's milk was really a practical response to the problem of unpasteurised dairy products.

This is unlikely. They were a means of maintaining Israel's separateness, not her cleanliness. To this very day, observant Jews and Muslims shape their daily life around their strictures. Most will tell you that they do not find the rules onerous: rather, they find them reassuring. Through them, they connect with the past of their people, and they connect to God through them, as well. Whatever their orgins, rules can help people to be who they are.

So the Israelites' handwashing was not primarily about sanitation. But we do now know, as they could not know then, that simply washing one's hands is one of the largest factors in the prevention of disease. Worldwide, diarrhea kills more children under the age of five than any other cause -- ten million will die of it before the year is over, the vast majority of them in developing countries. Children's bodies are small: it doesn't take long for an infection to overwhelm them. But educating mothers and village leaders in developing countries in very simple practices -- washing hands thoroughly before food preparation, before eating, after using the the toilet. Along with mosquito netting and medicine, Episcopal Relief & Development trains village volunteers to educate each mother in a village in this simple thing -- the washing of hands, to save her children's lives.


To learn more about ER&D or to make a donation, visit or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Welcome University of Virginia students! Please join us for dinner Sunday evening

This Sunday evening we renew a great tradition at St. Paul's: Complimentary dinner for university students.

If you are a University of Virginia student, please come to our 5:30 p.m. worship service (it is brief), and then come to dinner in the lounge. Dinner is free, and the company and conversation terrific. No commitment is necessary, but this is a great way to meet other students. We would love to see you! For more information, please contact The Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor at:

During the week, we offer much else for students worth checking out. On Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. is our Taize service, a simple prayer service with chanted singing led by students. Our Canterbury Fellowship group meets on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.

St. Paul's is located on "The Corner" just across the street from the Rotunda. And you are always welcome to join us Sunday mornings at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Please come as you are, with your questions, your faith and your doubts. We would love to see you!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Saints of Summer: Augustine of Hippo

Today is the feast day of one of the major figures of Christianity: Augustine of Hippo, about whom almost as many pages have been written as about Jesus of Nazareth and St. Paul. Augustine looms so large, and his shadow so long, that it is impossible to talk of him without bringing up debates that are as alive today as they were 1,600 years ago.

Augustine (354 to 430, bishop in North Africa), did as much as anyone to shape the theology and ethos of western Christianity. The arguments that rage today in the church are echoes of the fourth-century conflicts in which he was so central, and which were never fully resolved.

Truthfully, Augustine gives us a mixed bag. It was Augustine who interpreted the Adam-and-Eve story as an allegory for original sin, elevating that story for Christians in importance above the Abraham saga that is foundational to Judaism. A piece of our Jewish roots was lost, and not for the better. Augustine rendered sex into the original sin, and you can connect the dots from that to all of the arguments we have today over sexuality. He also explored the idea of predestination and came up with a double-predestination concept that puzzled his contemporaries at least as much as it might puzzle us.

Yet I would give you another picture of Augustine that is worth exploring. He was the first to write a spiritual autobiography, Confessions of a Sinner, and it is still readable today (there are several new translations). He left us hundreds of sermons and major books. Most spectacularly, Augustine explored the meaning of grace, and how grace comes to us free of charge whether we deserve it or not. Augustine was accused of preaching "cheap grace" by those who believed we needed to earn God's favor. Augustine stood firm that grace is a gift of God and not anything we can control. And he preached how we are called to bring heaven to earth -- the city on a hill. Central to Augustine was Christian hope for a better world.

Augustine battled the Donatists, a north African movement that preached that only the pure could be in the church. The Donatists never conceded the point, and they never went away. We see echoes of Donatism today among those who feel the church needs to purge itself of those people who are considered impure or unworthy. Augustine and his arguments remain as relevant today as they were 1,600 years ago.

If you want to know more, I highly recommend Garry Wills' short biography, Saint Augustine, in the Penguin Lives series. For a longer scholarly treatment, Peter Brown's biography, Augustine of Hippo, published by the University of California Press, is still a masterpiece.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Saints of Summer: Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle

Thomas Gallaudet (1822-1902) and Henry Winter Syle (1846-1890) were pioneers in the education and inclusion of the deaf in the life of The Episcopal Church. Galladet, born in Connecticut, followed in his father's footsteps as an educator of the deaf.

Thomas (in the color image) was not deaf, but his wife, Elizabeth was deaf. He was ordained in The Episcopal Church, and established St. Ann's Church in New York with worship services primarily in sign language.

One of Gallaudet's students, Henry Winter Syle (black and white photograph) became the first deaf person ordained an Episcopal priest. Syle, born in China, educated in Gallaudet's school, was encouraged by Gallaudet to seek ordination. Syle went on to establish his own congregation for the deaf.

The work and witness of Gallaudet and Syle are great reminders that our church has long sought to include all of God's children at the Holy Table. We follow giant footsteps as we continue their work.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Health care reform and the faith community: 40 days for Health Care reform

Last week, President Obama spoke with faith leaders via a conference call about his vision for health care reform. There is considerable misinformation about the issue floating on the airwaves and on the internet, and scare tactics abound. I was unable to connect to the call -- "all circuits are busy" -- nor could I connect via a webpage, but at the bottom of this posting is an account of the call.

I would ask that those reading this blog not succumb to the politics of fear. I would especially ask those who consider themselves to be Christians to remember that Jesus said over and over "Do not be afraid." Our mission is to bring healing and hope to this world, not fear and division. Healing is what we are about, and that means we cannot avoid being involved in this health care reform debate.

Those of us who spend time visiting patients know how much our health care system needs fixing. For the uninsured, the emergency rooms become clinics, at great expense. Even those with health insurance are stymied in receiving treatment for life-threatening illnesses because of decisions by insurance providers. A friend of mine with cancer spent her last days battling her insurance company over its denials of treatment. She was economically destitute by the time she died.

Those who are anxious about government-sponsored health care are right to be concerned. Government (i.e., The Congress) may yet botch this. But I would point out that those who say they want no government health care may have forgotten how Medicare takes care of millions of people effectively. Medicare is such a part of our national landscape that we've all but forgotten it is a government program that works.

Episcopal News Service covered the call with President Obama, and here is the account, complete with links to other related websites:

Obama, religious leaders urge people of faith to participate in health care reform

[Episcopal News Service] President Barack Obama urged people of faith to knock on doors and spread the facts and the truth about health care reform during "40 Minutes for Heath Care Reform," an August 19 telephone call-in and webcast.

