Monday, February 28, 2011

The Monday Funnies

Lori used to edit the comics for The Sacramento Bee (yes, comics get edited) and Pearls Before Swine is one of her all-time favorites, even if the artwork is a little lame. And I swear she had nothing to do with getting Stephan Pastis to go to church.

Welcome to the Monday funnies . . .

* * *
A pastor was talking to a group of children about forgiveness during the Children's Sermon. He asked them, "What must happen before we can expect to be forgiven for doing wrong?"
The children seemed unsure about the answer, but one boy made a guess, saying. "First we have to do something bad?"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Clearing the clouds away, living in the moment

I preached at the 8 am service today and Bishop Ted Gulick will be with us preaching and conducting confirmations at the 10 am service. The readings for today are Isaiah 49:8-16a, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 6:24-34. Below is my sermon from the early service:
+ + +

“Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal.” Amen.

Stop worrying.
That is the central message we hear this morning in the opening prayer and in the gospel of Matthew.
Today we reach this crescendo in the Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus admonishing us “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”
God clothes the grass in the field so God will clothe you and I.
So stop worrying.
I must admit to you, though, that you can tell me to stop worrying, and I will try, but that won’t stop me from waking up in the middle of the night and worrying about my mother’s health, worrying about Lori’s injured knee, worrying about the visit of a bishop to this parish in about an hour – and worrying about many of you.
You may as well tell me to sprout wings and fly as tell me not to worry.
Maybe one way of interpreting this gospel lesson is to suggest that those with tremendous faith don’t worry about anything, and those with little faith are big worriers.
But I am reasonably sure that many giants of the faith were pretty good worriers. And if you look around the gospels a bit, you can catch Jesus worrying, for example when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane while waiting to be arrested. The gospel (Matthew 26:37) says he “began to be grieved and agitated.”.
I think even Jesus worried.
But in telling us not to worry, is Jesus being callous about those with very little other than their worries?
It is all well and good to say “don’t worry” about where you will get your food and clothes if you have food and clothes.
As we know, much of the world lives in extreme poverty and has good reason to worry about basics like food and clean drinking water.

The markers of extreme poverty – malaria, dysentery and respiratory infections – account for 30 percent of the deaths in low-income countries, according to the United Nations World Health Organization.
All of that is preventable.
So is Jesus telling the poor, don’t worry, be happy?
I don’t think so. Throughout the gospels, Jesus offers over and over comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable.
So what is Jesus getting at with this “don’t worry” idea?
Look at the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the “beatitudes,” the blessings for those are poor, hurting, grieving. Everything now in this life, Jesus says, is wrapped in those blessings.
You are blessed. You will be comforted. You will inherit the kingdom of God. It is yours right now, look in front of you.
But to see it, we need to empty ourselves, and push the clouds away. We can’t do that by hoarding all of our stuff, and our stuff is more than just material possessions.
What clouds are you carrying with you? It can be resentments, anger, unmet expectations, ambitions, perfectionism – or worries.
We can suffocate by clinging to ways that no longer work, or endlessly wishing that something would have turned out differently.
We can try to rewrite the past, but the past is stubbornly resistant about that. Or we can try to bargain with the future, but the future is stubbornly resistant about that.
We can only live right now.
Worry won’t bring back the past, and worry won’t bring the future any closer. All we can do is live now, today, in this moment.

For me, one of the hardest practices I have ever tried to learn is living in the moment, truly living right this second.
This past week, I caught a glimpse of how to do that right here. We have been hosting PACEM, an organization of churches that has banded together to take turns being a homeless shelter for women living on the street.
We give them a safe place, a hot meal and a bed for the night.
I spent Wednesday night upstairs while the women slept on cots in a Sunday school classroom. It was a quiet night.
I was up at 5 am to make coffee and I got a chance to chat with a few of the women.
None of them have very much, and all of them are struggling with a host of personal issues and difficulties.
Yet they all found moments of laughter, moments of joy.

This was my second sleep over here for PACEM. I stayed here the night after Christmas. One of the women told me the next morning she had received a call in the night from her 24-year old son who she had not seen since he was four.
She hadn’t seen him because she’d been in prison all this time. She said the call was the greatest Christmas present she’d ever had.

I was struck by her courage, and the courage of the others, in just living one day at a time.
What did I learn about how to live right now? Prune whatever is getting in your way, clean out the attic, discard whatever is weighing you down.
Lighten your load and lighten up, don’t take yourself so seriously. Find a way to laugh – laughter will blow away the clouds.

It is in the emptying, the letting go, the small moments of joy – the laughter – that we can see God in front of us, God under us, God surrounding us today, in this moment.
And so we pray: “Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal.” Amen.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Prayer beneath the waves

What if the most important thing we do is pray? What would the rest of our life look like?

You may recall that our Vestry looked at that question at our annual two-day retreat last month, and we pledged to pray as individuals each day. Rather than get too rarified, we agreed to keep it simple.

Members of the St. Paul's Vestry are reading the daily meditation from Forward Day by Day, which this month is being written by a South Pacific Anglican bishop.

