Sunday, February 28, 2010

"Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield"

Today's sermon is based on Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

“Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield.”

Do you notice the first words the Lord Almighty tells Abraham? “Do not be afraid.” It is the same thing angels say when they make an appearance in the Bible: “Do not be afraid.”

What is this about being afraid and God? Maybe there is something scary about encounters with the sacred that make people feel afraid.

Maybe God knows that people become afraid when talk turns to religion: the road map of the Spirit is very sketchy, and religion can get you into a lot of trouble in a hurry in the world.

Look at the lessons this morning: fear laces throughout: God challenges Abraham to go on a long journey to a land far away; he has no idea where he is going, or how to get there, or who he might meet along the way. That is scary.

Or take the letter to the Philippians: Paul is writing to a persecuted Christian community that is facing death at any moment, and he is telling them to not be afraid.

Or take Jesus in the gospel lesson from Luke: His followers tell him that Herod is out to kill him, and Jesus ignores them. “It is not my time yet,” he tells them, “I have much to do, and besides I need to get to Jerusalem first. So stop worrying.”

All of these stories are about journeys that are filled with peril. These stories aren’t necessarily about great people with great faith.

Some people have faith, some people don’t. The stories don’t all have happy endings. What ties these stories together is God’s faithfulness to God’s people. In each story God is present, and God finds a way to bring people home from their journey, no matter how bleak or frightening the situation looks at the time.

So, that raises a question for me: Were those who wrote the Bible unafraid? I don’t think so. Then as now, there was much to fear: wars, disease, crime, natural disasters, and all manner of evil.

Then as now, bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own. All of us here know that – all of us – no matter our age or station in life.

And into that uncertainty comes our God who implores us: Do not be afraid.

Why do we hear this now, in Lent? Maybe because this is the time of year when we are most in need of hearing it.

The fact that Lent comes in the middle of winter is no accident. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Good Friday and Jesus dying on the Cross. Easter is coming, but not yet. First is the journey through the valley of the shadow of Lent, and it is tempting to not go there. But go anyway.
On this journey, we are asked to pay attention to what we see and experience on our walk to Easter.

Lent is a time of surprises. It is a time that we set aside for being just a little more intentional about our walk with God, the time to look inward at what separates us from God, and what separates us from those around us.

The reason we “give up” something for Lent isn’t out of masochistic obligation, but to bring ourselves into a place where we notice the presence of God in the ordinary.

So if you want to give up something, give up being distracted, or give up being too busy to smile or to laugh. Give up being too busy to pray.

Or this: how about giving up being afraid to hear the small still voice telling you that you really are loved, you truly are the beloved of God?

How about giving up fear for Lent?

Find a way to simplify, slow down, lighten up and discover again what really matters in life. That might lead you to saying yes to a new adventure in your life. It might lead you to reaching outside yourself by participating in one of our ministries in the community that we are celebrating today as part of our Centennial.

Notice one more thing: After God tells Abraham to not be afraid, Abraham replies, “O Lord, what will you give me?”

That sounds like a rather impertinent question: What’s in it for me?

And God replies: everything is in it for you: You will have many heirs, and much abundance; grace upon grace is yours forever. So stop worrying. “I am your shield.”

God tells Abraham that no matter how hard the journey, no matter how terrifying the darkness descending, God will be there with Abraham and his descendants.

“I am your shield,” God tells us.

We are the descendants of Abraham, each one of us. God’s promise of faithfulness to Abraham is God’s promise to us – and is ours forever. AMEN

Photo of the Abraham stained glass window at Canterbury Cathedral; the window dates from the 12th century and is south facing.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A cry for help: Our health care "debate" and what it means to real people

I have stayed out of the health care debate largely because it makes my stomach turn. The biting partisanship, the sloganeering that is being passed off for analysis, and the esoteric jargon clouds all my attempts at sorting out the issue. Last summer I thought I might learn something by going to one of the so-called "town hall" meetings.

Instead of a reasoned debate, I was treated to a group of angry demagogues lambasting the local first-term Democratic Congressman for even thinking about voting for health care reform. More recently, the woman who cut my hair lectured me about how those who favor health care reform are really trying to create "death panels" to euthanize people. I wanted to run screaming from her barber chair and the entire topic along with it.

Meanwhile, life in the parish goes on. The clergy visit the sick, console the bereaved, and we talk with families facing life and death decisions about the people they love. Most people, in my experience, know nothing about what they will face until the day they are confronted with the starkness of feeding tubes, incubators, and beeping monitors by the bedside of their mother or father, wife or partner, child or friend, in a noisy and often chaotic hospital room. When they enter that room and reach that moment, the political slogans are utterly meaningless.

And that brings me to this 13-minute commentary by Ken Olbermann on MSNBC. I'd like you to watch it. I'd especially like you to watch if you are healthy, or if you have aging parents, or you have someone you love who is chronically ill. I don't care about your politics, but make no mistake: politics and health care are now cemented together. This is not easy to watch, and Olbermann's language is blunt, graphic and detailed as he describes the decisions he is making about his very ill father. You may not like what you hear. But please watch:

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Orb-weavers, sitting in the corner, the world not bad

Usually in church life things slow down shortly after Christmas. Not this year. We've had a visit from the presiding bishop, waves of snowstorms, an annual meeting, a centennial banquet, Vestry retreat, and a relentless stream of pastoral care needs in our parish. And that's just a start to the list.

Truthfully, we are way overdo for a poem. So here is one sent by our friend Karen in Tennessee. I love it. Enjoy your day.

Private Lives
by Allan Peterson

How orb-weavers patch up the air in places
like fibrinogen, or live in the fence lock.
How the broom holds lizards.
How if you stand back you will miss them
afflicted by sunset,
the digger bees mining the yard,
birds too fast to have shadows,
the life that lives in the wren whistle.
You will see moth-clouds
that are moving breaths
and perhaps something like the star
that fell on Alabama
through the roof of Mrs. E. Hulitt Hodges
and hit her radio, then her.
No, you must be close for the real story.
I remember being made
to stand in the corner for punishment
because it would be dull and empty
and I would be sorry.
But instead it was a museum of small wonders,
a place of three walls
with a weather my breath influenced,
an archaeology of layers, of painted molding,
a meadow as we called them then
of repeatable pale roses,
an eight-eyed spider in a tear of wallpaper
turning my corner.
The texture. The soft echo if I talked,
if I said I am not bad if this is the world.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"My Room" - A powerful homily by a treasured friend and member of St. Paul's

For the past year we've invited St. Paul's people to offer a reflection at our Wednesday Evening Prayer. We've been treated to some extraordinary meditations from some extraordinary people.

Last night, it was my privilege to read one of these reflections from
Joseph "Pepe" Humphrey. I need to explain a bit.

Pepe, and his wife Sally, were among the first people I got to know when we moved to Charlottesville. They are from Berkeley, and they had been members at All Souls Parish until he took a professor post at the University of Virginia. My All Souls friends told me to look them up, and of course I did.

Pepe has been in our Education for Ministry group. We've been meeting in his house until recently.