"Time and again men and women of faith have helped to show us what is possible when we are guided by our hopes and not our fears. That's what you have done before; that's how we were able to succeed in establishing social security and Medicare and bring about justice through the civil rights movement," Obama said. "That's what you can do again today to help us achieve quality affordable health care for every American."

An estimated 140,000 people of faith participated in the national conference call/webcast with the president and the faith community. Sponsored by more than 30 religious denominations -- including the Episcopal Church -- and organizations that cut across race and religious tradition, the call helped launch the "40 Days for Health Reform" campaign aimed at mobilizing people of faith to press Congress to finish work on health care reform when they return after Labor Day Recess.

"I am deeply concerned with all the shouting, the fear and even the hatred we are now hearing, we are in danger of losing the moral core of this debate, which is that many people are hurting as a result of a broken system," said Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, which approaches faith, politics, and culture from a biblical perspective.

"This call shows how united the faith community is around the moral principal of accessible, affordable quality care for every American, for all of God's children. Tonight we are calling on the people of faith to make our political representatives understand that the faith community will be satisfied with nothing less than accessible, affordable health care for all Americans."

40 Minutes participants shared their personal experiences with health care at the start of the conference. Karla Carranza, a 15-year-old who attends Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado, shared her family's story. Carranza's mother works cleaning houses and her father works in the meat department of a grocery story. The family lost their Medicaid coverage because Carranza's parents combined income exceeded the Medicaid limit by $6. Carranza is going without treatment for scoliosis, and her mother cannot afford medications to control diabetes, tendonitis and high blood pressure and cholesterol.

"I don't want my mom to die," she said. "I want my parents to be there as I grow up. I want them to meet my children and for them to see me reach my goals in life. I don't want to grow up without my family's support."

Melody Barnes, the Obama Administration's domestic policy director, answered questions from the faith community, including one from Deacon Jo Glasser from the Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Glasser said that people in her diocese are concerned that reform means a government take over of health care, and others are concerned that without a strong public option Americans will be at the mercy of the insurance industry. "What is the president's position and how will it affect people in my diocese?" she asked.

Like people everywhere, Barnes said, members of the Diocese of Eau Claire are likely watching their wages fall while their health care costs rise. The proposed heath care reform would decrease heath care costs and end "sweetheart deals" for insurance companies, creating and effective and efficient system that provides better care, Barnes said.

"I would say that health reform is at the crux of being a faithful steward of our resources," she said.

Obama addressed the moral dimension of the health care debate, recognizing the important role of the faith community in finally achieving health care reform.

"I know we have thousands of people on this call from many different denominations and faiths but the one thing that you all share is a moral conviction. You all know that this debate over health care goes to the heart of who we are as a people," he said. "I believe that nobody in America should be denied basic health care because he or she lacks heath insurance and no one in America should be pushed to the edge of financial ruin because an insurance company denies them coverage or drops their coverage or charges fees they can't afford for care that they desperately need."

Obama used the conference to correct some of the misinformation that has plagued the national debate.

"If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. Nothing that we are doing obligates you to choose any plan other than the one you have. If you like your doctor you can keep seeing your doctor," he said. "We are not going to interfere with that. I don't want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care, but I also don't want insurance company bureaucrats meddling in your health care … and that's what health insurance reform is all about."

Obama also address the so-called "death panels," calling the idea "an extraordinary lie." There is a provision in the House bill that provides Medicare reimbursements for counseling to set up a living will and advice on other end-of-life decisions, he explained.

Heath care reform is not designed to provide health insurance for illegal aliens, or to fund abortions, he continued, calling the lies and misinformation, "fabrications that have been put out there to stop people from meeting a core moral and ethical obligation that we look out for one another … that I am my brother's keeper, my sister's keeper, and in the wealthiest nation on earth we are neglecting to live up to that call."

Over the next 40 days, communities of faith are organizing and hosting heath care forums, prayer rallies, contacting elected officials, picking up the phone and knocking on doors in support of heath care reform.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network sent a policy alert August 17 inviting members active in health care advocacy to participate in the call with Obama.

The 76th General Convention recently passed several health care-related resolutions, including CO71, in support of universal access to quality, affordable health care in the United States and calling on Congress to pass comprehensive health care reform this year.

A recording of the call is available at or, which live-streamed the call.

More information about the 40 Day Campaign for Health Care Reform is available here.

-- Lynette Wilson is staff writer, Episcopal Life Media.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Speaking of Faith: President Obama's theologian

Krista Tippett, who is gaining a reputation for insightful podcasts on theological topics, recently interviewed E.J. Dionne, columnist with The Washington Post and David Brooks, columnist with The New York Times, about President Obama's theological perspective and how it is shaped by the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr.

For those unacquainted with Niebuhr, he was hugely influential particularly before World War II in moral theology. In his work and writings, for example his book Moral Man and Immoral Society, he wrote about how Christians are called to create an economy that cares for the poorest among us. Among Niebuhr's students was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who returned to his native Germany to attempt leading a Christian opposition to the Nazis, but was arrested and executed.

This podcast is fascinating and goes a long way beyond the demonizing and sloganeering that has so far characterized Obama's religious underpinnings. You can listen to the podcast by clicking HERE. And then lend me your thoughts. And I am much appreciative of Mike Kinman in St. Louis for bringing this to my attention.

A word on words...

Until now, I have avoided setting down ground rules for this blog. But lately I've had to remove comments that were inappropriate. I want to give a little advice on what works and what doesn't. There are boundaries here, this is not a saloon.

It is my hope that this blog will be a place of dialogue and conversation. But please consider that you are a guest in someone's home (mine). Angry yelling may work for talk-radio, but it doesn't work here. Take your anger elsewhere. Present your point of view respectfully, and be open to others having a different point of view. Be respectful. Have a conversation. Take a deep breath before you hit the "submit" button.

And, I shouldn't have to spell this out, but I will:

1- Comments that are hateful toward any individual or groups will be removed. Period.

2- Comments that promote a commercial product will also be removed.

3- Keep it tasteful; use common sense and watch your language (this is a church blog).

4- I will not be drawn into arguments with anyone leaving an anonymous posting. You can leave an opinion anonymously, and if it is respectful, I will leave it stand. But do not expect a response from me. Conversation requires both parties introducing themselves. You know who I am, so have the courage of your convictions and stand by your comment with your name. Then we'll talk.

The name of this blog is Fiat Lux -- "Let There Be Light." So, please, shed light, not heat.

-- Jim

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Monday Funnies

Well, it's time again for the Monday Funnies. And thanks to our pal Patrick Hill, we have some groaners to share with you today.