Today's meditation seems to speak especially to me today on several levels, and I will say more on that next week. You can read the daily reflections from Forward by clicking HERE, and then put it in your bookmarks. You can also get a paper booklet of Forward at St. Paul's or just about any Episcopal church. Here is the meditation for today:

Matthew 6:1-6. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Prayer is like swimming in the ocean. Often prayer may be just paddling in the shallows—a kind of playing at prayer and not a commitment. As the deeper water and waves embrace us, we learn through prayer to be held by God and to trust God’s love. We find a new freedom. As we dive beneath the waves, as we grow in the life of prayer, we gain new perspectives and explore new worlds.

Jesus criticizes those who play at prayer for the sake of impressing others. Jesus teaches his disciples the secret life of prayer. For Jesus, a secret place was among the hills of Galilee. We know that he prayed among the olive trees in the garden of Gethsemane.

Where are your secret places? Maybe you have a corner of a room or a particular place in the quiet of a church. I find solitude and time for prayer while walking beside the sea as the dawn breaks. A loving God will reward us as we commit ourselves to prayer.

PRAY for the Diocese of Masvingo (Central Africa)

Ps 137:1-6(7-9), 144 * 104; Ruth 4:1-17; 2 Corinthians 4:13—5:10

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Book of Ruth: tears, love, grace and friendship

This week we've been immersed in the Book of Ruth in the Daily Office readings, and I am much engrossed in the story.

I recall from my seminary education that it was dryly put that Ruth is in the Hebrew Scriptures primarily as a prequel to the King David saga and to show his mixed pedigree.

All that may be true, but I am struck by Ruth's courage, the power of friendship, and the humility of servanthood. There is pain and tears, joy and grace lacing throughout the Book of Ruth.

Many years ago Lori and I led our youth group on a pilgrimage (one of five) to an Indian reservation, joining youth groups from four or five other churches. One evening the teens were asked to do a skit on a book of the Bible, and I recall one of the groups picked the Book of Ruth. Their enactment had humor and teenage goofiness, but it also had a memorable underlying poignancy and humility as these young adults recognized that they were foreigners on the reservation and the recipients of hospitality from people not their kin.

I looked around the internet to see if I could find a poem about Ruth, and I found this one from Jewish Heritage Online Magazine. Hope you enjoy:
The Book of Ruth and Naomi
By Marge Piercy

When you pick up the Tanakh and read
the Book of Ruth, it is a shock
how little it resembles memory.
It's concerned with inheritance,
lands, men's names, how women
must wiggle and wobble to live.

Yet women have kept it dear
for the beloved elder who
cherished Ruth, more friend than
daughter. Daughters leave. Ruth
brought even the baby she made
with Boaz home as a gift.

Where you go, I will go too,
your people shall be my people,
I will be a Jew for you,
for what is yours I will love
as I love you, oh Naomi
my mother, my sister, my heart.

Show me a woman who does not dream
a double, heart's twin, a sister
of the mind in whose ear she can whisper,
whose hair she can braid as her life
twists its pleasure and pain and shame.
Show me a woman who does not hide
in the locket of bone that deep
eye beam of fiercely gentle love
she had once from mother, daughter,
sister; once like a warm moon
that radiance aligned the tides
of her blood into potent order.

At the season of first fruits, we recall
two travellers, co-conspirators, scavengers
making do with leftovers and mill ends,
whose friendship was stronger than fear,
stronger than hunger, who walked together,
the road of shards, hands joined.
Marge Piercy's poem "The Book of Ruth and Naomi" first appeared in Mars and Her Children (Knopf, 1992).

Art by Pomegranate Studios. Translation of the Hebrew: "I will lodge where you lodge; ...your people are my people, and your G-d is my G-d."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Feast of Polycarp and the spiritual journey of a cherished friend at St. Paul's

We were treated at Evening Prayer last night to a homily by Leslie Middleton to mark the feast day of Polycarp, an early church martyr. I've reposted her homily below, and I do highly commend this to you as one of the best homilies I have ever heard on the feast day of a saint.

What I most appreciate is how Leslie invited us to walk with her on her spiritual journey with all of its twists, turns and questions. I found her words pastoral and captivating, and her vulnerability courageous. Here is her homily:
The Feast Day of Polycarp (Bishop and Martyr of Smyrna 156AD)
By Leslie Middleton
This morning, in preparation for this homily, I immersed myself in the story of Saint Polycarp.

Polycarp, whose name can be translated “many fruit,” lived from 69 to 155 AD, and is considered one of the chief Apostolic Fathers, even though their writings were not included in the New Testament. Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians --one of the earliest known texts of this kind --has survived the ages, and has poured over by scholars from then until now. This being the Age of the Internet, it is possible for me to retrace these inquiries, delving into translations and interpretations. But like the Old and New Testaments, there are many ways to understand these texts, and the way that feels most compelling to me is to meditate on the stories and images that have also survived.

Polycarp lived during the century after the death of Christ, but while several of the original apostles were still alive. This was a time when Christianity was still much hidden from view, even while evangelists were spreading the news and faith in regions close and far. Some say that Polycarp studied under the Apostle, John the Evangelist; other say he only knew him. It is easy to imagine how either could be true.