Pepe could not be there last night. He has cancer. He was scheduled to read his homily a few weeks ago, but then the snow hit, and he couldn't get to St. Paul's. We rescheduled for last night, but he is now so weak he could not come to read it.

He asked me to read this for him. I have to say it was one of the most powerful Evening Prayer experiences I have ever witnessed.

Before you read this, first read John 14:1-6. Then take your time reading, and please keep Pepe and Sally, and his daughters, in your prayers:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, and when He placed the stars in the firmament of the heavens, I like to think He brought into existence a universe replete with galaxies, each with innumerable solar systems supporting many, many earth-like planets vibrant with life at different stages, with intelligent God-loving creatures like us created in the image of God. Jesus says in John’s Gospel, "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.” I like to think that the “Father’s house” Jesus speaks of is the universe God created, and that the “many rooms” are the collection of life-supporting planets in this universe.

I have a dwelling place that I call “My Room.” I have lived in My Room all my life. My Room has many windows and a door, and I control whether they are open, half open or shut, and what passes through them. I have lived a very insulated, self-focused and self-gratifying life in My Room, with the door to it often shut except for special visitors of my own choosing. But now and then I have opened or half-opened some of the windows to deal with the world outside. In fact, some of the windows have mail slots at their base, so that if I do not wish to open a particular window I can still interact indirectly with the world outside by posting a note.

One window that is fully open all the time is the Window of Knowledge. For I am a scientist you see, and my livelihood and much of my intellectual excitement rest largely on the knowledge I receive and transmit through that window. I have no problem keeping that window open.

Another window that I thought was fully open is the Window of Family Relatives and Friends. But when I look carefully I see that it has been only partly open. Over the years I have taken for granted my wife and children and not bothered to fully open that window to let pass through it all the responsibilities and joys associated with being a husband and a father. I have now fully opened that window.

There is also the Window of Health, another window that I thought was fully open but which, in fact, was only partly open. Again, for years I took good health for granted and did not let enough fresh air and sunshine pass through this window, to really promote my good health in the company of others. I have done exercise all my life, but always alone, inside My Room, cut off from the outside world.

Then there is the Window of Love and Compassion. This window has always been mostly shut, any interactions with the outside world being through the mail slot at its base. The window was mostly shut because I thought I knew all about love and compassion. But I was wrong. By opening this window I discover that, to know about love you must allow yourself to be loved, and to know about compassion you have to experience suffering. In the self-satisfied smug world of My Room, I had cut myself off from both real love and true compassion. Now this window has been pried wide open and I know more about love and compassion, especially for others.

There are other windows to My Room and we need not explore them all, except perhaps to tell you about the Window of Faith and Hope. I knew this window was jammed, painted shut, but I gave it no importance. I had never questioned my “faith;” and what did I need to “hope” for?; I had all I needed to hope for in My Room. Then a series of devastating events occurred in relatively quick succession...I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and started to receive a long and painful therapy...
In my desperation and suffering I ran to the Window of Faith and Hope and tried to pry it open, but I could not budge it. I pounded on it, I clawed with fingernails at the paint hoping to loosen it, I pulled as forcefully as I could on the handle. But all to no avail. And yet I could hear whispering on the other side of the window, and I yelled in anger “Open this window!” But nothing happened, just a continued gentle whispering on the other side. Eventually, I slumped against the window and finally crumpled to the floor miserable and exhausted, a very sad and broken man. In my sobbing I begged God’s forgiveness for my great sin and, eventually, I fell into a deep sleep. In my sleep I heard more whispering, I heard these words being whispered to me: “For behold, you look for truth deep within me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly.”

Hours later when I awoke, the first thing I noticed was that the window of Faith and Hope was wide open, letting fresh air and sunlight into My Room. The window showed no signs of having been forced, and it moved easily on its hinges. The other thing I noticed was that the whispering had stopped. But now that the window was fully open I could read some words the Whisperer had scorched into the outside wooden frame; the words read: “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

I come to the end of my story. The point is to remind you that each one of us lives in a room of our own making, with windows and a door, and it is important to open the windows and the door fully to allow the joy and gladness of the outside world to enter your room carried by the Grace and Love of God. I think the psalmist new all about cosmic houses and rooms when he wrote: “One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”

Joseph A.C. Humphrey

Painting by Edward Hopper

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vestry retreat: Listening for the holy Spirit, election of new wardens and officers

This past weekend the St. Paul's Vestry went on retreat for two days and two nights. We began and ended in prayer.

On our first evening we shared our personal stories. The next day we spent the entire first morning talking about discernment of the Holy Spirit and how that might translate into making decisions as leaders of our parish.

On Saturday afternoon we worked on the 2010 budget, unanimously approving a balanced budget that maintains our ministries. If the budget is is to work, it will require more involvement by the lay members of St. Paul's in virtually every ministry of the parish.

Then we got a little free time before dinner.

On Saturday evening our conversation was less formal, but at least as intense. We discussed the various roles of the officers of the Vestry and how Vestry members can support each other. We had an involved conversation about how all of us can communicate more directly and clearly with each other and with the parish.

Finally, on Sunday morning, we elected the officers of the Vestry. The Vestry continued a practice I introduced last year that is somewhat unusual. I do not pick the officers or even make a suggestion. Instead, each member of the Vestry is asked to complete one of the the following sentences: "I feel called to be [senior warden]," or "I do not feel called to be [senior warden] but I believe [Name] is called to be senior warden."

Not until everyone agrees on who the one called is, including the one named, do we have an election. It takes time, a great deal of vulnerability and courage, and all of it begins and ends in prayer.

The new Senior Warden is Pam Dennison (photo at right); the new Junior Warden is Bruce
Carveth. Re-elected as treasurer was Jack Bocock; and elected as Register is Sterling Alexander. Please keep all of them in your prayers.

We also discussed, at some length, the role of the junior warden. You may recall that a year ago the Vestry decided to change the traditional role of junior wardens managing the building.

Instead, the junior warden would direct a special project. Last year, Paul Brockman agreed to chair the Centennial celebration as junior warden, and Paul will continue this year to chair the centennial.

Bruce's project as junior warden will be to examine and assist us with all aspects of communication at St. Paul's. Meanwhile, Pat Punch will continue to chair our Buildings & Grounds Ministry Team.

One other thing: Unfortunately, there's been some misunderstanding about how this year's Vestry was elected in an open process of discernment and nomination. I've given a lengthy explanation on this blog, and now there are several comments worth reading both pro and con. You can access that by either scrolling down, or simply clicking HERE.

I feel very good about our Vestry members for this year, and how they talked and listened to each other at the retreat; each of them are dedicated to St. Paul's and dedicated to listening to each other and the Holy Spirit as they embark upon their leadership in our parish for 2010. Please give them your thanks and support when you see them. And keep all of us in your prayers.

Photos by Dudley Rochester.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday funnies

The sun came out Sunday and the snow is melting. As I look out from my second-story window, the snow on the garage roof looks to be about 10 inches thick. Good!

Time for some lame jokes at the expense of preachers everywhere. Cartoon by Dave Walker (of course) Enjoy the Monday Funnies...
Our church assigns people to be greeters at church before worship.
According to my mother, this practice is known as "Howdy Duty"
* * *
A paramedic was asked on a local TV talk-show program: "What was your
most unusual and challenging 911 call?"