And thanks to Dave Walker, a cartoon. It is the start of school for many today, so may you find something to laugh about. Maybe this is a start...

* * *

An elderly parish priest was tending his garden near a convent when a passerby
stopped to inquire after the priest's much-loved roses.

"Not bad," said the priest, "but they suffer from a disease peculiar to this area
known as the black death."

"What on earth is that?" asked the passerby, anxious to increase his garden knowledge.

"Nuns with scissors."

* * *

A priest, a minister and a rabbi were all sitting at a table
finishing dinner and discussing theology. Suddenly, an angel appeared
before them.

"I have been sent to grant each of you one wish," she said. "Who will
go first"?

The catholic priest stood up. "I wish for the destruction of all

Then the protestant minister bolted up. "I wish for the destruction
of all Catholics!"

The rabbi kept seated, so the angel asked, "How about you? What do
you wish for, Rabbi?"

The rabbi answered, "Well, if you're going to grant their wishes,
I'll just settle for another cup of coffee."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Take off your shoes, cross a rocky ledge

Here is my sermon for today, taken from John 6: 56-59:

A few years ago, I went on a fishing trip with some buddies to Idaho. We spent a week exploring the streams and lakes around McCall, Idaho. We caught a lot of fish, and some of us – like me – started to get a little overconfident.

One afternoon, we worked our way downstream along the Payette River, which winds through a wooded canyon and into a rocky gorge. Somehow I ended up on the north side of the gorge when everyone else was on the south side of the gorge.

I became stuck at the base of a cliff on a rocky ledge.

I really did not want to hike back upstream, but I could not see how I was going to get past the cliff and downstream – and the sun was beginning to set.

My boots were slippery from mud and river gunk, and I did not trust my footing to climb across the rocky ledge. I briefly thought of jumping into the raging river below, but that was definitely a stupid idea.

Then I looked across the gorge to the other side, where a member of our fishing party was standing on another rocky ledge with a big cigar in his mouth. He was not just anyone in our party, but Joe Hennessy, who at 80-years-old, was our most experienced angler.

Joe told me take off my shoes, and walk across the ledge barefoot. “Trust me,” he shouted. “You won’t fall.”

I did as he told me. I climbed across the ledge, barefoot, my boots slung over my shoulder, and I reached the safety of a big meadow on the other side. I believed him, though it seemed nuts at the time.

Belief is a tricky thing, and it is word that is deceptively difficult to define.

Outwardly, the meaning in English is plain enough. Belief: to give assent to an idea, or as my Webster’s dictionary puts it, “to take as true” a particular proposition.
But the word “belief” in the New Testament has layers of meaning. And in the Gospel of John, where we encounter belief today, the word appears no less than 96 times, more than anywhere else in the Bible. You might say that an overarching theme of the Gospel of John is an exploration of the nature and meaning of belief.

In the original Greek of the gospel, the word for believe is pees-tou. My Greek-English lexicon has a page-and-a-half of definitions, all in small print. There are another five pages of definitions of words that are derivatives of pees-tou.

That should be caution enough about making a hasty interpretation.

One meaning of believe is to accept an idea as correct, for example, we can say we “believe” that the earth orbits the sun because we have enough data to reasonably make that conclusion.
Another layer of meaning requires a nuance that comes in the Greek. In the Gospel of John, the word pees-tou is frequently followed by the word eis, or “into,” so it comes out as “believe into.” The word “believe” is no longer about correct data but about a true relationship, or entering into a true belief, as when Jesus says “believe into me.”

Today we encounter a third layer of meaning “to believe.” Believe now becomes about trust, as in “can you trust in the truth of something you don’t yet see or understand?”

That question, and this meaning of “believe” as trust, laces throughout the passage we hear today, a passage that sounds almost the same as last week’s but is not.

To refresh your memory, last week Jesus talked about how his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood. He is not talking about cannibalism, but about having an experience of the holy in the bread and wine of our Eucharist.

Today Jesus is moving us beyond the Eucharist and onto the difficult ground of belief that is trust in a relationship with him. Jesus declares that salvation is not for a single special group, but for all of humanity – and he asks his listeners to believe him even though they don’t yet see it or understand it.

Jesus uses the word “believe” to invite us to encounter him as the Christ, meaning the “anointed one,” or “holy one,” who will break himself on the Cross so that others might live. He invites into this encounter with him so that we can experience not only our own brokenness, but also the healing that will bring us into the fullness of life.

Jesus asks us: Can we trust him enough to act in the knowledge that God promises us salvation?

Not all are willing to go there, as the Gospel of John points out. Some who have followed Jesus this far will fall away.

They were a bit shaky on the topic of sharing a meal, and now they’ve had enough. Jesus is not conforming to their religious expectations, whatever those expectations may be. That is one of the realities of this spiritual journey we are upon, that not everyone comes to the table at the same time or in the same way.

Yet Jesus continues to invite everyone to the table and closer into the circle, and he is recasting the meaning of being in the circle. All are special; all are welcome into the circle. Yet not everyone welcomes the idea of sharing the circle with others.

As people fall away, Jesus sounds as if he wonders if anyone will stick with him, and so he turns to Peter – “Do you wish to go away?”

No, Peter replies, I am here and we have nowhere else to go. Peter tells Jesus he believes him, trusts him, and he will go with him.

And here is where I find hope in Peter’s answer: Peter all but admits he doesn’t understand where he is going or what exactly Jesus is getting at. But, in effect, Peter says, I will take off my shoes and go barefoot wherever it is we are to go, even out on a rocky ledge.

Peter doesn’t know, he can’t know, the full meaning of his belief, or where he will end up, or when he will get there, but he trusts enough to go anyway.

For now, it is enough for Peter to say to Jesus: “You are the holy one of God – you are the holy one.” And then Peter takes off his shoes, walks ahead, listening, seeing, experiencing the Holy One. And so can we.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Welcome University of Virginia students! Please join us Sunday and bring your families too!

If you are returning to school, or you are a new First Year, we would love to get to know you. St. Paul's Memorial Episcopal Church has a vibrant program for University of Virginia students and we are conveniently located on "The Corner" across from the Rotunda.

Indeed, a major mission of this parish is to serve the University of Virginia community. We believe in the full inclusion of all God's people at the Holy Table; come as you are, with your faith, your doubts, your questions.

Please join us Sunday for one of our worship services. We have a traditional service at 8 am in the chapel; at 10 a.m. we have a choir and a family-friendly worship with child care available. Our 5:30 pm service (in the chapel) is particularly designed for University students, and beginning next Sunday (Aug. 30) we will be serving a free dinner for students following that service.

