Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Putting on the Armor of Light this Advent in our daily life

My usual practice each morning is to get up about 6 am, hit the button on the coffeemaker, feed the cat, and then settle into my favorite chair and read the "Daily Office" biblical readings and prayers assigned for Morning Prayer. I try to meditate and pray with the readings, and sometimes those prayers take me surprising places.

This past Sunday -- the First Sunday of Advent -- I did as I usually do. But the readings weren't speaking to me, and my mind wandered to the day ahead and all of the details of our Sunday services.

And it got worse; I began replaying conversations from the week that was past. Instead of focusing on the readings, I was rehearsing all of my "shudda saids," as in, "I shudda said this" to So-and-So, and "I shudda said that."

There was something definitely wrong with this picture. I was preparing to lead the people at prayer in another hour, but my own prayer wasn't going anywhere.

I read the lessons again. I focused on the second reading, from 2 Peter 3:1-10 about "The Lord ... is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." This seemed to have possibilities. Still, I wasn't getting very far and my mind wandered.

Then I read the 1 Advent Sunday "collect" -- the prayer with which we would shortly open our Sunday worship: "Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light..."

That's when it hit me hard. The challenge this Advent for me is to see not only the armor of light in myself, but to see the light in others. If we take seriously that God lives in each of us, then seeing that light in others is a primary challenge of living a life of faith.

And that is not always easy, at least for me, especially with difficult and disagreeable people. Instead of "I shudda said this to So-and-So," I should have seen the light of God especially in those people I find the hardest to deal with.

That is a tall challenge. That takes discipline and practice, and prayer.

I think of people who I most admire, for example Desmond Tutu. It seems to me the difference between him and all the rest of us is that he has this extraordinary gift of seeing God's light in others, especially in people who were once his enemies and oppressors. His great ability to see the light in everyone he meets has brought reconciliation and a path of peace to his troubled land and has inspired the rest of the world.

Last Advent, I wrote quite a bit in this space about the challenge of prayer and a variety of ways of praying. In a way, we are continuing that conversation begun last Advent. I am convinced that sometimes the prayer is not my own. Sometimes it is not me who is praying to God, but God breaking through to me with prayer. Sunday was one of those occasions for me.

This Advent I'd like to challenge each of us -- starting with me -- to look for the light of God in everyone we meet. To do that, we need to begin by lowering our voices so we can listen to each other, and go out of our way to be patient and kind with each other -- especially when it is hardest. I will write more about this challenge as we go along.

My prayer for each of us is that we will put on the "armor of light" by looking for it in each other this Advent.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Monday Funnies

How about some really bad groaners to start your Monday? Here are a couple of jokes from buddy Pat Hill.

And have you ever wondered what we wear under our vestments on Sunday? Cartoonist Dave Walker reveals our secrets.

Enjoy your Monday . . .

* * *

There was a little old lady, who every morning. stepped onto her front porch, raised her arms to the sky, and shouted: "PRAISE THE LORD!"

One day an atheist moved into the house next door. He became irritated at the little old lady. Every morning he'd step onto his front porch after her and yell: "THERE IS NO LORD!"

Time passed with the two of them carrying on this way every day. One morning, in the middle of winter, the little old lady stepped onto her front porch and shouted: "PRAISE THE LORD! Please Lord, I have no food and I am starving, provide for me, oh Lord!"

The next morning she stepped onto her porch and there were two huge bags of groceries sitting there. "PRAISE THE LORD!" she cried out. "HE HAS PROVIDED GROCERIES FOR ME!"

The atheist neighbor jumped out of the hedges and shouted: "THERE IS NO

The little old lady threw her arms into the air and shouted: "PRAISE
* * *
Two nuns were shopping in a food store and happened to be passing the beer and liquor section. One asks the other if she would like a beer.

The other nun answered that would be good, but that she would be queasy about purchasing it. The first nun said that she would handle it. She picked up a six-pack and took it to the cashier.

The cashier had a surprised look, and the first nun said, "This is for washing our hair."

The cashier, without blinking an eye, reached under the counter and put a package of pretzels in the bag with the beer, saying, "Here, don't forget the curlers."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wake Up Sunday: Advent is here

Today's sermon is based on Romans 13:11-14 and Matthew 24:36-44.

* * *
O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace this season.

Straighten up. Open your eyes and ears.
“You know what time it is,” Paul proclaims in his Letter to the Romans, “it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”
Maybe we should call this Wake Up Sunday.
Or, as a bumper sticker I recently saw says, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.”
We have entered the time of Advent, the season before Christmas.
Today is also the first day of the new year on the church calendar. Our calendar goes from Advent to Advent, so happy new year to each of you.
We mark the beginning of this new season and new year with new liturgical colors. We are following the English tradition by using blue for Advent.
The color is called “Salisbury Blue,” or “Sarum Blue” – Sarum is the Latin name for Salisbury.
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.
To me, the color evokes the time of the deep blue sky before the dawn, the time of waiting, the time of awakening.

We are, of course, waiting for the birth of Jesus, the Christ child. We are waiting for Christmas when we once again remember his birth long ago and the light he brings into our world.
We gather and wait in Advent with the traditional hymn: O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
The name “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”
O Come, God, O come be with us.
Yet the biblical lessons suggest we are waiting for something else. We are waiting for the end of time, the end of history, the second coming, the apocalypse.
Like it as not, that, too, is a part of our tradition. And, like it as not, the Gospel of Matthew compels us this morning to grapple with this tradition.
“You also must be ready,” the gospel proclaims, “for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Early Christians heard in these words something we may have a hard time hearing: hope for a better world and the day when their oppressors and their poverty would be swept away.
Unfortunately there are some in our world who hear in this a prediction of the “rapture,” the day when the good guys – people like them – will be taken up to heaven – and the bad guys, probably people like me, will be left behind.
It does remind me of another bumper sticker I once saw: “Come the rapture, can I have your car?”
To many of us, this end-times talk may sound a little scary, and it certainly doesn’t sound very Christmassy.
We may rightfully ask how all of the end of time is connected to the incarnation of Christ as a person at Christmas. We might also rightly ask whether the ancient predictions of Jesus coming back were right.
We are not the first to ask those questions.
In the days following the death of Jesus, there was great fascination with calculating the exact day and time Jesus would return and human history would end. The Gospel of Matthew quotes Jesus saying “all these things” would happen in “this generation.”
Early Christians circulated elaborate formulas to predict when this would happen, often using the Book of Daniel as a baseline for calculations. Popular formulas put his return somewhere between 1,290 days and 1,334 days from the crucifixion, or approximately three-and-half years.
The only problem is it didn’t happen that way; 1,334 days came and went, and still no second coming and the end of history. Time marched on.
Not surprisingly, skeptics and scoffers began to taunt the early Christians as being – how shall we say? – crackpots. The careful calculations of the return of Jesus proved to be embarrassing to early Christians.
The gospel writers seemed to hedge their bets. The passage from the Gospel of Matthew we hear today strikes this tone: “Be watchful, you don’t know when the Son of Man will return. Forget about calculating this, it could happen at any time, just like the flood during Noah’s time. Life is uncertain, so be prepared.”
All that is true – life is uncertain, floods, fires, natural disasters do happen with no warning. It is good advice to keep your fire extinguishers charged and fresh batteries in your flashlights and smoke detectors.
But what of this second coming of Jesus? Did the early Christians get it wrong?