"Recently we got a call from that big white church at 11th and Walnut,"
the paramedic said. "A frantic usher was very concerned that during the
sermon an elderly man passed out in a pew and appeared to be dead. The usher
could find no pulse and there was no noticeable breathing."

"What was so unusual and demanding about this particular call?" the interviewer asked.

"Well," the paramedic said, "we carried out four guys before we found the one who was dead."
* * *
An Anglican vicar, well into a lengthy sermon on the Gospel for the day,
suddenly stopped and called down to the his warden "that man's asleep."

The warden replied: "You put him to sleep; YOU wake him up."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

All True Christians: Bishop Dan Edwards

I am off on the Vestry retreat today, so I am featuring a "guest" blogger: Dan Edwards, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Nevada. I met him in an elevator last summer in Anaheim at General Convention. He was the only bishop wearing a baseball cap on the floor of the House of Bishops so I had to like him.

He wrote this the other day on his blog (you can read his blog by clicking HERE). I am reprinting this in full; it is thought-provoking:
All True Christians
By Dan Edwards
“All True Christians Are Pro-Life,” thus said a bumper sticker in Carson City.

I am indebted to this bumper sticker for keeping me entertained for days, spinning out lines of inquiry and wonder at such a curiously arrogant assertion of dogma. These are a few of the things I wonder about.

Who decides what opinions you have to hold in order to be a “true Christian?” For centuries, we worked out our definitions of orthodoxy in ecumenical councils. Bishops from all over the Christian world met in prayerful deliberation, guided by theologians, mystics, and people of noted sanctity. They came to a consensus definition of the faith. In those days, the statements of the ecumenical councils set the limits on Christian belief. There was a lot going on in the Protestant Reformation, but the theological heart of it was the claim that the definitions articulated by the councils had become too precise. Each person, the reformers insisted, should be given a copy of the sacred text, written in his or her own language, and allowed to find their own understanding of the truth guided by the indwelling Holy Spirit -- not an ecclesiastical hierarchy. That opened up the possibilities of “true Christianity” to a radically wider array of opinions. What may be new in our time is the extension of this individuality to the right of each individual not only to discern his or her own interpretation but to declare that interpretation to be orthodoxy itself and pronounce anathema on anyone who has reached a different interpretation.

So who defines a “true Christian” today? Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition took most of the pending legislation of the 1990’s, prescribed a right position on that legislation, and claimed that any legislator who voted wrong on any issue was not a “true Christian.” But how did Ralph get that authority? He couldn’t even get himself elected Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Yet he claimed a greater authority than the Council of Nicaea.

It used to be so simple. For Paul, if you could say “Jesus is Lord,” you were a true Christian even if you had some harebrained ideas. Eventually that 3-word affirmation grew into the Apostle’s Creed, and finally the Nicene Creed. In the 4th Century, being baptized and saying the Nicene Creed were enough to call yourself a true Christian even if you could not have passed Ralph Reed’s gauntlet of legislative issues test. Who decides whether someone is a “true Christian?” Maybe we could go back to objective standards like the Bible and the Ancient Creeds. Otherwise, we are in the hands of the manufacturers of bumper stickers.

But what about the substance of the claim itself? Are all true Christians “pro-life?” The threshold issue is: what do we mean by “pro-life?” If it means a basic orientation toward life and engagement with the world as opposed to life-denying asceticism, then I have to agree that a true Christian is pro-life. We are an Easter people, a people of the Resurrection. So we are for life – no doubt about it. I would think being pro-life compels one to be an ardent advocate of the Millenium Development Goals, to eradicate death-dealing malaria, tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS, and malnutrition. A pro-life person sends Nets For Life to Kenya. Since life depends on health, surely one who is pro-life must oppose toxic waste dumping, nuclear proliferation, global warming, and smoking. Are all of these positions essential to being a true Christian? Is that what the bumper sticker means?

Of course, that is not at all what “pro-life” means in American politics. It means support for government regulation of a women’s choice to carry a pregnancy to term as opposed to abort. I have no doubt whatsoever that a true Christian can be “pro-life” in that sense. I know many of them. But is that moral stance so indisputable as to be the core of Christian faith? It is probably not in Scripture (one verse is possibly – but it’s a stretch – arguable). It is definitely not in the Creeds. It is not an ancient dogma of the Church. It was never addressed by an ecumenical council. The Episcopal Church’s Resolution on abortion is “pro-life” in that it regards all life as sacred, it holds any abortion to be a “tragic choice,” and says abortion should never be done for trivial reasons – but it finally affirms that this is an intimate moral decision to be made by a woman with pastoral guidance and moral counseling – not something to be regulated by the government. So, if being “pro-life” means I have to support legislation, I would have to defy the teachings of my church in order to be a “true Christian.” Yet, so many of the Epistles and the writings of Church Fathers like Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome say that a true Christian respects the teachings of the Church. The bumper sticker does put many of us on the horns of dilemma.

How do we define a “true Christian?” What are the standards? My son-in-law, an ordained presbyter of the Methodist Church, recently “became a fan” of a Face Book page supporting gay marriage. A friend wrote him a lengthy exposition explaining that homosexuality is a sin, so she could not understand how a Christian could support such a thing. She was making a host of major assumptions which many of us who think of ourselves as Christians do not share – for example the basic function of the Bible as a rule book, the interpretation of ritual purity violations as “sins” even though both Testaments clearly treat them differently, the idea that forbidding one specific sexual practice implies the prohibition of others, the idea that rules explicitly directed against men can be extended to women, the notion that most ritual purity rules were superseded by the gospel but a select few were not, that the whole of moral revelation was complete in the Scripture, etc.

Again, there are clearly thousands of people on both sides of this issue –thousands who have been baptized, who receive the sacraments regularly, who recite the Ancient Creeds, and revere the Holy Scriptures, all saying “Jesus is Lord” and meaning it – yet who disagree about the morality of homosexuality. Is it possible for these people to disagree and yet recognize each other as “true Christians?” Yes, if . . . .

And here I gulp at what I feel compelled to say. In this post-modern age of devout subjectivism, I know this sounds hopelessly conservative. We can do what our forebears did. We can disagree and have high-charged energetic provocative conversations about the implications of the faith, but only if we embrace a strong orthodoxy and a vigorous orthopraxy.

The orthodoxy consists of a commitment to the sacred text, our holy Scriptures, as the starting point of discussion; a commitment to the ancient creeds as the framework, the language structure for our image of God; and a willingness to listen respectfully to the teachers, saints, poets, and sages of our tradition more than the pundits of today. The orthopraxy consists of a commitment to the Summary of the Law. To love God with all our hearts is to love a mystery, to revere a mystery, and so to be humble in the presence of that mystery. To love my neighbor as myself is to give him what is his due and what I expect in return, a decent respect for my integrity and my conscience. It occurs to me that adherence to the Summary of the Law might imply a certain reticence in what I paste to my bumper.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

While I am away...

