Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday Funnies

Cartoonist Dave Walker has been lately busy at a church youth leader conference, providing him with much inspiration for new cartoons. Here's one to your right.

Speaking of art, let me direct you to an on-line Advent calendar offered by the National Cathedral -- you click on each day beginning tomorrow to find something new. The calendar can be found by clicking HERE. Enjoy your Monday.

And speaking of tomorrow, this blog tomorrow will begin an special Advent series that I will tell you about tomorrow. Please click back here tomorrow.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent: The time of waiting and awakening

I am not preaching today -- we have a guest preacher. I would like to share some thoughts about Advent, which begins today. This is a sermon I preached awhile back, adapted for today's lectionary readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

May you have a blessed Advent.

For the First Sunday in Advent

Keep awake! It is the time before the dawn, the time of the deep blue indigo sky.

Welcome to the season of Advent, the time of the deep blue sky just before the dawn, the time of waiting for the One who comes, the Christ who is to dwell with us.

This is the season to stop and look at the spectacle of creation all around you that maybe you haven’t noticed in awhile.

You may notice at St. Paul’s, the color of vestments and the pulpit hangings are now blue. I must confess – this blue is my favorite color of the church year.

Blue is the traditional color of Advent in many English and American churches, the color marking the four weeks leading to Christmas.

Blue has been used for Advent at Salisbury Cathedral in England since the 11th century. No one is quite sure why this blue came to be used at Salisbury – some think it is the color of Mary, and that is probably as plausible an explanation as any, and others say it is “royal” blue – the color of Norman kings.

The color is actually called “Salisbury Blue,” or “Sarum Blue” – Sarum is the Latin name for Salisbury.

I like to think of this blue as the color of the sky just before the dawn. To me, the blue symbolizes the hope of Advent – the time of waiting for the birth of Christ’s promise of hope and healing into our world.

The color, I think, marks a subtle but important distinction between Advent and Lent, and that is another reason we have blue.

Lent, the time before Easter, is the season of purple. Lent is a time of penitence and looking inward for the God within us. Advent, the time before Christmas, is a time of looking outward for the God around us.

The two perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive – yes we should be looking inward for the God within us. Consider this more a degree of emphasis, just as purple and blue are similar colors.

Looking outward for God’s presence is at the core of Advent, and at the core of the biblical lessons we hear today.

Be awake – it is almost dawn before a new day. You don’t have to travel far to find what you seek. Look around you – look for the dawn of Christ’s light in all you do, in all whom you meet, and everywhere you go. What you seek is right in front of you.

The name “Emmanuel” means God is already dwelling with us – and this God comes to us, living with us as a human being, Jesus, to show us that death has no power over us.

Yet, we also know that sometimes God is hard to see in all of the buzz and clatter of daily life. That has always been so. The ancient Hebrews were much concerned with why God was not always so obvious to them, and you hear the echoes of that in the words of Prophet Jeremiah: The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

Jesus answers: “Be alert at all times.”

God’s grace is already here, at work within us. But you need to open your eyes and ears – wake up! That is at the core of the mission of Christ dwelling with us – to crack us open so we will see the grace around us and in us.

It may look like night now, but it is the time of the blue indigo sky, the time before the dawn, the time of Advent. We live in a troubled world, and it is sometimes difficult to see that the dawn is near.

I am reminded of the words of a great Jewish poet, Yehuda Amichai, who saw much tragedy and conflict in his lifetime.

He wrote: “Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”

That is the meaning of Advent.

“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”

Under the night sky, a happiness is hiding, the outbreak of God’s grace into our dark and difficult world. A light will soon shine, a great happiness is hiding: Jesus comes into this world to show us that salvation is ours right now, right here, we don’t have to wait until after we die to find what we seek.

He comes to show us a way to live without fear, in the here and now.

Yet we need to sharpen our eyes to see the dawn.

How to sharpen our eyes? I would like to invite us this Advent to enter a time of radical welcome to those in our midst who we don’t quite see.

Let’s go out of our way to make those new in this place feel especially welcome, and let’s go out of our way this Advent to help those outside these walls who are in the greatest of need. Let’s take a few risks.

Indeed, we are the hands, feet and heart of God’s grace. We don’t have to solve all the world’s problems, but we can solve one or two. We can be present to the hurt that is near us, and take a step or two to bring healing and peace. When we do, the Risen Christ will be this near to us.

That is why we are doing special in-gatherings in Advent, beginning next week with toys our children will bring to church to give away. Look in our newsletter for the in-gathering list for Advent, and join in the giving. Our in-gatherings are a tangible way for us to reach outward to those who are in need.