Polycarp was anointed as Bishop of Smyrna, a city on the west coast of what is now Turkey. The story of his martyrdom is a refrain of many of the elements of the story of Christ’s death on the cross. After many years of faithful teaching – he was at least 86 at the time – Polycarp had a prophetic dream of lying on a burning pillow, which presaged his impending arrest by the Roman government and death by burning three days later. Though at first he fled capture, when eventually found, he asked that he be given time to pray, and he also served his captors a large table of meat and wine before being led off on a donkey.

He was tried as an atheist, which in those days meant he did not worship the Roman gods. But because he impressed his captors of being a good and kind man, they offered him many opportunities to stave off death, if he would only offer his allegiance to the Roman gods, and not Jesus. But Polycarp could sweetly only say: "Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" The magistrate was reluctant to kill a gentle old man, but it seems that he had no choice.

The crowd – and is there not always a crowd in these stories? – turned against him, urging that he be nailed to the stake and burned. As preparations for his death by fire were being made, and his captors were about also to fix him with nails, he said,
"Leave me as I am; for He that gives me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile." So they did not nail him, but simply bound him and lit the fire after his prayers to God were finished.

It is said that, “the fire shaped itself into an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, circling his body not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace.”

A sweet smell emanated from the pile … and when the executioners saw that the fire was not touching Polycarp, they pierced him through with a dagger. And then, a dove came forth, followed by a great quantity of blood, so much that the fire was extinguished, which was said to make the crowd wonder at the difference between unbelievers and those, like Polycarp, who believed in the Lord.

I find this story strangely thrilling – in a number of ways. It is surprisingly easy for me to imagine that time, the emergence of the new Church, the secrecy, the challenges, the nurturing of small communities spreading across the landscape, bound by beliefs and practices that were still blossoming from the common traditions of the Jewish faith, now informed by the Good News.

I have, in my own spiritual seeking, been part of emerging traditions – in my thirties, I found a home in the community of Al-Anon. This is where I first learned about a Higher Power in a way that made sense to me: the giving over and letting go for something bigger than myself, which seemed the only course in the face of the alcoholism in my family and in my relationship at the time. Though not a secret society, both the requirement for confidentiality and the then prevalent lack of understanding of alcoholism as a disease resulted in a necessary privacy.

I owe much to this spiritual path, for in those years, I came to understand myself as a spiritual being and my life as a journey: deepening in understanding and development as a human body in a world that was greater than I could see but was starting to experience. I wonder if this kind of slow awakening was anything like what the early Christians felt?

After lots of experimentation and learning, including all kinds of therapy, LifeSpring, bodywork, dreamwork, and several geographical moves, my next spiritual influence was The Pathwork, an eclectic but profound combination of teachings, body awareness tools, emotional process work, and spiritual practices that was first brought to life by John Pierrakos, a gifted bioenergetic therapist, and his wife, Eva.

By all accounts, Eva was a modern day prophet, and, using our present day terminology, she channeled the words of The Guide, who shared extraordinary information about the human and spiritual realms and about the importance of transforming negative energy into positive. Taught at a number of centers around the world, in the 1970’s and 1980’s and to this day, this path was, as its name implied, a lot of work.

My involvement with this path and the one of the communities it spawned spanned almost ten years and had much to do with my landing in Charlottesville. There was no proselytizing involved in this path – once came if one was called, as I was. From this path, I learned the language of the energetic body and realms and the tools for uncovering the Truth within. I have never doubted that it was during these years that I started to experience with every cell in my body a Holy Spirit. Looking back, I was being prepared along my own journey of faith.

Both of these influences were, in the relative scheme of things, emerging paths, ones where you could meet people who had known or studied with the earliest “teachers.” It is hard to know whether each will endure – the AA programs are no longer so “anonymous,” and remain the cornerstone for many afflicted with the addictive behaviors so common in our culture. And the Pathwork is now undergoing its own transformation, as the early leaders get old and die. The original teachings remain transcribed and available on the Internet, and are also embodied in individuals who remain on this path and continue teach and pass them along.

I do not know whether my most recent turn in my spiritual path – reconnecting with the Episcopal Church of my upbringing – will be my final stop. Here, I have found great comfort in the liturgy where, even though I know it has been transformed many times since the days of Polycarp, I experience a timelessness that seems like the collective spirit of all who have travelled on this path before me.

Here, I have a found a place where my husband, Patrick, and I have a common ground, a community, friends, and a religion that we share, even though our backgrounds and spiritual paths are so very different. Here, I find plenty of challenge to my ego, my imperfections, and my faith – challenges to be welcoming to all, to listen, not to judge, to share more freely of my gifts and talents.

And here, though I cannot touch or listen to those early church fathers or the or those who were with Jesus during his life, I can experience the possibilities of faith, where turning again each time I receive Communion, I taste the promise and trust that my faith is deepening.