There is a lot going on at St. Paul's tomorrow, so I hope you will be there. It is the First Sunday of Lent, and it begins with the chanting of the Great Litany. The cantor (Daniel Hine) will be chanting the "prayers of the people" in the opening litany, including the names of those who have asked prayers for healing, and those who have died.

We also have a double-header Sunday in adult education. I hope you will avail yourself of one of these opportunities:

An authentic Haitian Meal Fund Raiser with The Rev. Elisa Wheeler of Episcopal Relief and Development after the 10:00 am service. The Rev. Wheeler will be our guest preacher at both the 8am and 10 am worship services, and will speak at the luncheon about ERD’s work in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

We are also launching Lenten series on end-of-life issues, led by The Rev. Ann Willms, our associate rector. "Talking About Death Won't Kill You: A Lenten Series About Grace-Filled Endings" continue on Wednesday Feb. 24 and through Lent. This Sunday we have a guest speaker, Marcia Childress, who will be joining Ann for this.

Before you decide that this topic is too grim for you, please do think again. Even those of you who are in your 20s need to know about these issues, not just for yourself but for the care you might need to be giving your parents one day. I can tell you from personal experience having cared for my father before he died, I wish I had known more than I did at the time.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Vestry on retreat, the values of prayer and discernment decision making

I am heading off today with our St. Paul's Vestry for a retreat, and we will not return until Sunday afternoon.

It is my hope and prayer that this truly will be a retreat; a time when our parish leaders can step back and be in prayer and discernment together, and build themselves as the "Body of Christ." Please keep the Vestry in your prayers this weekend.

We will spend time in prayer and in conversation about what it means to be a circle of spiritual elders called to guide the life of the parish. We will be discerning who is called to be our wardens, treasurer and register -- the officers of the Vestry.

We will discuss how to take seriously the Book of Common Prayer's (page 854) proclamation that "Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church," and what that suggests to us as servant leaders of a parish.

For starters, it means that the Vestry is something more than a board of directors. The tools may look the same -- budgets, meetings, minutes and motions -- but the role is different. We aren't really in charge.

That brings me to the waters of the recent Vestry election whereby a nominating committee composed primarily of outgoing Vestry members proposed a slate of nominees that were the same number as the available openings. A number of people felt it was "undemocratic" and I heard some unkind comments that it was "sham election." While I see their point, I must acknowledge to you I am disturbed by the harshness of some comments, particularly those that were left anonymously.

I was not on the nominating committee, although I was aware of its work. I can also tell you that the Vestry as a whole discussed the nominating procedures over several meetings, and did not arrive at this process lightly or easily.

Yes, this process felt uncomfortable to many, and members of the nominating committee took some heat. But this process was not unprecedented for St. Paul's. In talking with Rector Emeritus David Poist, a single-slate was nominated periodically during his tenure. I can also tell you the way we did it this year is common practice for many Episcopal churches, although I don't have statistics on that.

It was not a sham election. In fact, in a very important sense, it was more open than the previous year. Let me explain:

The previous year the nominating committee recruited double the number of nominees as it had open seats, and thereby set up a contested election. But once those nominees were chosen, the nominations were closed. Once the contested election slate was announced, there was no opportunity for anyone else to say "Wait a minute, I don't like any of these people" and then put themselves on the ballot. It was a closed election that looked like it was open.

Moreover, a number of those people who were recruited were never warned that they were running against each other. They thought they had been recruited for the Vestry, and then some were rejected by the parish. The values of an election contest trumped the values of discernment.

The nominating committee this year was not charged with creating a contested election, but with discerning who would be good servant ministers on the Vestry. They did their task with considerable work and conversation and prayer, and great thanks goes to Paul Bushrow for his tireless work and his focus on the task as discernment. They recruited the number they needed, and then there was an OPEN opportunity for others to self-nominate and put themselves on the ballot. No one did.

The fact remains it is difficult to get people to serve on the Vestry. Service on the Vestry requires long hours, night meetings, attendance at retreats, representing the parish at community and diocesan events, and special projects. Most important, service on the Vestry requires a certain vulnerability to the Spirit, and to working with and hearing each other on the Vestry.

One other observation, and this is a bit subtle: The values of our American political culture -- contested elections, partisan politics, primaries, campaigns, etc. -- are not the same values as Church's mission to raise up servant leaders. The New Testament book The Acts of the Apostles talks about how early church leaders were chosen through prayer, discernment and drawing lots. The value was placed by the first apostles on servant leadership and finding ways to give the Holy Spirit room to speak through each servant leader. Now, I know we are not the early church, but those values should still be our values. And those values are not necessarily best expressed in an artificially created contested election that we might like because it reflects the values of our political culture.

You are free, of course, to disagree with anything or everything that I have written here. I do hope you will disagree openly and respectfully. And I am certain the Vestry will revisit this issue again, and sooner than it did last year. On that you can make a safe bet.

In my experience, the Holy Spirit can be heard in small circles, in quiet moments, in prayer, and with dedicated people working together to discern the Spirit, and reminding each other that that is their task. All of that, I believe, happened with this year's nominating committee. And I believe they have raised up a strong group of servant leaders for this year's Vestry.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My chalice and paten, for those who are curious

Some of you have asked about my chalice and paten, the sacramental receptacles that I use for the Holy Eucharist now and then. I was particularly pleased that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori used them at the 10 am service when she was here January 31.

Some years ago, before I was ordained, Lori found similar objects in an art gallery in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco along the Pacific Coast. She located the artist and commissioned a pair as a present for my ordination. They were first used by Bishop Jerry Lamb at my priesthood ordination in January 2001.

I used the chalice and paten every Sunday that I celebrated the Eucharist at Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento, which with many canons on the staff, was about once a month.

The chalice and paten are made from Montana soapstone, shaped on the lathe of Jack Richardson who is an amazing artist who lives in Nevada City, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. You can see Jack's work on his website Turned Stone by clicking HERE.

Jack says we are relatives, so I believe him. We aren't sure how, though.

When I was serving at All Souls Berkeley, as would happen, the paten (the plate) fell on the floor during a church service and cracked. We brought the damaged paten up to Jack's workshop. He reshaped it as a gift for the young acolyte who accidentally dropped the paten. Then he made two new patens for me.

Jack was an art teacher in Humboldt County many years ago, retiring (if you can call it that) to Nevada City. I can only envy his students. What an extraordinary gift he brings, not just with his art but with his wisdom and teaching and gentle wit. It was a treat for us a couple of years ago to spend a few hours with him, listening. His backlot is full of boulders and stones that he has an eye upon for future projects.

I hope you get to see some of his work in galleries, and share in the wine and bread of communion out of one of his chalice and patens. The Spirit is truly at work through Jack's hands.

Photos by Bonny Bronson.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Our Lenten reflections are now in the blogosphere

Some very talented members of St. Paul's have written a series of mediations for each day of Lent, beginning with a poem by Anna Askounis for today. The mediations are a gift from the people of St. Paul's Memorial Church to you, and come in a booklet that is yours for the asking.

We've also put the mediations on a blog; a new mediation will appear each day on this new blog. The name of the blog is St. Paul's Lenten Mediations, and you can access this site by clicking HERE. I hope you will bookmark it and go back each day for a few minutes. You can also leave your own reflections in the comment section of each entry.