I have another suggestion for this Advent: Let’s be kind to each other. This is a season full of stress for many people, and holiday cheer can be in short supply. Let’s be good to each other, slow to anger, quick to forgive.

Maybe a friend, or someone in your family is ill or hurting, or you are the one who is hurting. Take extra time to be with those you love. And when you do, watch for God’s presence in your midst, be awake for the unexpected. And let’s remember to breathe and be gentle with one another.

My prayer for each of us this Advent is that we will be awake for God’s amazing grace everywhere we go, and in everything we do, and in everyone we meet, and that we will see God’s blessing in how we live and act.

That may not always be easy, but beneath all this, a great happiness is hiding.

It is Advent, the time before the dawn, the time of the deep blue sky. Be awake!

The One who walks among us as the Christ is with us, blesses each of us, and fills the world with love and grace and salvation. Amen.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Advent Conspiracy: We can change the world this year

"Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins."
-- 1 Peter 4:8 (from this morning's Daily Office reading)

How? Let me recommend a way:

Last year I promoted Advent Conspiracy, and I am proud to do so again. This is coming from the "Emerging Church" movement, a group of Christians (young!) unconcerned about denominational boundaries (refreshing!) who are focused primarily on serving the world outside the walls of our institutions.

They especially want us to renew the meaning of Advent and Christmas by giving, and especially by bringing safe drinking water to the poorest regions of the world. Watch this video below, and check out the Advent Conspiracy website by clicking HERE.

While we are at it, you should see last year's video. It is a classic:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Back in Charlottesville and onward with Fiat Lux

I hope you have had a wonderful Thanksgiving and some time off from whatever keeps you busy.

As you probably can tell by now, I am back in Charlottesville. I've been in California with my family: my mother who has been ailing, and my sister and her son. I also got to see some of my dearest and oldest friends.

While there, my one remaining uncle died at age 91, the last surviving man in our family from the World War II generation. I would not be here but for my Uncle Van. My mother met my father on a blind date -- fixed up by Uncle Van, who introduced my father (his Navy buddy) to the sister of the young woman Van was dating. Two marriages came of this blind date. My mom and dad; and Van went onto to marry my mother's oldest sister.

Here in Charlottesville, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving worship service Thursday morning, with full choir. We've had an ample Thanksgiving feast (two, in fact), and I am feeling very blessed, indeed, by the love of family and friends and all of you.

In the next few days, we will take up where we left off in this space. I hope you will join me again on this journey, forgive whatever excesses or mistakes I may commit, and lend me your gentle wisdom.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Counting our blessings: The story of Thanksgiving

Here is my Thanksgiving Day sermon. May your table be full and may many blessings bring you peace and joy this day and forever.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have much to be thankful for today, beginning with all of you. Thank you for being here, for sharing with me in this journey of faith that brings us together here in this sacred place.

I have much to be thankful for today. For the love and companionship of Lori; for good health, a warm and comfortable home; food on the table; my family on the West Coast, and friends on both coasts and in between and all over the world.

All of us have much to be thankful for, beginning with this gift of life from God we share, this privilege to walk the earth with each other. I hope today you will pause, and as my grandmother used to say, count your blessings.

This day we call Thanksgiving is one of two secular holidays that are also sacred feast days in the Episcopal Church, the other being the Fourth of July.

You may not know the origins of Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday. Although the pilgrims took a day of thanks for their survival, that really is not the beginning of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

Nor did it really begin with George Washington, who, it is true, declared a day of prayer and thanks for the nation having won its independence. President Washington’s declaration for Thanksgiving was observed in some places but not everywhere.

Thanksgiving as we know it began with Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863, in the midst of the worst calamity this nation has ever known, declared a national day of thanks that should be observed ever after on the fourth Thursday of November.

What is significant is that Lincoln declared Thanksgiving not in a time of national celebration, but in the midst of a terrible civil war that claimed more lives than all of our other wars combined.

Lincoln was urged to create this holiday by Sarah Hale, who was a single mother of five children, a widow and penniless. Sarah Hale urged Lincoln to declare a day of Thanksgiving hoping it might bring the nation a moment of healing.

By the way, Sarah Hale went on to become a champion for the education of girls, and a famous writer. You know her best as the author of “Mary had a Little Lamb.”