Do please come Sunday, check us out, and introduce yourself. And if members of your family are helping to get you settled, do please bring them, too! We'd love to get to know you and your family.

Lutherans vote for full inclusion

You might not have caught the news from Friday: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), meeting in its national convention, voted to allow non-celibate gays living in monogamous relationships, to serve as pastors. The debate reportedly went all day, with emotions high on both sides of the issue. The vote was close.

The debate echoed the debate in our own church, with those against expressing concern that Scripture is being violated. The feeling by those voting in favor of full inclusion was summed up by The Rev. Mark Lepper of Belle Plaine, Minn., who said, “Let’s stop leaving people behind and let’s be the family God is calling us to be.”

To read the New York Times story on the vote, click HERE.

Earlier this summer, our Episcopal General Convention voted to open all orders to gay people, acknowledging the fact that already exists. The ELCA vote could have an impact for the Episcopal Church because of the agreement we have with the ELCA to allow their pastors and ours to serve in each others' churches. The vote could make it easier for Episcopal clergy who are gay to serve in a Lutheran church.

The vote in the ELCA was close, and we can expect that individual congregations will leave much as many have left our church. Please keep the Lutherans in your prayers.

Photo by Dawn Villella of the Associated Press

What is a perfect day for you?

Awhile back, our friend Karen in Tennessee asked her friends: "What is a perfect day for you?"
I like that question, and so I put it to you, dear readers: What is a perfect day for you? Please share here if you will.

Not every day is perfect, yet even in the tough days perfection is hidden somewhere.

Here is a gift from Karen, and we send prayers to her and her family and friends who are having sad days with loss.
On a Perfect Day
by Jane Gentry
... I eat an artichoke in front
of the Charles Street Laundromat
and watch the clouds bloom
into white flowers out of
the building across the way.
The bright air moves on my face
like the touch of someone who loves me.
Far overhead a dart-shaped plane softens
through membranes of vacancy. A ship,
riding the bright glissade of the Hudson , slips
past the end of the street. Colette's vagabond
says the sun belongs to the lizard
that warms in its light. I own these moments
when my skin like a drumhead stretches on the frame
of my bones, then swells, a bellows filled
with sacred breath seared by this flame,
this happiness.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Life on the Corner picking up: Welcome back students!

Students are coming back to town, and life on "The Corner" is picking up. Truthfully, things are a bit slow in Charlottesville without them; the students give this community its purpose, and that has been so since Thomas Jefferson built the University of Virginia.

The last two Sundays, we've had families coming to our worship services bringing with them their young adult students, helping them get settled at school. I am very thankful they've made St. Paul's part of getting settled into student life. I have much enjoyed meeting so many new people, and they come from all over the country. More will come this Sunday; next week is the major onslaught of undergrads into Charlottesville.

We have a terrific Canterbury program for students, led by The Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor. This year we are augmenting the program with the help of Hannah Trible, a recent Virginia graduate who will be a full-time ministry intern with us for the academic year. If you are a student, please stop by our church and introduce yourself. We'd love for you to get in touch with Neal and Hannah.

We are also asking that year-round members of St. Paul's bring cupcakes or other goodies this Sunday that we can give to students next week as they arrive. Please bring them in Sunday or Monday to the office. And please introduce yourself to our new and continuing students. Ministry to the University of Virginia community is a major mission of this parish, and we are much blessed to live on The Corner.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Playing chess with bottle caps

The other day, I wandered into Blue Whale Books, on the downtown mall in Charlottesville. Blue Whale is a used bookstore, one of many in Charlottesville. Someone told me there are more bookstores per capita than anywhere in the United States, and I believe it.

This store is exceedingly well organized. I went to the poetry shelf where I found a lovingly worn, slightly yellowing, paperback copy of The Back Country, by Gary Snyder, published in 1968 -- and only for two bucks. How could I pass up this treasure?

The poetry inside is what you'd expect of Gary Snyder circa 1968, lots of anatomically graphic imagery, cuss words, and wonderful word portraits of his travels in Japan and in the Sierra. Here's one that grabbed me:
By Gary Synder
The glimpse of a once loved face
gone on a train.
Lost in a new town, no one knows the name.
lone man sitting in the park
Chanced on by a friend
of thirty years before,
what do they say.
Play chess with bottle caps.
"for sale" sign standing in the field:
dearest, dearest,
Soot on the sill,
a garden full of weeds

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Saints of Summer: William Porcher DuBose

One of the things I love about the Episcopal calendar is running across names of saints who are, albeit, a bit obscure in our own time but who are much worthy of our consideration. Today is the feast day of William Porcher (pronounced "Por-shay") DuBose, born in 1836 in South Carolina, died in 1918.

He ought to be a household name in every Episcopal parish of Charlottesville.

As near as I can tell, DuBose is the only saint on our calendar who is a graduate of the University of Virginia, having matriculated in 1859. He went on to the Episcopal priesthood, and founded the School of Theology at Sewanee, Tennesee, where he served as Dean until 1908.

He taught moral theology, was a prolific writer and mined the best theological trends of his era from the Anglo-Catholic Oxford movement to the Evangelicals. "We need the truth of every variant opinion and the light from every opposite point of view," he once said, voicing an ethic out-of-favor in some quarters of our church.

We owe him much for his creativity, theological gravitas, and the work that continues at Sewanee (including Education for Ministry which came long after his time but is very much in keeping with the foundation he set at Sewanee).

President Obama's upcoming phone call with the faith community on health care

As you know, health care reform has become Topic A throughout the country this summer. There is a tremendous amount of misinformation floating on the internet, and scare tactics abound about such phony issues as "death panels."

On Wednesday Aug. 19 at 5 p.m. EDT, President Obama will be holding a conference call with the faith community. I will be participating and I hope you can, too. To register for this call, please go to this link: RSVP.

The Washington Post had an informative piece over the weekend about who is bankrolling the protests at the Congressional "townhall" meetings, including MetLife and Philip Morris. By the way, there are some familiar names mentioned to those of us who follow the attempts to split the Episcopal Church over sexuality issues. Have a look at The Post:
Loose Network of Activists Drives Reform Opposition
By Dan Eggen and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 16, 2009
The rowdy protests that threaten President Obama's health-care reform efforts have been spurred on by a loose network of activists -- from veteran advocacy groups with millions of dollars in funding to casual alliances of like-minded conservatives unhappy over issues from taxes to deficits to environmental laws.
To read the rest, click HERE.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Beyond the Episcopal world: Churches involved in sexuality issues

Sorry to intrude upon the Monday Funnies, but I want to share this from the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Our arguments over inclusion and sexuality may garner the most headlines, yet other mainline churches are immersed in the issue as well. Consider this from a story in today's Star Ledger:
* The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (4.7 million members), whose weeklong meeting in Minneapolis begins today will vote on whether non-celibate gay people can be ordained as Lutheran clergy, and on a statement saying same-gendered relationships have a place in the church.