Reflecting on the life and death of Polycarp, I wonder what it must it have been like for those who did not know or experience the man Jesus, but knew those who had? What did that feel like? Were these people, like Polycarp, so touched by the Holy Spirit that one could not be in their presence without sensing a peace, a presence, and a faith so profound that no nails were needed to withstand the agony of death by flames?

Finally, as I reach an age where more and more people in my life are passing over, leaving this life, when I have had the experience of being with people who are dying, I really do think a lot about my own death, and not always with sadness or fear. The quickening that takes place at this time of life is very real. At times I am eager for the great transition because I have faith that it will be OK, and I will know God perfectly in my passing.

But I do not get to choose the time or the how or the where ... and perhaps this is one of the greatest tests of faith of all, as Wendell Berry says in his essay entitled, of Poetry and Marriage.

The Zen student, the poet, the husband, the wife—none knows with certainty what he or she is staying for, but all know the likelihood that they will be staying “awhile”: to find out what they are staying for. And it is the faith of all of these disciplines that they will not stay to find that they should not have stayed.
That faith has nothing to do with what is usually called optimism. As the traditional marriage ceremony insists, not everything that we stay to find out will make us happy. The faith, rather, is that by staying, and only by staying, we will learn something of the truth, that the truth is good to know, and that it is always both different and larger than we thought.

For more on St. Polycarp:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Patience, solitude and Baptism: The river beginning before time, bringing new life, washing our tears, and my personal journey

Many years ago, probably around 1980 or so, I was introduced to a stream that flows from beneath a slumbering volcano, Mount Lassen, in the northeastern corner of California.

The stream, Hat Creek, runs cold and deep, and a three-mile section is maintained as a wild trout sanctuary.

I learned to fly fish on Hat Creek, and I learned how to read the water and the wily ways of truly wild fish. I also learned something about patience and solitude, though not nearly enough.

I have returned to Hat Creek many times over the years, often with a buddy or two, and many times alone. Hat Creek is remote, but not so remote that a good half-day of driving from Sacramento can't get you there.

There was a time in the mid-1980s when things were not going so well for me. I got up in the middle of the night and drove to Hat Creek so I could be there at dawn for the morning mayfly hatch. I wanted to catch fish, but really I wanted to be on the stream to be alone and sort things out.

I went to the widest, slickest, deepest section below the riffle at Powerhouse #2. I took my time, gazed at the water for awhile. I set up my rod, put on my waders.

I watched the water awhile longer. I got into the water, walked out into the stream until I was waste deep, found firm footing on the sandy bottom below, then took my first cast.

Instantly I caught the largest trout I have ever caught on Hat Creek. The rules say that you can keep two large trout a day, but I thanked this one and let her go (the big ones are usually female).

At that moment, I had this wonderful feeling that all would be well, that God was with me standing in the stream, holding up my feet, and like the water flowing by me, my life would be long and would have many twists and turns before reaching the sea hundreds of miles and many years away. I could sense God telling me that my difficulties were temporary but now I needed to do something new in my life, but I needed to be patient to see how this would unfold.

I would not exactly call this a "conversion experience," nor would I have made any connection at the time with church things or baptism. I'm not sure I would have known the words. But it was, for me, a numinous, holy experience, and I knew in that moment that my life was going to change in ways I would not and could not know, and I didn't mind that unknowing.

You can chalk it up to cold water or a big trout, and maybe that would be so. But the moment has stuck with me forever.

Over the years, much has changed in my life, and in ways I could not possibly have imagined. Marriage, career, new friends, new stories, new adventures, a return to church and a life of faith, and the rediscovery of a submerged and nearly drowned calling that had been with me since I was quite young. I've had many joys and many disappointments, and the deaths of too many dear friends. I would not have dreamed on that day standing in Hat Creek that any of this would have happened, much less that I'd be a priest in a church in the faraway land of Virginia.

Not everything has turned out as I would have liked or planned, then or now, and that is alright because that is what I heard would happen standing in the stream a long time ago.

I bring all this up because I return to Hat Creek often, although I have not been there physically in several years. Hat Creek is the place of my imagining, the place of my deepest prayers, the place I return in solitude when my eyes are closed. I picture so many people, living and gone, sitting with me on the bank just below the riffle at Powerhouse #2. Sometimes in my prayer we get into the water. Sometimes we sit gazing. Sometimes there is a banquet table on the bank, sometimes simply the warm mountain breeze with Jesus sitting beside me in silence.

This past week, the readings from the Daily Office have been strong with rivers and water. Last Sunday, the Morning Prayer readings included this from Isaiah 66:12:
For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream.
On Monday, we began an exploration of the Book of Ruth 1:1-14, and I was struck by the scene as Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to return to their families because she can longer support them, and “Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.”

I imagined Naomi's and Ruth's tears falling into the river, and those tears being swept away. The river brings life and prosperity but also washes away their pain and all that doesn't bring life. We, too, get to stand in that river, our footing sure, as it flows relentlessly around bends and over riffles to places beyond where we can see now. Our tears also disappear into the river and will become droplets bringing new life once again.

Maybe this is why water is such a powerful symbol for so many things, and why we use water in baptism. This coming Sunday at St. Paul's we will be baptizing four babies, and I've been thinking about how their lives will likely stretch decades beyond my own life, and how they know nothing of the world they will inherit. But inherit it they will.