I think Lincoln knew what he was doing when he agreed with her by declaring a day of thanks: It is in those times when it looks bleakest that we are called to stop, to give thanks, to count our blessings. When we do, we might find our courage renewed, our spirit lifted, and we might see God walking next to us, holding us, embracing us, bringing us blessings, and lighting our path with hope.

Our nation is in one of those bleak times before the dawn. We remain engaged in two wars, with little prospect for peace in the coming year. The challenges abroad and here at home are large, indeed. Unemployment is the highest in a generation, and even if you have a job, I can safely bet everyone here knows someone who is out of a job or marginally employed.

Meanwhile, the government of our nation seems badly mired in the politics of fear and partisan polarization. We have a new president who is maneuvering with difficulty across the shoals of state. Whatever your politics, whatever your opinion on this issue or that, he deserves your fervent prayers.

And then pray for the world, and put feet to your prayers. Much of the world is in need of your compassion, in need of healing, in need of hope for a world not yet seen, and in need of action to make that hope real.

Today, let us begin by counting our blessings – all of our blessings, whatever they may be: in material wealth, or in talent and time, or in the love of family and friends. Let us count our blessings, and come to this table to share in the sacred bread and wine of our Holy Communion.

And then let us ask again how we can share our abundance, how we can make real the Lord’s Prayer “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving prayers for your table

Here are a few Thanksgiving Prayers to grace your table this week:

"O God, when I have food, help me to remember the hungry; When I have work, help me to remember the jobless; When I have a home, help me to remember those who have no home at all; When I am without pain, help me to remember those who suffer, And remembering, help me to destroy my complacency; bestir my compassion, that I be concerned enough to help By word and deed, those who cry out for what we take for granted. Amen."
-- Samuel Pugh

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, creator of the fruit of the vine: Grant that we who share this wine, which gladdens our hearts, may share for ever the new life of the true Vine, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessed are you, O Lord our God; you bring forth bread from the earth and make the risen Lord to be for us the Bread of life: Grant that we who daily seek the bread which sustains our bodies may also hunger for the food of everlasting life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

by Rafael Jesus Gonzalez

Thanks & blessings be
to the Sun & the Earth
for this bread & this wine,
this fruit, this meat, this salt,
this food;
thanks be & blessing to them
who prepare it, who serve it;
thanks & blessings to them
who share it
(& also the absent & the dead).
Thanks & Blessing to them who bring it
(may they not want),
to them who plant & tend it,
harvest & gather it
(may they not want);
thanks & blessing to them who work
& blessing to them who cannot;
may they not want - for their hunger
sours the wine & robs
the taste from the salt.
Thanks be for the sustenance & strength
for our dance & work of justice, of peace.

Giving Thanks
Based on a prayer by Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

Holy and gracious God, we give thanks for the gift of this gathering; for the food before us; the loving hands that have prepared it; and the blessings we share together. Kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you always as our companion along the way. Forgive us where we have fallen short with each other and with ourselves; heal our wounds, restore our health, strengthen our souls, and help us to be ever mindful the needs of those near us who have so little. Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A change to Fiat Lux, with apologies

Sorry to interrupt your Monday Funnies but I need to explain a necessary change to this blog. Lately I've had a flurry of spam comments left underneath various postings on this site. I have deleted all of them. But I am now adding the setting that all comments must be approved by me before posting. I see no other alternative. It is a sad fact of our internet life that as this blog has risen in popularity it is also now a target for spammers.

And I would again implore you, dear readers, to post your comments using your real name. I will not respond to anonymous comments but welcome honest engagement in open dialogue.

Let me return you to your Monday Funnies...

Monday Funnies

What would Monday be without The Funnies? Here's are...