Thanks to all of our authors, and especially to Nancy Brockman for coordinating and editing this huge effort in honor of our Centennial celebration.

Ash Wednesday is as different as it gets

This is my sermon from the 12:15 pm Ash Wednesday service today. It is based on 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21:

Ash Wednesday is as different as it comes.
On Ash Wednesday we use words not heard in ordinary conversation, like “wretchedness” to describe our condition. In a few moments, we will have grimy ashes smeared on our forehead. We will hear “from dust we come and to dust we return.”
It just doesn’t get more different than that.
On the face of it, the words we use are not exactly the most comforting, joyful words in the English language, or in the Christian religion, or for that matter, in any religion. This is not a warm and fuzzy feast day we are celebrating today.
In all candor, “To dust I shall return” is not something I particularly like to think about as I go through the daily drumbeat of my life. There are no Christmas trees or Easter lilies today.
Just ashes.
Today is the day when we stand and look squarely in the face of our own certain death.
What we do today, and what we are asked to think about today, is not only different, it is as countercultural as it gets.
Our culture works overtime to insulate us from death. We are bombarded daily with the message that we can endlessly stall off death with luxury cars or extravagant clothes or botox, or with a bottle or a pill or the perfect job.
Underlying our culture is a deep fatalism: That nothing we do will change anything – so we may as well grab all we can get until our luck runs out: Life is a stall game.
We don’t even like the word “death” or “dying” in our culture; we use euphemisms like “passing away” or simply “passing” or “parting.”
We rarely die at home, we segregate death into nursing homes and hospitals. We sanitize and domesticate death into oblivion to make it clean, two dimensional.
Our culture takes all the soul out of death.
Not all people in our world sanitize death the way we do. In Mexico, on the Day of the Dead, people parade through the streets with skeleton masks and bring feasts to their dead relatives in the graveyards.
In Louisiana, where my wife’s Cajun relatives live, they regularly hold picnics and outdoor dances in the town cemetery so that all of their dead friends and relations can be part of the festivities. They live St. Paul’s declaration that “love never ends.”
And, here on Ash Wednesday, we do something very different. We celebrate our own death before it happens. And by so doing, we proclaim our defiance of death.
Today, with ashes on our forehead, we proclaim that eternal life begins right now, and that although the death of our physical bodies will touch us in this mortal life, there is more to life than what we see now.
As Paul reminds us, “see, now is the day of salvation!”
Not tomorrow or the next day. Today.
On Ash Wednesday, we reach across the horizon of time and space and touch those who have gone before us and who are still with us, even though, for a little while, we cannot see them.
We celebrate with them that there is more to our existence than what we see now.
That is the treasure Jesus speaks of, and that is where our heart should be.

If we can catch a glimpse of our death in the ashes today, maybe we can see that our own death does not separate us from each other, but binds us together in the future that Christ has promised for all of us.
But things we do get in the way of our living into that promise.
That is why Ash Wednesday begins this season of Lent, set for personal introspection and the “giving up” of those things that get in our way of experiencing the fullness of God’s gift of life.

It is a time for self-examination, for working on our physical and spiritual health and looking into our deepest self for the God within us.
Also do something more. Look outside yourself for the God all around you. Do not simply withdraw, but look for the Christ in everyone you meet and in everything you do.
Saint Thomas Aquinas once observed that we should think of our souls differently than we do. Instead of seeing our soul as inside our body, we should see our bodies as inside of our soul.
That is another way of saying our soul is bigger than our mortal bodies, and our souls reach outside ourselves to touch other souls.
And that makes Lent something more than about me personally, but really about all of us together. If we can embrace a Holy Lent that is both inside us and beyond ourselves, may we can see that the hunger and pain of the world is ours, too.
I would suggest we can start here today by embracing our own death with hope. We can declare that death is not the end of the story, not for us, not for those we love, not for anyone.
If we can embrace this kind of hope, maybe we can find a way to embrace all people – all who are alive today, all who are beyond this horizon, and all who are yet to come – and see them as individuals who are connected to us.
By embracing our own death with hope, we can stand in communion with all people as fellow human beings who are truly loved by God. We can become the brothers and sisters to each other that God has intended us to be, on earth as it is in heaven.

Ash Wednesday: May you have a Holy Lent

I hope you will join us for one of our Ash Wednesday services today with the imposition of ashes and Holy Eucharist. Our services are at 7:30 am, 12:15 pm, 5:30 pm, and 7:30 pm.

We also have a gift for you from the members of St. Paul's: A booklet with mediations for each day of Lent, written by members, beginning with a poem today by Anna Askounis. I've read this several times, and I hear something new each time. I leave you with these verses for your day:

Ash Wednesday
By Anna Askounis
Rend your hearts
return to me
broken and contrite
let us journey together
into the
keep me, these forty days,
in the dark
of your

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The facts of life about St. Paul's finances and budget

At our annual meeting Sunday, I outlined the facts of life about our finances at St. Paul's and the highlights of our proposed budget for 2010. I am giving you that information here as well today.


First, by way of background, I have talked with several pastors in our area, and every congregation in Charlottesville is now feeling the impact of the recession, and we are not immune to the downturn.

Our parish has much abundance and many resources. We have raised $655,000 in financial pledges for 2010, thanks to the generosity of many of you.

That said, we are still $25,000 short from what was pledged in 2009, and that is requiring us to make some hard decisions about our budget for 2010. There are several reasons why our pledges are smaller than 2009, including the deaths of a few long-time members and the fact that we have not received pledge cards from a number of people who pledged in 2009.

If you have not pledged for the year, please do so. If you can increase your pledge, please do so. Our ministries can remain strong only with the contributions of our people. Every pledge is significant, and everyone can pledge something because God has given everyone has something to pledge. As Dudley Rochester, our stewardship chair, pointed out at the annual meeting, less than half of our regular members make a financial pledge. If everyone pledged something, we would have a very good cushion against losing pledges.

The budget for 2010

The budget we are proposing to the Vestry totals $843,608, and it is a balanced budget. It does not tap into reserves funds to balance the budget, as we did in the past few years.

As I mentioned, $655,000 comes from pledges, and the rest from endowment interest and rental income from properties that we own. We also are depending on a grant of $18,500 from the Diocese of Virginia for University ministry.

The budget we are proposing fully funds our $55,000 commitment to outreach ministries and organizations in the community. Last year we tapped a restricted reserve fund (the misnamed "Emergency Fund" which is a restricted fund for outreach) to fulfill that commitment. A hardworking task force examined our outreach grants this year, and I am confident we are putting our money where it will have the most impact. This year we will give grants only with operating funds. Any additional funds raised for outreach, for example for Haiti, will be in on top of that $55,000.

We are also meeting our commitment to the ministry of the Diocese of Virginia with a contribution of $71,000. Also, we are making a financial commitment to forming the future leaders of the Episcopal Church by making a total contribution of $6,500 to the seminaries of our church.

The Diocese of Virginia has one of the lowest (probably the lowest) parish apportionments in the Episcopal Church. By way of comparison, the church where I worked in Sacramento had a similar size budget to this one, and the apportionment was more than $200,000 a year to the diocese.