The Church considers baptism as the starting line in their life of faith. But in another sense, these children have been in this river all along. On Sunday, in their baptism, they will symbolically step into a very old stream that flows from beneath the earth and before time, and will flow onward with them. They, like us, will dream dreams one day of where the river will take them, and like us, they will be surprised.

Baptism is a sign that it is never too late for any of us to have a new beginning; it is never too late to stand in the stream and dream. And maybe catch a big fish. This came in last night's Evening Prayer, Psalm 126:4-6:
“The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses of the Negev.

Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.”
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The first photo above is of Mount Lassen from the Lake Almanor side, taken by someone who only describes herself as a Modoc Indian from a blog called A Wayward Life.

Incidentally, Mount Lassen last erupted in 1915 and there are still many hot spots and young lava beds in the area.

The second photo, by another anonymous photographer posting on the Internet, is of the exact spot that I describe on Hat Creek.

By the way, if you ever get to Hat Creek, the best fly is a #16-#18 light colored parachute mayfly "Para Dun" in the morning, and a #14 brown cadis at dusk. Use #6 tippet or lighter. You won't need anything else in your box.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nominating Committee chosen for bishop suffragan election; Mildred Robinson named to panel

As you may know by now, Bishop David Jones will be retiring in a year as our suffragan bishop, and we will be electing a new bishop on April 21, 2012.

The bishop suffragan does not have the authority of a diocesan bishop (who for us is Shannon Johnston), but nonetheless bishop suffragans have great responsibility and are full members of the House of Bishops.

The election of any bishop is a major event in the life of the The Episcopal Church, made more so because the Diocese of Virginia is the largest domestic diocese in terms of membership. Elections begin with a nominating committee that vets potential candidates and proposes a slate for election.

I am very pleased to report that our own Mildred Robinson has been chosen to be on the Nominating Committee. Here is a letter from Bishop Shannon Monday reporting his appointments to the two committees that will guide the election:

Dear Diocesan Family,

As we prepare for Bishop Jones' retirement at our next Annual Council in January 2012 and a celebration of his ministry, we will undertake the search for a bishop suffragan. I'm writing today to encourage us all to embrace this opportunity, and to recognize it as such: an opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for Bishop Jones; an opportunity to examine our health and needs as a diocese; and an opportunity to welcome new episcopal leadership to the Diocese of Virginia.

The election process is watched over by two committees. First, the Nominating Committee is charged with engaging the Diocese of Virginia in a discussion about who and where we are as a diocese, and then to undertake faithful, prayerful discernment to identify a slate of not less than four nor more than six nominees to stand for election. Once the nominees are announced, the Transition Committee takes the lead in the process. They are charged to introduce the nominees to the Diocese through the "walkabout" process. The committee then serves as a liaison to the nominees during the election. They also assist in organizing the consecration. The Transition Committee will continue as a resource for the new bishop as he or she begins this new episcopal ministry. Most importantly, the members of the Transition Committee provide pastoral support to the nominees and their families through and after the election.

With the thoughtful advice and unanimous consent of the Standing Committee, I have appointed the Nominating and the Transition Committees as requested by resolution at Council. Two gifted members of our diocese will lead these committees: Ms. Allyson Getlein of St. Andrew's, Richmond will chair the Nominating Committee and the Rev. Jim Dannals, rector of St. George's, Fredericksburg, will chair the Transition Committee.

The members of these committees have accepted a call to serve, first and foremost. I have every confidence in their collective ability to lead us through the search and transition process with sound wisdom and faithful judgment.

The job set before these two groups is not a small task. The Rt. Rev. David C. Jones, our bishop suffragan, leaves a legacy of profound excellence in ministry. These committees will seek not to replace Bishop Jones, but to honor his ministry by seeking out candidates who are well equipped to live out the tradition of dedication and gracious spirit established by Bishop Jones in his 17-year ministry as a bishop.

In the weeks to come, both committees will start their work, spend time in prayer and retreat, and start producing search process materials that will be made available on the diocesan Web site. The key dates are these: the Nominating Committee will announce nominees shortly after Annual Council in 2012; the walkabouts will occur in March and the election will take place on Saturday, April 21, 2012. The consecration will occur on July 28, 2012, with the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori joining us to celebrate that wonderful day. More details will be forthcoming in the weeks and months ahead.

In the meantime, I ask for your prayers during this time of transition: prayers for Bishop Jones as he continues his faithful ministry amongst us this next year; prayers for a spirit-filled search process; prayers for our dedicated Nominating and Transition Committees, named below; and, as always, prayers for our diocese.