The Top 24 Funniest Signs in America

24. In a Los Angeles dance hall: "Good clean dancing every night but Sunday."

23. In a Florida maternity ward: "No children allowed."

22. In a New York medical building: "Mental Health Prevention Center"

21. On a New York convalescent home: "For the sick and tired of the Episcopal Church."

20. On a Maine shop: "Our motto is to give our customers the lowest possible prices and workmanship."

19. At a number of military bases: "Restricted to unauthorized personnel."

18. On a shopping mall marquee: "Archery Tournament -- Ears pierced"

17. Outside a country shop: "We buy junk and sell antiques."

16. In the window of an Oregon store: "Why go elsewhere and be cheated when you can come here?"

15. In a Maine restaurant: "Open 7 days a week and weekends."

14. In a Pennsylvania cemetery: "Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves."

13. On a Tennessee highway: "When this sign is under water, this road is impassable."

12. In a New York drugstore: "We dispense with accuracy."

11. In the offices of a loan company: "Ask about our plans for owning your home."

10. On a radiator repair garage: "Best place to take a leak."

9. At a Santa Fe gas station: "We will sell gasoline to anyone in a glass container."

8. In a New York restaurant: "Customers who consider our waitresses uncivil ought to see the manager."

7. On the wall of a Baltimore estate: "Trespassers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. -- Sisters of

6. In a clothing store: "Wonderful bargains for men with 16 and 17 necks."

5. A parking sign in front of a Boston meditation center: "Visualize Being Towed."

4. On a display of "I love you only" Valentine cards: "Now available in multi-packs."

3. In the window of a Kentucky appliance store: "Don't kill your wife. Let our washing machine do the dirty work."

2. In a Tacoma, Washington men's clothing store: "15 men's wool suits, $10. They won't last an hour!"

1. On a long-established New Mexico dry cleaners: "38 years on the same spot."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Update on my whereabouts, and a gem for your day


I am not quite ready to re-enter the blogosphere (though obviously I am right now). To update you on my whereabouts: I am in Northern California and I've been with my mother, sister and nephew, and I've seen a handful of friends. My family continues to work through health issues, and I feel good to be here. I will be here are a few more days, and will be back regularly in this space next week.

In the meantime, I came across this the other day from Barbara Crafton, based on one of the Daily Office readings. I think this is good and thought-provoking, and so I reprint it here:


At morning prayer, a fragment of the gospel according to Matthew that we don't encounter on Sundays: the hardly-ever-read story of how Jesus, apparently in arrears on his temple tax, sends Peter to the sea to catch a fish with a coin in just the right denomination in its mouth.

A perfectly charming tale, but we don't read it. Why? I suppose it's because it's a little embarrassing -- too folkloric, too magical, too much like encouraging people not to pay their taxes, or even to play the lottery as a means of making ends meet.

There are other stories like that, stories from the BIble we usually don't read in church. Back in the day, a child could count on a smirk or two during the annual reading of the one about Baalam's ass, gone forever from our Sunday mornings since the 1979 prayer book took them over. I, for one, miss it, although it's not like there aren't still plenty of talking asses.

And then there's the one in which Jesus, peeved because a fig tree does not bear figs out of season -- duh -- curses it, causing the tree to wither and die. We do still read that one on a Sunday here and there, and it's challenging to preach on -- it's always hard to preach on Jesus when he doesn't make much sense. Times like that are when we must all remember that these ancient books were written and copied by ordinary people, and that the transmission of the ancient words has made some interesting detours along the way from them to us. We can't hold Jesus responsible for everything we read about him. Reading the Bible can be an immediate and soul-satisfying comfort, just the face value of the old words at this very moment speaking to the heart in need of them at this very moment. But it is also a more considered thing, a subtle and demanding art, which is why it's so good to do it in company with others and to learn as much as possible about it, including how it came to be the way it is.

There is a spirit abroad among us these days which demands that everything be simple. It is a spirit suspicious of learning and of serious thought, a spirit that equates the pursuit of excellence with elitism and snobbery. It asserts that leadership is nothing more than representation of the majorit opinion, that our leaders need to be just like us, nothing more, when the truth is that leaders need to lead, and leadership often requires something extraordinary. This spirit maintains that the equality that exists among human beings in the sight of a loving God means that nobody really needs to learn anything. It contents itself with superficiality. It confuses the God who really does accept me just as I am with one who doesn't want me to grow and change. Yes, God loves me as I am. But God also wants me to be all I can be. Which is more than I am right now.


Here are the three Bible stories I mention above.

Jesus and the fish with the coin in its mouth

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" "Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?" "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."
-- Matthew 17:24-27

Balaam and his talking ass

And the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. And the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. Then the angel of the LORD went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" And Balaam said to the donkey, "Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you." And the donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?" And he said, "No." Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the LORD said to him, "Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live."
--- Numbers 22:22-33

Jesus and the fig tree

Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked. Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
--Matthew 21:18-22 (a slightly longer version of the story appears
in Mark 11)

The Almost-Daily eMo from the Geranium Farm Copyright © 2001-2009 Barbara Crafton - all rights reserved

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time away for a time

Dear Friends,
I much enjoy writing this blog, and finding the photos and artwork that fits; it is part of my spiritual discipline (even the political stuff), and it gives me pleasure to know when others are reading this. Lately, though, life at St. Paul's has been unusually intense, and I am not giving this space what I'd like to give it.