* In July, the United Methodist News Service announced that the United Methodist Church (11 million members, 8 million of whom are Americans) is on track, based on early voting results, to reject an amendment that would let any professed Christian become a church member. Conservative opponents viewed the proposed change as implicit acceptance of homosexuality.

* In June, the Presbyterian Church USA (2.3 million members) announced the rejection of an amendment that would have let non-celibate gay people become clergy.
To read the full story, click HERE. The Monday Funnies are below...

The Monday Funnies

It will soon be stewardship time, that time not on the liturgical calendar but which ought to be.

That time of year when we will be talking about the importance of giving and supporting the ministries of the church.

But before we get too earnest, let's allow cartoonist Dave Walker to have a crack at this touchy topic.

Enjoy the Monday funnies...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Gospel of John: A labyrinth leading to the center with the Risen Christ

Here is my sermon from today:

“Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
John 6: 51-58

This morning, I would like you to consider for a few moments the ancient Romans, and I would like you to consider the Romans sympathetically.

The ancient Romans considered the Christians to be Barbarians. Worse than Barbarians.
When the Romans heard passages like this one – “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life” – what do you think they concluded?

That the Christians were cannibals. And why wouldn’t they?

If that were not enough, imagine what the Romans thought when they heard this line:
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
Or, consider for a moment the ancient Jewish leaders of the Temple, and I’d like you to consider them sympathetically.

When they heard “eat my flesh” they were repulsed, and no wonder. The Hebrew Scriptures forbid eating human flesh, and, in fact, the title of the devil in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is translated as “flesh eater.”

So I want to stop right here, right in the middle of this big messy, bloody knot of words. Let me point out that anyone who says they take the Bible literally, that every word means exactly what it says, will end up in a tight box with this passage and others like it. It takes interpretation to get out of the box.

There is another way to hear this, but it takes work, and it takes understanding the images and structure used by the Gospel of John.

I do not want to sound overly academic, but there is a very good – and short – book that details what I am about to talk about. The book is entitled The Mystical Way in the Fourth Gospel, by Bill Countryman.

His thesis is that the Gospel of John is like a labyrinth; the gospel takes the listener on a twisting path that leads from the outer edges of being merely acquainted with Jesus, to the very center of existence and union with the Risen Christ.

The language of John, like we hear today, is designed not to encourage cannibalism, but to push us into seeing and feeling with all our senses that Christ Jesus is all around us, and with us and in us. This is about more than belief, but is about experience.

John pushes us to go beyond mere doctrines; the language of John is designed to knock us off center, and out of our conventional ideas of religion by pushing us into seeing that the life of faith is about touching the presence of Christ everywhere and in everything we do.

This business about “eat my flesh, drink my blood” in John is really an invitation to a physical experience of the spiritual. We are invited to use every sense we have in this experience: taste and smell, touch and sight, and hearing.

We are invited especially to make this experience real in our Eucharist, in the sharing in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. That is what Jesus is really getting at with these words we hear today.

This in-dwelling of the Spirit is like a good meal, and like a good meal, it is for not only nourishment but for our enjoyment. We can have a frozen dinner or a gourmet meal. Both will feed us, but which would you rather have?

To get the most out of our meal, we need to train our palette. The more intentional we are in our walk of faith – and the more we train our spiritual palette – the more we will be aware of the Risen Christ amongst us, and all around us
This walk of faith starts from the beginning of our existence. God walk with us even when we are infants, and God continues to walk with us throughout our life, even in those times we don’t see it – maybe especially in those times.

A major step along the path is baptism, and in baptism we celebrate with physical symbols – water and words – the inward work of the Holy Spirit. For us, baptism is not a magic act but is a gateway to a life journey of faith. In a few moments, we will celebrate baptism with a new baby, and with her, renew again the promises and hopes of our own baptism.

And baptism leads us to another physical sign of our faith, the meal we share together in Holy Communion. It is that meal Jesus asks us to celebrate today, to bring inwardly into our very souls his abiding presence.

He offers us something to eat that will last forever because he promises to abide within us forever. That is the meaning of these words we hear today from the gospel. This sacred meal of bread and wine is a gift to each of us, and I pray as we gather around this Holy Table, we will once again experience with every sense we have the Risen Christ dwelling amongst us and in us.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Saints of Summer: Mary, Mother of Jesus and how we think of her

Today is one of the official feast days for The Blessed Virgin Mary. She has more feasts than any saint on the calendar. There are three such days on the Anglican and Episcopal calendar; the Roman Catholic calendar has 15 days devoted to Mary.

This veneration of Mary was not always so. The Council of Ephesus in 431 sanctioned devotion to the Theotokos -- "the Mother of God" -- only after considerable controversy. The theology that developed was Jesus was unapproachable, the royal son of God, clad in armor with a sword. It was becoming disrespectful to directly pray to Jesus; but surely he would listen to his mother.

Among the innovations of the Protestant Reformation was to attempt seeing Jesus as the approachable Christ of prayer. Marion devotion was discouraged, even banned in places.

Yet Mary lingers in popularity, and not just among Catholics. She is central to devotion in Eastern Orthodox churches, and many Episcopalians have Mary and the Rosary central in their prayer life. We may scoff at her apparitions on slices of toast, but Mary remains central to the piety of millions. She appears to people in dreams and in moments of extreme crisis.

I must admit to being puzzled by this, until a few years ago on this feast day we celebrate today.

We were traveling with our choir in Canterbury, and we were definitely pilgrims. I got up early on this particular feast day, and I went alone to the Cathedral. But instead of Eucharist at one of the magnificent altars, we were invited that morning into the catacombs and to a chamber barely lit by candles. There we celebrated our Eucharist, and our preacher was a Palestinian woman who was an Anglican priest.

I don't remember all that she said, but she talked of opening herself to all that God asked of her, devoting her life to service that others might live, and doing so under circumstances that are difficult, even dangerous.

That is when I got it about Mary.