I would suggest that Matthew got it right, but to get there you need to skip to the end of the Gospel of Matthew 28:20 where Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
And that, I would suggest, gives us another image of this second coming business: Jesus has already come, and is still coming to us every day. Jesus rose from the grave, was seen again by his followers, dwelled with them and in them, and dwells with us still.

Yes, Jesus will come again, but he has already come and will keep coming, and is here now in each of us, and Jesus is present with us even now, gathering with us today at our Holy Table.
And that presents us with a harder challenge than simply waiting for the world to end.
We are beckoned to notice his presence, and to be his hands and feet and heart in the world, this world, the one that is ours, not some other world of popular fiction. We are beckoned to be ready to be builders.
We are beckoned to do as Christ would do, to heal and bring peace and forgiveness. We are beckoned to build a world that is more just and caring, and to do this not in a distant age to come, but here and now.
We are beckoned to do so because we are part of Christ and Christ is part of us. The second coming of Christ comes inside each of us, each day of our lives.
The Christ within us bids us to get busy building the Kingdom of God, not because there is a reward at the end of time, but because that is at the core of our soul.
The Kingdom is already here, but is being born through us, one act at a time, one brick at a time, one day at time.
We build the kingdom, and the only reward we can expect is the reward of being builders.
We build with many tools, and we have many builders here at St. Paul’s. Some of you are builders by being ushers and Eucharistic ministers, choir members and altar guild and flower guild members, or Sunday school teachers for our children, or members of the Shalom group for young adults.
Some of you are builders beyond our walls by serving the sick in hospitals and the homeless on the streets or those who are homebound, or teaming with other faith communities building house through Habitat for Humanity.
We are builders of the kingdom by serving in the workplace and in the classroom and in our own homes.
We are builders with our university community, with our students.
We are builders of God’s kingdom with thousands of acts of kindness, and by giving the best of what we have and who we are.
There is one more challenge that comes with Advent: The opening prayer this morning calls us to “put on the armor of light.”
I believe all of us have that light of God within us, and we are called to look for this holy light in each other. Sometimes that is not easy to see, but that is the prayer God has for us – that we will see God’s light in each other.
So be awake – it is almost dawn before a new day – Christ is risen and with us.
“For salvation is nearer to us now,” Paul says, “than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”
Look around you – look for the dawn of Christ’s light inside you and in all you do, in all whom you meet, and everywhere you go.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace this season. AMEN.
* * *

Advent banner above designed by Rebekah Holton of Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School, 2009

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas can [still] change the world: Advent Conspiracy

What if this Advent we returned to our deepest meaning of our tradition? Instead of all of the stress of shopping malls, traffic jams and parking lots, what if we worshipped more and spent less on ourselves? What if we spend so that others might live more fully?

This is the purpose of Advent Conspiracy, an organization helping people in the poorest regions of the world by providing the means for safe drinking water. We are also using the name for a gathering of parents of teens and 'tweens this Sunday at St. Paul's. It comes down to the same thing -- the promise of hope and the love of Christ entering our world.

This the third year I've promoted Advent Conspiracy in this space; to learn more about this organization, click HERE. Below is a promotional video from last year that is still good:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Splendor in every moment

I hope you've had a splendid Thanksgiving. The last few days, Lori and I have been surrounded by new friends and old. Today I hope you find a day of rest and enjoyment, and may all of us take a moment or two and count our blessings.

Among my blessings is the friendship of Karen in Tennessee who sends me poems. Here is one I much enjoyed that she sent last summer, and so I think it time to share it with you:

By Tom Centolella

One day it's the clouds,
one day the mountains.
One day the latest bloom
of roses - the pure monochromes,
the dazzling hybrids - inspiration
for the cathedral's round windows.
Every now and then
there's the splendor
of thought: the singular
idea and its brilliant retinue -
words, cadence, point of view,
little gold arrows flitting
between the lines.
And too the splendor
of no thought at all:
hands lying calmly
in the lap, or swinging
a six iron with effortless
tempo. More often than not
splendor is the star we orbit
without a second thought,
especially as it arrives
and departs. One day
it's the blue glassy bay,
one day the night
and its array of jewels,
visible and invisible.
Sometimes it's the warm clarity
of a face that finds your face
and doesn't turn away.
Sometimes a kindness, unexpected,
that will radiate farther
than you might imagine.
One day it's the entire day
itself, each hour foregoing
its number and name,
its cumbersome clothes, a day
that says come as you are,
large enough for fear and doubt,
with room to spare: the most secret
wish, the deepest, the darkest,
turned inside out.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Blessings to you and yours today; prayers for your table

Dear Friends,

May this day be filled with grace, with love, and with thanks for the great abundance God has given us. May your table overflow with the harvest of this good earth, and may you be surrounded by those you love. May God's blessings follow you always.

I've been asked in the past to share Thanksgiving blessings. Here are four of my favorites, the first my father did every evening at dinner when I was growing up:
From the Book of Common Prayer, page 835
Give us grateful hearts, our Father, for all thy mercies, and make us mindful of the needs of others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Harvest (BCP p. 840)
Most gracious God, by whose knowledge the depths are broken up and the clouds drop down the dew; We yield thee hearty thanks and praise for the return of seedtime and harvest, for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of its fruits, and for all the other blessings of they merciful providence bestowed upon this nation and people. And, we beseech thee, give us a just sense of these mercies, such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy and obedient walking before thee all our days; though Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost be all glory and honor, world without end. 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.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Please join us for a Thanksgiving dinner this evening

Thanksgiving dinner tonight
(and bring a side-dish), and gather tomorrow for a Holy Eucharist at 10 am. Here is our schedule the next two days.