I will be heading out to see my mother and sister and nephew later this week. I am in need of a breather as I tend to my family and catch my breath a little. So consider this a sabbath from the blog for a bit. Please check back in a few days when we pick this up again. And thank you for keeping my family in your prayers. See you here soon.

Blessings to all,

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Monday Funnies

I don't know about you, but I could use a few dumb jokes today, especially at the expense of organized, and disorganized, religion. So, please, enjoy your Monday...

* * *
A missionary comes to a remote village in Africa and finds that all the men there had more than one wife. Some of them had even four or five.

The missionary addresses the men and says, "You are violating a law of God. Man can only have one wife, so you must go and tell all the women, except for one, that they can no longer consider you their husbands and live here."

The men consult among themselves for a while, then the village Chief says. "We'll wait here. YOU go and tell them."
* * *
The devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a cow walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth!

The cowboy couldn't believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the cow's mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, "It's a miracle!"

"Not really," said the cow. "Your name is written inside the cover."
* * *
My little niece, Katy, went with a neighbor girl to church for First Communion practice. The pastor has the children cup their hands, and when he gives them the "Host," in this case, a piece of bread, he says, "God be with you."

Apparently this made quite an impression on my niece. She came home and told my sister to cup her hands and bend down. Katy took a piece of bread from her sandwich, placed it in her mother's hands, and whispered, in her most angelic voice, "God will get you."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Blogs I like

This morning I am feeling out of words -- perhaps I need a sabbath from the blog for a bit. So I want to tell you about a few blogs I really like. There is a whole string of them on the left side of this page. But here are three I am plugging:

Lori K's Cafe -- Yep, wife Lori's food blog. Check out her cooking tips, everything from the difference between fried and baked bacon to drying parsley. Even if you don't cook, it's good fun and probably will make you hungry. Find her blog by clicking HERE.

Midlife Bat Mitzvah -- My long-time friend Ilana Debare, a former reporter and columnist with The San Francisco Chronicle, has started a blog about her journey as adult Bat Mitzvah (the ceremony to take place in 2011). What else is a middle-aged former journalist to do? Ilana has a great wit and a genuine discerning heart; travel along with her by clicking HERE.

Pickup truck bishop -- Speaking of journeys, Dan Edwards, the Episcopal Bishop of Nevada, writes a wonderful blog about his travels around his state in his pickup truck (which is patched together with duct tape). He has a dry wit, a holy presence and a cowboy hat. Follow him by clicking HERE.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sacred places, sacred moments

I spent Thursday at a diocesan monthly meeting for clergy new to the Diocese of Virginia, along with Associate Rector Ann Willms. The roads were slick with rain, but we made it to-and-fro Fredericksburg.

Our conversation at the meeting ranged over a lot of landscape, from challenges in our parishes to our leadership styles. But it was not all shop-talk about programs and church dynamics.

We also prayed together, and talked about the sacred times and places, moments of joy and pain, we are called to share with our people. There was much wisdom and considerable compassion in the room, and that made the room a sacred place.

I came across this photo on the internet Thursday evening. It was taken a few hours earlier in Yosemite near Half Dome. Seems it was rainy there, too. I share it with you simply because it feels sacred to me.

Photo by Nick Ahlgrim

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What we need is here

It's been kind of rainy and dreary the past few days. We had a power outage Wednesday at our house on a mountainside. Our neighbors tell us to get used to it.

Autumn is definitely in its final throes; the trees around us are more barren than leafed, summer now a memory. There is one major benefit to the trees losing foliage; we can now see the Ragged Mountains a few miles away, and they are still a rich quilt of ambers.

One thing I miss this time of year about the West is the Pacific Flyway. We used to live under it. The geese, ducks, and other migratory birds fly south down the Central Valley in massive winged formations. Sometimes, when it is overcast, we can hear the birds squawking above clouds as they fly over our house. The birds fly day and night, and there were nights when the dog would wake up and bark at the noisy birds overhead.

I hope this day, wherever you are, you will pause, maybe look up in the sky, or just listen to the sounds of autumn around you. Here is an offering for your day from our friend Karen in Tennessee:
The Wild Geese
by Wendell Berry

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

Photo of the Pacific Flyway by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thanks to our veterans

Today we give . . .

Thanks to our veterans for all you have done, and for the freedom that you have protected.

Gratitude to their families, wherever and how long you serve.

Prayers to those who serve are far from our shores, and those who are near.

And may those who wait, those who suffer, and those who bind up the wounds find strength, courage and rest at the last.