The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston

Bishop of Virginia

Nominating Committee

Ms. Allyson Getlein, Chair

St. Andrew's, Richmond

Mr. Sam Bridges

St. Francis', Great Falls

Ms. Ellyn Crawford

St. George's, Arlington

The Rev. Ross Kane

St. Paul's, Alexandria

The Rev. Lucia Lloyd

St. Stephen's, Heathsville

The Rev. Alexander MacPhail

Beckford Parish (Emmanuel, Woodstock &
St. Andrew's, Mt. Jackson)

The Rev. Cuthbert Mandell

Aquia Church, Stafford

Ms. Kendall Metz

Grace Church, Alexandria

Mr. Russell Randle

Christ Church, Alexandria

Ms. Mildred Robinson

St. Paul's Memorial, Charlottesville

Mr. Alex Slaughter

St. James's, Richmond

The Rev. Sven vanBaars

Abingdon, White Marsh

Transition Committee

The Rev. Jim Dannals, Chair

St. George's, Fredericksburg

Mr. Robert Allen

St. Stephen's, Richmond

The Rev. Dr. Don Binder

Pohick Church, Lorton

The Rev. Kate Chipps

St. Margaret's, Woodbridge

Ms. Joan Inger

St. Paul's on the Hill, Winchester

Ms. Barbara Maniha

Holy Comforter, Vienna

The Rev. Daniel Robayo

Emmanuel, Harrisonburg

Mr. Joseph Royster

Meade Memorial, Alexandria

The Rev. John Sheehan

Church of the Redeemer, Aldie

Mr. Dick Shirey

St. James the Less, Ashland

Ms. Mareea Wilson

St. Barnabas', Annandale

The Rev. Deacon Barbara Ambrose

St. Andrew's, Richmond

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Monday Funnies

How about a few bad jokes to start your work week and a cartoon by Dave Walker celebrating Spring cleaning in churches (soon to come we pray!)? Welcome to the Monday funnies. . .

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The Sunday School teacher was describing how Lot's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt, when little Johnny interrupted. "My Mommy looked back once while she was driving," he announced triumphantly, "and she turned into a telephone pole!"
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A Stranger in Londonderry, Ireland is walking along when he suddenly feels the barrel of a gun pressed into his back.

"Answer!," says a voice behind the stranger,"Are ye Protestant or are ye Catholic?"

Not knowing how to answer and understandable fearful for his life, the stranger tries to think his way out of the potentially life-threatening situation.

"I'm a Jew!," he shouts.

The voice says, "Praise Allah, I'm the luckiest Arab in Ulster."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

“You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Today's sermon is based on Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18 and Matthew 5:38-48.

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It all sounds so passive: Turn the other cheek; give the clothes off your back; give your money to every beggar who asks you; love your enemies, do not resist evil.
At first glance, it sounds like “give up.”
I think many of us resist this formula not so much because of its impracticality, but because it sounds like we are supposed to give into evil. Should we really stand idly by as Hitler is at the gates? Should we not react when Osma bin Ladin sends airplanes into buildings killing innocent people? Should we sit by as the earth is polluted for greed, people starve, dictators kill their people and invade their neighbors?
Is Jesus really advocating that? And aren’t we better than that?
Even those who read the Bible with strict literalism tend skip right past this crystal-clear instruction from Jesus: “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
And wait, there’s more this morning.
We also get a passage from Leviticus, the holiness law of the Old Testament – the third book of the Jewish Torah – that Christians especially love to ignore.
In our lectionary – the schedule of Sunday biblical readings – Leviticus appears only once every three years, on the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany – and that would be today. You won’t hear anything from Leviticus again for another three years.
And if Epiphany ends short of the seventh Sunday of Epiphany, as it often does, then it will be another three years after that before Leviticus comes around again. That means you almost never hear Leviticus in church.
There are good reasons for avoiding Leviticus.
Leviticus contains rules for stoning wayward children, banning tattoos, avoiding witchcraft, and admonitions against shrimp, mixed fabrics and gay people. It also has a formula for how to compensate your friends for sex with their slaves.
It’s all there in Leviticus; go have a look when you get home, but I must warn you it is not light bedtime reading.
There are a few ways around Leviticus. One is to ignore the parts we don’t like. Even those with the with a strict literal bent to reading the Bible find ways to pick-and-chose among those rules.
Fair enough, we are all doing it. But isn’t that a dodge?
Saint Paul seems to take another tact, popular among modern liberal Protestants: Paul says that we no longer “live under the law” because we are saved by Jesus Christ. In other words, Christ gives us the ultimate loophole to get out of the laws we don’t like.

In truth, Paul’s argument is more subtle than that. What he says is that we can follow all of these laws to the letter but it won’t take us very far. We need to look for the underlying grace beneath the laws.
And that is exactly where Jesus goes. He says he came to “fulfill the law and the prophets.” He is not a liberal Protestant. He is a Jewish man teaching Torah.

I would submit that Leviticus holds the key for what Jesus is driving at in everything he says and does, and everything he calls us to do.
But to get it, we have to hear it the way he hears it. So listen to Leviticus again:

“You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.”

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

When Jesus says, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, turn the other cheek, Jesus is bringing us straight into the heart and soul of Leviticus.
If we can hear Leviticus the way Jesus hears it, we will find not curses, but blessings.
We will find not an oppressive rule book, but a radical guidebook for rendering justice to the poor, healing for the sick, comfort for the lonely.
And we will especially hear a call to be the holy people we are called to be.
Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela read the Bible this way.