Thanksgiving Eve - Wednesday, November 24

5:30 pm - Evening Prayer
6:00 pm - Thanksgiving Dinner
6:45 - Hymn Sing

Community Night Thanksgiving Dinner and Hymn Sing -- Iris Potter will cook the turkeys and Jim and Lori Richardson will play host to our annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner. Please bring side-dishes. Following dinner, we will have a hymn sing in the parish hall so be sure to look up in advance which hymns you want to sing.

Thanksgiving Day - Thursday, November 25

10:00 am - Holy Eucharist with Blessing of Thanksgiving Bread and Wine

Join us at 10 am for a brief Thanksgiving worship service. Thanksgiving is an official feast day of the Episcopal Church, so put the turkey in the oven and join us for a time of prayer and thanks for all God has given us. And we will continue our new tradition this year: Bring bread and an unopened bottle of wine or other beverage that you will use for your Thanksgiving dinner. We will bless the bottles, and your meal will carry with it the blessing of St. Paul's.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A last farewell at the Washington National Cathedral to Charles Perry

On Sunday evening, I had one of those extraordinary experiences when it is fun (yes, fun!) to be an Episcopal priest.

The occasion was the interment of the ashes of The Very Rev. Charles Perry at the Washington National Cathedral. I definitely believe my friend Charles would approve of the word “fun.”

I was privileged to be invited to participate in an Evensong in Charles’ honor. We did it in full cassock-surplice-hood-tippet splendor, with vergers, acolytes, two choirs and a host of clergy. It was Charles’ gift to me that I could be a part.

I must admit I had goose bumps when walking in the procession down the center aisle, led by a verger, and up into the quire. Lori was seated in a stall just behind me. There were 600 people in attendance, and the many members of St. Paul’s who came were given choice seats. The hospitality extended by the Cathedral to the Perry family and to all of us from St. Paul's was remarkable and much appreciated.

I gave the second reading, which was from Charles’ book The Resurrection Promise. The passage was selected by Charles to be read at his funeral, and it represents his testimony about his life of faith and being a disciple of Jesus.

The homily was given by The Very Rev. Sam Lloyd III, the dean of the National Cathedral. Dean Lloyd paid homage to Charles’ tenacity in finishing the construction of the National Cathedral, rescuing the project at a time when it faced bankruptcy. Dean Lloyd underlined that it was fitting and right that the Cathedral took time to honor one of its greats.

For a few minutes I felt I was part of the Cathedral, that I belonged in this amazing space. And then it occurred to me that is precisely how I should feel; that the National Cathedral is the national house of prayer; that all of us are a part of this epic sacred place, not just presidents, dignitaries and bishops, but all of us. It is our house of prayer. And that is fun! And that is how Charles hoped all of us would feel about the cathedral that he played such a huge role in building.

In his book, Charles wrote about how faith is both intellectual and emotional and the two go together (p. 110):
“It is emotional, soaring high as the cathedral vaulting, sometimes not. It is fun—yes fun! In a rather grim age, the stance of faith involves surprise and folly and enthusiasm—the real kind—brought about by his presence in us. And that is fun!”
When we finished with Evensong, we were led down a stone stairwell to the crypt beneath the high altar to Charles’ niche. His ashes were placed inside, and Dean Lloyd blessed the niche and ashes with holy water, and said several prayers. It was very solemn, very moving, and a very fitting goodbye to Charles. One of the final prayers was this:
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother Charles, and we commit his robust vessel to this place beneath the great stone tree builded here; her fluted columns, rooted deep in nourishing soil; her vaulted branches and tracery; her light and song, reaching to praise your great glory.

The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious to him, the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and give him peace. Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Monday Funnies

Here is a groaner I found on the internet. Hope your week improves after reading this. Advent is just around the corner, so here is a cartoon to usher in the new church season. Enjoy the Monday Funnies...

* * *
As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in the Kentucky back country.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn't stop for directions. I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch.

I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late. I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man. And as I played 'Amazing Grace,' the workers began to weep.

They wept, I wept, we all wept together. When I finished I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though my head hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, “I never seen nothin' like that before, and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Choral Evensong at 4 pm at the Washington National Cathedral for the Very Rev. Charles A. Perry

This afternoon, our dear friend, Charles Perry, will be interred at the Washington National Cathedral at 4 pm with a Choral Evensong in his honor. Lori and I, and a number of people from St. Paul's, will be there.

Charles played a huge role in bringing the Cathedral to completion. Charles served as Provost from 1978 to 1990 before becoming president of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley. To learn more about Charles's career, visit the Cathedral website by clicking HERE.

After leaving CDSP in 1994, Charles and Joy retired here to their beloved Charlottesville, where they rejoined the congregation of St. Paul's. The photo above of Charles was taken on Aug. 29 during our "Convocation Sunday" welcoming back our University of Virginia students, faculty and staff. We asked all of our academics in the congregation to wear their regalia, and Charles happily complied.

Charles was instrumental in bringing me to Charlottesville, and he was a wise counselor and a great friend in this time of transition for us. I miss him greatly. I hope you can make it to the National Cathedral today.

Photo by Bonny Bronson.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Repairs to marble altar rail complete

You may have heard we had a mishap a couple of weeks ago at the high altar when someone accidentally slipped and fell into the marble altar rail, installed in the 1927 construction. The marble gave way and crashed down, shattering into pieces. Fortunately there were no major injuries.

We called in a marble restoration specialist, John Smith, and he is truly a craftsman. He took all of the broken pieces, including a box of tiny chips, and he pieced the altar rail back together with special glue that matched the original marble.

He and an assistant re-installed the altar rail Thursday, and here are a few photos. It takes a skilled eye to see where the rail had shattered -- the repairs are that flawless. By the way, Church Insurance Co. covered the cost of the repairs minus a deductible.

As long as we had Mr. Smith in the
building, we had him repair our baptismal font which had developed numerous cracks over the years. We will replace the holy water in the font on Sunday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tonight join us for our Centennial concert

Please join us tonight at 7 pm for our Centennial Concert at St. Paul's Memorial Church.