To our veterans: Blessings on your day.

Join us tonight for Community Night

Wednesday Evening Prayer

Each Wednesday evening at 5:30 pm we gather in the chapel for evening prayer. On the first Wednesday of every month we have a Taize service of music, silence, readings and prayers. On the other Wednesday evenings we have prayers, music, readings and a homily from a member of the congregation. After the service, we share dinner in the Parish Hall. All are welcome! Here is a list of up-coming Wednesdays:

Nov. 11 John Frazee
Nov. 18 Hannah Tribble
Nov. 25 Thanksgiving Eve Service & Dinner
Dec. 2 Taize
Dec. 9 Matthew Lukens
Dec. 16 Kristen Suokko

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Moving beyond human precepts

Now and then I run across something in the Daily Office readings that I have never quite focused on before. For the uninitiated in Episcopalspeak, the Daily Office gives us biblical readings from Old and New Testaments assigned for each day running on a two-year cycle.

We are nearing the end of Year One (the new church year begins the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29, when Year Two will begin).

So it was that on Monday I came across a tidbit in the Gospel of Matthew that I had seen before, but which now jumped off the page to me. The passage for the day, Matthew 15: 1-20, is a short lecture from Jesus about how religious leaders give lip service to the religious law (Torah) but do not honor it with their actions.

He ends up with the familiar statement that it is what is in your heart that leads to good or bad actions.

But that is not what intrigued me. What caught my attention Monday was Jesus quoting from Isaiah 29: 13. Jesus does not quote Isaiah precisely, but tweaks the Isaiah passage a bit. Here is how it comes out with Jesus:

“The people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

Teaching human precepts as doctrines.

That led me to crack open the commentaries on this passage. What I learned is that Jesus was wading into the controversy of the korban, a First Century Jewish practice of declaring something to be sacred, or "clean," when, in fact, it really isn’t. Jesus criticized the religious leaders for looking for loopholes in Torah by embracing human practices and declaring them clean when, in fact, they are merely cultural customs. Let us not forget that in this, like so much else, Jesus is Jewish and is primarily concerned with showing others how to be better Jews.

As I said, Jesus tweaked Isaiah a bit. The Isaiah passage is focused on worship practices. Jesus moves beyond worship and into life practices. He puts it squarely: how much of what we justify in life as central to religious doctrine is really cultural practice dressed up as sacred?

And that led me to wondering how much korban we do as Christians in the theological debates that so captivate us now. How often do we declare that one of our cherished cultural practices is based on “sacred” doctrine when, in fact, it is really only cultural?

This is a touchy topic, and can cut in several directions.

A century-and-a-half ago, white Americans declared that slavery was sacred, and they found much in religious doctrine to support their position. The Bible is certainly full of justifications for slavery. Yet who among us now would make the claim that slavery is justifiable based on Christian doctrine?

Did the doctrine change or did the culture? Or was the doctrine never really in support of slavery, but those who supported slavery forced the doctrine to support it?

Nothing is more culturally based than marriage customs. That has been true since the dawn of humanity, and is certainly true now. Every society and every religion has marriage rites, and rules governing who may be married to whom. The Bible reflects several forms of marriage, including polygamy. When it comes to marriage, the Bible oozes with the culture of the people who wrote it.

But what about marriage is based on doctrine?

I sincerely believe that God blesses loving relationships, and that two people can be bound together in spirit and flesh in life-long committed relationships. I believe that is at the heart of the gospel, and that St. Paul gives us a foundation of “faith, hope, and charity” that can guide us in all human relationships, including marriage.

Yet we also add layers of culture – human “precepts” – to our marriage customs. Our wedding ceremony in the Episcopal Church is based on the Book of Common Prayer; weddings in our church look a certain way, reflecting our European (English) roots. We've added a few extras in recent years, like "unity" candles. Go to Mexico or India or China, and you will see very different ways of celebrating weddings, all wonderful, and all grounded deeply in their cultures.

This passage from Matthew, if taken seriously, poses tough questions for conservatives and liberals alike on the topic of marriage.

Conservatives rightly warn that we should beware of bending our religious doctrine to changes in our culture. Yet how much of that doctrine is grounded in a cultural practice? How much of their opposition to gay marriage is really based on a cultural bias against homosexuality? Do recent votes, like in Maine, against gay marriage prove that gay marriage is wrong, or only that American culture is still much biased against gay marriage?

Recently, a wing of our church has taken to calling itself “orthodox” because it is following traditional teachings on marriage. Yet that begs the question: Are these traditional teachings “orthodox,” or merely human precepts in the guise of orthodoxy?