Our St. Paul's parish programs will remain strong through worship, prayer, education, music, and university ministries. All are funded at the same level as the year before. We are also setting aside $24,000 for building repairs, which is significantly less than the previous year but will allow us to maintain the building in safe working order.

That said, I must be candid with you about the condition of our building. We will need to commence a capital campaign to renovate and update our buildings in a year or two. We cannot wait much longer. Others sacrificed to give these buildings to us, and we got them for free; and to us comes the obligation to give them to future generations in better condition than they are now.

Our proposed budget also has significant cuts, and no pay raises except for our hard-working sexton. We will no longer purchase subscriptions for St. Paul’s members to the diocesan newspaper. We will no longer fund the discretionary funds of the clergy (you are welcome to make individual contributions for those funds).

We are also making difficult and deep cuts in our office operation, and that means we need volunteers to answer phones and greet people during weekday business hours. If you are interested, please talk to me soon.

The proposed budget is balanced, focused on serving people, and will keep our ministries vital and vibrant.

Photos by Bonny Bronson.

Monday, February 15, 2010

More Monday Funnies, and more snow...

It is snowing again. Enough already.

In that spirit, Betsy Poist sent this along. It is a church sign from Piney Flats, Tennessee...

Monday Funnies

I think this is a real story, but perfect for our Monday Funnies...

SCOTLAND: Police upset with monks' high-powered wine

[Ecumenical News International/Religion News Service] A small band of Benedictine monks in the south of England has come under fire for producing a fortified wine that critics describe as the "scourge of Scotland" for its high alcohol content.

The tipple, officially known as "Buckfast tonic wine" but nicknamed "commotion motion" or "wreck the hoose juice" by devotees in Britain's far north, is turned out at Buckfast Abbey, a monastery in the Devonshire hills of southwest England, Religion News Service reports.

But "Buckie" has become a national favorite brew in Scotland -- doubtless in part because it contains about 15 percent alcohol by volume. In other words, it packs a punch, as the police report.

In one Scottish police constabulary, in Strathclyde, "Buckie" has been mentioned in some 5,000 crime reports, one of every 10 of them involving violence, over the past three years.

Police Superintendent Bob Hamilton said, "I think it's clear from the figures that there is an association there."

It also was too much for the Rt. Rev. Bob Gillies, the Scottish Episcopal Church's bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, who in a BBC interview blasted what he described as the monks' "moral double-take" in manufacturing such a drink.

They are doing so, he added, "knowingly aware of the social damage as well as the medical damage that it is doing to the kids who take it in such vast volumes."

Former Scottish government minister Cathy Jamieson insisted to the broadcaster that the stuff is "related to anti-social behavior."

According to the BBC, the Buckfast Abbey monks steadfastly reject requests for interviews, leaving Gillies to question what St. Benedict might have pondered about it all: "St. Benedict, I would have thought, would have been very, very unhappy with what his monks are doing nowadays."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

St. Paul's Cross awards 2010

Earlier today, at our annual meeting, I began what I hope will be an annual tradition at St. Paul’s: An award to a few people who have given extraordinary service in the previous year. I want to call it the St. Paul’s Cross, and it will be a medallion that looks like our cross over here.

This cross, by the way, is the design of an artist from Earlysville, Anne Breaud. Her design is uniquely ours, no other church has it. She designed it several years ago for the seats in the chancel, and she recently created a new processional banner marking our centennial year. It truly is the St. Paul’s Memorial Church Cross.

But there is one catch about the award this year. We haven’t finished making St. Paul’s crosses. Medallions will come later to the recipients of the St. Paul’s Cross.

There are also two caveats to this award. Members of the staff are not eligible for this award, and this award is granted only once per lifetime. You may pick up another when you get to heaven.

This afternoon, I awarded first the St. Paul's Crosses to seven people for their extraordinary service of ministry this past year. There are many others I could recognize, so please consider these seven servants as representatives of each of you.

They are:

She has given many decades of humble service to St. Paul’s. She always has a smile and a good word to say about everyone. She is one of those “behind the scenes” people who make our worship celebratory and reverent. She has worked in our sacristy in good weather and bad, on Saturdays and Sundays, and many a weekday, ironing linens, cleaning chalices, changing candlesticks and organizing a cadre of wonderful people who follow her gentle example. It is with a profound sense of gratitude for her many years of service and leadership of the Altar Guild that I give the first St. Paul’s Cross to Jean Barnett.

He has a huge and compassionate heart. He has dedicated countless hours and many miles of travel to represent this parish in the councils of the Church. He carries with him extraordinary knowledge about the inner workings of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia. He was recently elected to the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia, which carries great responsibility not just for this diocese, but also for the church at large, as he will be voting on the confirmation of bishops throughout the Episcopal Church. He has guided our Centennial celebration with inspiration and creativity, and he has served as junior warden this past year. It is with thanks that this St. Paul’s Cross goes to Paul Brockman.

She has shown faithful and graceful commitment through her professional work, her example of life, and her courageous commitment to the full inclusion of all people in God’s kingdom. She has guided with compassion the students she mentors, and challenged us to think deeply about ethics and to act with integrity. She led a delegation from St. Paul’s that met regularly for months with a delegation from St. John the Baptist Church to wrestle with the hard issues of inclusion, especially of gay and lesbian people who have been left out by the church. She is one of the founders and guiding forces of our Integrity chapter this past year, and she was wonderfully warm, thoughtful and skillful as the moderator of our public talk with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in the Rotunda in January. It is with admiration and gratitude that I present this St. Paul’s Cross to Margaret Mohrmann.

He has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to the life and well being of this parish, and to the students of the University of Virginia. He is a prophet among us by steadfastly reminding us that the vision of the founders of St. Paul’s was to serve the students of the University, and that their vision must be our vision. He has led our university commission with aplomb, and shown personal compassion for the many students who walk through our doors. It is with thanks and deep respect that I give this St. Paul’s Cross to Ben Ray.

She has brought her extraordinary professional skills to the service of St. Paul’s, giving many hours, and collegially worked with other professionals our congregation. She and her team have gone back to the drawing board more than once to create an extraordinary gift to this parish and to the neighborhood around us. With great political skill, she has maneuvered through the labyrinth of Charlottesville City Hall to win approval of a design for a multi-use meditation garden that will be built this spring on our grounds once the snow melts. It is with gratitude that this St. Paul’s Cross goes to Joan Albiston.

This past year, St. Paul’s ventured off our corner and began cultivating a new relationship with the predominantly African American neighborhood a few blocks away. Many hands, much sweat, and a lot of topsoil went into building a community garden on 10 1/2 Street with the purpose of building friendships and giving the food away to neighbors and those the most in need. No one was more dedicated, more inspired, more eloquent, or showed more attention to the details than this individual, who somehow managed all this while a student at the University of Virginia. It is with great thanks that this St. Paul’s Cross goes to Michael Mahoney.