Here are the words to the Magnificat, the words Mary is said to have prayed when the angel came to her in a dream and told her of the child she would bear (Luke 1:46-55):
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
The photo is of a Palestinian woman and child at the Ain al-Hehweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon; photo credit to Ya Libnan.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Please pray for a brave, brave priest

Many years ago, I lived within a couple of miles of the border with Mexico. I was a reporter with The San Diego Union, and I covered stories on both sides of the border. My Spanish was lousy, but somehow I managed. One thing I learned quickly: The line between life and death on the border is very, very thin.

Two decades later, I remain both intrigued and repelled by the borderlands, and I am especially in awe of journalists who are covering the hideous drug war that is now spilling onto both sides of the border.

I am also in awe of the Catholic priests who are tending to their flocks in Mexico. Several have been killed, and yet they stay, they are faithful pastors and courageous followers of Jesus Christ. Those of us living in relative safety should hold them close in our prayers and count our blessings.

The other day, The Washington Post carried a terrific story about one such priest, Father Miguel López, a towering figure of faith who refuses to abandon the people of Tepalcatepec living at Ground Zero of the drug wars. Please keep him in your prayers, and please -- please -- read the story. It is the least we can do to be aware.
A Test of Faith in Mexico's Drug War: Religion Endures an Inner, Outer Struggle

By Steve Fainaru and William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
TEPALCATEPEC, Mexico -- Father Miguel López drives the parish pickup truck across the muddy river that separates two warring drug cartels. He follows the winding road through the dark green foothills of the Sierra Madre until he comes to a rusting archway where traffickers hung the severed head of his friend.

To read the rest of the article, click HERE (you may have to register for The Washington Post -- support a newspaper while you are at it).

Photo by The Washington Post

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Saints of Summer: Jeremy Taylor

Today is the feast day of one of my personal favorites on the Anglican calendar of saints: Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667). Lori would say he is at the top of my list.

Taylor is chiefly known for his masterful work, The Rules and Exercise of Holy Living (1650) which has never gone out of print.

Taylor should be known for much more, including his Liberty of Prophesying (1647) a book calling for an end to government-backed coercion in support of religion, an idea that would not take root for another century in the Enlightenment.

In his day, Taylor was known as a great preacher and a masterful crafter of prose, including this gem from a sermon given in 1653:
"Prayer is the peace of our spirit, the stillness of our thoughts, the evenness of recollection, the seat of meditation, the rest of our cares and the calm of our tempest; prayer is the issue of a quiet mind, of untroubled thoughts, it is the daughter of charity, and the sister of meekness."
Taylor profoundly influenced his own generation and those who came after him, including Thomas Jefferson who said every educated person should have Taylor on the bookshelf. Many of Taylor's quotes can be found in 19th century "books of days," the forerunner to the contemporary "Forward Day by Day." Taylor's story is worth telling.

Taylor was born and educated in Cambridge, the fourth of six children; eventually coming to the attention of Archbishop William Laud who heard him preach at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Taylor became the protégé of Laud, who secured for him a teaching post at All Souls College, Oxford, in 1635. Taylor was also appointed chaplain to King Charles I. Taylor was on the ecclesiastical fast-track, and seemed destined to become a bishop, perhaps even Archbishop of Canterbury.

Life intervened.

In 1640, Charles I overplayed his hand with the Puritans in Parliament, and civil war erupted between the armies of Parliament and the Royalists. England was ravaged. In 1642, the king was captured along with his chaplain, Taylor. Charles I was beheaded and as he went to the gallows, he gave his ring to Taylor, who was allowed to go into exile in Wales in 1645.

In Wales, Taylor wrote prolifically, taking an attitude that both sides were profoundly wrong and sinful. He took Anglican theological theory and applied it to real life as he experienced it. In his classic, Holy Living, Taylor explained a way of living a “holy life” in ordinary walks of life. He lived at a time when prayer books were banned, churches burned, and people felt adrift and worse. How could they worship God – be present with God – if not in a church? Taylor explained how, and it made him one of the most popular and oft-printed religious authors well into the early 20th century.

For Taylor, God was everywhere. Contemporary authors have re-discovered that theme, but few have crafted language as soaring as Taylor's:
“So that we imagine God to be as the air and the sea; and we all enclosed in his circle, wrapped up in the lap of his infinite nature, or as infants in the wombs of their pregnant mothers: and we can no more be removed from the presence of God than from our being.”
When Taylor's wife died, he wrote a companion volume to Holy Living, called Holy Dying. It was truly an ode to his wife, and his own way of struggling through his grief.

Eventually, the monarchy was restored. Taylor was made a bishop, but in Northern Ireland (perhaps because the Royalists did not fully trust him). He began writing yet another long set of works, including a treatise on how bishops have a place in the church only as long as they are promoting ministry. Perhaps we would do well in our day to take a few pages from Taylor. He outlived most of his children, and died in 1667.

I have a postscript that is my story:

Ten years ago, Lori and I took a summer course in Anglican theology at Oxford. I wandered into Blackwell, the great bookstore in Oxford, and found a set of Taylor's works printed in the mid-19th century; the books were in pristine condition and the price was beyond my reach.

That evening I described these books at the pub to our summer classmate friends. The next thing I knew, Dick Toll, the rector of a church in Oregon, took out his checkbook and wrote a check to Blackwell for the price of the books.

The next morning I waited at the door of the store, impatient to be first inside lest someone else buy the books (never mind the books probably had languished on the shelves for decades). I bought the books and then scurried off to Morning Prayer.

I took my pew, opened the service leaflet, and that's when I noticed: It was August 13, Jeremy Taylor's Feast Day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Democracy on display: Last night's public meeting on health care

We joined a large number of St. Paul's members at a public meeting with our local member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello at Charlottesville High School last night to talk about the health care proposals before Congress. The meeting, raucous at times, gave full display to the many perspectives, hopes, dreams and fears on this extraordinarily complex issue.

I was much impressed by Rep. Perriello's command of the details and his disarming manner. When one side or the other began to boo, his gestures brought calm. "In the shadow of Jefferson, we know how to do dissent," he said at the beginning of the evening, a reminder to let everyone be heard. There were no disruptions of the sort that have marred other public meetings around the country.

Those who listened closely heard a Congressman who has followed the nuances of the issue and is not allowing slogans to sway his vote. He kept reminding us that he is looking for a bill that will work, that will lower health care costs and insurance premiums and extend coverage to those who don't have it. The final proposal "will rise or fall on whether it brings down premiums for middle-class families and businesses," he said. He agreed in part, and disagreed in part, with virtually every health care proposal put forward in the room last night, and he clearly stated his reasons why.