Liberals warn that the culture is changing, and the church needs to change with it lest it become meaningless to the people it is meant to serve. Yet does the gospel change when the culture changes? Are liberals responding merely to new human precepts? Are there timeless foundations to the gospel that can guide us beyond the boundaries of culture as it changes?

It seems to me that there are. When we discuss the issue of marriage, straight and gay, we ought to be discussing it in the context those timeless gospel values of faith, hope and charity.

True orthodoxy might just get us out of this predicament.

As I understand it, orthodoxy in a Christian context is grounded in the creeds: statements of faith about the triune nature of God and the saving acts of Jesus Christ (note: marriage is not mentioned). Resurrection is central to the creeds, and resurrection knows no cultural boundaries because resurrection comes only by the grace of God through Christ. Resurrection and salvation ought to be our guide in conversations about marriage, whether you are liberal or conservative – and maybe then our conversation might move beyond “human precepts.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Monday Funnies

We have another entry to the Catholic-Anglican mess-fest cartoon contest.

Once finished with that, you will find below a video tutorial on how to worship like a Pentecostal.

Hope you enjoy your Monday, all in good fun...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Giving everything you have

Today's sermon is based on Mark 12:38-44

"Beware of scribes who like to walk around in long robes."

I am not so sure I like the sound of that in the gospel today.

So, I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine. Her name is Caryl, and she celebrated her 90th birthday last night.

Caryl is not poor, but she is certainly not rich. She lives modestly, and she enjoys going to baseball games with her many friends. She has one of the greatest laughs you will ever hear and always has time to talk. She is someone you want to be around.

Caryl is one of the mainstays of the altar guild in hr church. Once or twice a month, she takes fresh baked pies to new members of the church. She also volunteers at a food closet in the community.

My friend Caryl leads a life of giving. Everything about her is about giving.

There are many Caryls here in this parish. They are people who give of themselves freely and fully, working on our altar guild, coaching our acolytes, working in the kitchen or arranging flowers, ushering, serving at communion, visiting people in hospitals, cooking dinner at the Salvation Army for homeless people, or leading discussion groups for university students who are trying to figure out life beyond their studies.

And the list Caryls and Bobs and Jeans and Bills is much, much longer than that.
The story in the gospel today is about one of these people, a woman who gives two copper pennies, and gives everything she has.

I am always struck by how people with so very much react to this story – you mean she gives everything?

Yes, everything.

But how will she survive?

But that is not the question Jesus would have us ask.

Jesus gives us this story for a reason: to show us that someone who outwardly has very little can give abundantly, and it will always be enough.

The poor woman gives knowing that there will be two more copper coins coming her way, and more after that. She trusts that God gives her everything she needs because it is all really God’s anyway.

Like my friend Caryl, and all of the Caryls in this world, her life is richer by her giving. There is freedom in her giving, freedom to stop worrying, to stop being anxious, and freedom to live life fully.

By her giving, she is fully present to everyone and everything around her. By her giving, she is a full participant in God’s miracle of creation, in God’s miracle of life.

This morning, I would like to encourage you to give everything you have to life itself. Everything.

And by doing so, I’d like to encourage you to think about how you can live your life as fully and completely as God would have you live.

What would that look like for you if you really lived fully? What do you have to give, and what do you need to give up, to lead such a life? What holds you back? Maybe you already are living this way – you are a Caryl – so what wisdom do you have for the rest of us? Give us that.

This kind of giving truly needs to start in prayer. Can you find a place this week to sit somewhere quietly and ask God to point you in a direction?

Listen for the answer. It might come loudly, or it might come as the small still voice that is inside you. The answer may take time to unfold, and it may not come immediately. Or it might be so obvious you don’t notice for a time.

But it will come.

And then act by giving everything of yourself to this project of life on earth.

Give abundantly of yourself in all you do, in your home, in the workplace, at school, to everyone you meet, and in everything you do. Be wealthy in your giving.

When you fall short, start over. Be generous to yourself, as you would have others be generous to you. Those who give sometimes have a hard time receiving; be gracious in receiving the gifts that come your way. We are never too poor to give, and never too rich to receive.

And then I’d like to invite you to give generously to the mission of St. Paul’s. Even if you give only 10 percent of yourself to this church, it will be enough.

I don’t think you should give merely because this institution needs to stay open as an institution.

I hope you might give because the mission of this church is important to your life, and this church lifts lives including your own.