This is our final centennial event, and we will pay tribute to the many musicians who have given us so much at St. Paul's.

We will showcase our multi-talented musicians and singers, and their many style.

The cost of a ticket? Free.

The experience? Priceless.

Come join us tonight.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Join me this Advent for a conversation about our ministry and mission at St. Paul's

Recently I asked a few people at St. Paul's to join me in reading Christianity for the Rest of Us, by Diana Butler Bass. I chose this book hoping to start a conversation about our mission and our future here at St. Paul’s. Why are we on this corner? What is God calling us to be in our second century as a parish? How will we live out our baptismal covenant to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

Now I would like to invite you to read this book, and join me for conversation each Wednesday evening in Advent beginning on Dec. 1 at 7 pm following our community night dinner. If you can't make our gatherings on Wednesdays, let's continue this conversation on-line. I've set up a special blog for this book discussion, which you can reach by clicking HERE.

The book surveys how 15 very different churches are living out their mission in their own particular way. Some are large, others small, but all are growing spiritually and inclusively as each hears God’s call to them. The book is not a statistical survey or a recipe guide for membership growth. Rather, Butler Bass takes us on a tour of what congregations can be when faithfully hearing God’s call and being courageous enough to act. All of these congregations have this in common: they began by recognizing not only who they are, but whose they are.

I am not asking us to critique the book, but to use the book as a catalyst for our own conversation about our mission as a parish. This is very informal; it is not a committee or a task force. It is not a focus group. We won’t be marking up butcher paper on the wall. I am not looking for recommendations to come from this. But I hope we will find insights from our collective wisdom and experience – and will be open to asking the deep hard question about our mission and ministry that we share together. And I expect we will hear a surprise or two along the way.

Let me tell you a little about the conversations I’ve had so far with a few people at St. Paul’s about the book.

We focused on a number of topics covered in the book, especially discernment of God's calling to us as a parish – how to know when we see it. We talked about the signposts, or markers, we see for how God is leading us in our faith community and in the community beyond our walls. We talked about hospitality and how we are called to be a welcoming community, and how we can build on this strength.

We did NOT engage in problem solving but rather offered ideas and observations about what discernment and hospitality looks and feels like especially to new people here in our parish. We grappled with how St. Paul's is a spiritual home to some, while others struggle to find their place here even after being here for many years.

One of the topics discussed in the book that resonates with many people is how discerning God's presence and guidance often feels non-linear. The destination is not always clearly in sight; the path is as important as getting there. “Discernment is an odd guide, however, for it not only points the way on the journey but it is a sort of destination in itself.” (p. 96)

Where this conversation is going I don't know, and that is also a marker of true discernment. I would like to keep this conversation going and growing, and continue walking the path with you as we see where God is leading our parish. Please join me in Advent in reading this book and being in conversation.

One more thing: Diana Butler Bass will be speaking at St. Paul's, Richmond, April 18-20, and I'd like us to go together to hear her speak. Click HERE for more information about her appearance.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Join us Friday for our Centennial Concert

This Friday at 7 pm we will showcase the musical talent in our parish at our Centennial Concert. This will be our last official Centennial celebration this year. I hope you will join us -- the concert is free, and our music director, Daniel Hine, promises to delight us with the variety of music and musicians in our midst.

We've had an epic Centennial year, marked at the start by a three-day visit from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. We've been treated to preaching from Sam Lloyd, the Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, and from incoming University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan. We've looked not just at our past, but forward in our mission. For me, our Centennial has been a year-long conversation about why we are here -- who we are and whose we are -- and what God is calling us to be in the next 100 years.

I will have more to say in a day or two about how our conversation can move forward. For now, please mark your calendar for this Friday and come join us for a terrific concert.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Monday Funnies

Sunday afternoon, I had an interesting discussion with a handful of parish leaders about the difference between churches that cater to consumers and the churches that challenge us to participate in our faith. We talked about how easy it is to lapse into the language of retail sales to attract "seekers," and how that language can lead us away from creating a faith-filled community. When it is all about me, it can't really be about anyone else.

There is a spoof commercial that's floated around the internet for a few years that makes the point better than I have here. I've posted this before, but it's worth a repeat. Enjoy the Monday Funnies. . .

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blessing of stole for Heather

Today at the 10 am worship, members of our Integrity Chapter of Charlottesville presented a priest's stole to the Rev. Dr. Heather Warren, our ministry associate for adult education who was ordained earlier this year. Integrity is the organization in the Episcopal Church working for full inclusion of all God's people in the life of the church especially LGBT people.

It was my privilege to bless the stole, and then Wayne Nolen vested Heather. Here is a brief video by Lori:

Special Advent group for parents of teens and 'tweens

I am very delighted to tell you that coming this Advent we are stepping up our ministry for parents of teens and 'tweens. Please let me draw your attention to this terrific opportunity for parents from our Associate Rector Ann Willms, who is also a parent of two 'tweens.

Please consider joining her for this while your teens are meeting in the youth group on Sundays following our 10 am worship:
It's a conspiracy! Advent Conspiracy, that is.
Beginning Sunday Nov 28, the first Sunday of Advent, we will be offering a gathering for parents of middle and high school age youth to engage in a parallel discussion of the book Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? While your 'tweens and teens engage the book in youth group after the 10am service, parents may gather with Associate Rector Ann Willms for a casual time of fellowship, coffee, and conversation about how to reclaim Advent and Christmas for ourselves, our families, and our world.
For more information, call Ann at 295-2156 ext 103 or email her at ann.willms@stpaulsmemorialchurch.org.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Who is behind the effort to split the Episcopal Church?

I haven't waded into church politics for many weeks, mostly because there isn't much new to wade into. But politics is always lurking beneath the surface, and as Episcopal dioceses hold their annual fall conventions the politics is back on the front burners in many places. In Virginia, our annual "council" is held in January, so the intensity of politics here is fairly low for the moment.

Here is an item that could ripple throughout beyond our Episcopal world: The Diocese of New York, at its convention, passed a resolution calling for a joint task force with the Presbyterians and the Methodists to develop a joint strategy to repel the efforts of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

This shadowy organization, that you probably haven't heard of, apparently has had an outsized impact on our church in recent years. In the interest of fairness, the IRD has a reply to the Diocese of New York which you can read by clicking HERE.