The meeting was a reminder of just how polarized this issue has become and how tough it is to be a moderate. Speakers lined up more than an hour before the start of the meeting. We heard from cancer patients and doctors, from those who distrust government and those who have been dropped by their insurance companies. We heard from defenders of insurance companies and skeptics of government programs. We heard from people who have read the current bill in detail, and we heard from someone who wanted to talk about missile defense and North Korea. We heard many viewpoints. I won't say that everyone listened respectfully -- at times the meeting resembled a basketball game with rooters for opposing sides. But those who spoke got their say.

Those who listened carefully heard very human stories of illness and economic calamity, stories of doctors and nurses doing their best in the trenches, stories about fear of getting sick, and stories from those who fear government may botch this and make it worse.

One speaker, Mary Bennett, thanked Rep. Perriello for the meeting, and thanked the crowd for being there to "speak our different truths to each other -- we are all in this democracy together." Let me add my Amen to that.

Photo by Matthew Rosenberg/The Daily Progress

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Our right to meet with our elected representatives

You may or may not agree with the health care proposals working through Congress, and maybe like me, you have many questions. That is why I hope we can agree that it is essential to have a civil discourse on health care, and to have opportunities to talk with and hear from our elected representatives on this crucial issue vital to all of us.

I am deeply disturbed by reports in recent days of thugs disrupting public meetings that are supposed to elicit public comment and dialogue about the health care proposals in Congress. Such disruptions have no place in our Democracy and are not far removed from the tactics of the Taliban. Such disruptions are shameful efforts to elicit fear and shut down the democratic process. 

That is why tonight (Tuesday) I hope you will join me at a townhall meeting with U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, who represents Charlottesville. I hope we can here from Rep. Perriello, and hear various points of view expressed with respect and without disruption. Here are the details:

Charlottesville Public Meeting with
Rep. Tom Perriello

Where: Charlottesville High [MLK Performing Arts Center]
1400 Melbourne Road
Charlottesville, VA 22901

When: Tuesday, August 11th
Arrival Time: 5:00 p.m.
Start Time: 6:00 p.m.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Monday Funnies

Somehow we can always rely on our friend Patrick Hill for a few groaners for the Monday Funnies. Enjoy. Or not, as the case may be . . .

* * *

The Sunday School teacher had just finished teaching the story of
Lazarus to his Sunday school class. "After his death, many people gathered
to console Mary and Martha," he said. "They treated Lazarus's body, wrapped
him, and laid him in the tomb. After four days of mourning, Lazarus stood
up and walked out of the tomb."

"Now," he asked the class, "what do you think those people were
thinking then?"

Little Johnny quipped, "All that work for nothing!"

* * *

The pastor, an avid golfer, was taking part in a local golf tournament.
As he was preparing to tee off, the tournament organizer approached him and
pointed to the dark, threatening storm clouds that were gathering.

"Preacher," the organizer said, "I trust you'll see to it that the
weather won't turn bad on us."

The pastor shook his head. "Sorry. I'm sales, not management."

* * *

Q: Why did God create economists?

A: In order to make weather forecasters look good.

Cartoon by Dave Walker

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Our next Associate Rector

With great joy and gratitude for God’s abundant grace, I am able to announce today the appointment of The Rev. Dr. Ann Bagley Willms as the next Associate Rector at St. Paul’s. Her biographical statement is at the end of this announcement, and as you will discover, she brings to us many gifts.

Ann’s primary responsibility will be in pastoral care and visitation. She will also join with us as a chaplain in university ministry and will, from time-to-time, teach on Wednesday evenings at our community night. She joins a very talented staff of clergy and laity, complementing the gifts we already have.

The Vestry earlier this week formally approved the terms of her letter of agreement with us, and members of the Vestry have spent time with her talking about her vision of ministry and meeting her husband, Chris. Her bishop, the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, of East Carolina, has agreed to allow her to serve with us.

Ann’s first Sunday with us will be Aug. 30. As you will discover, she is a recent graduate of the Virginia Theological seminary, and she comes to us with much life experience. She is a mother of two daughters, and she has had a career as a physician.

Ann currently is a transitional deacon, ordained in the Diocese of East Carolina. We expect, God willing, she will be ordained a priest here in Virginia in early 2010. There is much more to say, so for now, I hope everyone will extend to her a warm greeting and assistance in her ministry. Here is her biographical statement:

From Ann

Grace and peace to you, dear friends in Christ! My name is Ann Bagley Willms and I am so excited and privileged to have the opportunity to serve the St. Paul's Church community as an associate rector for pastoral care and chaplain for university ministry. I look forward to meeting each of you and learning your stories - the events that have challenged you, or brought you joy, or made you curious about God's ways. 

I hope to hear about your life together in community and your dreams for the future. Working together with your fine clergy, staff, and lay leaders, my intention for pastoral care is to mutually share God's love with you through active listening, prayer, and in-home and hospital visitation, in times of crisis and joy. Fostering community through small groups which evolve naturally is also a part of pastoral care. My role in university ministry will include sharing in the Sunday evening worship service and working with the other chaplains. 

A cradle Episcopalian and native of St. Paul, Minnesota, I have lived in several regions of the US. I graduated from Brown University with an A.B. magna cum laude in Human Biology in 1982. After working for a year in a virology laboratory at the Texas Medical Center, I attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, where I received my M.D. degree in 1987. After a transitional internship, I completed a diagnostic radiology residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, and became board certified in 1992. 

While serving a fellowship and assistant clinical professorship in abdominal imaging at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, I met my future husband and chief surgery resident, Christopher Willms, M.D. We were married there in 1994. In 1995, we moved to Albuquerque, NM, where Chris completed a cardiothoracic surgery fellowship and I worked in private practice in Santa Fe. In 1997, we moved to New Bern, NC and joined radiology and surgery practices. Our twin daughters, Nina and Olivia, were born in 1998.

Throughout my 20s and 30s, I explored other faith traditions, including Free Will Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Unitarian-Universalist, and was exposed to Roman Catholicism through my maternal grandmother. All of these experiences contributed to my formation in faith. Amidst a gradual “reconversion” to Christ, I returned to the Episcopal Church in 1999 with a renewed passion for its liturgy and interest in spiritual practices. The Willms family became part of the Christ Church, New Bern family where we were an integral part of the community for six years. I served there in various capacities, including Pastoral Intern for 2 years, making pastoral visits in home and hospital as well as preaching monthly. 

After ten years of medical practice, and with the invaluable support of my family and church community, I left radiology to follow a call to ordained ministry which brought me and my family to Virginia. As my husband established a new surgical practice at Martha Jefferson Hospital, I commuted to Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where I graduated in May 2009 with a Master in Divinity cum laude. I also served the congregation of St. Paul’s Church in Ivy for two years under the supervision of The Rev. Miller Hunter in fulfillment of field education requirements. In my senior year, I completed a chaplaincy internship with the UVa Health System. 