I think it important that you know where the money goes, because the money follows the mission of healing, hope and redemption that this faith community serves.

Yet I strongly resist preaching a sermon about the budget, because none of this is really about numbers on a page.

It is about the mission.

The cost of our mission is about $900,000 a year. Seventy-five cents out of every dollar we spend comes directly from you as contributions.

Here are a few facts about how we spend our dollars on our mission: We will give $55,000 this year to organizations that are especially skilled in bringing our ministry beyond our walls to those in the greatest need in our community.

A hard working committee led by Marsha Trimble and Doug Little recently looked in detail at each of these organizations, and they will be speaking about their work after the 10 am service in the chapel.

We are also committed to our ministry with the University of Virginia community, and we will spend at least $50,000 on the costs related to that ministry this year, probably more depending how you add it up.

We are also hugely committed to our children and teenagers, and the cost of that ministry exceeds what we spend on university ministry.

Our participation in the mission and ministry of the wider Episcopal Church costs $67,000, which we give to the Diocese of Virginia, which in turn uses those dollars not just for a staff in Richmond but for work in Sudan and Haiti.

And perhaps largest of all is our commitment to the pastoral care of this congregation. People come here with many needs; they are young, old, rich and poor. Pain and hurt make no distinctions, and neither do we. Without our dedicated clergy and lay staff, the care of this congregation would be greatly diminished if not impossible.

All of these ministries are essential to our mission as the people of God in this time and place; as people called to be the hands and feet of Christ’s healing and hope in the world, and to each other. All of this happens only because there are people named Caryl, and people named Bill and Jean, Buck and Wayne – and people like you. AMEN.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The people of the church speak: Our priority ought to be reaching youth and young adults

You may recall a few months ago we were encouraged to complete an on-line survey on what we think the priorities of the Episcopal Church ought to be. Nearly 6,700 people responded, and the top priority is: "reaching youth and young adults." Next came "evangelism/proclaiming the good news of Christ," which I think is related.

You can read an Episcopal News Service report on the survey, which has a link to a download of the full results. The ENS report can be found by clicking HERE. I intend to read the results closely and comment further here in the coming days.

It is my hope that in the coming months we will find ways to strengthen our already strong youth and young adult programs at St. Paul's, and broaden our reach so that we can attract new people. Stephanie Bolton, our chair of Newcomers ministries, our associate rector, Ann Willms, and Tony Potter are working to develop a new system for attracting and keeping new members. If you'd like to be a part of that effort, please contact me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Uganda and the Anglican Communion's moment of truth

Uganda is among the largest, if not the largest, province of the Anglican Communion. There are 8.7 million Ugandans who consider themselves Anglican, roughly four times the size of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

The government of Uganda is considering legislation that would make homosexuality punishable by death, and make it a crime to assist gay, bisexual and transgendered people in any way.

At risk are not only people in the LGBT community, but those providing care and counseling to people infected by HIV/AIDS.

So far the Anglican Communion has been strangely silent. Whatever our arguments over gay marriage and the full inclusion of all people may be, certainly we can agree that this proposed law is barbaric and as far from teachings and life of Jesus Christ as it possibly could be. Even the Lambeth Conference with its resolutions against the ordination of gays nonetheless acknowledges the human rights of gay people.

We have heard from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in recent days on the issue of global warming, and let's applaud him for that. But where is he on this? Where are all of our bishops? Where is the Anglican Church of Uganda? All of the arguments over the Roman Catholic Church relationship with the Anglican Communion are but a sideshow compared to this moment of truth.

A recent article from the UK religious journal Ekklesia provides a few details:
The Anglican Communion and its leaders have reached a critical moment of judgement in its attitude to homosexuality. It is now 23 days since the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 was tabled by David Bahati, the MP for Ndorwa West in Uganda, but the leaders of the Communion have remained silent. The only Anglican groups to have responded are those working for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Let us speculate on two possible reasons for the silence. The Communion leaders might say we are focused on bigger issues – poverty, climate change, conflict zones, for example. They might say that homosexuality and a Bill proposed in Uganda are peripheral to the concerns of the Communion – homosexuality is not important to us.

This is clearly not true and might even be categorised as a lie. For over 11 years, homosexuality has been centre-stage for the Anglican Communion.

The proposed Bill legislates for capital punishment, will criminalise anyone who responds in any way to a homosexual person in Uganda and increases prejudiced attitudes towards homosexuals. American conservative Christian groups are complicit in encouraging the tabling of the Bill.

To read the full article, click HERE.