According to its critics, the IRD has been behind much of the effort to split the Episcopal, Presbyterian and United Methodist churches over homosexuality (we are not alone on this issue). We've seen the impact of this split here in the Diocese of Virginia with 11 churches that are attempting to break away from the Episcopal Church and take property with them. The lawsuits continue.

One of the blogs I follow, Father Jake Stops the World, keeps up with this topic far better than I, and he posted this summary the other day:

From Father Jake Stops the World
You don't remember the IRD? Check out this report, or review Jim Naughton's Following the Money.

If you want a shorter version, here's a summation, from the specific perspective of an Episcopalian.

Keep in mind that most religious fanatics are Theocrats, or Dominionists, with their goal being to make their brand of religion the law of the land. Most Anglican Dominionists will never publically admit to their ultimate goal of making the United States into a theocracy. Such matters are discussed only when they are alone with their own kind. This makes it rather difficult to track such troubling ideas. However, it does not make it impossible.

The most extreme form of Dominionism is "Christian Reconstructionism," which strives to incorporate all 613 laws from the biblical code into secular law. That would include capital punishment for adultery, blasphemy, heresy, homosexual behavior, idolatry, prostitution, and sorcery. R.J. Rushdoony, author of The Institutes of Biblical Law, is credited as the founder of this particular sect.

One of Rushdoony's most devout followers was Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., a reclusive millionaire from California. Ahmanson served on the Board of Rushdoony's Chalcedon Institute for 23 years, and was at his bedside when he died.

Howard Ahmanson, and his wife Roberta, became members of St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, California. The rector of that parish was Canon David Anderson.

In 1995, the American Anglican Council was formed, in response to certain developments within The Episcopal Church. It was funded primarily through a group of large donors, of which Ahmanson was one. Ahmanson's support was considered so important to the AAC that there was some discussion about including his name in the letterhead of their stationary. Internal memos revealed that the leadership of the AAC were willing to do almost anything to keep Ahmanson on board. Soon after that, Ahmanson's rector, David Anderson, became President and CEO of the AAC, a postion he still holds today.

The AAC moved into an office in Washingtom DC with another organization, the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Dianne Knippers, President of the IRD, was the original treasurer for the AAC. Roberta Ahmanson served on the board of the IRD.

The IRD has a long history of anti-communist activity, especially during the Reagan era. At one point, the rhetoric from Knippers resulted in the erroneous identification of a group of missionaries in Nicaragua as being a communist front. Their clinics became targets for terrorists.

The primary goal of the IRD is to replace the leadership of the mainline churches with their own conservative leaders. A reading of some of their material makes it clear that they continue to be active players in the Religious Right, and are very clearly of the Dominionist mindset.

Now that the IRD and the AAC were, for all intents and purposes, one organization (sharing board members, wealthy donors and the same mailing address) they began to focus on tearing down The Episcopal Church. After this alliance was formed, one of their early moves was to launch a smear campaign against Gene Robinson, who had just been elected as bishop of New Hampshire. In 2003, Ahmanson gave the IRD funds for this campaign, which was launched by Fred Barnes, a member of the IRD's board, Fox News commentator, and a member of Falls Church. Robinson received the necessary consents in spite of the IRD's efforts.

Such techniques were used against the leadership of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches as well. Eventually, the outrage expressed towards the IRD by a number of people within the mainline denominations was cause for the AAC to distance themselves from the organization. They set up their own office in Atlanta. It is also worth noting that Ephraim Radner, affiliated with the Anglican Communion Institute, also resigned from his seat on the IRD board, which he had occupied for many years.

The American Anglican Council, which the IRD helped create, was made up of the same core group that became the Network, which then morphed into the shadow province now known as ACNA. Same names, same goal; to destroy The Episcopal Church by any means necessary.

David Anderson became a Bishop of the Church of Nigeria in 2007.

The IRD continues to attempt to have an impact within TEC, with limited success.

Here endeth the summary.

Well done, New York!


Friday, November 12, 2010

Keep looking, stay curious

We've been short on poems in this space recently, so I looked back through my treasure chest of gifts from my friend Karen in Tennessee. I found this one sent in July, and I rather like it. May you find peace and contentment right where you are. The photo is from our front porch.
Hokusai Says
By Roger Keyes

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive --
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn't matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn't matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Today thank a veteran

Thank a veteran today, and from the bottom of your heart.

Maybe you don't agree with the policies or the decisions of our government or presidents. Maybe you've had enough of the war in Afghanistan or you think we are going about this all wrong.

But today put aside your opinions. Thank a vet, and say a prayer or two for the men and women who are serving across the seas and at home so that we might enjoy the liberties and freedom that we do.

Pray that they may return home safely to lead their lives as we would lead our own. And thank them for their sacrifice, for their willingness to put themselves in harm's way, their willingness to fight and die if they must, and for their families who wait. It is a very hard thing we ask of such people, especially the young.

Today I am especially remembering my dad, David Richardson. He was a young Navy ensign who served on small ships made of plywood in World War II. He fought his way through the South Pacific without a scratch, but he never forgot his shipmates who did not make it back. He saw he horrors of war; his patrol boat escorted Marines and Army soldiers under fire into the beaches in New Guinea and Philippines. Landing craft and the men in them were sunk before they made it to the beach. He endured boredom punctuated by air raids. The photo above was taken on an island where my dad's crew searched in vain for a downed American pilot.

My dad did not glorify war but he was willing to go, and he came home to lead a full life and to tell his story that others might not forget. Today we remember.

Thank a vet today and say a prayer. Here are two prayers from our Book of Common Prayer, and we will say them on Sunday:
Collects for Veterans Day (BCP pages 823, 839)

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be.

We remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom. All this we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fiat Lux: Marking the 900th posting with a virtual trip to Half Dome

This is the 900th posting to Fiat Lux since launching this blog in June 2008. I thought we should mark the occasion with something fun and spiritual, and with a light theme (after all, this is Fiat Lux, "Let There be Light").

What else would fit that bill than trip to Yosemite? Below is a delightful time-lapse video taken Nov. 8 from Sentinel Dome, looking across at Half Dome, and note the dusting of snow already on the peaks.

This video comes courtesy of the Yosemite Conservancy, which Lori and I have financially supported for years. The Conservancy was formed with the merger of the Yosemite Association and Yosemite Fund. With government cuts slicing deeply into the maintenance budgets of the national parks, the Conservancy is filling a gap by helping to keep Yosemite open and safe for all visitors. For more information about this very worthy organization, and to donate, please click HERE.