She has been a witness for justice and equality in her life, in the way she teaches her students, in the books she writes, and the friendships she makes. She is a giant among us, a truth-teller, while somehow always being calm in the eye of the storm and a compassionate friend to all who have the privilege of knowing her. And for me personally, she is a wise counselor, a gracious presence, and a wonderful friend. It is with tremendous thanks and great admiration that this St. Paul’s cross goes to our senior warden, Mildred Robinson.

Please come to our annual meeting today

Later this morning, at 11:30 am, we will convene our annual meeting. Please come if you can. Voting for new Vestry members is underway, and the polls will close after our 5:30 pm worship service later this afternoon.

At the annual meeting, we will hear a number of reports on the state of the parish and our finances. And I plan to give the first awards of the St. Paul's Cross to several individuals for their extraordinary service in the past year. You will have to come to find out who they are. They will receive medallions with our logo to the right.

Below is my written report for 2009 that will appear in the published annual report, and I will elaborate on this at the annual meeting. Please do come, and please vote.

Rector's Report for 2009
The year 2009 continued to be a year of transition both for St. Paul’s and for Lori and myself as we settled into our new community of Charlottesville.
At St. Paul’s, we underwent significant staff changes even as we launched new ministries that will have a large impact on our congregation and the world around us in the years ahead.
The Rev. Dr. David McIlhiney, who as an associate rector was a mainstay of St. Paul’s during the interim period, decided to retire at mid-year. I am exceedingly grateful to David for remaining at St. Paul’s for the first year of my ministry among you, and especially for his sound advice and compassionate pastoral care.
In August, we welcomed The Rev. Dr. Ann Willms as our new associate rector for pastoral care. Ann has taken on a myriad of tasks, from hospital visits, to working with several small groups, and liturgical leadership on Sunday. I am absolutely delighted to have Ann as a colleague working with us at St. Paul’s.
Late in the year, Dr. Don Loach retired as music director after more than 37 years in this post. His personal dedication to St. Paul’s is unparalleled, and his dedication to the high standard of music at St. Paul’s will be hard to match. I have appointed Bruce Carveth to chair a search committee to recommend to me a candidate for our next music director. In the meantime, Daniel Hine will serve as our interim music director.
I am very grateful to our office and building staff for their hard work and dedication: John Reid, Tony Potter, Debbie Little, Jaime Jackson and Andre Jones. I am also very grateful to Pat Punch and his newly established Buildings and Grounds Ministry Team for the work they’ve done on several major projects. The building is was in significantly better condition at the end of 2009 than it was at the beginning.
Meanwhile, Joan Albiston and a dedicated group of volunteers, won approval from the City of Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review for the design of a meditation garden on our grounds, paid for with contributions by many of you in honor of The Rev. David Poist when he retired as rector. Construction of the garden should commence in Spring 2010.
At the end of 2008, I mentioned three goals for the life of our parish. Those goals are, I believe, crucial to the vitality of St. Paul’s now and into the future. These goals are foundational to everything I am attempting to do with you at St. Paul’s.
Those goals are:

1- Becoming more intentional in how we welcome new people and help them find a meaningful spiritual home at St. Paul’s.

2- Becoming more outwardly focused as a beacon of Christ’s hope to the community and world beyond our church walls.

3- Deepening and expanding our commitment of ministry to the people of the University of Virginia to enable them to be a beacon of Christ’s hope to the community and world.

We made significant progress on each of these goals in 2009, though we still have much to do. A few developments worth noting on each of those goals:

1- All members of the clergy staff made hospital visits and met with parishioners and visitors. We also launched a 24-hour “hotline” telephone number for emergency pastoral care concerns (434.806.9069).
In addition to our Sunday morning adult education, with the leadership of The Rev. Janet Legro, we reestablished the popular Wednesday Community Night with Evening Prayer and a myriad of adult classes. In 2009, we also laid the groundwork for a Stephen Ministry program for lay pastoral care with the leadership of Ann Willms. You will hear more about this in 2010. We also spruced up our ministry to newcomers, led by Stephanie Bolton and Ann Willms.

2- The Vestry renewed its commitment to an outward focus by allocating $55,000 in grants to organizations in our community, and establishing a new working group called “Ministry Beyond Our Walls” with the leadership of Marsha Trimble and Doug Little. We also contributed $67,000 to the work of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and raised significant funds for Episcopal Relief & Development, the African Development Project and the One Campaign. We hosted homeless people through PACEM, and our own John Frazee was elected president of IMPACT, a coalition of congregations working for systemic change in Charlottesville. Also, with the leadership of The Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor and a dedicated group of students and parishioners, we planted and harvested a community garden in a predominantly African American neighborhood. Our youth group completed service mission trips to Mississippi and the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota with the leadership of Janet Legro and Jonathan Schyner.

3- Our ministry commitment to the community of the University of Virginia remains pivotal to the life of St. Paul’s. We held fall and spring convocation Sundays for the University community. With leadership from Neal Halvorson-Taylor, and interns Hannah Trible and Matthew Lukens, our Canterbury Fellowship remained strong and established a Taize service on Tuesday evenings at the University Chapel. In addition, we awarded $184,000 in scholarships to University students through the Skinner scholarship bequest.

As we launch our centennial year, we have much to be proud of, and much work left to do. Again, thank you for the honor of calling me to be your ninth Rector, and thank you for your generosity and spirit that makes all things possible. You truly are the hands and heart of Christ in the world.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sabbath Saturday: A day of rest

My friend Ilana, who you may recall is studying for her mid-life Bat Mitzvah (and writing about it on her blog which you can read by clicking HERE), asked her husband Sam Schuchat to write about his observance of Sabbath on Saturdays. I love what he wrote, and it is reprinted in full below.

Incidentally, the Sabbath for Christians is also Saturday, not Sunday. Saturday is the seventh day, the day when God rested and therefore so should we. For Christians, Sunday is the day of Resurrection, the first day of the week, a day of celebration. So enjoy your Sabbath today, and please enjoy Sam's reflection:

I don’t work on Saturdays.

Okay, it would be more honest to say that I try not to work on Saturdays. From sundown on Friday night until sundown Saturday I don’t do e-mail, participate in meetings, or read anything that isn’t fun. I try very hard not to shop, although like any reasonably skilled Jew I am good at making fine distinctions. For instance, shopping for dental floss is not appropriate on the Sabbath. Sales at REI on the other hand clearly fall under the category of “recreation”. Generally speaking, I try not to do anything that in any way resembles what I do for a living, engaging instead in activities that are enjoyable and relaxing. Napping is high on this list, as well as bicycling.

Birdwatching - a form of Shabbat non-work at which Sam (left) excels

I started down this road several years ago for no particular reason other than to see if I could do it. Maybe because I wasn’t raised an Orthodox Jew, it’s much harder than I thought. It’s not just because we live in a work obsessed culture, or that we have the tools to work all the time, anywhere. It would certainly be easier to observe the Sabbath in an all-Jewish community. Several years ago I happened to be on a kibbutz in the Negev on a Saturday. Just for the heck of it, I went to the Saturday morning service in their chapel. Afterwards, I was quite surprised to see that the lunch included an elaborate and complete display of hard liquors. It’s not too hard to refrain from labor when you spend the morning in the synagogue and then have a few shots of whiskey at lunch!