They heard its discipline as a call for binding people into a courageous band of brothers and sisters who could meet all manner of hatred and violence with selfless love and miraculous fortitude.
To them, a life of faith wasn’t about following legalisms; it was about finding freedom based on the dignity of every human being as a reflection of God’s love.

I don’t know if the people of Egypt read Leviticus, but I do that they have given us a powerful example in recent weeks of what can happen when a people rise up and meet violence with non-violence, when they meet fear with courage, and set aside hatred and revenge.
These biblical readings today certainly have implications for human politics. How would we behave as a community and nation if we really did love our enemies and give generously to the poor? What would that look like? What would our social, political and economic structures look like? How would we be transformed as a people?

Yet, Jesus is taking us to an even deeper level than politics – Jesus is describing how God loves, and who God loves, and that makes the blessings of Leviticus even more radical yet.
Who is God in love with? Everyone, even the worst among us, even those who would do us harm. That is a difficult notion to comprehend – it is for me – and it takes time to get the full impact of that idea. No one is left behind.
God finds a way to bring wholeness and healing out of chaos and violence because that is especially where God dwells. God even loves you and I when we are at our worst, when we are less than we could be, when we mess up and harm others, or ourselves.
These readings today have something else in common: each is a call to discipleship, to breaking out of the idea that we are merely passive consumers of religious products.
We are called to spread God’s love by our own example in word and deed. We are called to be the workers in God’s field – we are that important. It’s not about following food laws to the letter; it is about loving our neighbors as ourselves to the letter. We can find God’s abundant love right here in this place.

Later this morning we will be commissioning and blessing three wonderful people as Stephen Ministry leaders: Ann Willms, Margaret Haupt and Anna Askounis. Stephen Ministry is a program of compassion for people in our midst who can use a little extra care and a sympathetic ear.
Ann, Margaret and Anna have undergown an intensive week of training, and now they will be training our Stephen Ministers.
I would invite you to ask them about Stephen Ministry. It is an incredible program, and I have seen it transform individual lives and entire congregations.
There are many other ways we as a congregation embody God’s love here in this place. This coming week, we are hosting PACEM, providing hot meals and a bed for women who are living on our streets. Many people in our parish are making that possible.
Later this week, on Thursday, we are joining thirty other faith congregations at a mass meeting of IMPACT to learn how we can make changes to public policies related to mental health services. The meeting is at 6 pm Thursday at Church of the Incarnation Catholic Church and I hope you will join me there.
These are just three ways we bring heaven to earth right now. And there are many others.
It is my prayer this day that each of us will hear the call of Christ to be the hands and heart of healing and salvation in our world and make real the words of the ancient Torah:
“You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Anglican bishops talking

You haven't heard much lately about world-wide Anglican politics, and maybe that is because the bishops are making a concerted effort (in some quarters) to talk with each other. Here is a story that ran Friday in Anglican Journal.

Healing relations through Bishops’ dialogue

By: Marites N.
staff writer

Two primates and 18 bishops from Africa and North America will meet in Dar es Salaam this month to continue a process of dialogue that they hope will contribute toward “healing relations” in the Anglican Communion.

Since 2007, there have been initiatives to bring together Anglican bishops from Canada, the United States and some provinces of Africa, to help bridge a divide resulting from deep disagreements over the issue of human sexuality.

Discussions have not been focused on sexuality, however, but on a whole range of issues that churches face today.

This year’s meeting, from Feb. 24 to 28, will consist of four “interweaving” components: Testimony, Theology, Liturgy and Mission.

Testimony will include stories from some participants about their experiences around dialogue.

Theology will include reflections “linking the stories and testimonies to a wider theoretical and theological framework”; the reflections are aimed at helping participants gain a “deeper understanding of [their] conversations in the wider context of the Anglican Communion,” according to an overview document prepared for the meeting.

Liturgy will include worship intended to engage the group in “celebrating the stories shared and giving thanks for [its] capacity to do good.”

Mission will include discussion in response to the question, “What may God be calling you to do or to say as you conclude the consultation?”

The Anglican provinces involved in the discussion are Canada, Tanzania, Kenya, Central Africa, South Africa, West Africa, England and the United States.

The consultation is sponsored by the Anglican Church of Canada, Fellowship of the Maple Leaf, The Episcopal Church in the U.S., Diocese of Dar es Salaam, the Anglican Diocese of Toronto Foundation, and Trinity Wall Street.