And now, please enjoy your journey to one of the most wonderful places on earth...

Photo at top: "Monolith, The Face of Half Dome," by Ansel Adams, 1927.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Postscript to the murder of a young friend

Some months ago, I wrote a personal reflection about the death penalty, which you can read by clicking HERE. My reflection was prompted by going to the life imprisonment sentencing in Sacramento on July 1 of two men convicted of murdering a young friend of mine, Jim Arthur in June 2009.

Jim, a student and fledging artist, was only 23. One of the killers, Jonathan Baker, flew into a rage when he learned Jim was gay. Testimony showed that Jim was stabbed 176 times.

Jim was robbed in his mother's home, lured into a trap by a young woman who had befriended him, Nadine Klein, now 21. The jury could not reach verdict in her case, and a mistrial was declared.

Nadine Klein was back on trial this fall, and on Monday the second jury convicted her of first degree murder in the course of a burglary, which carries with it the sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. You can read the story in The Sacramento Bee by clicking HERE. Monday was also the sixth anniversary of the heart attack that took the life of Jeff Arthur, Jim's dad and my very close friend.

I pray that this nightmare for the Arthur family and my friends will now begin to end. I pray for the families of the murderers that they will find their way out of their own nightmare. I pray that I might learn how to pray for the murderers, for I know not how. And I pray for the jurors in these trials who have endured considerable anguish to carry out their civic duty and who receive no thanks from the public.

The other day, my friend Barbara Crafton wrote this about her recent experience on jury duty in New Jersey where she lives as serves as an Episcopal priest. Although she was not impaneled, I think it a good commentary on why we have juries and why ordinary people like us need to serve on them. Here it is from her "Geranium Farm" website:

By Barbara Crafton
I'm here, but I know they won't empanel me. They never do. So I sit in the waiting room with a hundred fellow citizens, and we have just taken our oath of office as jurors, administered by a judge who removed a wad of chewing gum from his mouth, befitting the solemnity of the moment.

As always, I allow myself to imagine myself in that tiny community of people who will hold the fate of another person in their hands. We would be carefully instructed as to what was and what was not our task. Some among us would forget, though, impatient with our constraints, and anoint themselves detectives or self-taught judges. Some would consider this afternoon a chance to "send a message" -- a message not directed at this courtroom or the parties in it at all, perhaps, but intended for a wider audience, one which might exist only in their imagination. Some would be highly intelligent. Some would not be. Some would hate being there. Some would love it.

We would be a jury of peers, for anyone who came before us: a mixed bag of commitment and anxiety, well and poorly equipped for this work. We would be little better or little worse than the people who looked to us for fairness. Most of us will sit here all day and then leave, never having had the chance to present the mixed bag of our service in an actual case. They say we won't be back for three years, but they said that a year ago, too. The last time I was called.

We divide power in here in the United States, forcing a check on any one part of us, insisting on balancing responsibility among us as best we can. Our judges don't work alone. Neither do our presidents or our legislators or our generals. The result may be clumsy affair, but it is ours.
Photo above of Jim Arthur.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bullying: Not letting it go

A couple of weeks ago, students from the University of Virginia organized a candlelight vigil on the steps of Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda to remember the young people who have taken their own lives because they were bullied for being gay or perceived as being gay.

For me, and those who were there, it was a very powerful evening, filled with not just tears and speeches, but also with a steel resolve to end the bullying and call it out when we find it.

I don't want to let that evening pass as just another checkmark on a long to-do list this Fall.

So I want to bring two items to your attention today. First, sent by a friend, this blog item written by a mom whose five-year-old boy dressed up as Daphne from Scooby Doo. Yeah, he dressed like a girl. So what? Do we wonder where the bullies learn to be bullies? The bullies were other moms. Please read this by clicking HERE.

And then today I want to post the speech given at the UVA vigil by Sean Bugg, who is a fourth-year UVA student and a pillar of our Canterbury Episcopal student community. Sean was physically attacked on the street a few weeks ago outside of our Canterbury house by someone who jumped out of an SUV and shoved him to the ground, likely because of Sean's appearance. Here is Sean's speech, and I am very proud of Sean for his courage in speaking at the vigil:
By Sean Bugg
Over the past week I have watched online videos from the “It Gets Better Project” in an attempt to find some sort of answer to the tragedies we’ve heard about in the news. I’ve heard uplifting words from celebrities, such as Tim Gunn, as well as heart wrenching ones from Ellen Degeneres. A complete stranger even e-mailed me his video when he heard of the attack I suffered in the middle of September. But my words aren’t meant to be about me or what I’ve been through.
Suffice it to say, however, that in light of my own victimization and learning of the deaths of these young LGBT teens, I have lost my faith in humanity and am struggling to regain it. I don’t care who you are or what you believe, nor does it matter what your or my own personal convictions are. There is nothing in this world, there is nothing in this life, more precious and sacred than a human life. I won’t lie to you, because I can’t lie to you. I am angry, furious, and livid that our society would allow such terrible things to happen. I simply cannot fathom the crimes that have been committed against such wonderful, promising, gifted, and innocent persons.
As a poet and as someone who studies poetry, there is nothing more beautiful in the world to me than the testimony, than the sound of an other’s voice telling their story; and because of intolerance, because of someone else’s ignorance, we will never hear the voices of these elegant and graceful souls. Their voices have been silenced unjustly. This silencing sickens me to my very core. We are here tonight to give these youths the justice they deserve.
What happened is not removed from us by any degree, however minute. We, as members of this society, of this country, bear full responsibility for their unfortunate deaths. We must work to rectify this, because they truly are crimes against humanity, for which we must atone and ensure never happen again.
I see tonight as a gathering of people who wish to give voices to those who have had theirs prematurely taken away from them. Tonight is about – to borrow the words of a personal idol, American poet Walt Whitman – we came here this evening to “…sound [our] barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
The following are the voices of those named below, whose lives were senselessly ended merely because they dared to be true to their selves, because they were bold enough to embrace their identities.
This is the voice of Tyler Clementi: [silence]
This is the voice of Asher Brown: [silence]
This is the voice of Seth Walsh: [silence]
This is the voice of Billy Lucas: [silence]
This is the voice of Zach Harrington: [silence]
This is the voice of Aiyisha Hassan: [silence]
And these are the voices of those for whom we have no names, but whose voices have nevertheless been stilled: [silence].
They will never know the joy of having their name called out at a commencement ceremony, nor know love’s first kiss, nor the pleasure of another autumn. They will never know any of the daily joys of which you and I take pleasure, which we take for granted.
You may be wondering why I turned to Whitman’s words and why I will shortly turn to another poet’s words. Well, I do so because someone once told me: “When language fails you, turn to poetry;”and language has failed me, insofar as its ability to express the deep distress I feel for these youths and their families. So I quote from another American poet, Allen Ginsberg:

“America when will we end the human war?.../…America when will you be angelic?.../…America the plum blossoms are falling.”