Our family has thrived in the Charlottesville community, most appreciative of its cultural offerings, eclectic population, and scenic beauty. We are indebted to family, friends, and the communities of Christ Church New Bern, Virginia Seminary, and St. Paul's in Ivy for their support in our formation to date. I am also very grateful to and proud of my husband and daughters for how they have persevered and grown through our transitions together.

Most recently, I was ordained to the transitional diaconate on June 13, 2009 and subsequently traveled to Italy with my family. Now I so look forward to serving and worshiping God with you, the people of St. Paul’s Church. My special interests include the ministry of reconciliation and healing, community building, the writings of Christian mystics, and iconography. A former triathlete, I now mostly swim, bike, and walk. As a wife and mother of tweens, I continue to learn how to “do theology on the ground.” The basis of all of my ministry is the hope found in the good news of Jesus Christ and the never-ending love of God for all people.

Photo by Alexandra Dorr

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Thanks for your good wishes and prayers yesterday upon my birthday. See you soon, and please check back in this space Sunday.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Enjoy the day

Today I am not planning to do much other than enjoy my new rocker on the front porch. Or maybe go to the movies. And a good meal or two. Maybe three. Today is a good day to do a whole lot of not much. Today is my birthday.

Here is a poem to mark the day, by my favorite poet, Gary Snyder. I rather like it. "Loowit," by the way, is the Indian name for Mount St. Helens, and I went part way up on my birthday one year after it blew its top and while it was still smoking. Here's the poem...
Enjoy the Day
By Gary Snyder
One morning on a ridgetop east of Loowit
after campfire coffee

looking at the youthful old volcano
breathing steam and sulfer
sunrise lava
bowls of snow

went up behind a mountain hemlock
asked my old advisors where they lay

what's going on?

they say

"New friends and dear sweet old tree ghosts
here we are again. Enjoy the day."

From danger on peaks, by Gary Snyder (2004)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Feast of the Transfiguration: What happened on that mountain?

Forgive me if you've heard this story before (I like to tell it): A few years ago my friend, David Link, and I set forth to climb Mount Hoffman, an 11,000 foot peak in Yosemite National Park. I tell you about this because I think it has something to do with the Feast of the Transfiguration, which we celebrate today.

The Feast of the Transfiguration is not a big deal in the churches of western Europe and the United States, but it is a very big deal in Eastern Orthodox churches. In the eastern churches, today is a major feast day, right up there just behind Easter and Christmas. 

So let me tell you about our adventure up Mount Hoffman.

Now, as peaks go, Mount Hoffman is certainly not the highest in Yosemite, but has the advantage being in the exact geographic center of Yosemite, giving it spectacular views into every corner of the park. And it also has its challenges, so we gave ourselves three days to climb Mount Hoffman.

When I say Mount Hoffman has its challenges, not all of those challenges are physical. One of the challenges is finding the trail to the top. The higher you go, the less obvious the route up.  And that is another way of saying that we somehow missed the mountain. Oh, we got to the top of a peak. We looked down on Half Dome to the South, and over to Cathedral Peaks and Tuolumne Meadows to the East, and to jagged peaks far in the distance to the north, and to the hazy Central Valley to the west.

But then we looked at our topographic map, and we realized that whatever we climbed wasn’t Mount Hoffman. We somehow zigged when we should have jagged and we ended up on top of a different peak.

Mount Hoffman was over there, one peak over. See photo. That is Mount Hoffman. We were not on its top, we were one peak over taking its photograph.

I mention all this because climbing mountains is tricky business, and I am in full sympathy with the disciples who climb a high mountain and discover Jesus standing before them dazzling white. I can just feel how disorienting and strange this must have been to the disciples, and they did not have the benefit of a topographic map to help figure this out. When they got up there, they may have wondered if they should have zigged when they zagged.

So Peter blurts out the first thing that comes to mind: “Hey, I know – let’s make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Peter is fumbling for words.

Peter is trying to make sense of what must have been an indescribable experience. When he sees the shimmering vision of Jesus, Peter goes to the only reference point on the map he knows, the words of the prophets.

For those who might be unsure what these dwellings are about, the dwellings are “tabernacles” – or tents – that devout Jews erect once a year for the Festival of Tabernacles. Peter is declaring his devotion and respect for Jesus and putting Jesus on the same par as Moses and Elijah, the two greatest Hebrew prophets. But even doing that misses the mark, as Peter is soon to find out. 

The language Peter uses – the dwelling places – aren’t big enough. The categories of religion are not quite up to the task. Instead of tents, a cloud appears, and God tells Peter, ever so simply, and maybe in just a whisper: “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him.”

This experience is bigger than can be contained by any categories of human religion. We, with all of our education and healthy skepticism, do well to remember that experiences of the Holy often dwell outside of what we expect or can explain – that is the lesson of the Feast of the Transfiguration we celebrate today. I pray we will catch these experiences of the Holy in the unexpected corners and mountaintops of our life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summer on our front porch: Rockers and red birds

When I got home late Tuesday, a birthday present from Lori was waiting for me on the front porch: A wooden rocker -- an old Southern wooden rocker with worn varnish and green leaves painted on the arm rests and head board. Lori found it in a second-hand store. This rocker is perfect. I perched in it late into the evening, listening to the roar of insects and the rumble of trains in the distance, and watching the moon light dance across the tree tops. Fire flies burst from the grass in front. The night settled into its own rhythm, and I with it. 

Our front porch in the daytime is alive in a different way. In the daytime, the birds are thick waiting their turn for a meal. Humming birds flutter at a feeder near the front steps. Bigger birds come and go at another feeder on the south side of the porch. I am reminded of a poem by Mary Oliver, a summer offering from our friend Karen in Tennessee.
Red Bird Explains Himself
by Mary Oliver
“Yes, I was the brilliance floating over the snow
and I was the song in the summer leaves, but this was
only the first trick
I had hold of among my other mythologies,
for I also knew obedience: bring sticks to the nest,
food to the young, kisses to my bride.

But don’t stop there, stay with me: listen.

If I was the song that entered your heart
then I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed,
and thus wilderness bloomed that, with all its
followers: gardeners, lovers, people who weep
for the death of rivers.

And this was my true task, to be the
music of the body. Do you understand? for truly the body needs
a song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this work,
the soul has need of a body,
and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable
beauty of heaven
where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes,
and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.”