Napping, another Shabbat activity at which Sam excels

Observing the Sabbath is way, way high up on the list of things Jews are supposed to do. The Sabbath is considered the most important holy day in the Jewish calendar, even though it happens every week. (Maybe if we rebranded from “the Chosen People” to “the Folks Who Invented the Weekend” we’d have more converts?) Jews don’t get married (or buried) on Shabbat; Ilana and I were married after sundown on a Saturday in October, and then only after the short Havdalah ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath was concluded. It is commandment number four out of ten, coming ahead of adultery, murder, and theft, and the seemingly simple commandment “you shall not do any work” (Ex 20:10) has spawned an enormous literature of commentary and custom dwelling on what, exactly, one is and is not allowed to do.

In orthodox neighborhoods in Israel and Brooklyn, for example, the elevators are programmed to run up and down all day, stopping at all the floors, so no one has to do the “work” of pushing the button and summoning it. Likewise one can, and a non-Jewish friend of mine just did, buy a “Sabbath ready” refrigerator whose light stays on all day on Saturdays so opening the door doesn’t turn it on.

Generally speaking, “work” is considered to be anything that uses, creates, or transforms energy. So no cooking, driving, flying, lighting fires, and so on. Sex, on the other hand, is encouraged. “Marital relations, ” as it is delicately referred to in Jewish legal commentary, is a positive duty on the Sabbath. It’s good to have something to do outside of the synagogue!

The longer I have persisted in trying to observe the Sabbath, the more I’ve realized the wisdom and utility of the practice, regardless of why we do it. It’s really about stopping and looking around at everything that is wonderful around us, and reconnecting with what we each, individually, are, rather than what we do. When you meet someone new, what do you ask sooner or later? “What do you do?” Are we only what we do for a living? Are we not more? Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on Sabbath we try to become attuned toholiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”

Although I am more likely to understand the creation of the world through science than through God, the hummingbird and the redwood tree are no less miraculous and beautiful. I can’t appreciate them, or my family, or my friends, or my community, or much else until I put down my tools, take a deep breath, and relax.

Give it a try. You don’t have to be Jewish, and it doesn’t have to be Saturday. Pick one day a week (furlough Friday for us state workers?) and don’t work, whatever that means for you. Spend the day with your beloved, take a hike, do some yoga, build a sand castle, go fishing. Do whatever it takes to take your mind away from your to-do list and towards a deeper appreciation of the world around you and your place in it.

If that doesn’t work, you can always go shopping. The REI midwinter sale starts this Friday!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Paper boats and thoughts of those we love

When I was small, I used to make boats out of all sorts of things -- paper, wood, bent cans -- anything that would float. I'd look for places to float my nautical creations, and usually I would come home drenched head-to-toe.

No doubt my love of boats came from my father, who began sailing San Francisco Bay when he was 16 years old and kept right on sailing the Bay into his 80s.

Our friend Karen from Tennessee sent this lovely poem for Valentine Day, and I share it with you.
This Paper Boat
by Ted Kooser

Carefully placed upon the future,
it tips from the breeze and skims away,
frail thing of words, this valentine,
so far to sail. And if you find it
caught in the reeds, its message blurred,
the thought that you are holding it
a moment is enough for me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The five marks of mission: How do we fit?

What is our mission? How does our mission in our local context fit within the wider mission of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion of which we are a part? How does our mission in our context fit within the even wider mission of the Body of Christ?

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori challenged us to grapple with those questions here at St. Paul's. In her remarks at our Centennial banquet on January 30, she referred to the "Five Marks of Mission" that was adopted in 1990 by the Anglican bishops as the standard for mission in our communion. I am reprinting the "five marks" below, and there is a discussion question for you at the bottom. Please lend us your answer in the comment section of this posting.

The artwork today is from a mural of the Nativity that was on a wall at the Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The mural was destroyed in the earthquake, but the mission lives on.

Here are the five marks of mission, reprinted from the Anglican Communion website:

Mission - The Five Marks of Mission

The Mission of the Church is the mission of Christ

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom To teach, baptise and nurture new believers To respond to human need by loving service To seek to transform unjust structures of society To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth (Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)

Mission: Announcing good news

The first mark of mission, identified at ACC-6 with personal evangelism, is really a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Jesus' own summary of his mission (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:22; cf. John 3:14-17). Instead of being just one (albeit the first) of five distinct activities, this should be the key statement abouteverything we do in mission.

Mission in context

All mission is done in a particular setting - the context. So, although there is a fundamental unity to the good news, it is shaped by the great diversity of places, times and cultures in which we live, proclaim and embody it. The Five Marks should not lead us to think that there are only five ways of doing mission!

Mission as celebration and thanksgiving

An important feature of Anglicanism is our belief that worship is central to our common life. But worship is not just something we do alongside our witness to the good news: worship is itself a witness to the world. It is a sign that all of life is holy, that hope and meaning can be found in offering ourselves to God (cf. Romans 12:1). And each time we celebrate the eucharist, we proclaim Christ's death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26). Our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our mission calling; and although it is not included in the Five Marks, it undergirds the forms of public witness listed there.

Mission as church

The Five Marks stress the doing of mission. Faithful action is the measure of our response to Christ (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; James 2:14-26). However, the challenge facing us is not just to do mission but to be a people of mission. That is, we are learning to allow every dimension of church life to be shaped and directed by our identity as a sign, foretaste and instrument of God's reign in Christ. Our understanding of mission needs to make that clear.

Mission as God-in-action

"Mission goes out from God. Mission is God's way of loving and saving the world... So mission is never our invention or choice." (Lambeth Conference 1998, Section II p121). The initiative in mission is God's, not ours. We are called simply to serve God's mission by living and proclaiming the good news. The Five Marks of Mission could make that clearer.

The Five Marks of Mission and beyond

We commend to each Province (and its dioceses) the challenge of developing or revising its own understanding of mission which is faithful to Scripture. We suggest two possible ways forward.

  • The Five Marks could be revised to take account of comments like those above. This has the advantage of retaining the familiar shape of the Five Marks.
  • Alternatively a holistic statement of mission actions could be strengthened by setting out an understanding of thecharacter of mission. This would affirm the solemn responsibility of each local church to discern how it will most faithfully serve God's mission in its context. An example of such an understanding is given below. Mission is the creating, reconciling and transforming action of God, flowing from the community of love found in the Trinity, made known to all humanity in the person of Jesus, and entrusted to the faithful action and witness of the people of God who, in the power of the Spirit, are a sign, foretaste and instrument of the reign of God. (Adapted from a statement of the Commission on Mission of the National Council of Churches in Australia.)

Whatever words or ideas each local expression of our Church uses, MISSIO hopes that they will be informed by three convictions:

  • We are united by our commitment to serving the transforming mission of God.
  • Mission is the bedrock of all we are, do and say as the people of God.
  • Our faithfulness in mission will be expressed in a great diversity of mission models, strategies and practices.

Discussion Question

If you were to ask people in leadership positions in your Province (diocese, parish) whether they see mission as "the bedrock of all we are, do and say as the people of God", how do you think they would answer?

Anglicans In Mission (MISSIO report 1999)