Ask yourselves those very questions as I leave you with one final image and a poem. America, when will we end the human war? Before I leave you with this poem by Adam Zagajewski, I would like you to envision a monument, erected at Dachau, Germany. Inscribed on stone in five languages are the words “Never Again.” Let those two words be our promise to these young people and let us resolve to ourselves: Nie Mehr!

Try To Praise The Mutilated World
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it, while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere, you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully. You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars. Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.
Adam Zagajewski (Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh)

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Monday Funnies

'Tis almost the season. It is getting cold, the leaves are losing their leaves. So here is something to get you in the mood -- a random act of delight to start your week. . .

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tonight: Organ recital and Choral Evensong

Please join us at St. Paul's this Sunday evening at 7:30 pm for an organ recital by ourincomparable Albrecht von Gaudecker, organist and assistant music director. This is his gift to the community -- no tickets required.

Following his recital, at 8 pm, our choir will conduct a Choral Evensong, which is evening prayer put to music. This is one of our oldest Anglican traditions, and I am delighted that Music Director Daniel Hine and his gift musicians are returning us to this great tradition. Come join us tonight!

All Saints, All Souls: All are invited to the Lord's Table

Today's sermon for All Saints Sunday is based on Job 19:23-27a and Luke 6:20-31.
* * *

There were several great events last week: An election that shifted the balance of power in the Congress, and the World Series where the San Francisco Giants – the team of my tender youth – won for the first time in 56 years.
There was another great event last week, on Tuesday, and millions of people around the globe gathered, and millions were touched to the core of their being in ways that are hard to describe.
They came from cities and small villages. They were young and old and in between. Some were rich, some poor.
They came together in many places to do one thing: to remember their loved ones on the day we call the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed,” or All Souls Day.
In Poland, they brought candles to the cemeteries that lit up the sky (photo above).
In Mexico, where they call it El Dia de los Muertos, the people bring mementos representing loved ones to decorate tables, or las ofrendas, in the churches.
And last Tuesday, people gathered here at St. Paul’s to pray and sing a few hymns. All over the world they said prayers, lit candles, and read the names of the departed.
All of these people, each in their own way, each in their own language, in their own prayers, celebrated life and grace, and hope for a better world here and now. And this commemoration continues with us today as we gather for our All Saints Sunday.

Today we remember many, many people; the famous saints of old, prophets and sages and martyrs. And we remember the not-so-famous: the people who somehow touched our lives.
We are surrounded today by a great cloud of witnesses, just over the horizon from our view, reminding us on this All Saints Sunday that there is a way to live without the borders of fear and death.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,” proclaims Job of the Hebrew Scriptures, “and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and . . . then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side."
These holy days of All Saints and All Souls are not really about death at all, but about proclaiming God’s healing love that lasts forever.
Still, I don’t know why there is so much tragedy and pain in this world. I don’t know why some people get well, and others don’t.
We must acknowledge that is a fact. Bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own.
But maybe there is more to this.
After all, healing in this world is only temporary. The people Jesus heals – the lepers, the demoniacs, the woman who can’t stop bleeding – all of them depart this earth, one-by-one. Even Lazarus, raised from the dead, dies.
Deeper healing comes in the other world, on another time scale that my mortal brain cannot fathom.
I believe that everyone is ultimately healed of all that harms them, all that wounds them, all that hurts them, all that drags them down.
This deeper healing lasts forever, and we get hints of it in this world.
Jesus says over and over he wants us to experience healing in this world as evidence of God’s abundant love, as evidence of God’s kingdom bursting into the open for all to see.
Your presence today is evidence of God’s kingdom coming into being right here, right now.
Today, with our words and actions, we are showing our connection to the reality of God’s loving, healing kingdom bursting into the open. We will show it in many ways today.

In a few minutes, we are going to baptize Campbell, an infant we are welcoming into St. Paul’s and into the larger Body of Christ forever.
By baptizing Campbell we proclaim that every member of God’s kingdom is valuable and belongs – even the little children – especially the little children.
With her parents and Godparents, we will renew our own baptismal covenant, renewing our promises to follow Christ by loving our neighbors, respecting the dignity of every human being and working for justice and peace.
We will pledge to walk with Campbell, support her and uphold her as she grows.
Next, we will make tangible the words of our baptismal pledge. We will bring to the Holy Table our offerings of clothes for the homeless, Duduza dolls for the children of Haiti, prayer shawls for the sick and hurting in our own community.
The dolls and prayer shawls were made by dedicated members of our parish (see photo at right with Jane Rotch and some of the dolls).
And we will, as we do every week, bless our monetary offerings for this parish.
We will also bless our financial pledges for the coming year. No pledge, no gift is too small. All are building blocks of God’s kingdom.

Our generosity springs from our baptismal promises, and represents the offering of the best of ourselves – it is why we call this our “offering” and not a “collection.”
And then we will come together to celebrate Holy Communion. We will gather not just with each other, but with those we love who are just beyond our horizon. They join us at this Table, sharing in this bread and wine at our Eucharist, a Greek word that means Thanksgiving. This is our offering of thanks and love for them.
To represent those dear to us who are departed but still near, the clergy will read aloud the names of the 26 people who we held funerals for in the last 12 months in this parish. Feel free to add other names silently or aloud.
Then we will break bread together, and remember again the night of the Last Supper, and how Jesus told us he is present always, holding us up, healing us, and walking with us into our darkest night.
During our time of Communion, we will offer healing prayers in the Chapel, following a very ancient practice of the early church.
Those who ask for such prayers will be blessed on their forehead with Holy Oil – oil that was blessed by our bishop earlier this year during Holy Week.
And then our worship here today will end, and as Jesus beckons us, we will go back into the world, to live out our promises and prayers for peace and healing everywhere we go – and as God gives us the strength – treat each other and everyone we meet with respect, dignity and generosity, especially when it is hardest.