The participants are: Bishop John Chapman (diocese of Ottawa), Bishop Michael Bird (diocese of Niagara), Bishop Michael Ingham (diocese of New Westminster), Bishop George Bruce (diocese of Ontario), Archbishop Colin Johnson (diocese of Toronto), Bishop Terry Dance (diocese of Huron), Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo (diocese of Central Tanganyika), Bishop Garth Counsell (diocese of Cape Town), Bishop Trevor Musonda-Mwamba (diocese of Botswana), Bishop James Tengatenga (diocese of Southern Malawi), Bishop Daniel Sarfo (diocese of Kumasi), Bishop Shannon S. Johnston (diocese of Virginia), Bishop Julius K. Kalu (diocese of Mombasa), Bishop Anthony Poggo (diocese of Kajo Keji), Bishop Sadock Makaya (diocese of Western Tanganyika), Bishop Gerard Mpango (ret.; diocese of Western Tanganyika), Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves (diocese of El Camino Real), Bishop Michael F. Perham (diocese of Gloucester), Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi (primate, Anglican Church of Burundi) and Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa (primate, Anglican Church of Tanzania

The photo is captioned: Anglican bishops enter Canterbury Cathedral for Opening Eucharist at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Photo: Beatrice Paez.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Christ of Epiphany: Reassuring us to stay in the game

We've had a delightful series of homilies from members of the St. Paul's congregation on Wednesdays at Evening Prayer at 5:30 pm. If you haven't come lately, you are missing a richness in thought and word. Yesterday we were treated to a homily by Ashley Faulkner, who is a Ph.D. graduate student in English at the University of Virginia. His homily is based on Mark 11:27-12:12. Here is Ashley's text:

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We know there’s a feast of the Church called “Epiphany,” that falls on January 6th, every year. We know the name of it comes from the Greek word meaning a “showing forth,” and that it refers to when the Christ-child was revealed to the Magi, the wise men from the east who followed a star. Christ shone forth, that is to say, to the nations, to the gentiles, to not just one people but to the whole world. It is a feast for rejoicing in that Incarnation. Come Lent, that star will dim a little—only to show forth most brightly at the Resurrection. But we haven’t gotten that far yet.
At the time of Epiphany, we are still, as it were, naively happy. At the coming of this child. And our naive adoration cannot be confined to one day. Childlike, we don’t know when to quit partying. And this “Epiphany” will give its name to an entire liturgical season. We have only come to the middle of it now, and it’s the 16th of February. That’s ok.
At other times, in seasons of penitence, we will remember the suffering of Our Savior—the Man of Sorrows. We will take solace that He suffered as we have suffered, and we will know that he understands our burdens. And we will be called to repentance when we think that Christ suffered for us.
Save all that, though, for Lent. This is not the time.
In this season, the Christ we see is the radiant son. The Christ we see is not just solacing, he’s encouraging. He gloriously reassures us to stay in the game. He reminds us we’re on the winning side. And in our readings throughout Epiphany, we the Church dwell on those special occasions when Christ shows himself forth in glory. The Transfiguration. The wedding at Cana—where Christ presumably danced. The miraculous baptism in the Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and the voice of God was heard.
The voice of God spoke, at any rate. As we see in Mark 11, some didn’t want to hear it. Some couldn’t be honest about what they’d heard—couldn’t be honest even with themselves.
Today’s gospel is about that willingness to acknowledge God, and it’s especially suited to the season of Epiphany. We as Christians are all familiar—all too familiar—with those times when we’re looking for God. When we’re calling on God. When Christ seems to be asleep, and our boat is storm-tossed. But what about those times when God shines forth in glory? When Christ is walking beside us? Will we know Him? Will we acknowledge Him? Will we believe Him and believe in Him?
We make much of the importance of having faith, even when God seems far away. Will we walk with Him when he stands beside us? That is the question of Epiphany. We wait to hear the voice of God, yes. But do we argue with him as soon as he begins speaking?
St. Augustine, writing on this gospel of Mark 11 says that those who argue with God have “shut themselves up against him.” Knock, he says, and God’s truth will be opened unto you. But when we argue with God, we barricade the door. If you’re at all like me, you often know better than God. Let’s try to be less knowing.
The Risen Christ is walking with us, as with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. Christ is with us, will we acknowledge Him? Even the disciples on the road beside Him did not recognize their Lord. Until.
Until he took bread, and blessing it, broke it and gave it to them. And they did eat and understand.
One way Christ is with us—showing Himself forth in Epiphany—is in our fellow Christians. They have taken the bread. They understand. They have entered into the body of Christ, and they walk beside us. We can at least listen to them, yes?
Let’s listen more, and talk less. (Even I am going to stop talking—in a moment—just to set an example.)
I find if I can’t be bothered to listen to God—to meditate and pray—I can at least practice listening to other people. And God—it turns out God’s rather resourceful—God finds ways to speak to me through those people. Christ is showing himself forth in those humble mangers every day.
But before I stop talking and go back to listening, I’d like to leave you with a poem, if I may. It’s by one of my favorite poets, Alice Meynell. It is called, “The Unknown God.”

ONE of the crowd went up,
And knelt before the Paten and the Cup,
Received the Lord, returned in peace, and prayed
Close to my side; then in my heart I said:

‘O Christ, in this man’s life—
This stranger who is Thine—in all his strife,
All his felicity, his good and ill,
In the assaulted stronghold of his will,

‘I do confess Thee here,
Alive within this life; I know Thee near
Within this lonely conscience, closed away
Within this brother’s solitary day.

‘Christ in his unknown heart,
His intellect unknown—this love, this art,
This battle and this peace, this destiny
That I shall never know, look upon me!

From that secret place
And from that separate dwelling, give me grace.
Art by Kathrin Burleson