“I say to you that listen,” Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. . . Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Yes, that is a high standard, the standard of grace, the standard of our faith, and the standard of the saints. And yes, you and I can be one too, one day at a time. AMEN.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

La Ofrenda: Remembering those we love who are parted from us

This Sunday, November 7, we are observing a major feast on the Christian calendar: All Saints Day.

All Saints Sunday has its origins in the ancient church when it was celebrated on the Saturday before Easter -- the day now called Holy Saturday when Jesus descends to hell to free everyone from the grip of death.

All Saints and All Souls days merged to become special masses for martyrs and those who had died anonymously. In later centuries, the day shifted into the weeks before Advent, and the day we now call "Halloween" is actually All Hallows Eve, or the even of All Souls Day.

This year we are continuing with a tradition we began two years ago at St. Paul's from the part of the world where I come: La Ofrenda, a special table in the church where we display items representing people we love who have died. La Ofrenda is a major element of El Dia de los Muertos, Mexico's "Day of the Dead," and is popular in churches throughout California and the Southwest. I've seen many over the years and all of them are powerful remembrances.

This Sunday, please bring something for our Ofrenda that represents someone you love who has died; a photograph or a poem, or a candle or a paper flower. We will display our ofrendas until the first Sunday of Advent on November 28.

Last year our first Ofrenda was so popular we set up two more. I am told that we were the only Episcopal Church in Virginia with a Ofrendas, an honor I hope other churches might share with us this year.

This Sunday we will also bless our offerings for those beyond our walls who need our assistance. Please bring socks and underwear for the homeless. We will also bless "Duduza" dolls knitted for the children of Haiti. And we will bless the financial pledges for the coming year at St. Paul's. If you haven't pledged, please do so. No pledge is too small, and your pledge is a vote of confidence for the ministries of St. Paul's and the people who work very hard in our parish.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Who says baseball isn't religious?

As I am sure you know by now, the San Francisco Giants WON the World Series last week!

I went to my first Giants game in 1962 when my dad took me to the 'stick to see the Giants play the St. Louis Cardinals. I thought a lot about my dad last week during the Series -- he would have loved this!

And who says baseball isn't religious? My friend and seminary classmate, Sean McConnell, saw to it that Grace Cathedral in San Francisco was lit up with Giants' orange last week in celebration. He got a theater company with orange lighting gells that could be used on the cathedral's outdoor flood lights.

Congratulations Giants fans everywhere!

Photo by Sean McConnell, courtesy of Grace Cathedral.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

For the Lord has made all things

From time to time I hear people say they feel closest to God when they are outdoors, and I must say I hear them.

I grew up in an outdoor culture -- hiking and fishing in the Sierra Nevada, sailing on San Francisco Bay or out into the deep blue Pacific, and just being outside until the sun went down. When school was out for the year, my shoes came off for the summer, and from June to the end of August I was barefoot all day. The beach was a special place, and we lived close enough to Half Moon Bay to get there frequently.

As a young adult in Southern California, I owned a small sailboat. From my small boat I saw birds, dolphins, sea lions, flying fish, and once even a Gray Whale within a few yards of my port beam. I've snorkeled and Scuba dived off reefs in Hawaii, Mexico and Belize.

The infinite wonder of God's creation is so amazingly clear beneath the sea, and God's artistry so far beyond any human-built cathedral that it is no wonder so many people feel especially close to God by and under the sea. God is truly in the depths.

Maybe the best way we can praise God is to protect the oceans of God's creation. We defile God by our garbage dumping and oil spills in the sea.

Yesterday's Daily Office reading especially struck a very deep chord with me, resonating all day, and I share it with you:

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 43:23-33
By his plan he stilled the deep
and planted islands in it.

Those who sail the sea tell of its dangers,
and we marvel at what we hear.

In it are strange and marvellous creatures,
all kinds of living things, and huge sea-monsters.

Because of him each of his messengers succeeds,
and by his word all things hold together.

We could say more but could never say enough;
let the final word be: ‘He is the all.’

Where can we find the strength to praise him?
For he is greater than all his works.

Awesome is the Lord and very great,
and marvellous is his power.

Glorify the Lord and exalt him as much as you can,
for he surpasses even that.

When you exalt him, summon all your strength,
and do not grow weary, for you cannot praise him enough.

Who has seen him and can describe him?
Or who can extol him as he is?

Many things greater than these lie hidden,
for I have seen but few of his works.

For the Lord has made all things,
and to the godly he has given wisdom.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

All Soul's Day: Let Light Perpetual Shine Upon Them.

Father of all, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer: Grant them your peace; let light perpetual shine upon them; and, in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work in them the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
Yesterday was marked on the Church calendar as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed -- or "All Souls Day." The day is set aside to remember those people dear to us who have died; people who are perhaps not famous, or considered "saints" by the Church, but who are saints in their own way to us.

All Souls Day has not been observed liturgically in a long time at St. Paul's. This year, I thought we ought to observe it, if for no other reason than we've had 26 funerals in the parish since last November 2, compared with nine in the previous 12 month period. That is a lot of loss in a short period of time. I felt we needed to draw all of our prayers together from the last year, and be together as a community to remember those who have left us. We needed to pray their names as a community, and pray for ourselves in our grief. We also needed to remember all those we love who we see no longer.

So we gathered at 12:15 pm and again at 7 pm. There weren't many of us, but there were enough. Each time, we read the prayers, or "collects" for the day. And then instead of a sermon, the clergy of St. Paul's took turns reading aloud the names of those who have died. We began with the list of those for whom we held funerals in the last 12 months, beginning with Joe Howe last November, and ending with Charles Perry and Guy Hollifield, who we held funerals for in the last two days.

Then we moved to a book that members of the parish filled with names of people they love who are now departed. Some had died years ago, others recently. The book contained many, many pages of names. We read all of the names aloud as people knelt or sat in prayer. Then we had our Eucharist, and departed in peace.

It was a very moving day. Somber, yes, but also cathartic. There were a few tears, and a few smiles of recognition. Those who had died seemed so close to us. It was a good and holy day, and a good and holy act coming together to remember and to pray.

Let me also remind you of another tradition, from Latin America, that we are observing at St. Paul's: the ofrenda. We've set up a table in the church for you to display small photos of people close to you who have died. We will keep the table up until the First Sunday of Advent.

Here is the Collect for the All the Faithful Departed:
O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.